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"Aiming for What's Unknown": An Interview with Jenny Sadre-Orafai

Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Malak (forthcoming from Platypus Press) and Paper, Cotton, Leather. Her poetry has appeared in Cream City Review, Ninth Letter, The Cortland Review, Hotel Amerika, The Pinch, and other journals. Her prose has appeared in Los Angeles Review, The Rumpus, South Loop Review, Fourteen Hills, and other journals. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.

Her essay, "Misophonia Primer or How You Hear Sound," appeared in Issue Eighty-Eight of The Collagist.

Here, Jenny Sadre-Orafai talks with interviewer William Hoffacker about sound, discovery, and writing in a trance.

What can you tell us about the origins of “Misophonia Primer or How You Hear Sound”? What sparked the initial idea?

I found myself explaining misophonia to more and more people recently and rather selfishly because I wanted them to be more mindful about their noise levels around me. So, I thought maybe I would just write an essay about what it’s like to really live with it. I’ve come across some people who think I’m just being picky or sensitive, but it’s a real reaction to sound that I cannot control.

This piece is divided into twenty-six short paragraphs, each with its own title (most of them sounds), one for each letter and arranged in alphabetical order. Why organize your essay in this form? Did you write the sections in the same order in which they’re presented, or did you skip around?

I knew I didn’t want to write a conventional essay. I wanted the essay to be snippets of sound—sound coming in and out instead of a constant hum. I also think this format may be more inviting and not as overwhelming. So, I probably wrote it in this way for a reader like me, who can get overwhelmed easily. I actually came up with the section titles first and then skipped around writing each entry.

In the section “Televisions,” you write, “You work in the quiet. Your fiancé works in chaos. You make words and he makes images, So it’s different, you tell him.” I wonder if you could elaborate on this, and I admit my curiosity partially comes from the fact that I am a writer, too, and I find that I cannot tune out many sounds, which is why I keep earplugs at work and use them daily. Reading your essay, I felt I could relate to the speaker’s struggles, although I acknowledge that actual misophonia is rare, so I’m not sure if my “this seems familiar” response to the essay speaks more to my own experiences or to your keen abilities to convey yours in a sympathetic way. What I want to know is: Do you think there is a correlation being a writer and having auditory triggers? How would you describe the relationship between the writer’s life and the world of sounds?

Thank you for this question, William. It’s such an important one. I have always written in some sort of strange trance, so I find anything auditory breaks that trance or spell for me. It almost muffles out what I’m hearing and transcribing. I know this all sounds like a very romantic way of writing, but it’s how I’ve always worked. I do think, however, that sound can be a catalyst for writing sometimes. The sound of two people whispering on a plane, someone clapping too early on a recording of a live symphony performance, a horse clopping on a street during vacation. These can all be seeds for poems, essays, or stories that I stow away for later.

You are the author of both prose and poetry. What lessons have you learned from one genre that you have applied to how you write in the other?

I’ve learned how to really be lyrical in prose ironically and I’ve learned how to walk into a poem without a trail or a map. The lesson of being lyrical helps when writing prose because for me sound is even more important in prose sometimes. And, coming to the page without a plan and aiming for what’s unknown is something that is really felt for readers I think. I feel like the reader wants to discover with you and they’ll know if you already have it all figured out. Where’s the discovery in that?

What writing project(s) are you working on now?

I’m putting finishing touches on my second poetry collection Malak, forthcoming this fall from Platypus Press.

What have you read recently that you’d like to recommend?

I really, really loved Wendy Ortiz’s Bruja, Airea D. Matthews’ simulacra, Brit Bennet’s The Mothers, and Annie Hartnett’s Rabbit Cake.

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