Ruth Awad is a Lebanese-American poet and the author of Set to Music a Wildfire (Southern Indiana Review Press, 2017), which won the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of a 2016 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Missouri Review Poem of the Week, Sixth Finch, CALYX, Diode, The Adroit Journal, Vinyl Poetry, Drunken Boat, Nashville Review, and elsewhere. Her work has also been anthologized in The Hundred Years' War: Modern War Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2014), New Poetry from the Midwest 2014 (New American Press, 2015), and Poets on Growth (Math Paper Press, 2015). She won the 2012 and 2013 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and the 2011 Copper Nickel Poetry Contest. She has an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and she lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner, Pomeranians, and bunnies.
DS: Why do you write poetry?
RA: I wonder about that a lot. When I was writing my first book, I had such a clear sense of mission. In the US, we often get a flag-waving and human-erasing narrative of far-off wars waged against and between brown bodies in the Middle East. I wanted to understand and portray that destruction’s civilian price, so I wrote about my father growing up in Lebanon during its civil war. And this answer might speak more to where I am right now (between projects / floating in space), but some days, I just don’t know why I write other than I can’t stop. Strip away the altruistic desire to say something honest, reach people, and change minds, and there’s just me and my nagging want to create. Maybe it gives me some semblance of control in a world ruled by chaos.
DS: What do you hope to find in poems written by other people?
RA: I’m always looking for that one line that will sink its teeth in me. That will upend my expectations and make me reassess where I was before I read the poem. That will make me wish I’d thought of it first.
DS: Describe your works in progress.
RA: Right now I’m working on a second collection I affectionately call my “feminist love poems.” I don’t feel very in control of these poems, which is a departure from my last project Set to Music a Wildfire, where I interviewed my father, his friends, and my family, and researched, planned, and obsessively plotted the collection’s narrative arc, etc. So with this new project, I’m forcing myself to be more open to emotional logic, which is a fine enough guide when you’re writing about your fucked up romantic past and what it means to be a woman heavily instructed by patriarchal norms but who’s trying to unlearn it.
DS: What are your hopes for the future of poetry?
RA: I hope it keeps evolving. I want inclusion to be business as usual and not exceptional or a selling point. I want more POC editors running big-name journals and presses. I want ableist, sexist, racist poetry to never see the light of day. (I’m surprised this point can even make a wish list in 2016, but here we are.)