10+ Questions! with tara skurtu
by Laurin Macios | July 2016
Tara Skurtu has been a workshop leader at countless Student Days of Poetry and a headliner of our 2015 Student Day of Poetry at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. // 10+ Questions! is a new series in which we catch up with poets who have been featured in our programming.
It's been a while! What's new in life?
Well, just about everything. Last September I sold my car, packed up everything I own (mostly books and a desk), made a neat cube of boxes in a very generous friend’s basement in Boston, and hopped on a plane. I’m living in Romania on an extended Fulbright, teaching creative writing at Transilvania University of Brasov.
What are you working on these days?
Lately, everything but writing my own poems. After eight years, this spring I managed to complete my first poetry manuscript, The Amoeba Game. In addition to being super slow when it comes to writing, I tend to be patient with and simultaneously hard on myself—I made a bet with myself to publish every poem in the book before sending it to publishing houses. I’ve lost by one poem—for now. So, these days I’m sending out the manuscript and working on poetry projects here in Romania. I’ve fallen in love with the work of renowned Romanian poet Angela Marinescu, and I’m slowly translating her poems. I’m lucky to be co-translating contemporary Romanian poetry alongside Chris Tănăsescu (aka Margento) for an upcoming issue of Plume. I recently helped my students in Transylvania found Mindcraft, the university’s new undergraduate literary magazine. And, since nearly impossible things don’t scare me, I’m beginning to work on a long-term project to get poetry on the Bucharest metro. Oh, and I have written one new poem this year—which, to me, feels like a lot.
Is your poetry different now than it was then, and if so, in what ways?
I think poetry that doesn’t get different over time is boring poetry, so I hope mine is different now (and I think it is). Romania has changed my poetry in many ways. I like to say that it hijacked an entire section of my book (“Skurtu, Romania”) for the better. Just like I never know how to write a poem, I also can’t quite explain the ways in which my poetry is different now.
What I do know for sure is that the Romanian language has crept its way into my lines and even into a title. Here I also discovered the need to write a new kind of love poem that feels very much like the approach of an asymptote: a limits-of-love poem. Now, I’m incubating and have no idea what kind of poem will come out next.
Who/what are you reading lately?
Since I’m teaching myself Romanian, I’ve been reading aloud language and linguistics manuals. And contemporary Romanian poetry books. This week I did begin to read Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings—I’m four pages in and it’s already got me. And poems. I’m always reading as many poems as I can get my hands on. I have this new reading game I play. I google an object (ex: “window poem” or “breasts Poetry Foundation”) and then I end up in a surprising vortex of poetry and discover new and old poets.
Any major publications, readings, etc. we should know about?
Renowned Romanian poet and translator Radu Vancu (he’s the Romanian translator of Berryman and Pound!) has just finished translating the first draft of The Amoeba Game, which will be published by Editura Charmides.
I’m writing this interview in a hotel in Bistrița, a city in northern Transylvania, where I’ve just arrived by overnight train for an annual international poetry festival. And, in October I’ll be giving a talk on poetry alongside some pretty impressive speakers at The Power of Storytelling international conference in Bucharest.
AND IN THE STYLE OF EARLY 2000S EMAIL SURVEYS...
What’s your favorite animal & why?
I don’t have a constant favorite, but bonobos are currently fascinating me. I appreciate their “it’s no biggie let’s just sex away any potential aggression” daily routine.
Rain or sun?
Rain and sun. (Preferably warm rain and sun.)
Beach or mountain?
Beach. (I’m from Florida. I have no idea what to do with a mountain.)
What’s the last song you listened to?
Nina Simone, “Ain’t Got No/I Got Life”
Are you a good dancer?
If hilarious is good, then I am beyond good.
What’s the best thing you ever found at a thrift store?
A 1949 Parker forest green fountain pen that (thanks to my pen repair guy) I use almost every day.
What’s a word you hate?
Tell us a joke you know by heart.
Tara doesn’t know how to tell a joke to save her life.
Pancakes or eggs?
Biscuits and gravy (with an egg).
What do you use more often, the dictionary or thesaurus?
The dictionary. Every day. Etymology is like a scavenger hunt.
What's your favorite flower?
I love wildflowers. I love the Romanian name of a particular wildflower: bășina porcului, which means “fart of the pig.”