Interview With Sarah Ann Winn (Poet & Author Of Portage, Sundress Publications, 2015)

Kira Yukimura

Kira Yukimura

I’m delighted to have read your e-chap Portage (Sundress Publications, 2015). It’s very picturesque, wistful, heartwarming, and even tear-jerking. One poem in particular struck me the most: Delayed Exposure, Close To Home. I like how you weave photography into it, how, like a camera, it captures the reality and frailty of growing old and forgetting. And photographs, when captured in still moments of honesty, never veil the truth no matter how painful it may be. What’s the story behind this poem? 

I’m so glad you liked it! I was raised by my grandparents, and so I think a lot about end of life issues/mortality. That particular poem was inspired by a story that my grandmother told me about a friend of hers who no longer recognized her husband, and would sometimes lash out and swear at him (not something she ever did before), or say terrible things about him to his face. I started to think about what it is to be the one fading, and how the urge must be to try to hold on to what’s left, but how? The story haunted me. I frequently feel my own inadequacies with a camera to a lesser extent, and as I was reading tips for becoming a better photographer, the two seemed to be inseparable--how to better capture something which is nearly impossible to capture, which is fading even as you watch.

Delayed Exposure, Close To Home

She knows, she’s serious,
she’s square to camera,
Tell it straight, her Gram always said.

Beside her, Gram curled unaware.
The camera ready,
ever-poised, overexposing.

Her Gram cannot tell
it straight. Her body leads
her backwards, away
from poise.

Cannot tell square from
crooked, cannot tell
it straight. Her thoughts
in one light double-shadowed,
white unbalanced in another.

Caught sleeping, away into dreams
of albums, sharp edges
black cornered, pasted, clean.

Awake, she unravels
like Penelope, hoping the sailor
whose name she cannot remember
will not be long. Will he be long?

The camera tells it,
squares the napping frame,
knows well the timer
about to collapse the scene.

Originally published in Halfway Down the Stairs

 

Tell us about your forthcoming chapbooks Haunting the Last House on Holland Island (Porkbelly Press, 2016) and Field Guide to Alma Avenue and Frew Drive (Essay Press, 2016). What are they about? Was it smooth sailing getting them accepted to be published?

Haunting the Last House on Holland Island was inspired by an actual news item I heard on the radio as I was sitting in traffic in 2010. Holland Island was an island fishing community in the Chesapeake Bay, and little by little the water reclaimed all the buildings until this house was the last one standing. A local man had bought the house in the 90s, and tried to shore it up/save it, but couldn’t. The more I read, the more it seemed like a metaphor for memory. I imagined that my childhood was spent in that house, and gave it all my losses, then was able to "visit" it beneath the waves in these poems, exploring it like a diver would a wreck. Some of the poems are bits of lost ephemera/reclaimed ideas, as well: two centos and two hybrid works make up four of the eight pieces.

Field Guide to Alma Avenue and Frew Drive is a hybrid nonfiction chapbook. I used text features from reference books, actual field guides, and other nonfiction sources to scaffold pieces about my childhood, so these are actually about my family, and my "biome" growing up. Using these text features helped me remove myself a little bit from difficult subject matter, in trying to sound more scientific. I think there's still emotion there, sentiment but not sentimentality--at least that’s the hope!

As far as smooth sailing goes, it depends on how linear your definition of sailing is! I hadn't assembled any of my Holland Island pieces until I saw Porkbelly’s call. They’re one of my favorite chapbook presses, so I didn't send the chapbook as a whole anywhere else, so in that respect it was easy. Field Guide went through a number of iterations, and had been submitted with poems many times before, but never as a standalone work of hybrid nonfiction. When I saw Essay's call, I realized that these pieces could stand on their own, and reassembled it that way. I am so delighted to have been chosen for their lineup this year, but feel a little bit like a lucky imposter in their ranks, a poet among nonfiction writers.

 

Your poem Self Portrait as Julia Child's Canard a l'Orange put a smile on my face. It’s very lively, jubilant, and resolute like Julia Child. The lines "A good wine never / goes amiss. Use liberally. / Butter with abandon!" depict that. How did you come to write this poem?

