A Conversation with Cynthia Zarin

By Laura Liu

I was fortunate enough to sit down and ask Cynthia Zarin some questions. Read on for the result!

Laura Liu, Interviewer: You engage in a variety of writing styles: sonnets in your most recent book Orbit (Knopf, 2017), children’s books, and reviews for the New Yorker, to name a few. What leads you to pursue a specific genre for a project or an idea?

Cynthia Zarin, Writer: I might turn the question around: the genre pursues me.  That is, while I don’t believe there is too much difference between genres (because binding them is the necessity of making oneself clear), while it would be possible to write a poem about a theatre production, of course, prose, in that case, allows for a discursive sensibility.  The genre (a story about a dog who likes to ride in taxis, for example) tends to announce itself without much fanfare.  It’s interesting to look though, at Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “In The Waiting Room” and compare it to her prose version of the same event (going to the dentist) in her essay “The Country Mouse.”  Poems, I think, tend to face inward, and prose outward.

LL: Two of your poems, “The Impulse Wants Company” and “Dear and Blackbirds”, have inspired ballet productions, which is so cool! How did this experience enrich your understanding of the relationship between different art forms?

CZ: My work tends to veer towards formality.  That is—even in free verse I am most at home if there is an underlying structure.  And I like writing in form, and in invented forms.  So ballet—which I studied for years, as a child and a young person—was, I think, a great influence on my own work:  it’s extraordinarily disciplined, but there is infinite room for gesture, beauty, invention, and complexity.  And it relies, for the most part on music.  Poetry, after all, must sing, even if it sings quietly.  So working with BalletCollective, which is a wonderful New York based company,  was natural for me.  But it was interesting, and challenging, to see that the narrative had to work in many directions at once: up, down, across, and sideways!

LL: Many writers have given—and will continue to give—insightful advice for those looking to break into the literary world in conversations like this. But what about those who are still unsure—do you have any advice for them?

CZ: The best advice I can give a young writer is to read.

Laura Liu is a senior at Conestoga High School, and has been writing her entire life. As an editor for her school's literary magazine, The Folio, she is always looking for ways to help herself and her peers develop mastery and voice in writing.

Laura is a 2019 Merit Award Winner for Writing (Poetry) from the National YoungArts Foundation, and has won top prizes in competitions such as the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS) Student Contest, and the Central League Writing Contest. She was also published in NFSPS' annual poetry anthology, Encore, in 2017.

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