rasnake-houseSusan Tepper:  “And here is the stair… the stair which gave up / the rest of the house sometime ago.”

Sam, I excerpt here the beginning of your poem From This Side of the House.” The first poem in the Monday Chat series.  All your work has such tremendous inner life.  I often feel you cross over into a different dimension to put out what you do, yet somehow you manage to ground it.

Sam Rasnake:  I like your term “inner life,” Susan.  I have to say, though, I’ve never viewed my writing in terms of a “different dimension,” though a number of people have commented in a similar way.  They may not have used that exact term, but I’ve had some of my writing described as trance-like and other worldly.  I would say that your comment of “different dimension” is accurate.  I’m just not aware of it or concerned with it as I write.  It’s just there.  It’s not something I work toward, but work from.  It’s my writing voice.  That’s how I begin – in voice.  I’ve always been drawn to writers who approach their art from this other place – writers such as Jelaluddin Rumi, Hart Crane, William Blake, Jane Hirshfield.  I really connect with them.

I can see how From This Side of the House reflects this different dimension or other place.  The poem begins in the middle of something – something that’s not clear, not specified in the poem, and the reader doesn’t really learn the how and why as the piece closes.  The ending carries no real resolution.  That might be disappointing to some.  My writing, my poetry in particular, isn’t about information.  It’s more about atmosphere and feeling – and voice.  Maybe it’s the voice that grounds the work.

Susan: In this poem the stair, for me, is in part a living thing.  Perhaps an appendage.  One that finally becomes too weak, too exhausted to hold on.  The way the body gives up after time.  But it is also a stair, in the true sense of separating from the house by rot and time.  Would you say that separation is a theme here?

Sam: Separation in various forms – relative to things, time, relationships, family – is at work in the piece.  Yes.  I’m thinking of certain words or phrases: forgotten, withered, stump, five colors of paint, the dead, the colic, the missed doctor – that show this.   Also, the window is left behind.

Susan: The window is left behind.  That could be a poem unto itself.  I love how the window is used here, as a vehicle for watching through and being watched.  This poem is intensely filmic.  I can conjure up at least a half dozen plots for a movie.  The house feels mystically charged, and I feel as though I have been in this house.  Do you feel that you know this house in a physical sense of having been in it, for real or in dreams?

Sam: That could easily be a poem.  Windows frequent my writing – and its use here might allow or enhance the filmic aspect of the piece.  The writing is quite visual in its focus – very image-driven.

The model for the house is real – in a state of near complete dilapidation.   My mother lived in this house for a short time when she was very young.  The actual landscape and house – in my mind – are quite haunting.  I carry this place with me.  The poem isn’t about that house, but it’s represented in the writing.

Susan: Ah, I sensed it very close to you.  I live in an old house and wouldn’t have it any other way.  I like the idea of who lived here before me, their histories, their happiness and sorrows.  I feel them in the ethos of my house.

You bring all these things to the poem: “the yard for each other or the moon / lovers with young bodies waiting / to discover or to be discovered /  lovers with old bodies / waiting, who nursed the colic / who listened to the radio / ”

There is an enormous amount of life here in this not particularly long poem.  What I admire so much about your work, Sam, is your ability to present a huge picture of what exists in the true physical sense, and is folded into the metaphysical, without going on for page after page.  Would you call yourself a metaphysical poet?

Sam: Writing – poetry, as well as fiction – that moves toward paradox or juxtaposition has my eye and ear.  In terms of rhythms – a metaphysical poet.  Absolutely.  I do strive for the language – the sound – to create the world of the poem.  That may be more important than anything else in the writing.  I’m much more concerned with sound than with meaning.

I appreciate your comment about my writing – content and style.  Thanks.  There are layers at work.  When writing, I’m not always certain of the success of those layers and their connections, but I will say that I’ve learned – or I’m learning – to trust the voice of the writing.  I rarely know where it’s headed, but I do like the arriving.

Susan: Yes, as you say:  “the language – the sound – to create the world of the poem.”   You do this flawlessly.

Read From This Side of the House by Sam Rasnake

Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. Susan is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review, fiction editor of Wilderness House Literary Review, co-author of new novel What May Have Been, and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar.

  1. Robert Vaughan

    I love this entire discussion, the references to the “inner life” and “different dimension” of Sam’s work, and this piece, “From This Side of the House” in particular. I remember reading this last December, and being struck by many of the same elements that you focus on here. I like how Sam says his work is more about atmosphere and feeling- voice. I really relate to this, and dig it. So glad you are trusting your own voice(s), Sam and willing to share such vulnerable work here and other places with us fortunate readers/writers. Great “work,” (it doesn’t feel like that!) thanks, Susan and Sam.

