Monday, February 07, 2005

Irish and Jewish: Tom Devaney talks with Sparrow  

For the past few years I have interviewed the poet and writer Sparrow everytime he's passed through Philadelphia. We're currently editing these interviews for publication.

Here is an excerpt (mostly unedited) from May 12, 2002. At this point, I am suggesting words for Sparrow to bounce off of: a person, place, concept, idea--and he is responding to each:

TD: How about Robinson Crusoe?
S: Robin Williams. They’re the same. Robinson Crusoe is the eighteenth century Robin Williams.

TD: OK, here’s a big one: work.
S: Play. Because my work is to play. I always have a job where I’m playing, like I’m a substitute teacher so I represent the absence of authority. When I enter the room, it means there’s no teacher, there’s only me. I’m like a Shakespearean fool, I’m the person that exists to be harassed, to be funny, they can put on their headphones and listen to Jay Z, I’m like a walking vacation (Laughs) That’s my job. For that I get sixty dollars a day, which is not much.

TD: So, vacation.
S: Sober. Then I think when I go on vacation, I’m extremely sober. That’s the way I am. I have this countervalent personality. When I go on vacation, I spend the whole time meditating, reading, if I’m in the Bahamas. Then, when I’m at work, I’m completely drunk (laughter), metaphorically.

TD: Next one is Peter Jennings.
S: Jews for Social inadequacy. I guess when I think of the media I think of the Jews. Even though I’m a Jew I believe that the media is controlled by the Jews. Even though it isn’t. I like the idea that the Jews control the media. I think it’s an important American invention. It may be only in America that the Jews are considered to control the media. In Europe they thought they killed children and turned them into matzo, they were moneylenders, they were Christ murderers, but in America there’s this interesting pairing of Jews and movies that we couldn’t have movies without the Jews. It’s really important. It’s almost as important as jazz. Jazz is really the most important thing. The Jews have never been able to contribute to America what jazz has.

TD: Why? The new recent Jewish anthology of American Literature has SJ Perelman, Groucho Marx.
S: Plus every novelist after 1960 is a Jew.

TD: (With a board smile).
S: Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud I’m thinking of, Norman Mailer.

TD: Max Apple. At one point I was reading all Jewish authors for a while, like the last ten books I read when I was reading novels, so I wanted to read an Irish-Catholic, so someone said--read Mary Gordon.
S: Yes, I read her.

TD: So I read Mary Gordon. And then it turns out her father is Jewish, and he converted to marry his wife. So that was the first book I read, which was fine.
S: That is the biggest embarrassment to the Irish in American literary history. When I found that out I wept.

TD: An Irish-Catholic girl from Queens.
S: And she’s like the most modern Irish-catholic writer in the modern American world.
She’s Irish to the max!

TD: Yeah, her book “The Other Side” is great. All of her books are good.
S: Yeah she’s an interesting writer. Although now that you know that she’s Jewish, she seems a little bit like a Jew looking at the Irish from within.

TD: Well, yeah, it probably makes her more interesting actually, but she was raised Catholic. (Doorbell) I have a couple more questions.

--Tom Devaney

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