April 17, 2020

“Shaking the Universe”: Ariana Reines’s Interview on KCRW

Ariana Reines

April 16 would have been the annual Tufts Poetry reading at the Huntington Library. This year’s Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award winner, Ariana Reines, was scheduled to give a reading from her new book of poetry, A Sand Book (Tin House, 2019). While this event has been postponed for now because of the ongoing pandemic, KCRW provided its listeners with an opportunity to get to know Ariana Reines and hear her read selections from A Sand Book. From 1:30 p.m.–2:00 p.m. yesterday, the radio station broadcasted a thought-provoking interview and reading she gave with Michael Silverblatt on his program, Bookworm, in April of last year. Reines is no stranger to KCRW and has been featured on Bookworm previously. You can find this interview and reading here.

A Sand Book, Tin House, 2019

At the start of the interview, Silverblatt asks the rather momentous question, “will anything still move me?” In thinking of Reines four hundred page long revelatory publication A Sand Book, Silverblatt promises his audience that this book of poetry has most surely moved him. He relates Reines to Walt Whitman and calls Reines newest book a revelation. Silverblatt’s praise for Reines’s book does not cease throughout the interview. His admiration for the poet is truly apparent and rightly deserved.

When asked why the book is four hundred pages, Reines explains her love for big books and how these long texts are able to “go beyond themselves” and stay with her long after she has finished reading. As she illustrates, long books provide a “full experience.” All of this is certainly encapsulated in her reading of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” This poem, read in Reines’s soothing yet powerfully impactful voice, provides a critique of America, climate change, the brutality of consumerism, and a yearning for love. The poem also refers to James Baldwin, a strong influence on Reines’s work. After admiring her reading of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Silverblatt asks about her inspiration in James Baldwin. She mentions how Baldwin is able to illustrate how we bare witness to our lives and how she hoped to the same with A Sand Book.

Reines then gives a reading of “I Can Give You Anything But Love” that Silverblatt claims was inspired by a meeting that the two had as she was writing her book. Personally, the reading of this poem blew me away. Reines’s reading style is subtle and creates an understated profundity that drives each poem in a powerful direction. The content of “I Can Give You Anything But Love” and the way she read the poem felt like a brain massage.

As the interview continues, Silverblatt and Reines discuss how A Sand Book circumnavigates the globe. Based in New York, Reines explains how her work has taken her around the world as a necessity of her profession. Travel for Reines is not a search for “kicks” but rather “the pursuit of the romantic,” and “the magic of the present moment.” This leads in well to her reading of “Gizzard” that follows a woman’s experience in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After listening to her read this poem, I found that her poetry is reminiscent of a bygone era while simultaneously unafraid to engage with inescapable aspects of modernity. The balance she is able to create in her poetry is rather striking.

The interview concludes with her advice to fledgling writers. She encourages writers that, no matter what level you may be writing at, your work is “shaking the universe.” She then goes on to explain her relationship with her homeless mother, and how this life-altering experience has shaped the way the looks at the world and how she writes. Hearing an audible tremble in her voice and seemingly holding back tears, Reines thanks Silverblatt for the interview and the segment concludes. I am grateful that KCRW gave its listeners another chance to get to know Ariana Reines and her work. I have gained even more respect for this year’s Tufts winner, and I am truly looking forward to hosting her at our event at the Huntington Library whenever that time may come.

—Jordan Wheatley

Editor’s note: We were heartened to hear that Tiana Clark, this year’s Kate Tufts Poetry Award winner, and Reines celebrated with cocktails over Zoom.