  2. fran metzman

    This interview is haunting in many ways, and is very poignant. The mystical element of writing is presented in such a way that touches the lonely “inner voice” that we all need to express. It resonates and it is good to see a world, relatively unknown, expressed in words.

  3. susan

    I knew this would be an interesting chat! Love the peek into a poet’s mind, particularly when it’s poked open by another poet.

  4. estelle bruno

    When I look at Sams old house, I see a magnificent story in each line of his poem.

    Your interview with Sam, is an eye opener

  5. susan tepper

    Robert, Fran, Susan Gibb, Estelle~ thank you for commenting here, it was such a joy speaking with Sam about his incredible poem.

  6. Beate Sigriddaughter

    and, in my experience, Sam’s “different dimension” is always a wondrous one, filled with everything real, but gentleness, too.

  7. Doug Bond

    I enjoyed this chat. Big Fave. Loved the discussions between the two of you relating to the music of Sam’s language. His respect and love for sound. And the visual/filmic quality of his work. Sam brings the skills and temperament of a jazz musician and film director to the page. His writing sings with the arc and lift of those arts, “I rarely know where it’s headed, but I do like the arriving.” Yes!

  8. Meg Tuite

    Really great interview, Sam and Susan!! I love that the framework for the poem is the old house and there is so much life within it!!! Also agree that that otherworldly dimension shows through in Sam’s poetry, stories! Absolutely loved this and got so much more insight into the inner world of Sam! Thank you, both!!!

  9. Michelle Elvy

    Sam’s voice, what a lovely thing to come to this morning. Windows to something else, always. Windows to things real and un-real, here and not-here. The layers you get at in this interview are always unfolding. When I read Sam’s work, I peer into other worlds and see beauty, heart, rhythm — and they are usually moving and at rest at once. That’s what always gets me too: the movement and the change. It’s in this house, too. Thanks for this chat, Susan and Sam. Wonderful way to begin the week.

  10. Marcus Speh

    This is a wonderful dialog & I think I would like to hear more Sam Rasnake interviews. The voice is original and strong and Sam’s ability to pull together deep experiences in music, film, soul work to word tapestries reminds me of a composer’s sensibility and art. To hear two poets talk is a special privilege, thank you for that.

  11. Sam Rasnake

    This chat was a wonderful experience. I don’t recall ever speaking about this particular poem, and have used it in a reading only once – with music. So, it was special to discuss this piece. Yes.

    I’m grateful for its reception by Susan Tepper and by fellow writers here at FN. Thanks.

  12. LindaS-W

    Wonderful poem, and even more stupendous chat. Susan, you always ask the right questions to get the interviewee to open up to the most interesting insights. Here is Sam’s brain and heart exposed for all of us lucky ones to enjoy and learn from. Every time I read one of Sam’s poems I am somehow moved, and learn a bit of craft. Thank you both for this treat. Peace…

  13. susan tepper

    Thanks to everyone else who has commented here! Also, I have to say Sam’s photo just knocks me out.

  14. Gary Percesepe

    genuine conversation with a genuine poet–sam r, we love ya.

    nice job, you two,


  15. James Lloyd Davis

    Sam is one of the poets here at Fictionaut who has altered my view of contemporary poetry and its relevance amid the storms of change. No gimmicks, no slam tactics, no outrageous hair tossing or shock and awe, just pure and beautiful form, content that leads me inward every time.

    Thank you Sam and Susan for this insightful discussion.

  16. Meg Sefton

    I feel so lucky to virtually know such talented people at Fictionaut and to have become acquainted with the work of Sam Rasnake. Truly a great interview. Thank you, Susan.

  17. Jane Hammons

    Poetry in the talk of poetry. A wonderful read.

  18. susan tepper

    Gary, Jim, Meg, Jane> Thanks so much for adding your own good words here and spreading the love for Sam.

  19. Foster Trecost

    Wonderful chat, both of you. Sam, it’ll be so nice to enjoy your poems with these words in mind.

  20. Michelle Reale

    I enjoyed this immensely!

  21. Tantra Bensko

    I’m glad to see this, and gain more insight and so glad it covers the mystical element that hovers around Sam’s writing, so tangibly.

  22. susan tepper

    Foster, Michelle, Tantra, thanks so much for adding your good words here for Sam’s chat.

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