An Interview with Ruth Awad

The images in your book are very rich so I want to start by asking about them. How do you create images? Do they tend to come to you as you draft or do you carve them out in the revision process?

Thank you for saying that. They come to me as I draft. I think images are the primary vehicle for emotion in a poem, so while I definitely refine them during revision, the images help me hammer out the fledgling form of the poem.

What made you decide to separate your collection into three sections? Did you set about writing poems that could complement each other in those sections, or did you naturally collect the poems you had into groups that made sense? Or perhaps something else?

I had a rough idea of the narrative arc of the collection before writing most of the poems in this book. A lot of that was because the earliest draft of the collection was my graduate thesis and I needed that self direction to produce poems, if I’m being overly honest. So I mapped out the story I wanted to tell and figured out the poems I would write to carry that narrative. The section breaks just kind of evolved from there. While the poems aren’t in strict chronological order of events, the sections more or less are: the first section tells the story of my father in his war-torn homeland (Tripoli, Lebanon, during the civil war); the second follows my father’s immigration to the US and his subsequent life with my mother; the third tracks my parents’ divorce and my father’s evolution into a single father raising three daughters. Because the poems follow my father, there are themes that traverse sections and the collection as a whole: the search for safety and belonging despite near constant uncertainty.

What writers have you been reading lately that inspire you?

Hanif Abdurraqib for his momentum and imagination; Kaveh Akbar for his word joy; Jess Rizkallah for her voice and truth; Hayan Charara because he breaks my damn heart; and Vanessa Angelica Villarreal’s Beast Meridian is life giving.

On your website, you have a whole tab dedicated to your work as a tattoo artist. How do you approach your creation of tattoos vs. poetry? Is there overlap?

They are two pretty different beasts, but when done well, both can achieve a level of permanence.

What is your revision process like? When do you know a poem is ready?

My revision process is pure chaos. Sometimes I’ll revise a poem on and off for years. Other times, I’ll write a poem, read it over, and never touch it again. Sometimes a poem just arrives fully cooked, and you know it when you read it. My litmus test for whether a poem is ready is if it feels long-term meaningful. That’s kind of a moving target informed by my mood and/or ego at the time, but I try to hold individual poems to the standard of: will I care about this in a year? Will it embarrass me in five years?

What are some of your favorite sweet things?

I have a sweet tooth forged, it seems, by a sugar demon, so I like almost any dessert or baked good (as long as it’s vegan): glazed donuts, red velvet cake, iced sugar cookies, to name a few. The exception and a controversial opinion: Pie is for the birds.

Ruth Awad’s work can also be seen at her website

 … return to Issue 10.2 Table of Contents.