5 burning questions with Israfel Sivad

Israfel Sivad is one of our featured writers at our  August 13th reading. Check out our interview with him below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

My first memory of writing for fun was all the way back in 1984. I was only seven years old. I’d just seen Return of the Jedi in theaters, and I was so sad the Star Wars saga was over. I dug up a wide-ruled notebook my mother had given me, and I started writing a sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy. I never finished the project, but I was so proud of it. My favorite line was: “Boom! Boom!” went the rebel guns. “Grrrr!” said Chewie.

How many drafts = done?

As many as it takes. Sometimes, I feel a poem is done as soon as I’ve finished the first draft. In other instances, I might have to rework the lines over and over again until I’m able to say precisely what I intend. I have no hard and fast rule. Sometimes, I’ll spend a whole day crafting a poem. Other times, it will take more than one sitting. The poem is done once changes start making it lose its vitality. I’ll usually work something until I look at it and say, “That’s overworked.” Then, I start stripping things back away to return to the heart of what I wanted to say.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

My favorite book of the moment would have to be James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s very much the book I’ve always wanted to write – a slice of life story that contains a whole world of metaphor and symbolism. In my opinion, it makes the argument that mythology exists in our day to day existences. We simply have to know what we’re looking for.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

I love discovering the structure of a poem. Words are simply words until you fit them into a structure. Then, those words begin forming a poem. Some of the structures I use are based on classical motifs. Others, I invent solely for the poems I’ve written. I’ve used mathematical formulas, random generators and pure inspiration to come up with structures. But every poem I write has a very strict structure, and I love trying to fit words into those. The most exciting part is when the structure reveals itself as somehow relating to the content. That’s when I feel like I’m really in a groove, when the form and content merge together so that I no longer see one without the other.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

Wow, this is a tough one. I haven’t had a favorite word in over a decade, and back then it was always a profanity. I loved the sound of profanities, the shock of power a sound could convey. I never believed in profanity. I believe words are only words. They have no power outside of context, and the amount of meanings that a word life “fuck” or “shit” could have is mindboggling. They can be positive or negative, violent or peaceful, all depending on context. But they’re almost always somewhat shocking.

Bonus question:what literary character do you think would come across as really appealing and not appealing on an online dating profile? Think about what they would write about themselves online (would Mr. Darcy write nice things about himself?).

One character who I think could make himself come across as very appealing in an online dating profile (although, dating him would be a whole other story) is Nikolai Stavrogin from Dostoevsky’s novel Demons. He could easily describe himself in a manner that sounds very appealing – interested in the high and lofty things in life, independently wealthy, privately educated, and he probably would do just that. Simply so he could get the satisfaction of having another person be into him. Then, he’d probably make a charming first impression with his good looks and honesty, but he’d also cheat on his partner and not respect his or her feelings. In fact, he may treat somebody horribly just to get some sort of twisted satisfaction out of seeing how they might respond. Definitely not the person you want to be dating… as inviting as he may appear at a first glance.


Israfel Sivad is a Washington, DC area-based poet and writer. He is the founder of Ursprung Collective and the lyricist for indie rock group One & the Many. His writing is known for offering cryptic commentaries on human nature, heavy with references to contemporary culture and mythology. His most recent collection of poetry, We Are the Underground, was released in November of 2018.

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