“Gods” was a poem in our July issue by Zoe Etkin. I talked to her, very carefully.
1. Your god-formula seems fairly sound, but I prefer marble, eggshell, clock. Where’s the spiritual content in the gods you produce?
Maybe everyone’s god has a different formula. I mean the one we all make for ourselves. Spirituality is complicated for me. I’m Jewish, culturally, but mostly I make up my own rules. I think I choose natural things and bodily things to make this god with because I find my spirituality in nature and the body. I like when things happen the way they aren’t supposed to in real life. You might call me a spiritual surrealist.
2. Which other parts of the body can be used for god-producing?
I think wombs can be god producing. What about the gallbladder? That would make a more wily god, one with more “gnashing of teeth.”
3. This poem is sparse in a really intimidating way. How much do you pare down a poem before it’s done? Is the process anything like carving the man you need?
Not to continue to intimidate but this piece in particular came out almost as it appears in [PANK]. Sometimes that happens for me. It’s why I aspire to call myself an ecstatic poet in the intimidating/beautiful legacy of Emily Dickinson. I get bursts and the poems come out. Other times I really have to wrangle a poem. Either way, I tend to edit as I go. It’s a type of carving, yes. I pare down poems rather than expand them. I think the poem is usually there, it just needs to be dug out.
4. This god you can make, what does he look like?
In this Gods poem, I have two, he looks like my father. Tall, bearded, wearing black and smelling of mineral spirits. But in this version of him he does exactly what I need him to. Also, this god represents all I need in a man. It’s a tenuous line between father-loving and man-worshiping. It speaks to a relationship with men that isn’t exactly healthy…
5. What else is never given to you, besides the men?
In my god factory I can make a god for anything I need, now that I’ve figured out how the factory works. I can make things for myself. I need the men most, I guess. But I need other things. Things for letting go. Maybe I’ll make a god for that.
6. What kind of paintings does this father make with his paint knife? Or doesn’t he use it for art?
My father is an artist. He primarily uses oil paint. He uses brushes, but he creates bold bands of color with paint knives. He’s the master of the paint knife. His work is beautiful.