Getting to know Ruth Baumann

This Thursday, (2/23), we will be having poet Ruth Baumann at the shop for a Shelf Talk and signing! She will be reading from her poetry chapbook, Retribution Binary. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Florida State University. She has been published in Colorado Review and Sycamore Review. Make sure to come out for our event and get a copy of Retribution Binary, which will be available for purchase. 

1. What is your favorite line of poetry you've written? What is your favorite thing you've ever created? (It does not have to be a piece of writing!) 

RB: Oh, I don't know what exactly my favorite line is that I've ever written. I do feel very connected to my most recent chapbook- the poems in there lay bare so much of the psychology (/psychopathology) I've always been interested in, engaged with. For right now, perhaps the first line is what resonates most today: "A body must reach an equilibrium regardless of its passions towards splintering." This chapbook is probably the best thing I've created!

2. What is the hardest piece that you've written? 

RB: Well, I went through a time a little over a year ago where I started processing a lot of old trauma, and looking pretty intensely at my childhood/ family, and the language which came out of that was extremely raw. Much of it is in my full-length manuscript that is still looking for a home.

3. Do you have any writing practices or routines that you like to stick to? What does your writing space look like? 

RB: I am terrible at routines. My writing space is my couch, and the coffee table in front of it, always covered in books & papers & pens & cat toys, etc. I have tried writing through several routines and I find that none of them are as beneficial for me as is just making sure I write at least a few poems a week (regardless of their quality). I do know that reading poetry before bed helps it to seep into my consciousness more, and I'm producing more linguistically interesting work when I'm in that habit.

4. Do you believe in the saying, "write what you know?" 

RB: I have thus far proven unable to write what I don't know, so there's that. I think the heart of what I write- the truths in it, the emotional understandings- can only come from what I know. The settings, characters, details and circumstances can be altered, but the actual substance of the poem has to come from what I know. I just started to get into a long, complicated, rambling answer about the limitations of this phrase as applied to poetry versus prose, and the ideas of privilege and assumption versus empathy, so maybe I'll stop here.

5. Are there any poems/poets you recommend to readers who want to begin reading poetry but don't know where to start? 

RB: Yes! I teach comp so I'm familiar with that dynamic. I think Jack Gilbert is always a good starting point, as is Sharon Olds. Claudia Rankine's Citizen would be a great book for people who are easing into poetry. C.D. Wright, Marcus Wicker. (These are all amazing poets, of course, for reasons far, far beyond their Ruth-perceived-accessibility.)

6. What are you currently reading? 

RB: I just finished The Tree that Bears Your Name by Matthew Mahaney and Bestiary by Donika Kelly, and both are really amazing, luminous books of poetry. I also recently completed Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama-- not to glorify him, but almost a sort of comparison point for the way race is now dealt with in America versus what Obama imagined many years ago. I have many thoughts on that that probably go beyond the scope of this question! Currently, I am reading a backlog of New Yorkers, Shakespeare's Henry V, and excerpts from Charles Reznikoff's Holocaust (blame my PhD for 2/3 of those choices, although they're fascinating materials even if required reading, of course).

- Maddie