Sasha West’s first book, Failure and I Bury the Body, won the National Poetry Series and a Texas Institute of Letters First Book of Poetry Award. She is on the faculty at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. Her poems "Leviathan" and "To Fix the Ache" are featured in the Winter 2017 Premium Edition of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, January 22, for special savings and discounts.
Can you tell us a little bit about the metaphor of leviathan dogs? How did the image come to you? Could you imagine seeing them?
I did actually dream about giant dogs when I was pregnant. To say the dreams were vivid is an understatement — my sense of the dogs was deeply physical, visceral. So I set myself the task of trying to bring that sense of their bulk and force into the poem as part of the experience of the bodily changes in pregnancy. Even though the dream preceded the poem, I feel like images in any poem I write become as real to me as images I see (dreamed or not).
We enjoyed the surrealism of “Leviathan” and equally enjoyed its real and moving ending. Do you read surrealist poetry?
Thank you for saying that. Yes, I do read surrealist poetry. I’m interested in poems that navigate leaps in imagination, ones that force us to see the world as more than the ordinary. If one of poetry’s gifts is to allow us different access to the experience of life, then we contemporary poets are fortunate to have so many tools at our disposal for those shifts in thinking — surrealism being just one of them.
“To Fix the Ache” has some wonderful leaps. Is this typical in your poetry?
I wish I could tell you what is typical in my poetry! It seems to me that every poem, every piece of content, calls upon a different process, a different kind of form. Even though this poem isn’t at all a ghazal, that’s the ghost form I had in mind while I was working on it. I love the idea of that form both in its repetition and in the way it calls for a break between each stanza, as if a stanza finishes and then hits the reset button on the world of the poem. While the stanzas in “To Fix the Ache” became linked in later drafts, I think the image worlds in the poem still investigate that kind of constant turning.
“And he left and kept leaving / all night…” is a lovely concept, situated in a capable and apt line break. The line becomes its own example of how a person recollects an event over and over and could also represent the simple act of leaving and returning. What did you hope the reader might experience in that line?
For me, it was more your first reading — the way the action of some events physically ends in the world long before the event ends in our mind. I think all loss has an echo and an endlessness. I’m glad the line break helped you to experience that.