Ellen Bass

Reading a really good poem changes me. Especially if I read it aloud. And if I try to imitate that writer in my own work, I find that it changes me physiologically. I sit differently and breathe differently.

That’s so true. I was talking about building muscle, and you’re talking about it changing you physiologically. It does change us in those very real and tangible ways. Everything we read, if we read it deeply enough, changes us. Certainly, if we try and imitate, it changes us. If we learn it by heart, it changes us. And any way we can get deeper into the poem, and one of the most intimate ways is to imitate or if we have the skill to translate it.

Read the full interview with Ellen Bass in The Blue Mountain Review, December 2022


Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the dryer.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter’s age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat—
the one you never really liked—will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours. Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair, and your memory. If your daughter
doesn’t plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you’ll come home to find your son has emptied
the refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used-appliance store for a pickup—drug money.
The Buddha tells a story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles in a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh, taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.