Cynthia Cruz’s poems have been published in The New Yorker, Paris Review, Boston Review, American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review and other publications. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Ruin (Alice James Books) and The Glimmering Room (Four Way Books). A third collection, Wunderkammer, is forthcoming this fall. She has received fellowships from Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony as well as a Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University. She teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
West Branch: Your most recent book, The Glimmering Room, begins with a selection from the Gospel of Thomas. Given the quotation's Gnostic roots, can you speak to how religion, or religiosity, informs your work?
Cynthia Cruz: It is a kind of poetry, this mysticism. And philosophy. And for me, poetry is this mix of a kind of mysticism and philosophy. The work I love most marries these two tenets. The films of Tarkovsky, Hollis Framptom's Process Red, Cady Noland's installations which are, to me, a complete and perfect poem (if poems are words that serves as objects), Eva Hesse's disintegrating soft sculptures—these are all works I love and each of these embodies a kind of mysticism and philosophy. Benjamin, Weil, Helene Cixous—all of these writers are poets, too—each writer a mystic and philosopher. Each of these works might be considered dark, to be exploring the darkness. But the act of making is itself an act of hope, of faith.
WB — In reference to exploring the darkness, your work seems to be a landscape, in that there are specific landmarks, namely the rooms, the hospital, New York, and California. Do these locales, the spaces between them, and the repeated images within, act as our guide in exploring the darkness?
CC — This is a great question and one I hadn't thought of before. I was of course aware of the places in the poems—namely, California—but hadn't thought of the places as guides into the darkness. In fact, I think that it may well be the opposite, or a mix of both, in that the hospital and other dark "rooms" are illuminated by the hope and optimism expressed by California—the desert, the brightness, the abundance of space. So I'd say that California as a place and idea in fact inform the darkness. It works as an ambassador of hope.
WB: In a review of The Glimmering Room, Julie Brooks Barbour says, "Medicating a problem is easier than facing what a culture has created. Medication removes memory and the self. The speaker knows that being broken down by the culture means that another life has to begin, whether or not it fits any definition society might accept." Does Ruin also address this condition? How does The Glimmering Room relate to Ruin?
CC: Id' say that Ruin does also address this condition but that in its case the work addresses the family as opposed to the culture at large, which The Glimmering Room addresses. This also answers your final question: the two books relate to one another in that Ruin explores a family/personal experience of living in this culture while The Glimmering Room explores, instead, the cultural experience, overall.
WB: The Glimmering Room mentions many different characters such as Toby, Billy, Daddy, the brother, and the central I figure. Is the I meant to be a consistent focal character?
CC: Yes, the I is meant to be a focal character. The I is the lens through which the various worlds the book inhabits are seen—homelessness, psych wards, drug addiction, poverty, violence, grief, the experiencing of beauty.
WB: What is the role of the "Strange Gospels" within The Glimmering Room?
CC: In my first collection, Ruin, I initially had a series titled "Praying." During the editing process, I was told that that I needed to rename each of the poems, that more than one poem could not share the same name. This might be one answer. "Strange Gospels" is an alternative to the title "Gospels" or naming the poems after someone, for instance, "Claire Gospels" or "The Gospel of Claire." That title would be too literal and I wanted something more fluid. So "Strange Gospels" is the result of that. Also, I like the idea of a number of poems sharing the same title and working as a kind of wave or refrain throughout the book. In my mind, a gospel is a truth. These poems, the "Strange Gospels," are little song-truths.
WB: We've asked you about the movement from Ruin to The Glimmering Room—can you give us any hints about your next book?
CC: My forthcoming collection, Wunderkammer, has as its compass the idea of the Wunderkammer, the cabinet of curiosities. I was thinking, when I was working on this collection, of Aby Warburg, Rosemarie Trockel, Martin Kippenberger, John Bock, Hans Peter Feldmann, Reinhard Mucha, Hanne Darboven, Gerhard Richter's Atlas Project, Walter Benjamin, Dieter Roth's archives, and the overall idea of trauma and compulsive collecting/hoarding/archiving. Also, I had in mind the clutter of excess: Karl Lagerfeld's over-the-top Chanel runway shows featuring emaciated models in long, blond dreads and "Bombay-inspired" gowns alongside corridors of tables stacked with multi-tiered cakes in Paris's Grand Palais, the clutter of bodies as the result of our wars, and Agnes Varda's "The Gleaners and I, her film on "gleaning" clutter—debris, tossed out food, clothing, furniture, etc. Clutter as both excess in terms of glam and bling but also trash, waste, excessive meaningless death. In other words, our current state. The poems are not literal interpretations, they never are. But, rather, the result of my deep immersion in these works and issues for many years.