Rachel Zucker’s fourth collection of poems, Museum of Accidents, is a searing look at the dark side of domestic life, motherhood and marriage. Zucker talks to PW about what happens when her family reads her books, and the difference between truth and imagination.
What does your family think of being written about so frankly?
Of course, I have the choice about whether to publish these poems, but I don’t think I had the choice about whether to write them. An awkward situation arose with my last book of poems, The Bad Wife Handbook: one day my oldest son said to me sheepishly, “I couldn’t sleep last night and I went into the living room and I read your book.” Then he asked, “What does it mean to be a bad wife?” I had never thought of him as my audience. I never thought he’d read it. With this book, my father immediately read the whole thing and tried to be nice to me and said, “The cover is so perky, I think it will sell well.” I don’t know what it would mean to write a kind of poetry that is appropriate for my parents and children. My hope is that they’ll see that an aspect of my project is to tell the truth about parts of life that are often sentimentalized or glossed over.
Your work is a real break with a lot of other contemporary poetry, which foregrounds the idea of the imagination, of making stuff up.
I did a panel once about truth in poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and I just kept saying, “What else am I supposed to write about?” and maybe that’s a failure of imagination. But I agree with the poet James Schuyler, who says, “I’ve always been more interested in truth than in imagination.”
How consciously are you trying to write a “confessional” book?
With these poems, I just felt urgency and a real distrust in myself of artifice. What am I going to do, couch this in some other terms? That was unacceptable to me. I wanted to see what would happen if I went as far away as I could from the lyric or the poetic and just told what happened. I just can’t believe the world is so crazy. When I saw, as I say in one poem, a kid lying in the street, and it was part of the banality of every day, I thought, I don’t want to make this into a lyric poem where anything is beautiful. This is what I saw, and I don’t want to make it beautiful and I don’t want to make it something else.