Interview with a POET
JEESOO LEE IN CONVERSATION with Ivanna Baranova
Ivanna Baranova is a Guatemalan-Slovak poet based in Brooklyn by way of Vancouver. Her debut poetry collection, CONFIRMATION BIAS, from Metatron Press, will be released on October 11, 2019. You can order it here. A New York-based release party is scheduled for November 23, 2019. Location and time will be updated.
An excerpt of the book comprising the poems “problem” and “ekg” mentioned in this interview can be found here.
Jeesoo Lee: Hi bb! Congratulations on the forthcoming release of your book. CONFIRMATION BIAS fascinates me because of its explicit connection to the psychological term. It’s an invitation to actually think about positionality — a move I think some writers shy away from. I wanted to ask you about the book’s “I” and its sort of refusal to be completely sanitized from the poet.
Ivanna Baranova: Thank you. I love this question! I think subjectivity can’t be sanitized at all, or even transmuted, really, so it’s useful to challenge the weird subjective/objective binary that gets set up in poetics. These poems are rooted in my experience, of course, and I can’t speak to their objective resonance, if that’s even a thing. I know we all embody our own distinct existential trajectories, and I hope the subjective moments in CONFIRMATION BIAS help mirror the ways we all aim to transcend our psychic ruts and metaphysical limitations.
There's such abundance in shared experience. I think poetry affords us a really beautiful universality that rejects rigid subjectivity or fixed identity. It’s complicated, though, because of the specificity of our individual realities. Obviously, we can’t just do away with identity. Like, for me, yeah, my parents are immigrants. I’m mixed race. I’m not straight. I’m a woman―and tired of performing gender. I’ve had deep mental health challenges. These realities intersect and inform the tonality of my work, sure. But I’m also meditating on relating―to self and others―while writing, and working to locate and exalt shared experience. That’s what excites me.
I’d heard the term “confirmation bias” but couldn’t understand, specifically, how it was operating in my own life, even as I was in a creative rut, unsure of how I would pursue poetry if at all. Now, on the other side of this project―on a new side of community―the term still feels obscure in practice sometimes but hopeful, too. When I witness how I’m enacting biases that don’t serve me, I try to see opportunities to process differently and to evolve my thinking.
JL: One of my favorite poems is “problem.” It’s a great example of how the poems are working. Little knots that sit first and expand later.
IB: That’s true about the magic of delayed expansion. The gradual unraveling of meaning is something I love so much about poetry, and it’s how experience often feels, anyway, like little phenomenological knots that don’t make sense at first but reveal deeper significance over time.
“problem” allowed me to observe the urgency and indignation I feel when I’m overwhelmed by the immensity of my emotions and remember that I deserve space to process, be supported, and to heal. I think awareness gateways vulnerability and connection. And sometimes vulnerability is really quiet, like in this poem, but the underlying emotions really are immense―like carbonation or something. Like other poems in the book, “problem” was an attempt to articulate the difficulty of attuning to vulnerability and wanting that difficulty validated.
JL: One of the overarching feelings I got from reading your book was gratitude for the contradicting ways we express that and also anger in the world. Can you say more about that tension in relation to your poetics?
Well, it’s empowering to be real about the conditions of our experience and what elicits our reactivity. Anger can inspire accountability and action, and it was a huge part of this project especially in the beginning. I was processing painful past experiences, feeling depleted from service jobs, and deciding to move across the continent.
I think anger is a healthy, integral aspect of self-actualization. It subsumes so many other emotions that ought to be felt and processed. Hard shit happens uniquely and disproportionately to and within non-privileged communities, and anger is vital in contending with all this. But it’s tough to sit with, and not always viable long-term, because it can become spiritually corrosive. That’s been my experience, and I’m working on cultivating radical acceptance that can include my anger when it’s beneficial.
I feel intense gratitude that shows up in my writing as I’m metabolizing how to authentically be in the world as I want to be. I’m practicing compassion and showing up for everything. I see that gratitude in my work, and it looks like love―both personal and interpersonal. I try to trust my intuition completely, and that intuition includes trusting my anger as a catalyst but not getting stuck in it.
JL: I think being in love is one of those conditions that is present throughout the book. In particular, I keep coming back to “ekg.”
IB: Wow, yeah. Being in love is one of my favorite ways to cultivate presence. I started writing “ekg” in a rush during an April sunset, walking through Bushwick, on my way to a bar to meet my then-partner and some friends visiting from Chile. That night was a beautiful emblem of colliding timelines, against the backdrop of making it through my first New York winter.
JL: Thank you so much for your time. I love you so much. What’s next?
IB: I don’t know, but the possibilities feel endless. I’m starting new projects, so we’ll see where they take me. More than a year has passed since moving, and I’m still so excited to be here, building community, watching beautiful synchronicities manifest around me. This city is like that. I love it.