Writers

Meet Alicia Jo Rabins, 2020 Oregon Literary Fellow

We’re thrilled to introduce the 2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 400+ applications we received, and selected eleven writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. For the first time, Literary Arts also awarded two Oregon Literary Career Fellowships of $10,000 each. The 2021 OLF applications will be posted in May 2020, and the deadline to apply will be in August 2020.

2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Alicia Jo Rabins (she/her/hers)

Category
Poetry

Bio
Alicia Jo Rabins  first collection of poetry, Divinity School, won the 2015 APR/Honickman First Book Prize and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Her second collection, Fruit Geodewas published in October 2018 by Augury Books/Brooklyn Arts PressShe is a composer, performer and Torah teacher.

Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
The body. Time. Coffee. Plants. The power of art and imagination – the fact that I can be totally convinced of some emotional reality and then it’s utterly gone a moment later. Coming of age (over and over). Ritual. Music. Shame. The fact that I’m (we’re) going to die. Wisdom texts. 

How would you describe your creative process?
I work in different media (music, performance, writing) and each has its own creative process. For writing, the most important part of my process to completely separate the generative stage and the editing stage. This separation is essential to writing for me. When I am generating I try to relax my critical mind entirely and open a valve to the unconscious. When I am editing I try to be ruthless and disciplined in service of the piece. It’s the kabbalistic balance of chesed (compassion) and gevurah (boundaries). They are opposites, but each contains the other.

I also want to express my gratitude to The Grind, a daily writing practice community run by poet Ross White. This gives me an accountability practice – every day something has to get written, even if it’s just a few words. I love that this takes the preciousness out of it, and many (if not most) of my poems over the past few years have begun Grind drafts.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
I’m truly honored to receive this fellowship. I was born in Portland but my parents left when I was four months old, and I grew up on the East Coast. Improbably, I fell in love with a Portlander and ended up moving “back” here exactly seven years ago. From the moment I moved here I’ve been so grateful for the literary community. This is an amazing town full of warm, welcoming authors and poets – my writer self is completely at home here, and I’m so grateful to be here. I am excited that the Fellowship will connect me more deeply to this community I have already grown to treasure. (The money is incredibly helpful too – as a freelancer and a working mother, this allows me to dedicate a whole month just to poetry, a very rare treat.)

What are you currently working on?
As usual, probably too much, but I can’t help myself. I’m working on two new books of poems: one is more general, following up on my past two books, a continuation of my ongoing exploration of the weirdness of being alive. The other is a book of poems directly built around the Jewish ritual year, which speak explicitly to the experience of engaging with (or sometimes pushing back against) these traditions. I’m also three years into working on a spiritual memoir, which is my first longform prose and a real challenge, but also very fun, when it’s not pinning me to the floor. Finally, I’m at work on a film called A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, in collaboration with director Alicia J. Rose (my almost-name-twin). A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff is based on my one woman show of the same name; we filmed in Portland last summer and are currently in post-production.

What advice do you have for future applicants?
I’ve applied to the OLF multiple times and been rejected. The best advice I ever got was at a Creative Capital training years ago. They said, “In terms of creative submissions and grants, if you aren’t getting 9 rejections for every acceptance, you’re not aiming high enough.” This totally transformed my relationship to rejection – it still stings, but I truly see it as proof that I am doing my job as an artist. So that’s my advice: write the truest stuff you can, and don’t stop sending it out into the world.

Excerpt, Fruit Geode (2018)

GEODE

The plagues we wished upon ourselves 

With aloe juice and cayenne

The planets we strained to reach

That was how being young tasted

Each of us a geode looking to be cracked open

And to crack each other open 

Over and over

I am no longer young except to those who are older

In the way that youth moves along 

The conveyor belt 

At a consistent distance

I drink water now

I try to be gentle

The years crack you open enough

Judge’s Comments
“Alicia Jo Rabins’ poetry reveals the wondrous unpinning the quotidian: ‘I type the wrong year/I hold the amethyst in my mouth/Like a sharp purple tongue/I bleed on the chair by mistake,’ she writes. The poems situate writing practice as spiritual practice requiring a quality of both inward and outward attention that manifest in exquisite images (‘Now I watch you breathe/In your miniature/Flamingo pajamas’) and powerful insights.” — Kerri Webster 

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