Monday, July 29, 2013

Meet the Artist Monday: Cynthia Zarin

Photo: Sara Barrett
Poet, journalist and children's book author Cynthia Zarin is poet-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Her most recent books are "An Enlarged Heart: A Personal History" (2013) and "The Ada Poems" (2010). Her honors and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Ingram Merrill Award, the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Literature, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry. A long time contributor to the New Yorker, The New York Times, and other publications, she currently teaches at Yale and the City University of New York.

Here is my Q & A with Cynthia:

Me: What does BalletCollective mean to you?
Cynthia: An opportunity to work in a new way with enormously accomplished artists in different disciplines.  And a chance to explore my life-long interest in the ballet, also in unexpected ways.

What do you enjoy about working with Troy and Ellis?

As a writer, I work almost exclusively on my own.  It’s been interesting and vivifying to think through a piece of writing—a narrative poem—with two other people.  The poem is a true collaboration: we developed the ideas together, and I interpreted and tried to represent what we were talking about on the page.  
Has writing for BalletCollective changed the way you write, or think?

At some point in this process, which occurred over many months, I realized that I was writing a poem that had to occur on many levels, literally, at once: there would be dancers moving physically in space, and creating that space by their movements and gestures.   It illustrated a preoccupation of mine: how do action and memory, description and narrative, take place in time and space?  How as artists do we demonstrate how the past, future, and present are all happening simultaneously?
Before BalletCollective, had you ever been to the ballet? If so, has BalletCollective helped/changed the way you look at ballet?

I began going to New York City Ballet  when I was four years old—the first ballet I saw was Firebird, with Maria Tallchief!  And I have gone consistently since then.  I studied ballet, and I’ve gone to the ballet fairly consistently all my life; since beginning work with Troy, I’ve tried to see as much dance as possible over the last few months.  I think I’m paying closer attention to small gestures, looking at what ‘speaks’ on stage.   

What is it like being the only female in the collaboration?

I hadn’t even thought about that!  So, I’m not sure.   I’m immensely honored to be part of the collaboration, but I’m not sure that gender has been part of my thinking, particularly.  I think the three of us define ourselves more through genre: writing, dance, music.   

What's your favorite way to pass time?   

Well, hopefully, we don’t pass time but inhabit it!   I work every morning.  I like to cook for friends and for my children.  I go to the ballet!  And try planting new things in the garden here in New York, which is generally unsuccessful…
What are you reading?

I’m rereading The Ambassadors, by Henry James.   And, for some reason unknown to me, The African Queen, by C.F. Forrester.  My reading is somewhat indiscriminate. 
If you could die and come back as an animal, what would you be?

Could I not die and be an animal?  Pegasus? 
Your greatest influence?

I don’t know I could name just one. The books I read as a child, certainly, in which I lived from when I learned to read until I was about seventeen or eighteen, when life began happening, as it does to everyone; my grandmother and my great aunts, who were strong characters with a great sense of style, a few people that I love.

Cynthia's latest book, An Enlarged Heart (pictured above), has won rave reviews. One of the essays from An Enlarged Heart, titled "Going In" served as one of the inspirations for BalletCollective's newest ballet. I can't wait to read this wonderful book. It's at the top of my summer reading list! 


  1. I enjoy your interviews. She seems very cool and lives knowing that she contributed much back to her craft.

  2. Thank you so much! It is fun to get to know these artists!