A radical capaciousness for the other — an Interview with Sarah Gambito
Loves You is “simply Gambito’s finest work yet,” Aimee Nezhukumatathil says, “a remarkable folksong and jubilee of the heart—and stomach.” The book brims with family as Sarah Gambito turns unique American struggle into song. We’re honored to have the chance to ask Professor Gambito some questions about her latest book, released today.
In “When I Hated my Body”, you write, “I wanted the poems to breathe prettily, / to be ecstatic and extroverted citizens.” And a few lines before that: “You who are living. What is your responsibility?” This is such a vital question for our community right now that I’d love to hear your thoughts on: what does it mean to be an American poet and an American citizen? What is our responsibility and what is the responsibility of the poems we make?
Sarah Gambito: I think as poets we should be passionately beholden to the communities– communities that are increasingly diverse and polyglot– that we live in. We should never flinch from the stories that are not ours. We need to cultivate a radical listening, a radical capaciousness for the other.
There are some wonderful recipes in “Loves You”—whats the story behind their inclusion? How did these recipes become poems for you?
Sarah Gambito: After the 2016 election, I realized I needed a more corporeal poetry. I wanted a poetry that had implicit action in its DNA. I love the imperative command of a recipe–which is a way to move forward. A way to respond, a way to nurture and nourish. The recipe as a poetic form is all hope. A call that hopes for a response. You need to act toward the recipe for it to come to fruition.
The most astounding recipes are the simplest. They imply that you begin with best ingredients that you can possibly procure. The same I think applies to our literary gatherings. Bring your best self, your full eyed self. Assume bravery, conscience and tenderness. Open up the home of your heart.
The ending lines of “Advice” have really stuck with me—I find them to be strangely and beautifully hopeful: “Why is it I haven’t done anything // and yet I want so much to drape it around someone’s shoulders.” What do you hope for as a poet in America today? What will we end up draping on the shoulders of the next generation?
Sarah Gambito: I hope that we can see ourselves and others with greater and more fluid compassion. I hope that we can bear to slow down and admit the mysteriousness of what it means to share the world with others.
Sarah Gambito is the author of the poetry collections Loves You (Persea Books), Delivered (Persea Books) and Matadora (Alice James Books). She is Associate Professor of English / Director of Creative Writing at Fordham University and co-founder of Kundiman, a non-profit organization serving writers and readers of Asian American literature.