The Yale Review, June 28, 2021
I met the poet Sarina Romero through friends, and we recently had the pleasure of talking together about her poem At Newport Beach, first published in The Yale Review.
At Newport Beach
Abjection, I say, when Martha asked how I felt, earlier that day, watching my father rub his palm back and forth against his girlfriend’s open thigh. She wore a tiny neon bikini. The waves crashed. I bought donuts and coffee. I watched her wrap her taut, eighteen-year-old legs around my dad’s waist. I readjusted myself on my towel. I glanced at my own body, embarrassed my bikini was as small as hers. I ordered beer at dinner just to remind everyone I legally could. Just to place age square in the middle of the table between the appetizers and my sweating bottle. There was a musician I once knew who spent months recording notes made by objects stored in a museum’s archives. He said, every object sings. He said, if I built a room it might give me an A-flat and the harmonic series that goes with it, he said, every empty space sings. All weekend I listened to hundreds of objects. All weekend with the two of them I spoke nothing sentences to pass the time. In the mornings I walked my dog to the pier. I placed my ear to the empty Tecates, the can of black beans, the path along the sand, I put my ear to the sand. I needed something to measure. I needed that beach, but alone, stripped of meaning. For the first time in a long time I wanted to be touched by no one. I could barely stand the tug of the current. I swam only in the bay. I watched the girl all weekend. I watched how they touched. I was needing something. I needed the water quiet enough to hear it cave around my body when I plunged underneath. Its noise stripped me of myself, and I remember this as my favorite part of the trip— to hear even the color of the algae at the water’s pale surface, clinging wherever I swam, even as I pushed it away.
Audio version here.
An Interview with Sarina Romero
Sarina, I really like your poem. I shared it with two people, who liked it as well. They both asked the same question: Were you inspired by personal experience?
Sarina: Yes. I was interested in using poetry to re-approach and work through my memories.
I'm curious about the first word of your poem, abjection. Why that choice?
S: It's so cool that you were wondering about that word, because I recently found the very first draft of this poem from August of 2019. The draft is radically different, yet that word was there, at the beginning of the poem. I was taken by surprise by the word's staying power through all the iterations of this poem. From the start of writing this poem I was interested in abjection as a concept. I was pulled by the physical sense of rejection beyond disgust that the word abjection confers. I loved how much the word relies on the physical experience of turning away, or being repulsed by something. I was also thinking about scholar Julia Kristeva's book, Pouvoirs de l'horreur, essai sur l'abjection, and I was interested in the ways she treats the subject of abjection. I wanted to work through Kriteva’s suggestion that identity is constituted not just by what we accept, but also by what we deny, or attempt to move away from.
After reading your poem, I found the word abjection coming into my head often. It’s a strong word, and really captured my attention.
S: And mine, too! This word kept repeating in my head. I loved that one single word could embody a physicalized sense of horror, or rejection. While it is often hard to find words to describe challenging moments, the impact of one modular, multi-faced word was like a tonic for me. It was an exciting point to jump off from. I liked that this word pushed against the rest of the poem's register and diction. And I loved the idea of starting with a spoken address, which is the only time the poem bears witness to the speaker actually speaking out loud to another person.
When did you know you wanted to be a poet?
S: I’m not sure I ever came upon a moment where I knew this is what I wanted to be, or do. But I do remember being a child and loving writing, because I was fascinated by its archival power. I was rapt by the idea that I could write something down, and then keep it, even if my own memory of what I was writing about faded. I didn’t so much know I wanted to be a poet, as I did know that I wanted to write all the time. I was endlessly fascinated by the ways writing could illuminate, or offer an alternate angle to look more closely at, whatever I was writing about. Writing has always been a site of discovery for me.
Have you always been most drawn to the poetry form of writing?
S: I wouldn't say so, no. But, I've always loved it. I love writing in general – it’s double function as both an artistic medium, and a platform for communication energizes it with a kind of tension that’s addicting to mediate and work within. To that end I love the essay form, and I love reading prose more than anything else. National Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith articulated an answer to the question, “Why poetry?” that, for me, resonates: “Poetry feels sacred to me, even when it is playful, secular, gritty. Poetry feels like the syntax of the unconscious mind, or–better still–the soul. I love prose, I write in other forms, but I believe that poetry unites me with my largest, perhaps my eternal self.” (1)
Thank you, Sarina.
Sarina Romero is a poet from Oakland, California. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU and lives in Brooklyn, NY.