Wednesday, June 6, 2012

TALK l Su Smallen

Colin talks to poet Su Smallen about Barbie, Buddha, and duality.

CGB: I suppose more rarely than not are we offered a book of poems written entirely with use of a persona. But then, Buddha isn't the easiest of targets when it comes to pinning someone down. In this case, Buddha variously takes time with his feet and hates Barbie, at least "during [her aerobics] class." Was there anything you felt that Buddha wouldn't do or think?

SS: Well, Buddha doesn't really hate, right? "Buddha, Barbie" is one of the earliest poems, and at that time I was thinking Buddha could use the word hate like we do when we say, "oh I hate the way that makes me feel." But hate now feels too strong. Maybe Buddha wouldn't think this--after all the readings I've given of this poem, I'm uncomfortable with the word. Even so, it makes people laugh because we recognize that feeling of being pushed too much beyond what's comfortable or known and then blaming the instructor or coach, even though we signed up for it.  Buddha definitely has a deep sense of humor and is the first to laugh at himself. Other than that, I often felt while writing the book that Buddha is limited only by my imagination. 

Barbie, too, is featured in these poems, whether contemplating "tenderness" or made reference to by Buddha's trip to Target and subsequent, inscrutable, desire for a Midge doll (Barbie's friend). Are both Barbie and Buddha figures in a way? Empty vessels, open to manipulation? Or is Barbie too defined; an inverse instance of your line about our being "so full, we are empty"?

I like "empty vessels"--certainly Barbie, in the best sense, is manipulated by her child, her deus ex machina. She has much to say about the Americanized west and therefore is a good friend for Buddha, who speaks from the east, who is making his way in the west. Is Barbie so empty, she is full? Well, the empty-full question is a kind of chicken and the egg question meant to break open duality: we are full and we are empty, we are empty and we are full.

At one point, Buddha laughs, and the mistrust and immediacy of the world around him ceases. Does that ever work for you? 

Yes! But I never remember soon enough or often enough to laugh, Buddha's compassionate laugh.

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