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Rosebud Ben-Oni

An American  poet & Writer

The Wise Owl talks to Rosebud Ben-Oni, a Latina-Jewish American poet and writer. She is the author of several collections of poetry, including If This Is the Age We End Discovery (March 2021), which was the winner of the Alice James Award (2021) and was also a Finalist for the 2021 National Jewish Book Award in Poetry. In 2023, she received a Café Royal Cultural Foundation grant to write The Atomic Sonnets, a forthcoming full-length poetry collection based on her chapbook 20 Atomic Sonnets (Black Warrior Review, 2020), which she began in honour of the 150th birthday of the Periodic table in 2019. Ben-Oni has received several literature fellowships and grants from the New York Foundation for the ArtsCantoMundo, Café Royal Cultural Foundation, City Artists Corps and Queens Council on the Arts.

The Interview : Rosebud Ben-Oni

(Rachna Singh, Editor, The Wise Owl, talks to Rosebud Ben-Oni)

 

The Wise Owl talks to Rosebud Ben-Oni, a Latina-Jewish American poet and writer. She is the author of several collections of poetry, including If This Is the Age We End Discovery (March 2021), which was the winner of the Alice James Award (2021) and was also a Finalist for the 2021 National Jewish Book Award in Poetry and received a Starred Review from Booklist as an "astonishing work for adventurous readers intrigued by science and literature...Ben-Oni draws on the odd properties of supersymmetry to create a dexterous collection of electric lyrics that defies conventions of science and syllabics alike." Her collection, turn around, BRXGHT XYXS, was published by Get Fresh LLC in Fall 2019, which Dorothy K. Chan in Poetry Magazine called 'a poetic striptease. The women speakers in these poems are wild, glamorous, and untamed... The speaker is vulnerable, and she exudes this vulnerability powerfully, from every angle.' In 2023, she received a Café Royal Cultural Foundation grant to write The Atomic Sonnets, a forthcoming full-length poetry collection based on her chapbook 20 Atomic Sonnets (Black Warrior Review, 2020), which she began in honour of the 150th birthday of the Periodic table in 2019.

Ben-Oni has received several literature fellowships and grants from the New York Foundation for the ArtsCantoMundo, Café Royal Cultural Foundation, City Artists Corps and Queens Council on the Arts. In May 2022, Paramount commissioned her video essay 'My Judaism is a Wild unPlace' for a campaign for Jewish Heritage Month, which appeared on Paramount Network, MTV Networks, The Smithsonian Channel, VH1, among others. In January 2023, she performed at Carnegie Hall on International Holocaust Memorial Day, as part 'We Are Here: Songs From The Holocaust.'

 

 

Hi Rosebud. Thank you so much for taking time out to speak to The Wise Owl. We are delighted and honoured to talk to you.

RBO: Likewise~

 

RS: You have authored several collections of poetry, including If This Is the Age We End Discovery, which was the winner of the Alice James Award and a Finalist for the 2021 National Jewish Book Award in Poetry. Please tell us a little about your journey as a poet and the creative influences in your life that inspired you to become a poet.

RBO: There are many~ I suppose it's a genuine curiosity about the world. I grew up not really fitting into any world in particular, partially due to my background: my Mexican mother converted from Catholicism to Judaism before I was born, but I was still very much influenced by Chicano and Mexican culture in Rio Grande Valley. It's a strange experience being mixed, but I am very close to my mother's family. Still, I had a difficult childhood, which taught me to never follow a crowd, and pursue my interests which was wild and varied, and even now in 2023, I get questions like, 'how can you write about pop culture and string theory?' I also get asked quite often how is it I take difficult concepts in science, use them correctly in poetry and still write innovative work, without sacrificing the lyrical. My answer to all that isn't complicated in itself: follow your own music, wherever it leads you. The music is what you make of it. I've said this before, but I really do believe I'm many things that refuse to make a complete thing, in terms of classical mechanics. This refusal came long before I understood it. I am here in part to break The Standard Model, and I don't just mean in particle physics, which really is about fields, not particles by the way. I reject this world because it is not real, and much of what is being created now will one day be not disproven but what I call "completely transformed by nullification" and I am a part of that something new— my last book If This Is the Age We End Discovery has a lot of clues, and how you interpret those clues will also determine what sort of world is next for you.

 

RS: Your poetry touches upon large existential issues such as creation, nullification, objective truth, among others.  Our readers and poetry lovers would be keen to know what themes inspire you to write.

RBO: That's hard to answer. I just follow the music. I am now what I call My Impish Era (and wrote about this recently), which flits in and out of existence, and part of the criticism going on in physics right now— that there’s too theories being created that can’t be proven or tested, too many hypothetical particles that can’t be found— makes sense in my brain and then my rouge electrons take over and I think: it's not so much I am an undiscovered particle, and you can’t find me.

 

It's that you can’t invent me.

 

RS: Your poetry collection If This Is the Age We End Discovery was written pre-pandemic, and yet in this book you dwell upon themes of permeability, mortality, divinity, the inevitable rupture of both natural and familial ecosystems; issues that we all faced during the pandemic. Our readers would be curious to know, how you creatively divined or foresaw what was to come through your poems.

