Sarah Katz, CAS/MFA ’15, credits her ability to write poetry to her deafness. “It’s given me a way to look askance at things because I mishear a lot. I view things a little differently than a hearing person,” she says. “In poetry, I’m always seeking strangeness. Being a deaf or hard of hearing person is inherently strange because you think people said something they didn’t say, and there’s fun to be had in that. A lot of my work is surreal, and I think that comes from living a kind of surreal life as a deaf and hard of hearing person.” In her first collection of poetry, Country of Glass, Katz explores the concepts of fragility and resilience in a variety of verse forms, from sestina to prose poem. Prior to publishing the book with Gallaudet University Press, former US poet laureate Robert Pinsky named the manuscript a finalist for Tupelo Press’s Dorset Prize.
What was the impetus for this collection?
I wrote most of the poems while I was in graduate school, studying creative writing. One of my obsessions is my connection to Poland as a descendant of a Holocaust survivor. My grandparents didn’t reveal much about their experiences, so I had to invent some [details], yet [others] are real—they really had a cat called Mr. Nut, and my great-uncle really did jump out of a window with an umbrella thinking he could fly. I found myself drawn to traumatic subject matter because I was interested in the theme of resilience.
Did you include a content warning because of the traumatic subject matter?
It was my publisher’s idea. I’d included a new poem, “Torture,” while working on the book after they’d accepted, and I think that’s what prompted them to ask if I wanted to include a content warning. “Torture” is an erasure [a poem created by deleting portions of an existing text] of the New Yorker article “Torture at Abu Ghraib.” I was exploring how torture is glazed over in newspaper articles because writers attempt objectivity. This was my way of bringing subjectivity back to the discussion.
How do you know when something is going to turn into a poem?
I usually have a few words, an image that I can enter into. “The End of the Ordinary Body, I” is about being struck by a car as a pedestrian in 2014. I was thinking about what happened after, how the experience changed me, and the image of waking up to light inspired a poem. The first lines are “After the accident, / I was redrawn in light, / my body a suit.”
Do you have a favorite poem in this collection?
“Memory” was a response to a[n untitled] poem by Charles Simic. I envisioned myself as a young spirit visiting my grandmother’s apartment in Poland. The speaker of Simic’s poem visits the past himself.
Did you or your publisher consider producing an audio version of the book?
That’s interesting. Gallaudet University Press is [affiliated with] a deaf and hard of hearing university. I never considered it, but it would expand the audience for the book. I’ve started reading [along to] audiobooks recently because I just got a cochlear implant, and I’ve been trying to train my brain to understand voices. I don’t listen to audiobooks on their own because I can’t make out what the voice is saying, but I’ve been doing it along with [reading] the book.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a memoir in essays about my experiences as a deaf person.
When you’re reading for pleasure, do you focus primarily on poetry, or do you branch out to other genres?
I read mainly poetry, but I read other genres too. I’m a big fan of Oliver Sacks. I recently read the novel True Biz, by Sara Nović, about a young girl with a cochlear implant. She ends up going to a deaf school because her cochlear implant didn’t work. I also read Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism, by Elsa Sjunneson. I read a lot of memoirs by people who are disabled.
What was the last great book you read?
Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist, [by Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow], about a White nationalist who decided to completely change his mindset. It made me hopeful for the future.
Favorite bookstore or library?
Bards Alley in Vienna, Virginia. I’m biased because I used to work there as the marketing and events manager.
Best time/place to read?
Saturday, noon, Bards Alley.
If you’re struggling to finish a book, do you push through or put it down?
I do feel a sense of responsibility to finish most books, even books I dislike. If I’ve bought the book, I feel like I’ve invested in it. If it’s a library book, I don’t feel as much responsibility. My Jewish grandfather would always say, “Finish everything on your plate,” so it’s the same kind of philosophy.
Any guilty pleasures?
I’m kind of a square. I mean, I love to watch Real Housewives, but I tried to read Harry Potter and didn’t really fall in love with it.
Is there a book you’ve reread often?
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. I’ve read that three times. And also Deaf Republic, by Ilya Kaminsky. I read it once and then I read it again in the same sitting.
You’re hosting a dinner party for three writers—dead or alive. Who’s on the guest list?
Charles Simic, Linda Pastan, and maybe to make it more interesting, Maya Angelou. I think Charles Simic would be a hilarious dinner companion. He would probably make a lot of dark jokes.