No. 43: Elizabeth Gross
Q. What drew you to include a fragment by Sappho, the famous Greek poet, who is known for writing about love and eroticism?
This particular fragment (“with what eyes?”) has been central to how I think about writing since I first encountered it in Anne Carson’s translations. I was in college, and I remember going to my Classics professor’s office hours so she could teach me how that fragment sounded in Greek. I wanted to say it to myself. It was kind of embarrassing at the time because I had no explanation for why I needed to know. But then I started studying Greek, became a Classics major, and these little obsessions began to make more sense. Now I translate Sappho myself. In terms of the epigraph here, the eyes of the antelopes in the fresco are very striking and seem to ask this question. But I think of this fragment as an invisible epigraph on all of my work, as a call to constantly seek new ways of seeing.
Q. Do you have any advice for authors on where to break a stanza in free verse poetry?
It depends so much on what the poem is doing–whether breaks slow or quicken, whether they reinforce what’s been stated or cast it into doubt. I try to listen for the parts that require more silence around them.
Q. You said in your biography passage in The Mauve Issue that fairy tales intersect with myths when an item has absorbed enough power through your personal history with it. How did the antelopes from the fresco of Akrotiri draw your attention over other objects in your life at the time that you wrote this piece?
Most of my personal mythology of the antelopes is contained in the poem. When I wrote it, though, in 2010, I was far from both the copy (in my parents’ house) and the original (in the archaeological museum in Athens). This was the first poem in which I allowed myself to write about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina directly, as a narrative (a narrative which would soon completely overwhelm and shape my MFA thesis manuscript). “Antelopes of Thera” started from a fragment of a draft I’d given up on in 2006, when the effects of the storm and levee failures were all around me in New Orleans and it was too soon (for me) to write poems about any of it, even if I put the disaster far away in Akrotiri thousands of years ago. The power of the antelopes themselves hit me immediately when I re-entered my house after the long wait of evacuation, 10 years ago this week. I opened the door, I saw the hole in the ceiling that caused as little damage as possible, I met their eyes on the wall and thanked them.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Editorial Assistant Lucille Randazzo.
Elizabeth Gross’ poem, “Antelopes of Thera,” can be found in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
an excerpt from “Antelopes of Thera”
Atlantis or not,
accident in the form of a goat
discovered the city.
the goat fell through centuries
and centuries of volcanic ash.
Archaeologists followed in awe.
Did the goat survive?
Do goats have the kinds of eyes
that see color?
The only way to make something last
is to forget about it for a long, long time.
We’d just bought a copy
of the ancient fresco—a birthday present
for my father, on a lark—
the red orange sky rides heavy
on white mountains winding
just over the antelopes’ laughing heads.
Hung up in the living room days
before mandatory evacuation.
That sky the only solid shape—
should we take it with us?
Along with the insurance papers?
the family photos?
No. Leave it on the wall.
That one must be my voice—
my family didn’t know the story—
what they survived, painted
animals accustomed to loss.