Interview: An Interview with Poet Sarah Nichols

Book Name and Description: She May Be a Saint

2016-11-26 14.28.39

She May Be a Saint is a chapbook of centos (poems which use lines and phrases from the work of other poems to create new poems), which use the work of C.D. Wright and Sylvia Plath as sources. It was published by Hermeneutic Chaos Press in December, 2016.

This Book is Available on Hermeneutic Chaos Press: Click Here

 

What gave you the idea for She May Be a Saint?

I discovered the work of C.D. Wright in 2013, while reading the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry. There was an excerpt from her book One Big Self,  a project in which Wright traveled to Southern prisons. She utilized the voices of inmates for this book, but also used her own. When I read, a line, “I had a head full of bees,” jumped out at me. I thought of combining her words with words from Plath’s “Bee Sequence” poems that appear in Ariel. I started with the one poem that came from that encounter, and every now and again I’d decide to create more Wright/Plath poems, but most did not have my voice in them—they belonged too much to Wright and Plath. In May or June of 2016 I submitted some of these poems to Hermeneutic Chaos (the journal), but they were also turned down. However, the rejection letter from the Editor in Chief, Shinjini Bhattacharjee, was so loving and encouraging. Ironically, that message cleared the way for me to write more poems; ones that sounded like me.

 

What got you writing in this genre? 

I’ve wanted to be a writer since childhood, but I never saw myself as a poet, and, I think, there is still that part in me that says “what are you doing ?” In 1998, I entered a college writing contest with a poem about Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. The results were posted in the cafeteria, and I had won first prize. I was stunned. I had a creative writing teacher at the time who encouraged me to go forward with poetry. That was the beginning.

 

How long have you been writing?

I’ve been writing since childhood. I don’t have any stories or poems or journals; I destroyed a lot of what I wrote in adolescence, and I regret that. Keeping a journal as a teenager sustained me. I don’t keep a journal now. This is something that I’ve wanted since I was 10 or 11. I wanted to see my books in libraries; to be published. It took a long time to figure out how that happened, and once I did, getting through the fear of sending work out. I remember I sent a short story out to a magazine when I was 16 or 17, and it was rejected, but it was encouraging; the editor told me to keep writing.

 

Tell us about your past books and stories?

My first chapbook of poems, The Country of No, published in 2012, came from a dark and wounded place in me. It’s a chronicle of loss, I think, and it’s hard to look at those poems today. My second chapbook, Edie (Whispering): Poems from Grey Gardens, was published in 2015. It’s a collection of found poetry taken from the transcripts of the 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens, which chronicles the daily lives of Edith Bouvier Beale, and her daughter, also named Edith. They were the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy, and they lived in a decrepit East Hampton mansion known as Grey Gardens. It was also occupied by raccoons and cats; uninhabitable. But there they were, living their lives, and being filmed. The way these two women spoke and interacted with each other, and spoke to the camera alone has a cadence. It sounds like poetry. This is a movie that I’ve known for a long time, and it came to me while watching it: I have to do a book of poems on this. It was the easiest thing I’ve ever written.

It didn’t feel like work at all. I don’t have stories, but I do have flash essays that were written for an ongoing online project, The RS 500, which is a collection of micro essays and stories inspired by, or in direct conversation with, Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of all time. I’ve been lucky to write on some of my favorite albums and artists, from Depeche Mode’s Violator to David Bowie’s Low. I started writing for it in 2016, and I will have other essays with them. I had never written about music (but I had wanted to) before then. The project’s editor, Brad Efford, gave me a wonderful opportunity. I have also, sporadically, been a film critic.

 

What is the writing process like for you? What is your writing day like? What have been the biggest influences on your writing?

I would say that my process is haphazard. I metaphorically throw things at the wall to see what sticks. If I find something that I can work with, I tend to get obsessed. I have to step away. I would also say that a typical writing day looks like writing in long hand, making notes, looking for the right line or word. I don’t plan to have a writing day; it’s more when it strikes, and I have to be there, and use it. My biggest influences on my writing so far are seeing other women writers do the work of telling their stories. This ranges from being a part of a community of contemporaries, to looking at Emily Dickinson’s or Sylvia Plath’s work and processes.

 

What is your favorite book (other than your own book, of course) and why? What book disappointed you and why?

