Poetry in a heartbeat: Rachael Zisk

Alexis White, Reporter

ALEXIS WHITE: From The Daily Northwestern, this is Alexis White. Thanks for tuning in. The Daily is collaborating with a selection of poets from The Slam Society, a performance poetry group on campus. In this podcast, Medill sophomore and former Daily staffer Rachael Zisk reads some of her work and discusses how femininity and memories influence her writing.

RACHAEL ZISK: I want to put on my fanciest shoes and go hiking,
or swimming, ruin a beautiful thing in the
most beautiful way I can think of
because that is what ladies do
and I am, of course, a lady,
and once I was walking my dog
and she, a lady, took off running across
the beach,
wordless and ladylike,
in search of something, I don’t know what,
but I do know we found her scratching and
covered in fleas later that week,
and the fleas were ladies-
ecstatic and buzzing
and so small,
but aren’t all ladies small?
isn’t this whole scene happening in miniature?
in a diorama? or a shadowbox?
aren’t all ladies just shadows?
flattened versions of people
and so much fun to dance with
and I love dancing!
and my dancing is a lady-
bent and awkward and joyful
and innocent
and lately, I keep thinking about the first
time I spent the night at another girl’s house
and how even the dark was a lady,
a mysterious, breathless thing
that will always keep your secrets
and that night, when all the other girls
were asleep, I stayed up and counted all
the stars out the window,
and how that night the stars were ladies-
twinkling and untouchable-
will burn you if you get too close
but collapse into one another all the time
and isn’t that the most ladylike thing?
and I think about that morning
(which was a lady)
getting into my mom’s car
(which is a lady)
and driving home
and home is, of course, a lady.
has seen the worst of me
and opens herself back up anyway,
will be walls and a roof when I need her,
an open door when I don’t,
so godlike I could pray to her
forgiving and forgiving and forgiving again.

WHITE: That was Zisk reading an untitled poem she wrote for an open-mic event in the fall. Zisk is the president of The Slam Society and a poetry editor for Helicon. She said she has written poetry since-

ZISK: Forever, like basically since I could write.

WHITE: Zisk said her poetry is usually centered around femininity and being a woman.

ZISK: I write a lot of poems about my younger sister and our relationship. I’m bisexual, so I write a lot of poems about that. And I just think that exploring the idea of what it means to be a woman in the world is a really deep and fascinating and complicated thing.

WHITE: The poem that Zisk read earlier explored those ideas of womanhood.

ZISK: Historically people have thought about women, like stereotypes of being small and submissive and those kinds of things. But also that’s empowering because I think that femininity is a really beautiful thing and I wanted to also celebrate that at the same time.

WHITE: Zisk said the poem was also partially inspired by aspects of her everyday life.

ZISK: Since I’ve started writing poetry I’ve interacted with the world a little bit differently. I just see, I feel like I look for details and things that I didn’t notice before, and looking back at memories and trying to find story lines that connect different things. Like connecting my dog running away from me on the beach to my middle-school sleepover to all different types of things that I can find a common thread to. And I think it’s really interesting and fascinating to kind of put disparate pieces of my life together in different ways. Yeah, it’s like a puzzle.

WHITE: Zisk said she wished more people would realize how relevant poetry is today.

ZISK: A lot of people kind of view poetry as this dead medium and think of poetry as like Robert Frost and Walt Whitman and all these dead white guys who had their form of poetry. But it’s such a living, breathing thing, and I’m just very passionate about it.

WHITE: Thank you for listening. Be sure to check out our other podcasts featuring student poets. I’m Alexis White, and I’ll see you next time.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @alexisfwhite