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An Interview with Aileen Bassis, author of The Other Side of the Mirror

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Aileen Bassis is a widely exhibited visual artist and poet in New York City working in book arts, printmaking, photography, and installation. Her use of text in art led her to explore the craft of poetry. She was awarded two artist residencies in poetry to the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Her chapbook, The Other Side of the Mirror, was published in 2023 by Dark Onus Press. Her chapbook, Advice for Travelers and other poems, will be published by Black Sunflowers Press in 2024. Her journal publications include B o d y Literature, Spillway, Grey Sparrow Journal, Canary, The Pinch and The Southampton Review.

You can buy The Other Side of the Mirror here.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I’ve been a voracious reader and a visual artist for all of my life. Most of my artwork is about social and political issues.I often used text in my artwork, usually the words of others or found information. I thought a poetry workshop might help me develop my own language to incorporate into my work. Instead, I was blown away that I could create an emotional or thought-provoking experience simply with words on a page. After my first workshop (in a natural fit for me, ekphrastic poetry) I was hooked and continued taking workshops and going to poetry conferences and residencies. This book grew out of a workshop prompt to write a poem using research. I came across the diary of William Byrd II, a 17th century enslaver and founder of the city of Richmond, VA, and realized that this material would enable me to write about our history of race and exploitation and our present fraught and troubled time.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I was an elementary school art teacher for many years. I only began writing after I retired from teaching.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

It took me a while to come up with the title. It was inspired by a quote from British playwright Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize speech. The quote appears at the end of the book and begins with, “When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimeter and the image changes.”

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

It was a delight to see the complete book cover. The book cover uses one of my photographs where I’m reflected taking a photo of mirror in a museum gallery.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Work songs and the blues. One of my poems includes text of a song, “Many Thousand Gone,” which was included in a 19th-century collection, “Ballads for America.”

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

A sense of our history and how that past continues into our present.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Sharing my work with the world.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I have another chapbook scheduled to be published in March 2024, Advice for Travellers and other poems, from Black Sunflowers Press. I’ve also been working on a full-length collection, Among Sinners and Saints.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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