Hadara Bar-Nadav is the author of Lullaby (with Exit Sign), awarded the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize; The Frame Called Ruin, Runner Up for the Green Rose Prize from New Issues; and A Glass of Milk to Kiss Goodnight, awarded the Margie Book Prize. Her chapbook, Show Me Yours, was awarded the 2009 Midwest Poets Series Award. She is also co-author of the best-selling textbook Writing Poems, 8th Edition. Recent awards include fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Hadara is currently Associate Professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
This interview with Hadara Bar-Nadav about Lullaby (with Exit Sign) and The Frame Called Ruin was conducted during the summer of 2013 by five poets: Jim Davis, Dan Fliegel, Adam Lizakowski, Anthony Opal, and C. Russell Price.
Q:Many of the pieces in Lullaby (with Exit Sign) are prose poems. Could you discuss your process regarding prose poems? For instance, do you consciously set out to write a poem without line breaks, or do you take a draft and then "stretch" it into the prose form--or both of these? Furthermore, what do you believe is lost, gained, or changed by writing and/or reading a poem that is in a prose format, specifically with the elimination of the "poetic line"/line break? Finally, many of your prose poems make use of many sentence fragments, such as, for example, in "To Ache Is Human," where your write, among others lines, "The nerve in nervous, in sever and serve." How do you use fragments to affect the rhythm or caesura in your prose poems?
The poems in Lullaby (with Exit Sign) are largely elegiac. I don't know that I initially decided to write a manuscript of prose poems. The weight of grief just leveled me, and leveled the poems in terms of form. Once I started to write a few of the Dickinson-inspired prose poems, I discovered I had a form to lean on, and this helped me as I navigated the writing of these (often difficult) elegies.
I don't think anything is lost in writing prose poems, except for, obviously, the line break. But the line break could be said to be "ghosted" in other ways; pauses become suggested through syntax and sound. The hard syntax and sound of the prose poems in Lullaby would have been too obvious, in my mind, broken into lines with neat end-rhymes. Nothing is neat about grief. It is messy and consuming, coming from all sides at once. The syntax and sound was thereby cast in tension against its form, which was a formal way of creating even more tension.
The way I use fragments is probably specific to each poem--each soundscape that arose as I was writing each poem. But I was very aware that many of these poems would need fragments--language at the breaking (or already broken) point. Many of these poems felt ripped through my teeth. I didn't necessarily want to write them (just as I didn't want my father to be dead). But I also knew I had to write them, for my family, for myself, and most importantly for other people, those readers who have suffered grief and loss. The poems helped me overcome the smothering silences that often surround grief. Ask someone whose family was killed in the Holocaust what silence is--large as an ocean, as the sky.