Sabrina Orah Mark: How Do You Write Surrealism in the Present Moment?
In Conversation with Brad Listi on Otherppl
Sabrina Orah Mark is the guest. Her story collection, Wild Milk, is available from The Dorothy Project.
From the episode:
Sabrina Orah Mark: For me, everything is about just shifting ever so slightly off-center. I do have moments where my imagination will run wild, but it feels like a way for me to get through a particular moment. For example, there was a point where I was going to so many kids’ birthday parties. It was one or two birthday parties every weekend, and my kids were little so you have to stay with them. At first it seemed sort of fun, and then it just gets really strange and boring. And I remember I was at this one kid’s birthday and the kids played this game where it was called Pass the Parcel. I don’t know if you know this game, but they wrap a present like a million times and then they pass the present around and around.
So, each time the music stops, another kid has to unwrap another layer and then unwrap another layer and unwrap another layer until finally they unwrap the last layer and it’s like a little thing of candy or plastic duck or something. I was standing there and was like, imagine if this never ends. We’re all forever in this birthday party and the parents grow older and older and die and the kids get older and they just keep passing this present around and around. I was just standing there being like, I’m so bored that I had to go into this place of, imagine if this game just never ended and everything was covered in dust.
I just can’t help myself sometimes where I need to jump off this ship and this is the place that I jumped. This is how I survive. If you just change the smallest rule, where everything is exactly the same but for the fact that the kid’s birthday party never ends, just that one simple difference… Like, obviously everything changes but I’m really fascinated by that, how the slightest tear can just change everything. There are times right now where I feel like what small thing went wrong. Was there this one little tear where we accidentally all slipped into the wrong timeline or something and now that’s our reality?
Brad Listi: Are you talking about the modern political context?
Sabrina Orah Mark: Yeah. Just America, as we are living it right now, feels like the part where you say this kid’s birthday party is never going to end. You know, like we actually shifted into the wrong timeline. So it is actually bizarre. There is something about working in surrealism or working in magical realism or now where it almost feels like you’re doubling up. You have a reality which feels surreal, so what do you do? You write surreal on top of the surrealism. Like, that’s just too much surrealism. That’s just too much. I’ve been thinking about that, and I’m not quite sure how we get around that.
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Sabrina Orah Mark grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She earned a BA from Barnard College, Columbia University, an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a PhD in English from the University of Georgia. She is the author of the book-length poetry collections The Babies (2004), winner of the Saturnalia Book Prize chosen by Jane Miller, and Tsim Tsum (2009), as well as the chapbook Walter B.’s Extraordinary Cousin Arrives for a Visit & Other Tales from Woodland Editions. Her poetry and stories most recently appear in American Short Fiction, The Bennington Review, Tin House (Open Bar), The Collagist, jubilat, The Believer, and have been anthologized widely. She lives in Athens Georgia with her husband, Reginald McKnight, and their two sons. For the Paris Review she writes a monthly column on fairytales and motherhood entitled HAPPILY.