Welcome, Jo Sarzotti!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in the past six months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods and our 2017 Hudson Prize. Today we bring you Jo Sarzotti. Jo is the author of the poetry collection Waiting for Achilles, which was a finalist for this year’s Hudson Prize, and will be published in the summer of 2019.
Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

SarzottiThe Author

Jo Sarzotti is the author of two books of poems, Mother Desert (Bakeless Prize winner, Graywolf Press 2012) and Waiting for Achilles (Black Lawrence Press, forthcoming June 2019). Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Southwest Review, Radar, Tupelo Quarterly, Denver Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly, North American Review, Perihelion, Borderlands, and in the anthologies The Traveler’s Vade Mecum (Red Hen Press 2016) and Poem-a-Day: 365 Poems for Every Occasion (Abrams 2015). She lives in New York City where she directs the Liberal Arts Department at The Juilliard School and hosts the Three Muses Reading Series.

On writing Waiting for Achilles

Waiting for Achilles began as my attempt to explore the color blue. I was intrigued by the way “blue” conveys carefree “blue skies” but also the despairing notes of “the blues,” not to forget blue laws and blue movies. I read Goethe and William Gass on blue, Maureen McLane’s This Blue, and Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, an exhaustive anatomy of the color, but in the end, I was more interested in it as a trigger or embedded theme. I think you find in my collection a range of motifs, from positive (“Adaptation,” “Horse Latitudes”) to dark (“Valentino,” “Overdose”), and even blue movie-like (“Porn Star,” “Chinese Theater”). Each poem on its own, I hope, moves between dark and light, underworld and open sky, from blue to blue, traversing the range of blue meanings.
My process composing poems generally starts with being haunted by an image, a snatch of dialogue, something I read, a phrase or an apt description; sometimes it is a painting in a museum, or a landscape. Other times, I am struck with an idea I want to work out poetically, or an experience I want to re-imagine. Getting myself to sit down and confront this haunting with language is not always easy in a busy life, but I manage eventually to write. I revise incessantly, starting with a fulsome version, long line, many details, lots of description, and slowly winnowing it down to the hard kernels of meaning encased in image, hoping I’ve caught the intensity of whatever triggered the poem in the first place. I am almost always disappointed somewhat. The title poem, “Waiting for Achilles,” for example, took years to write, as I struggled to insert myself into this famous episode in the Iliad. “Overdose,” took forever, as I struggled to free it from the inspiration of Frank Stanford, and “Mother Snapshot, “ also, as I untangled potent childhood images. Some poems come together relatively fast; “Valentino,” for example, I composed when the experience described was fresh in memory, but that is seldom the case. Sometimes when a poem takes a long time to get just right, my attitude toward its subject will change; “Priest River” and “Norse Mythology” are good examples of that. In any event, I am ever inspired by the words of Flaubert, “Images are action,” and come as close as I can to meeting that challenge.


I am afraid & so I run.
If I wave a white flag, he’ll kill me,
If I fight, I’ll die,
I run
Falling inside every stride.
Where is the hero?  Where
Is my swift horse?
Achilles is a tiger, a tank, a raging fire,
Every fear I ever had
In one.  I run.
The gods help, especially Apollo
God of poetry & music
& cowards.
I know this will end
Because everything ends,
Sweet life even in the middle
Contains seeds of death.
I see my beautiful wife, my infant son
In their graves,
If I stop running, she will be raped,
He will be tossed from the walls,
I run
Until my brother appears.
Courage flows like a flash flood
After heavy rain,
But flood is dangerous,
Destroys lives & huts,
Washes away precious cattle.
You know how this goes:
My brother is a phantom & I
Am human.
It is fate come at last,
I fight
Brave in the end, just
For the sake of it.
(first published in Ploughshares)
Re-routed to Fate Lounge,
Banished from the red
Carpet where spangled women
Parade their mother’s beauty
& the wrong dress can prove fatal,
She is a cerise gash opened
In bleeding skin so pale
It’s blue.
Her show is over, a bad story set
To bad music.  On heroin again
She stuffs her round smooth
Cheeks with pie & doughnuts,
Pink hex on her legs, she plays a whore.
Handful of salt, saucer of rice,
Two pin-marks on each wrist,
She’s a vampire fireball waiting
To disappear.
(first published in Denver Quarterly)
It’s taking a long time,
The thoroughbred heart
Is outsized & strong.
Overcome by colic
& old age,
He gasps, gums blue,
Lying on his side
In this bloody sun.
I’m drinking water
Hoping to dissolve,
Leave, stay,
I can’t decide.
We put a parasol
Over his beautiful head,
He strains to rise,
Kicks at the air,
But he will never
Stand again.
His deep animal eye
Holds a part of me
I won’t get back.
I retreat
To a little shrine:
Honey-suckle patio, music
In the breeze,
My grandfather telling
Horse stories,
Oaks & high clouds,
So long ago, I am
So young,
I cannot watch
His last breath, his
Side still. Heart
Stop, the black never.
I walk away
From the dusty corral
Into the woods
To the pit where fire
Will not light.
(first published in Southwest Review)