Sarah A. Chavez, a mestiza born and raised in the California Central Valley, is the author of the chapbook All Day, Talking (Dancing Girl Press, 2014). She holds a Ph.D. in English with a focus in poetry and Ethnic Studies from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in the anthologies Bared: An Anthology on Bras and Breasts and Political Punch: The Politics of Identity, as well as the journals North Dakota Quarterly, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and The Boiler Journal, among others. Her debut full-length collection, Hands That Break & Scar, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications. She is a proud member of the Macondo Writers Workshop.
DS: Why do you write poetry?
SC: As a kid growing up in a mobile home on the west side of Fresno, CA, when I was upset or couldn’t sleep, I read. Mostly prose, novels and the occasional short story; they were about upper class people, romance, things that take place in forests, or vampire/horror – always an escape. When I was done with a book, it felt like I was transported back against my will. My brain a little fuzzy, feeling dissatisfied closing the back cover, unhappy to come back to the life I had. But when I got a little older and was assigned to read poetry for class, all of a sudden, it was reading that didn’t transport me; it grounded me. After reading a poem, I didn’t feel ethereal and torn between realities, I felt solid and clear-eyed. The close attention to detail, the concentrated and highlighted emotions, the care with which lines were broken, and diction chosen: it brought my lived experience into focus. It taught me how to look at my circumstances differently, more closely, with greater compassion and nuance.
I write poetry largely to continue this practice of compassion and the search to understand myself, and my lived experience more mindfully, and in turn hope to understand other forms of human experience. Even now that I teach poetry writing and publish my work, writing it somehow still feels like a secret, selfish act, like it’s always just for me, and the only way I can justify continuing to write poetry is by carrying what I learn with out in the world.
DS: What do you hope to find in poems written by other people?
SC: I think I freak my poetry students out a little bit when I tell them this, but I want poems to devastate me. I want them to break me in half and make me cry. The tears can be for sadness, desire, or happiness; it doesn't matter which, just something felt strongly.
For me, poetry, like visual art, is about feeling connected to other humans, and I like for that connection to be tangible. It’s why I gravitate – both in my reading and writing habits – toward poetry that is sensory and concrete. While this goes in and out of fashion, I’m always a fan of narrative poetry. I like being told a story and I like stories that work; poetry that shoves its hands in the dirt and rips up weeds, poetry that washes dishes and loads trucks. Not poetry that is practical, per se, but poetry that serves the purpose of diversifying while simultaneously drawing connection to varied human experience. I hope to find poetry that spotlights the import in small moments, sees the people that have been shoved to the margins, but in a way that recognizes the beauty in the steel, in the grease on cracked hands.
DS: Describe your works in progress.
SC: I’m currently working on two projects. One is a series of poems based on the indigenous mythology around the turtle that carried the Earth. That has always been one of my favorite myths, partly because I’ve just always loved turtles; they have those cute, little, tough-skinned faces and sturdy, short bodies. The myth also appeals to me because of the level of sacrifice that Turtle makes in the story. For the rest of the world to exist, all the vegetation and animals, he has to agree to a life of isolation and loneliness. I’ve always wondered about how that would feel. That led me to imagining the kind of life Turtle had before taking on that monumental responsibility and what it might be like if he got to come back to the Earth. I’ll have three of these poems coming out on THEThe Poetry Blog early in 2016.
The second project is an extension of the epistle poems in my chapbook, All Day, Talking, which are letters from a singular speaker to a woman she loves who has died. The manuscript is tentatively titled This Dark Shining Thing.
DS: What are your hopes for the future of poetry?
My primary hope for the future of poetry is to once and for all shake this nonsense about it being intimidating. It’s maddening to encounter over and over again people who don’t read poetry or are scared to read it because they think they won’t “get it.” I’m tired of hearing not just students, but even people I encounter out in the world, say that there was some rigid high school teacher who told them that poetry is a puzzle, locked with a key, and only the smartest people can access the deep wells of knowledge that lie therein. Our culture doesn’t treat music that way and it doesn’t treat painting that way (well, maybe a little), both forms of art that are equally as difficult to do well, and equally as enjoyable once you lose yourself in it. And I’m not saying that good poetry isn’t at times difficult to read (though it often isn’t), but that I hope a larger population of people begin to trust that whatever they get from a poem, even if it isn’t the same as what the person next to them felt, is valuable and worth the effort. I want to hear people casually talking on the bus about that new poetry collection that came out last week.
Sarah's Recent Poems Online: