“It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to,
says my son at his bris, though it’s my party
and I carry the weight of a hundred generations
on the tip of my penis might be more apt.
Or: It’s my party. Let us pray.”
--from “Meditation in the Key of an Exhale” which appears in the Summer 2017 issue (Volume 58, Issue 2)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you’ve written.
Writing poems lends itself to many “firsts”. “Meditation in the Key of an Exhale” is actually a first poem in that it was the first one I wrote about my son. Composed during that first sleepless, delirious month of his life, the poem feels very much like a product of that particular moment.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
There are so many to name. Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Larry Levis, C.K. Williams, James Wright, Alice Fulton, Stephen Dunn, Terrance Hayes, Thomas Lux, Langston Hughes and Wislawa Symborska are all poets I’ve returned to for years.
More recently, I’ve become a huge fan of Carrie Fountain’s poetry. Both of her collections are staples in my life. Also, Jay Nebel’s “Neighbors”, Ada Limón’s “Bright Dead Things”, Christopher Kempf’s “Late in the Empire of Men”, Jenna Le’s “A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora”, Kaveh Akbar’s “Portrait of the Alcoholic”. I’m sure you were looking for a more concise answer, so I’ll stop there.
What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve been teaching for nearly a decade. Aside from that, I had the pleasure of working at a Bed, Bath & Beyond after graduating college. My father owns an automotive repair shop, so I spent many summers there, sweeping, unloading shipments, fixing brakes. The whole ‘fixing brakes’ thing was probably a reckless decision on my part.
What did you want to be when you were young?
When I was really young, like five or six, I’m pretty sure I wanted to be a writer. I’d spend hours creating these crazy little handmade books. I got into basketball around 4th grade, and from then until I realized I was topping out at 5’10, I wanted to play in the NBA. First thought, best thought, right?
What inspired you to write this piece?
As I mentioned earlier, “Meditation in the Key of an Exhale” was written during the first month of my son’s life, and it centers around the bris, which is the Jewish ceremony of circumcision, generally performed on the eighth day of life.
Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” lyrics was something I stumbled upon a few days before my wife went into labor. Even then, I was nervous about the circumcision, and found myself writing the line: “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to/says my son at his bris”. It made me laugh, so I kept it.
Then my son was born, the actual bris took place, and a poem started happening.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Absolutely. I find that living in Queens, NY is a source of perpetual inspiration for me and my writing. I love how as Queens residents, we are united in our diversity. Everyone is different, and so nobody is other. It’s a wonderful place to raise a family and write poems.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Being the parent of two small children, I don’t really have the luxury of writing rituals or traditions. I write when I can, how I can, often on the run or while pushing a stroller. If possible, I like to read while I write. It’s helpful to have the language of poems fresh in my ears.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
I feel very lucky to be part of a wonderful writer group in Queens. We originally met through Queens Council on the Arts’ ‘Artist Peer Circle’ project, and have been meeting monthly for about three years now. They generally get first reads on my new work.
What are you working on currently?
I recently finished my first full-length poetry collection, entitled “Go Because I Love You” and have begun submitting it for publication. Otherwise, trying to write new stuff mainly.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished reading the novel, “Station Eleven” by Emily St. John Mandel, and before that, I read “High Dive” by Jonathan Lee. Both were outstanding!
Poetry-wise, I mentioned a bunch of poets earlier, but I’m also reading and enjoying Wayne Miller’s new collection “Post-”, Lynn Emanuel’s new and selected poems, “The Nerve of It” and Amy King’s “The Missing Museum”.
Purchase our current issue (Volume 58, Issue 2) here to read Jared Harel’s piece “Meditation in the Key of an Exhale.
JARED HARÉL was awarded the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from the American Poetry Review in 2015. Additionally, his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Ecotone, Southern Review, Threepenny Review, and Tin House. His narrative long-poem, “The Body Double,” was published by Brooklyn Arts Press. Harél lives in Queens with his wife and two kids, and plays drums for the twang-rock band, The Dust Engineers.