 

RBO: If I said I did, what does it matter now, no? When a thing happens, it cannot unhappen, or so says the Arrow of Time, one of the greatest unsolved problems in physics. All I can say is there are clues as to what's coming next in If This Is the Age We End Discovery. I'm not being difficult. Well, yes, I am. But it's because evolution is supposed to be hard. As I say in the book, the whole point of existence is solving problems but it's not to find answers; because as soon as you think you know the answer, the riddle changes. It's endless. It's impish. It's fields, not particles, that will win in the end, and I am a field, as expansive as my thirst and desire, and the moment you try to pin me down as a poet or person, I'm already and always somewhere else. I say all of this in the book and will explain more in others books. I've joined, so to say, the changing in the riddle, but it also wasn't a choice. And partially why the riddle changes is because Efes, like HaShem, (or whatever you want to call it or not call it or not believe in anything at all, doesn't matter) wants things to continue to evolve forever. But it's not without destruction as much as creation. The reason I can't give more specific "answers" is there are none, only clues, and how you interpret the book will indeed inform what you perceive as both your reality and possibilities, your present and your future. I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic about humankind. Everything has a potential. For both creation and destruction.

 

RS: Your poetry collection turn around, BRXGHT XYXS, has been described as ‘unabashedly feminist, queer, punk, Latinx, and Jewish, making hers a unique and vital voice for our times.’ How would you respond to this comment?

 

RBO: That's definitely true. Even with my waywardness, I was born a Jewish person, and will die one. My faith has been tested many times, but HaShem has never abandoned me, and I don't mean 'abandon' in the human sense. In If This Is the Age We End Discovery, I constructed my idea of Efes, and in a sense, I'm also a child of Efes. My nickname growing up was Matarose, which I suppose translates as 'kill rose' and it was meant to make me, a string bean of a longhaired, pretty child, fierce. Considering what I went through as a child it took me years to realize I was fierce. Matarose has her AntiMatter counterpart, AntiMatter{ose}. We are going to impel a new beginning together. Or rather, we already have.

 

RS: ’20 Atomic Sonnets’ intrigues me. It talks about bad-boy toxicity of Fluorine, commiserates with the unstable loneliness of Caesium, & swoons over the sensuality of Gallium et al. I loved them of course but am curious to know what made you write sonnets on atoms and electrons?

 

RBO: In 2019, the 150th Birthday of The Periodic Table was celebrated and I expected bigger fanfare from the general population in the U.S. I felt it was not getting enough attention, so I chose a form— the sonnet— in which to try to "contain" the elements, which of course did and could not— and began to write a series of poems which in 2020, Black Warrior Review published my chapbook 20 Atomic Sonnets, which was (and remains) free and available to the public to read online during the first year of the pandemic. Some of the elements include Hydrogen, the origins of our universe; to Iron, destructor of stars; and elementary particles, too like the electron, reimagined as honey and killer bee, as interstellar love song I'm now working on a full-length collection of this project, The Atomic Sonnets, in which she will cover all existing elements and a few more discovered and hypothetical particles (like the graviton)— but in the spirit of sheer curiosity, I also decided to create new ones, as The Periodic Table itself is not enough for her. This new collection includes two Crown of Sonnets, to honor existing poets by creating and naming new elements after them, to show how we as artists bond and become creative forces ourselves. It's going to be metal.

 

RS: Your poems have been acclaimed as electric and musical, with varying forms; tight stanzaic forms, or loose wispy phrases. How do you decide on the forms and innovate?

RBO: I don't decide. I just let it come out on the page and follow the music. The quantum world is fascinating and as a teenager, I did enjoy toying with classical mechanics, although I know have taken on more serious views, though I have not lost my sense of humor. Well, I did for a period, but it's back now.

 

RS: Are you working on any other collection as we speak? Do share particulars about your forthcoming book.

RBO: I am! I can't say much at the moment, but there's A LOT brewing. More quests, more curiosity. I want readers to enjoy the journey. 

 

RS: You are an award-winning poet and have also been recipient of several prestigious grants. What advice would you give budding poets?

RBO: Take risks. Read as much as you can. Follow your inspirations, wherever they are. I mean that: there are so many beautiful things on TikTok, for example. Ignore gossip and people trying to derail you, steal your thunder, shrink your light— it took me years, and I mean in 2020, to figure this out that people's jealousy is their problem. Don't let cruelty in others stop you from being kind, but know it doesn't mean you're a doormat, and when those line gets blurred, ask yourself if that person's having a hard time, or if they really mean to hurt you. Above all, Take. Risks. On. The. Page. That's all I've ever done— and speaking for myself, almost always off the page too. Holy Moses, it's a wonder I'm still alive, to be honest. I have no regrets, even and especially with things that happened in my youth that were out of my control. And then later. Don't let someone diminish you. People are just people. They are not immortals. Remember that.

 

RS: If I were to ask you to describe yourself as a poet in three words, what would those be and why?

 

RBO: & & &

 

Thank you so much, Rosebud, for talking to us. It was such a pleasure to talk to you. We wish you the best in all your creative endeavours and hope you write more beautiful poetry and win more awards for your poetry.

RBO: Thank you. Here's to better life for this planet~

Some Works of Rosebud Ben-Oni
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