Arvio, Sarah 1954-
ARVIO, Sarah 1954-
PERSONAL: Born 1954. Education: Attended Columbia University.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 299 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10171.
AWARDS, HONORS: Bernard F. Conners Prize for Poetry, Paris Review, 1997, for the first eleven poems from Visits from the Seventh; Frederick Bock Prize, Poetry, for poems from Visits from the Seventh.
(Translator) J. J. Armas Marcelo, Ships Afire, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1988.
(Translator) Abel Posse, Daimon, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1992.
Visits from the Seventh: Poems, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2002.
Author's poems have also appeared in The Best American Poetry 1998.
SIDELIGHTS: Sarah Arvio, who grew up among radical Quakers and supported herself for many years as a literary translator of books and films, did not have a collection of her poems published until she reached her forties. In an interview for the Borzoi Reader Web site, Arvio explained that she studied in the writing program at Columbia, but she couldn't envision herself as a writer. "When I thought about writing my own words, I imagined pressing down so hard on the pen that I broke the nib," said Arvio. "When I looked inward, I saw nothing but turmoil and grief. I couldn't realize my thoughts; I had a voice but couldn't use it."
Arvio decided to undergo psychoanalysis and began studying her own dreams as well. Eventually, she began to come to terms with herself as a writer. As she related to the Borzoi Reader, "I found my own thoughts intriguing and even beautiful. It was in that open, amazed mood that I began to hear voices that created these poems. That happened just after I turned forty."
The poems Arvio refers to are the award-winning collected works in Visits from the Seventh: Poems. The widely praised poems are "transcripts" of a woman conversing with invisible presences as she goes on with her life after a failed love affair. In the poem "Love," for example, Arvio says "It was not to them I wanted to speak but they were the only ones who listened." When asked about these "visitors" in the Borzoi Reader interview, Arvio noted, "I hear words and pick up a pen; they inhabit my hand when I write." She went on to say, "I don't know what they are; they're disembodied; they may be spirits, if anyone can know what a spirit is."
Writing in Booklist, Ray Olson explained Arvio's poetic conceit as "voices from a seventh sensual dimension" that "counsel the poet." He went on to compare the voices to the "unuttered thoughts most of us have" in that they "remonstrate, sagely advise, philosophically expatiate, pooh-pooh, and wisecrack." Olson also said that the "poems sparkle with worldly wise wit," which include "droll observations about sex" and "defensive rationalizing about abortion." In a review of Visits from the Seventh, Washington Post writer Edward Hirsch called Arvio "a spiritual apprentice." He also praised the collection as "a splendidly odd and compelling first book" and called it "nervy, fanciful, and unified." Judy Clarence, writing in the Library Journal, note that Arvio has a "flair for the supernatural." However, she added that by placing these unknown entities at the core of her poems Arvio is treading on "dangerous ground: writers who venture in the realm of the occult risk banality." Nevertheless, Clarence added that "Arvio's prodigious talent saves her; the poems in this book well deserve the awards they have won."
As for the book's title, Arvio explained in the Borzoi Reader that the "seventh is the place they inhabit: an elsewhere. I was giddily surprised when they told me that the extrasensory sense wasn't the sixth sense at all, but the seventh sense, a more fitting number for a mystical sense." Arvio says she writes each day at dawn when she is "working" but that she also carries a pen to write down ideas as they come to her. As for her poems, she told the Borzoi Reader, "In a sense, you could say the poems are odes; love poems to life; poems of longing for life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 2002, Ray Olson, review of Visits from the Seventh: Poems, p. 917.
Library Journal, March 15, 2002, Judy Clarence, review of Visits from the Seventh, p. 85.
Publishers Weekly, January 21, 2002, review of Visits from the Seventh, p. 86.
Washington Post Book World, June 9, 2002, Edward Hirsch, "Poet's Choice," review of Visits from the Seventh, p. 12.
Borzoi Reader Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (September 5, 2002), "A Conversation with . . . Sarah Arvio."*