Sandra Marshburn grew up near Lake Michigan. After earning degrees from the University of Maryland, she taught for many years at West Virginia State University. She has published poems in journals and four chapbooks, the most recent, Telling Time (March Street Press, 2009). Now she lives on Edisto Island, South Carolina, where she is on the board of the Edisto Island Museum and is a member of the South Carolina Poetry Society.
Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin with your book “Controlled Flight”? Could you tell us the process of writing the book?
Sandra Marshburn: I have had four chapbooks published and for all it seems to be the same process: at some point the poems I am writing seem to fall together based on imagery, style, voice.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it always difficult finding a publisher?
Sandra Marshburn: Of course, but I have found the three publishers of my chapbooks, (two from March Street Press) using Poets and Writers magazine and online listing.
Geosi Gyasi: Why did you choose to become a writer?
Sandra Marshburn: I studied literature in college, and poetry especially appealed to me.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you find the art of writing tedious?
Sandra Marshburn: Not tedious but sometimes frustrating, sometimes exhilarating, always exacting.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you read your work loud to yourself when writing?
Sandra Marshburn: Yes, to myself and to my dog.
Geosi Gyasi: When do you write?
Sandra Marshburn: Most often in the mornings, when I’m by myself, but revision can come at any time the poem is on my mind.
Geosi Gyasi: When you write, do you think about critics?
Sandra Marshburn: Not critics, but readers, asking myself if what I’m writing is clear, moving, worth reading.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a target audience you write for?
Sandra Marshburn: Readers of poetry anywhere, but closer to home, I meet with writers in a local writing group, and they are very good about pointing out weaknesses and strengths.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you revise a lot?
Sandra Marshburn: Oh yes. Even having a poem published in a journal or chapbook doesn’t stop the process.
Geosi Gyasi: What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve encountered as a writer?
Sandra Marshburn: Keeping the well from going dry. Several times I have thought there are no more poems but if I wait long enough something nudges me to write about it.
Geosi Gyasi: What influenced your poem “Small Spool”?
Sandra Marshburn: I have written lots of poems about my father who died when I was nine. This one is a very literal recording of finding that spool and what it made me remember and my failure to use it correctly. Images and objects often start something in my journal.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you enjoy writing short poems?
Sandra Marshburn: I do. I like the brevity but also the possibility of complexity in a small space. I write longer poems but they eventually get whittled down to something essential.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever written out of anger?
Sandra Marshburn: I have written in my journal out of anger, but if that anger makes it into a poem, it is changed to irony or sadness.
Geosi Gyasi: What things are likely to be found on your writing desk?
Sandra Marshburn: Computer, folders, lamp, printer, pens, all on a big old farm table.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any writers you look up to?
Sandra Marshburn: Many, but especially Elizabeth Bishop, Sharon Olds, William Stafford, Mary Oliver, Thomas Hardy! Natasha Trethewey, on and on.
Geosi Gyasi: Which books matter to you as a writer?
Sandra Marshburn: Dictionary and a picture dictionary. Every book I read matters in ways that I don’t recognize. A novel I read recently had a line spoken by a character that summed up a recent poem of mine. It startled me to read it.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you feel there are more books you’ve not yet written?
Sandra Marshburn: I live in places new to me, and I am occupied with new endeavors, all of which may plant and nurture some more poems. Whether they turn into a book I don’t know.
Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently working on?
Sandra Marshburn: I am immersed in the history of a place right now, and I hope some of the nonfiction information I am working with will lead to new poems.