Alumni Spotlight: Anna Rabinowitz '90

September 09, 2014

The Alumni Spotlight is a place to hear from the School of the Arts alumni community about their journeys as artists and creators.

Anna Rabinowitz '90 is a poet, librettist, and editor based in New York City. A National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, she has published five volumes of poetry: Words on the Street, Present TenseThe Wanton Sublime: A Florilegium of Whethers and WondersDarkling: A Poem, and At the Site of Inside Out, which won the Juniper Prize.

Rabinowitz has written the libretti for The Wanton Sublime, a monodrama with original music by Tarik O’Regan, and Darkling, a multi-media opera with music by Stefan Weisman. Darkling excerpts have been performed in many venues, and a full-length production ran for three weeks Off-Broadway. A semi-staged concert version traveled to Europe. Darkling’s latest incarnation, a CD, was released by Albany Records. A German translation of the book was also published by Luxbooks (Weisbaden, Germany) in 2012.

 The Wanton Sublime operatic monodrama premiered in the U.S. at Roulette, Brooklyn, NY and in London at the Arcola Theater as part of the Grimeborn Festival.

She has published widely in such journals as Atlantic MonthlyBoston ReviewThe Paris ReviewColorado ReviewSouthwest ReviewDenver QuarterlySulfurLITVOLT, and Verse. Her poetry has appeared in the anthologies The Traveler's Vade MecumThe Best American Poetry 1989, edited by Donald Hall, Life on the Line: Selections on Words and HealingThe KGB Bar ReaderThe Poets’ GrimmPoetry DailyPoetry After 9/11Blood to RememberWomen Poets on MentorshipAftershocks: The Poetry of Recovery, and The Paradelle.

Anna Rabinowitz is editor and publisher emerita of the nationally distributed literary journal, American Letters & Commentary and is a member of the board of the Poetry Society of America and a director of American Opera Projects.

How did attending the School of the Arts impact your work and career as an artist?

Everything and almost everyone at the School of the Arts literally changed my life. I came to Columbia as a mature woman who had always wanted to be a poet but had, as a person who had married at a young age and proceeded to have three children, followed a very different path. My first 20 years or so years after college were spent, first as a grade school teacher and then as an interior designer and adjunct faculty member at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I moonlighted, one might say, by writing and by taking poetry workshops at the New School and the 92nd St. Y. Luckily, I acquired two mentors: Pearl London, the legendary teacher, and Molly Peacock, the well-known poet.

Finally, in a moment of clarity, I took stock of myself and realized I didn’t want to wake up one day filled with regrets because I had not pursued my better angels: poetry and literature. I applied to the School of the Arts and was accepted. So began a new life. I thank my mentors for pointing me in the right direction. They always said I simply had been asleep for a long time and had awakened to the birth of new self. Of course, my career changed radically.

September 1 marked the publication of my fifth volume of poetry, Words on the Street. I have written libretti for my second and third books, Darkling and The Wanton Sublime, a one-act opera and an operatic monodrama, respectively. Both works have been performed here and abroad. At present, I am collaborating with a group of artists at HERE Arts Center on a hybrid theater piece based on Words on the Street.

Was there a specific faculty member or peer that especially inspired you while at the School of the Arts? If so, who and how?

I was inspired wherever I turned. I was challenged. The atmosphere was a heady one for me. I was living in an exciting world focused on poetry, creativity, and the intellectual life. I couldn’t have been happier.

Faculty members opened up door after door for me: Paul Auster, Ann Lauterbach, Paul Muldoon, to name a few.  There were explorations of surrealism, ideas of chance, issues of form and rhythm.

Jane Cooper was particularly kind and helpful. Her course in prosody could not have been more ideal for me because it had turned out that I was the only poet in the program at that particular time who was working with received forms in order to break them open or to fill them with what I hoped would be unexpected. My peers were all writing exclusively free verse. It was wonderful for me and, I think, wonderful for them, to work with Jane who shepherded us all and who helped us to bounce off each other with our different approaches.

Jane also worried about how I would fare when I graduated because I was a generation or more older than all the others. Fortunately, it all worked out well, surely in large part because of the support I got from Jane and so many others at Columbia.

What were the first steps you took after graduating?

I took my Master’s thesis and shaped it into a book. It had quite a few different iterations and titles. Finally, after six years, I got a call from Bruce Wilcox, editor of the University of Massachusetts Press, telling me that At the Site of Inside Out had won the Juniper Prize. Also, at the urging of Molly Peacock, I went downtown and got involved with some projects at the Poetry Society of America. That added yet another world of poems and poetry. I’ve lived in that multi-faceted world, enhanced by my fascinating forays into opera and theater. I am forever indebted to the School of the Arts where my new, true life began!

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