Against Certainty: Melissa Broder on the Intellectual Freedom of Poetry
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
On writing into obsessions:
MB: When I looked back, I was surprised at how many of the themes from my newest novel, Milk Fed, showed up [in my early poetry]. There’s a mikvah, the Jewish ritual bath. I remembered a lot of my older poetry having a lot of Catholic imagery because it was a fascination of mine. But it’s been Jewy all along, I didn’t quite realize. I guess writers write their obsessions, and I guess my obsessions are mine for the long haul.
MK: I’ll quote the obsessions you listed in the intro to Superdoom: “sex, death, consumption, god, spiritual longing, earthly longing, holes.”
MB: Yes. The attempt to fill the spiritual hole with the outside stuff, whatever it is. It can be tangible or intangible. It can be humans, it can be things, it can be achievement—but ultimately the not-enoughness of it only makes the hole bigger.
On the unknowingness of poetry:
MB: One thing I really love about poetry is the room for the mystery, the room for the braid or the weave or the unknowing. Certitude seems very trendy to me nowadays. It has probably always been trendy, but in my perception it feels more hot right now. Hot certitude. And what I love about poetry is that it’s a realm for not knowing. The experience of writing a poem can leave us with a question. It’s the Rilke thing: learn to love the questions. It was really freeing when it dawned on me that poetry doesn’t need to be understood, it needs to be experienced. There are different ways we understand things. We don’t just understand intellectually. We also understand with our heart or we can understand through desire; there are probably infinite ways of understanding things. What I love about poetry is that you’re not forced to come to an intellectual resolution.
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Melissa Broder is the author of the novels Milk Fed and The Pisces, the essay collection So Sad Today, and four poetry collections, selections from which are included in her new collection Superdoom. She is the winner of a Pushcart Prize for poetry. She lives in Los Angeles.