This may be the most difficult question !  My favorite book is Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates. It is his first novel, and it is perfect. It is so tightly written. It is also an extremely painful book. Yates condemns the demands of mid-century American culture, setting it in 1955 Connecticut. He writes about the absence of love, and the missed connections of damaged people. In some ways it reminds me of Ingmar Bergman’s movie Scenes from a Marriage, where this seemingly happy, bourgeois couple fall apart under a seemingly merciless camera eye. You need to be in an okay place in your head to read it. It never gets stale.  There have been many, many books that have disappointed me, but I’ll go with one; The Humbling, by Philip Roth. I find myself in a curious position of being a feminist and yet liking a great deal of his canon. American Pastoral is one of the great American novels; however, The Humbling is a failure after a brilliant first paragraph. It is self pitying and miserable, and asks the reader to believe

problematic (at best)  sexual situations that are laid out. I want to warn people away from reading it, that’s how much I hate it.

 

How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?

I still write about parts of myself or my life all the time, but I come at it differently than when I started. I use persona in my poems. As one who writes a lot of found poetry, I look at other authors’ words to write my experience. I have a forthcoming book that is all ekphrastic poetry, using the work of Diane Arbus as inspiration. I think I’m more determined to see a project through. The Arbus book, for example, had been brewing in me for a long time. I would look at her photographs, and wonder about the way “in.” I felt like it would never unlock for me, but then it did, and it got finished. I did not write any poetry from 2002 to 2007. That’s a long time to be silent. I take breaks between projects. I experience burn out, just like everyone else, no matter what they do. I’ve gotten better at knowing when to stop.

 

What is the best advice you ever received from another writer?

In high school, I was able to meet the novelist Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, who lived in my hometown. She inscribed one of her books with this: “Write all the time even when there is no time.” I don’t know that I understood it then, but I understand it now. I’m writing in my head, or making notes on my phone; bits and scraps that somehow turn into a poem. I might not be doing the physical act of putting words on paper, but it is happening.

 

How do you market your own work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?

I market my work largely through social media. I belong to several writing groups on Facebook, and I share links to recently published work, or my books, which have been published by small presses. I’ve gotten better at promoting my work through Twitter. I think the next step is creating an author page on Facebook, or a website. I actively seek out people to review my work. That, I think, is the most difficult part of promoting my own work. I have a feeling of “who would want to review my work, and what if they don’t like it ?” I did nothing to promote my first book. No reviews; nothing. That has changed as I’ve gone forward.

 

What piece of your own work are you most proud of?

In 2015, I had a poem accepted for the anthology Emily, which was published by Porkbelly Press, and was inspired by, and in conversation with, Emily Dickinson’s work. My poem, “Recipient Unknown,” is a found poem in three parts, using Dickinson’s “Master” letters as source material. I revere Dickinson. It made me happy to have a connection to her. It was a poem that resonated with others; writers and people close to me who aren’t poets. It’s a gorgeous book, not only for my piece, but also for the other writers included in it.

 

What are you doing next?

My next project, which started today (October 1st) is a month long collaborative project called The Poeming. It is the second year that I have been a participant and an administrator. This year, 35 poets are making found poems out of the novels of Anne Rice (there is a writer for every one of her books.) It is entirely online, using Tumblr and Facebook. Last year, we used the novels of Stephen King as source material, and the results were incredible. One writer made gorgeous erasures using collage. Another used glitter to make erasure poems. So many of the poems written in that have been published. I can’t wait to see what this year brings.

 

What advice would you give other writers?

Tell your story. If you are true to it, it will come out in some way. Don’t be in a rush to get a book out. It’s wonderful when it happens, but it’s better to build solid work. It will be ready when it’s ready. It’s not going to adhere to your timetable. It has its own.

 

Bio:

Sarah Nichols lives and writes in Connecticut. She is the author of five chapbooks, including Dreamland for Keeps (Porkbelly Press, forthcoming, 2018) and How Darkness Enters a Body (Porkbelly Press, forthcoming, 2018). Her third chapbook, She May Be a Saint (Hermeneutic Chaos Press, 2016), was selected for the Chapbook Exchange collection associated with the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University. She also serves as co-editor of Thank You for Swallowing, an online journal of feminist protest poetry. Her poems and essays have appeared in Luna Luna Magazine, Rag Queen Periodical, Thirteen Myna Birds, Calamus, Rogue Agent, and the RS 500. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2015.

 

Links:

She Maybe a Saint on Hermeneutic Chaos Press

Edie (Whispering): Poems from Grey Gardens on Dancing Girl Press’s shop, a small press that publishes only women writers.

Sarah’s Essay on David Bowie’s Album, Low, at the RS 500

The main Tumblr blog for the Poeming project, going on for all of October, 2017.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s