Juliet (I) (H_NGM_N Books, 2014)
In a previous interview, you stated that in your collection there are “threads that run through them and hold them together like friends.” What is the common thread that holds Juliet (I) together?
I think there are several threads that run through Juliet, one of the core threads being existential despair – death, ruin. One of the original titles for this manuscript was “The Worst Silent Film Ever Made,” which is basically an epic film strip of pain that seems to run through me at all times. Knives are a common visual thread – in the original play Juliet stabs herself with a knife, and knives also happen to be one of my OCD obsessions, one of my irrational fears, which was triggered by the trauma of the relationship that is also woven into the manuscript. In answering this question I realize that threads are a common thread – how everything is interconnected, like fibers of the universe (the other original title for this MS was “Builders of the Universe,” inspired by an art installation at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis that was inspired by Einstein’s text of the same title).
What was the process behind the cover of Juliet (I)? Did you collaborate with an artist for this?
The process was very unsophisticated. The photo is an image of myself that I took and posted on Instagram once. I then played with the image in a free editing program, I think it may have been Picasa? And I made several collages using this same image and then made a collage of the collages and used red shading and layered text over it. I just played with the images and colors until it seemed right.
It is clear that there is a lot of deeper meaning behind Juliet (I); does getting fully immersed into your work take a toll on you?
Not really. It’s the world that takes a toll on me, and getting fully immersed in my work is a sense of therapeutic relief.
What is your writing process? In what environments do you work best?
I like to be alone when I write, and if I can’t be alone then I need to have headphones so I can drown out unwelcome distractions. For me writing is a meditative process, an opening and a listening, so it’s really important to be both focused but free, bringing together both critical thought and emotion, making a harmony. I usually don’t spend more than a day or two on a poem and that’s because the poem itself doesn’t matter much to me. If I outgrow my need for a poem before the poem is finished, then the poem will remain unfinished until the day I need it again. The process for Juliet was a bit different – I just opened a word document one day at the coffee shop in early September, 2013, and wrote what is the prologue, but I knew it wasn’t finished. I knew I wanted to write one long continuous piece, which I would end up returning to and working on for the next year.
What was your inspiration for Juliet (I)?
Juliet was the inspiration! I stood outside of my apartment in the spring of 2014 and took a photo of a tree that was blossoming these bright red petals, and when I posted the photo on Instagram the name “Juliet” just came to me as the caption, and so that’s what I named the tree. And she just kept showing up, the name Juliet, and it just seemed like the right title, especially when I thought about the knife element, the suicide, the star-crossed lovers, etc.
Was there a certain frustration with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? What would you change about it?
IT’S SO SAD IN THE END!!!!! I’ve always hated the ending of the play. I want them to live. Also I want to highlight Juliet’s narrative, emphasizing the oppression she was under. She and Romeo are not equal. Juliet can actually exist without him. I mean I would love for them to exist together, but I’m not that naïve.
What kind of music do you listen to?
It depends on my mood. A lot of times, I will just go to 8tracks.com and select the genres I’m feeling, and it will give me a playlist. I love to dance, so beats are good. I like the energy of rap and hip-hop. I will never say no to Beyonce or Nicki Minaj or Kanye West. TLC and Nirvana because I was a kid in the 90’s. I like to space out to dreamy artists like FKA Twigs, Baths, and Lana Del Ray. I like to listen to The National and cry. Dirty Shlohmo remixes.
How has poetry impacted your life?
The act of writing poetry has saved my life.
Did you project yourself on any of the characters or poems?
I don’t project as much as literally I am my poems. The first-person speaker in Juliet is me. I am I.
Is it difficult to be so vulnerable with your poetry?
No. It’s difficult to be in a society that wants you to be anything other than your truest self that will punish you for not digesting and exhibiting what it has described as the norm. If I am vulnerable in my poems, it’s only because we are so used to having to hide from ourselves and each other.
Sarah Xerta’s first full-length poetry collection, Nothing To Do With Me, was published by University of Hell Press in early 2015. She is also the author of the chapbook Juliet (II), one of the winners of the 2015 Nostrovia! Poetry NYC Chapbook Contest. She is currently working on her second full-length poetry book, titled Juliet, which will combine the first two Juliet chapbooks along with three additional sections. She is a mother, a direct-support professional, youth arts mentor, and currently has her sights set on a PhD in psychology. Twitter: @sarahxerta.