Moncho Alvarado interviews Rosebud Ben-Oni about her poetry collection, If This is the Age We End Discovery. The interview is part of a series with Latino Latinx authors.
Alvarado: Your newest collection, If This is the Age We End Discovery, swirls in electric lyrics from start to finish. What bodies of the galaxy helped you shape or inspire the poems in your book?
Ben-Oni: In writing this book, I felt very close to certain artists and scientists who’ve passed and whom I call My Band of Dreamers: Hugh Everett III, Hilma af Klint, Freeman Dyson, Primo Levi, Edmond Jabés, Nazim Hikmet, Nikola Tesla, Guillaume Apollinaire, Stanislaw Lem, among others. I say to them regularly: Meet You in the Quantum, and I believe poetry is evidence of the quantum world. Above all, it’s Everettian Quantum Mechanics— or, as most people refer to it, the Many-Worlds Interpretation— that guided me in writing the poems as I examined the collapsing frameworks in my own personal life— Judaism, family, my health— and larger realms like the health care system and string theory. I say Everett Quantum Mechanics because without Hugh Everett, we would not have such a concise understanding of parallel worlds and the many selves of you and me and everyone existing are objectively real, and no self is truer than another. In his time, Everett’s work was dismissed, and he died at 51 never knowing the impact he’d have on not only the world of science, but this world at large. (He was also a brilliant mathematician). So saying his name, rather than referring to his work as the Many-Worlds Interpretation, is important to me as an artist and dreamer myself because I want people to know who is behind the work. I want them to know his name because without him, my own ideas of Efes, which is Modern Hebrew for “Zero” but also means “to nullify, to conceal” to mystical Jewish texts, would not be as fully realized without his work.
I believe Efes might lead to some ideas of understanding Dark Energy, but I’m still unfolding this idea, so I’ll leave what I have to say about for now in the book: that it is not only responsible for Dark Energy, but also all those elegant equations that quite possibly led physics astray, that reveals Itself at the singularity of a black hole, that it does not abide by any law, and just as soon as we are close to an answer, Efes changes the riddle. I believe Efes does this as a way to evolve us, not hinder us. Challenges increase exponentially as a way to make us “grow forward” so to say.
Alvarado: This collection is a universe unto its own, I was wondering what were your writing practices when making these poems for this collection?
Ben-Oni: Insomnia. No, seriously. I can’t remember even sleeping well. That aside, I just “listen to the music” in my head and translate what I’m seeing on the page. Often, it’s like a mashup of many different “songs” playing at once. Sometimes I unfold each one separately and move onto the next in a poem. Sometimes I have to write exactly what it sounds like. The songs often are reflections of each other, speaking to each other, unfolding and revealing each other. If I don’t get it down on the page, that particular music won’t “stop playing.” It gets louder. Until I write it down. Then I feel a sense of peace, until the next one starts again. I don’t know if that’s a process, but that’s how the poems come out.
Poetry is a reflection of the quantum as much as it is the future. It is not easy answers and linear thinking.Rosebud Ben-Oni
Alvarado: In this collection, you sing of the unknown, I was wondering what were some things you learned about yourself while making this collection?
Ben-Oni: That, for all my doubts about what all this is, and my fear that we are living in a simulation, life is worth it. And I love the idea of being alive— and not only my own being alive— more than any scientific truth that might offer me solid proof that it is all a simulation and none of this is real. I will most likely not have children. This is what I’m leaving behind, my work, my contributions to records of a flawed, curious and most fantastically imperfect species that never stops trying, despite the deep divisions that run among us. In my poetry, I’m very hopeful for the future that we will get to the next series, so to say, in our evolution, which will, I imagine, demand a great deal of sacrifice. This I’m exploring in a new work, so I’ll just leave that said as is, for now.
Alvarado: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about extending boundaries, which this collection does?
Ben-Oni: I’ve actually rarely been given any advice by other poets or otherwise. My friends who are poets tell me never to compromise on my unrelenting will to experiment, and even if they did (well-meaningly, of course), I know myself to know I wouldn’t listen. Poetry is many, many things, and my own work is just one of those many things. It’s the one genre I feel the most myself, the most free, all that I can’t do in real life to the full extent of what I do on the page. Poetry is a reflection of the quantum as much as it is the future. It is not easy answers and linear thinking. I put my faith in literature, but poetry is the root of this belief.
Rosebud Ben-Oni is the winner of the 2019 Alice James Award for If This Is the Age We End Discovery (2021), and the author of turn around, BRXGHT XYXS (Get Fresh Books, 2019). She is a recipient of fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and CantoMundo. Her work appears in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, POETS.org, The Poetry Review (UK), Tin House, Guernica, Black Warrior Review, Prairie Schooner, Electric Literature, TriQuarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, among others.