getting to know Francine Rubin and her new chapbook, if you’re talking to me: commuter poems
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
As a child, I memorized “The Tale of Custard the Dragon,” by Ogden Nash, for an English class. I remember being taken in by the sounds and whimsy of the poem.
I began writing stories and plays in college, but I didn’t really write poems until graduate school. I took a wonderful poetry workshop with Daniel Tobin at Emerson College that caused me to shift my focus from writing stories to writing poems. I was lucky that my MFA program allowed me to do this.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I don’t have a writing routine. I find that I go through some periods where I am writing frequently and with what feels like urgency, and other periods where I don’t write very often. During these more quiet periods, I try to focus more on submitting my work to journals and seeing how my poems might fit together as a collection. Sometimes seeing the interrelationship between my poems triggers new ideas for future poems.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
Although I am often drawn to poems because of sound, my own writing tends to originate from images, ideas, and observations. More recently, I have also been attuned to dialogue snippets that intrigue me.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
The writers I have read the most are the ones who have influenced me the most, even if this is not directly apparent from reading my poetry. These writers include Louise Glück, Philip Roth, Hanif Kureishi, Louise Erdrich, Alice Hoffman, and Jane Austen.
In graduate school, I read a book called Critical Theory Today, by Lois Tyson, that caused me to change how I think about writing – both my own writing and that of others. I have taught this book frequently in college writing classes.
Growing up, I trained as a ballet dancer at the School of American Ballet. As much as I have been influenced by writers, I think I have also been influenced by choreographers, especially George Balanchine. Dance gets into your body and impacts how you think, feel, see, and interact with the world.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? Are there over-arching themes? What was the process of assembling it? Was is a project book? Etc.
My chapbook collection began to emerge after I wrote half a dozen short poems about riding the subway (the “T”) in Boston. These were usually observational poems focusing on scenes or situations I was seeing or experiencing. Sometimes I would write the poem on the subway on my phone as I was witnessing the scene, although I would sometimes write the poem afterwards upon reflection. After these first few poems, I became interested in writing more commuter poems, and I began to view the collection as a project book.
The tenor of the times and current events (i.e. gun violence, immigration) are in the background of some of the poems. These issues sometimes move to the foreground as I or other commuters are responding to or reflecting on these issues.
From If You’re Talking to Me: Commuter Poems
This is America
1 Bus to Harvard Square
6:00pm, January 26, 2017
A man with half-closed lids
talks about his section 8 home.
I sort of hear him
through Bach in my earbuds.
He says the residents
are zombies. He calls me
a lucky duck and asks
what I think of Trump's wall:
"It's not just the Mexicans,
it's the Iraqis. But it's not
a conversation for this bus,"
he says looking around.
Then: "do you agree with it?"
When I shake my head no,
he says "me neither.
This is America, dammit.
High five," and bumps
my fist with his fist.
“This is America” originally appeared in Vox II: American Identities: