Being a mom is hard–we all know this. But being a mom, writer, and a poet is even harder, because you know, where do you actually find the time to think and just read? Well, meet Hila Ratzabi, the Jewish mom who is figuring it all out. Hila, who is a Kveller writer, recently gave birth to her son Emilio (and wrote all about being part of an interfaith family and bringing him to writing conferences).
Besides being a mom, Hila is a remarkable poet. Her chapbook “The Apparatus of Visible Things” was published in 2009 by Finishing Line Press–Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri has said the poems “are wonderful because of what they balance so finely–a concrete, expressive love for the sensuous details of the world with an equally evolved, equally startling capacity for rumination, abstraction, and metaphysical grandeur.”
No big deal, right?
I was lucky enough to talk to Hila about her work, being a mom, what her childhood goal was, her biggest pet peeve, and more:
1. Favorite Yiddish word:
Schlepp, if you mean the Yiddish word that best describes how I feel lately–dragging a stuffed diaper bag, car seat, baby wrap, etc., when I bring my newborn out to activities with me.
2. Why did you start writing poetry? Your chapbook was published in 2009. What was that process and experience like for you?
The first poem I remember writing was in 2nd grade in response to a contest in a local newspaper in Queens. The prompt was to write a poem about your favorite flower. I chose the daisy, even though it wasn’t my favorite flower, because it rhymed with “crazy” and I needed the rhyme for the poem to work. I won 2nd place, and I still have the clipping my mom framed of the poem from the newspaper. I read books of poems by Jack Prelutsky and Shel Silverstein, which was likely where I got my penchant for rhyming from. The combination of silliness, wittiness, and sound play was enticing.
My chapbook consists of poems I wrote in my MFA program at Sarah Lawrence. It was exciting to finally see them all living together in print. The poems feel far away now, and my style and concerns have changed, but when I reread those poems I fall in love with them all over again. The experience at the time was mixed, though.
The chapbook launch reading felt like a high, but I was quickly deflated after that. I think this happens any time a writer experiences a moment of success: the feeling is fleeting. I’d have to return to regular old self in order to keep working at my poems, which is a good thing.
3. If you could be anyone or anything, just for one day, what would you be?
I’d love to see the world through the eyes of my almost 4-month-old son: a universe of shapes and sounds that don’t yet have names. Once he learns the names of things, that magical period of pure sensation and perception will be over.
4. What TV shows have you binge-watched?
“Friday Night Lights,” “Grace and Frankie,” and “House of Cards.” And I’m most embarrassed to admit, but I like “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and all their offshoots (New York, Miami…). It’s weirdly calming to watch while breastfeeding, especially all the story lines about breastfeeding, pumping, and motherhood on the Miami show. I’ve grown to admire Kourtney Kardashian. I never thought I’d say that out loud.
5. Biggest pet peeve:
When people on “The Bachelor” use the word “I” as a possessive, as in the phrase “Ben and I’s relationship.” They do it so consistently on that show it almost seems they are all following a bizzaro alternative style guide that only exists in reality TV land. Makes me want to strangle someone. But that’s what I get for watching “The Bachelor,” I guess.
6. What’s the best thing about yourself? What’s the worst?
Perhaps the best and worst things about myself are the same: holding myself and others to impossible standards. Our standards are so low these days, aren’t they? See “The Bachelor” example above, and the current state of the Republican Party.
7. Childhood goal:
To become a painter, which I did to some extent, but I never felt good enough.
8. What’s your weirdest family tradition?
This only happened once, so I guess it isn’t a tradition, but one of my Israeli uncles visited for Passover one year and surprised us all in the middle of the seder by appearing in a Moses costume, replete with long beard, robe, and staff. That was awesome. I’d like to reprise that custom one day for my kids.
9. Least favorite Jewish phrase:
“Gut yuntiff (good holiday)”–we were raised to believe that Hebrew was superior to Yiddish, so many Yiddish phrases rub me the wrong way (even though that’s not fair to such a rich literary heritage!).
10. What’s your least favorite children’s movie?
I actually had to Google “worst children’s movies,” because I couldn’t think of any I didn’t like. Thankfully, I haven’t seen any of the ones on the worst lists. I still have time, though.