Has your relationship to poetry changed in any way during the pandemic?
Definitely- but not in a negative way. I worked as a paraprofessional at a private school near me, and since starting the job, I was finding I had all these ideas and would sketch them out in my day planner, but I rarely found the time to actually make anything from them. When the pandemic started, I lost the job, and I never went anywhere out of fear of contracting COVID and giving it to my fiancé, who had cancer the year prior. I was forced, like many people, to stay home always, which meant to slow down, and focus on what it was that was going on in my head. From March until about June, I read more poetry than I think I have in my entire (short) life. I had bought this huge Norton’s Anthology book of World Poetry a few years prior in a little bookstore in South Carolina; it was over 1,200 pages long and I read the whole thing. I enveloped myself in poetry and wrote almost every day and finished a few book ideas I had been thinking about doing but had never had the time (were they any good is another discussion.) And from August until the present, I actually have been in my first year of study at University of Nevada Las Vegas’ MFA program (virtually), which, even though I’m still stuck on the other side of the country, has been so enriching to my ideas and outlook on poetry.
What inspires you to write poetry. Why do it?
It’s really an impulse of just having ideas, which have probably been thought of before, and trying to say them in a new way, to continue the conversation, and to engage in the beautiful, the true, and the good. I’m mainly inspired by women, nature, and bodies. I grew up on a few family farms as well as on the coast in Southern New Jersey, so it started as a child being obsessed but also feeling a special connection with nature and the connection with human bodies. I was always the weird kid that picked up daddy long legs and pet bees with my fingers, in wonderment of their small little appendages and wondering how they fit into space, how we fit into space. I helped pick blueberries on my grandmother’s farms and worked for 6 years as a farm hand on a flower farm, growing plants. I also grew up with and worked with very strong women, always inspired by their tenacity. I’m constantly considering the way women and their bodies fit into the world, with nature and against it.
How do your poems transition from inspiration to draft to final version?
Due to my messy nature, I used to come up with ideas while going about my day and write them on scraps of paper and receipts, but I finally transitioned to writing them all in my notes on my phone due to losing a lot of good ideas through accidentally throwing old napkins away. After I have a good number of notes, usually just a sentence or two each, and think to myself “you haven’t written anything in a little while,” I put them all in one document, and decide what they’re supposed to be, if they connect, if they’re an idea or an image for an idea, etc. It’s kind of dysfunctional but it works for me. And I never edit while I write. I leave editing for another day when I feel particularly detail oriented.
What book is currently on your nightstand?
Currently, I have “Ghost of” by Diana Khoi Nguyen on my nightstand. Nguyen visited for a writing series at UNLV through Black Mountain Institute, which I was unable to attend. But I saw an email for a link to her poem that had a YouTube video to go with it, and after watching, I was mesmerized. I’ve always struggled with form/structure and considering voice, and what she does… it’s an amazing experience. It’s my first read after the semester is over. The link is below for anyone interested.
Will you please name a few poet/s (or people / role models) who inspire you?
The first poet I ever really read thoroughly was Larry Levis. My undergrad poetry professor told me that my poetry of the time (that I can hardly read today without wincing at) reminded her of some of Larry Levis’ work. The first poem I have read by him, which continues to be my favorite, is “Winter Stars.” I’ve read the poetry collection “Winter Stars” about 10 times now. I also have a handwritten notebook full of my favorite poems from Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, Margaret Atwood, and Jane Hirshfield.
Do you have access to a community of writers / artists / poets?
I’m very thankful for having been accepted into UNLV’s MFA program, as it has invited me to a community of writers in a way I haven’t seen since my undergraduate career. And the people in the program are so intelligent and come from so many different backgrounds, and even though I have not met any of them in person besides over Zoom calls, I feel I have so much to learn from them, not just about how to be a better poet, but also how to be a better human.
Do you have a routine, such as where or when you write?
I am and will always be a night owl writer and also cherish being home alone. For a long time, I lived with family in a very loud household. I often couldn’t stand trying to write or read while everyone was awake and bustling all around me. I had to take any chance I could; so when everyone went out for lunch on a Saturday, I’d stay home, or if everyone’s schedules worked out beautifully and I had a week day off to myself. Besides that, I wrote at night, after everyone went to bed, until 4 in the morning if needed. And I’ve never really been able to shake that, but I don’t really want to.
Anything else you'd like to add?
I don’t have a website or any upcoming/recent books, but I like making new writing friends and I’m looking for some pen pals! My Instagram is @sarafernbee