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I carry the synagogue inside me: An Interview with Sean Thomas Dougherty

 Sean Thomas Dougherty has written or edited fifteen books including All You Ask for is Longing: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions 2014) and Double Kiss: Stories, Poems, Essays on the Art of Billiards (Mammoth Books 2017). His awards include a Fulbright Lectureship to the Balkans and an appearance in Best American Poetry. Known for his dynamic readings, he has performed at hundreds of venues, universities, and festivals including the Dodge Poetry Festival, the Old Dominion Literary Festival, and a tour across Albania and Macedonia sponsored by the US State Department. He lives in Erie, PA. For more information about Sean Thomas Dougherty, visit

In the following self-interview with Sean Thomas Dougherty, learn more about the author's thoughts around identity, poetic structure, and failure. 

Do you consider yourself Jewish?  

I was raised with a large degree of cultural, not religious Judaism. To quote the poet Edmund Jabes, “I carry the synagogue inside me.”

How did you develop these discursive approach to prose?  Did you have models outside of your own previous writing?

Lydia Davis idea of everything as story was hugely influential to me.  It also made me consider when is something not a story?  Can a piece of writing both be a story and not a story, or when is it a story and not a story? I can trace pieces back to the prose poems of Dwayne Betts, to the work of Silvina Lopez Medin and the prose of the great Greek prose poet and memoirist Stratis Haviaras, among others.  His book The Tree that Sings which I riff in this book was crucial.  But then as much as literary it was the photographs of Vishniac that really helped I think to give the poem form, and to give me a landscape to speak to across time back to my ancestral homeland and people.  Books have lineages, not every book we write perhaps we are aware, but some speak clearly as a chorus across the spines of their pages to each other.

What is failure to you?  In life?  In Art?

I am more and more interested in lives that fail to close, in pieces of writing that that fail to close, that leave us open spaces to wander, or how I think of the prose poem in a room, but one with an open window or door, and I am interested in how those failures function, and what do they say about how I am seeing and reading language, and the open spaces they can lead us. Like a language not fully translated.

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