Who writes a poem about Ikea Emeryvilles poet laureate, thats who

Name: Sarah Kobrinsky

Age: 37

Position: Poet laureate of Emeryville

City: Point Richmond

J.: You were raised in Winnipeg, Canada, and Fargo, North Dakota. What was your Jewish upbringing there like?

Sarah Kobrinsky: I was raised very Orthodox; I didn’t wear a pair of pants until I was 10 or 11. My mom wore a wig; she had six babies. I went to Lubavitch summer camp. The strange thing is, my parents slowly moved away from that, and now my mom is a Reform lay rabbi in Fargo. So she went from the sheitel-wearing, baby-making machine to being a lay rabbi. The intensity of their love of Judaism never changed, just the mode of it changed.

There are some Jewish principles that are so important to me, like tikkun olam and social justice. I remember, even being in first grade in an ultra-Orthodox school, that dialogue and discussion — not just accepting something but thinking about and discussing an idea first — is crucial.

Sarah Kobrinsky

Why did you become a poet?

I was just a tortured teenager. I guess I never grew out of it. I got less tortured though. I kind of have a dark sense of humor. A lot of things I do superficially are funny, but underneath is something very serious at work.

Your two-year term as Emeryville’s second-ever poet laureate is coming to a close. How did it come about?

My family was going to go for a hike one morning, and I said, “We’re not going to go anywhere if I don’t get some coffee.” We stopped at Arizmendi bakery in Emeryville. It was this gal’s first day as a barista, and I ordered a latte and it took her 20 minutes to make it. For some reason that morning I wasn’t bothered; I didn’t care. I was reading the whole community board … and way at the bottom there was a call for proposals for the poet laureate of Emeryville. I thought, “Gosh, I meet all the criteria.” So I put together a proposal. I had to provide samples of my work, a list of publications, where I had done readings, and things I would like to do if I was poet laureate of Emeryville.

How has Emeryville factored into your poetry?

I wrote a poem about Ikea. I wrote a very small poem about the shell mounds. That was very controversial in Emeryville; they built the shopping center on the native shell mounds [Indian burial ground]. The biggest project I’ve done is the poems on the Emery Go-Round, the free shuttle service. Every month we print off 1,100 copies of one poem by a different Bay Area writer, and we place them on the bus. And that’s been exciting.

What challenges have you faced as a female poet?

Shortly after I had my son, I wrote an email to an old friend, an editor of a well-known poetry journal. He wrote back, “I hope motherhood doesn’t color your work.” There was a period where a lot of what I wrote was in response to that [remark]. Because it’s just ludicrous. There’s a whole realm of living that happens; 50 percent of the population is female. But he was serious. And I think he thought he was being helpful, which is really, really awful.

Though you work in Berkeley at Jered’s Pottery,  you recently moved to Point Richmond because you were facing a huge rent increase. How has that move affected you?

My eyes have been really opened to just how dire the situation is for most people. We were able to get a new place; we have family support. But some people don’t have familial or financial support, and all of a sudden you’re booted out and have to come up with a hefty security deposit at a new place. For some people it means homelessness. Home is not a privilege; it’s a human right. I recently read at a fundraiser for Tenants Together, which is the largest tenants organization in California. I don’t think I’ve ever been more inspired in my entire life.

Who are your favorite writers?

Isaac Bashevis Singer is not a poet but is a great storyteller. That’s my go-to. I like the richness, the sense of place, the richness of the characters. Maybe there’s a sort of atavistic connection to the stories, maybe some genetic connection to the shtetl.

Read two Kobrinsky poems at www.jweekly.com/article/full/75150

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Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a former J. reporter who writes about education, families and Jewish life. She lives with her husband and two sons.