I like to add humor to my pieces, and sometimes it works out better than others. I really admire Julia Child, and had just visited her kitchen in the Smithsonian. After a couple of false starts (poems that were probably fine, but really didn't feel true to who she was as a person), I started looking through Mastering the Art of French Cooking at the library, and realized quickly that although I admired her, these recipes were far beyond me. After that liberating realization, it was easier to invent advice she might give to me as a person, while cooking, which I think would not just be how to cook.

Self Portrait as Julia Child's Canard a l'Orange

As a bird of spring,
your duckling will most
likely be frozen.

Be sure it’s fully plucked
and rinsed, before you
set it aside. At first

you may find its skin
sallow, distasteful,
but you also await

sauce. Warm olive oil.
Warm fresh rosemary.
Slice carrots and onions

delicately. Brown
with the bird. Continue
until you are both

sleek, flavors sealed. Strain
and skim off the fat.
Remove the wishbone.

Unwing the bird.
Rub the area
with salt and lemon.

Prick the skin in inch
intervals along
the backbone.  Aerate.

Peel four Valencia
oranges. Place them
on moons of cut wax

paper. Wrap orange
peels and peeled oranges
then refrigerate.

Some of the peel goes
in the sauce and some
goes in the duck. Let

this be your new motto.
Remove bitterness
by simmering. Taste

carefully, savor
the broth. Identify
problems before you

correct the seasoning.
Curl up at either
end of the platter

and languish as garnish.
Don’t worry about
too much, or too little.

A good wine never
goes amiss. Use liberally.
Butter with abandon! 

Do not stare overlong
at this recipe. Rifle through
your utensil drawer

for a timer. Discard it.
Do not dress. Wait,
someone may yet applaud.

Originally published in Hobart

 

Kitsune is another poem of yours that absolutely enthralls me. I would even say it’s very empowering to us women who are often afraid to be fierce and vociferous. Is the poem based on Japanese folklores about foxes? And since folklores/myths are oftentimes inspired by realities within their culture, is the poem a reality of what we experience in our society today? 

Kitsune was written after Sandra Bland’s death, when I was trying find ways to express my grief and outrage without talking over voices which deserve to be heard. I read a lot of folktales and fairy tales, looking for new entries into difficult ideas, and I appreciated what this fairy tale has to say about empowerment/voicelessness. Unfortunately, sometimes this backfires. In this case, I was frustrated with the fairy tale I read while surfing the net, about Ono and his wife, who flees his vicious dog, and "is welcome to return home any time." Like many abused women, she does return, and that's considered a happy ending by kitsune standards. I wanted to imagine her instead protesting and speaking in the night, not spending it with the husband who valued his dog more than her happiness and wellbeing.

Kitsune

           fox spirit

Any woman
walking alone
at dusk or full dark
could be a fox spirit.

Any woman
looking at the moon.

Any woman
wants a chance to be a fox,
wants to tilt her pointed chin up,
and scream
about equity and inequity.

Any woman
in the night or dusk
or light of day in her den,
any woman

when she speaks
she cries, when she
goes into the night
and joins crowds to pray —
any woman the fox.

Originally published in Three Drops from a Cauldron

 

I like your blog post about April being the cruelest month (it is when you have to write 30 poems in 30 days if you dare to do so!) and the prompts you suggest. I have to try those out. From your experience, what are the most motivating writing prompts? Do you have any to recommend right now? 

The most motivating writing prompts, at least the ones that really work for me, are ones that are wide open/very visual, which is probably the appeal of ekphrastic writing. I love using pictures from "This Day in History" as jump starts. Found Poetry Review's ImPromptU daily prompts this April were wonderful as well, but for the exact opposite reason--the narrow constraint really sparked something quickly. Some of the prompts they posted were actually an endless supply of inspiration, like Patrick Williams’ prompt machine, found here.

 

 

Sarah Ann Winn’s writing has appeared or is upcoming in Five Points, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Little Patuxent Review, Massachusetts Review, and Passages North, among others. Her chapbooks include Field Guide to Alma Avenue and Frew Drive (forthcoming Essay Press, 2016), Haunting the Last House on Holland Island (forthcoming Porkbelly Press, 2016) and Portage (Sundress Publications, 2015). She lives in Virginia with her husband, two lovely beagle/lab mixed dogs, and one bad cat. Visit her at http://bluebirdwords.com or follow her @blueaisling.