Interview with Sarah Feldman, Author of Forthcoming Collection, “The Half-Life of Oracles”

Photo: Sarah Feldman

Photo Credit: Ann Semple

Brief Biography:

Sarah Feldman’s poems have appeared in journals throughout the U.S. and Canada, including The New Quarterly, The Malahat Review, Fiddlehead, Pacifica Literary Review, Sugared Water as well as the anthology Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry, edited by Robyn Sarah. Her full length collection, The Half-Life of Oracles, is forthcoming from Fitzhenry & Whiteside in Spring 2018  She lives in Springfield, Massachusetts, where she teaches English and Latin at Commonwealth Academy.

Geosi Gyasi: You hold a dual Canadian/American citizenship. My question is, where do you actually belong?

Sarah Feldman: In my mind, home is still British Columbia – that’s where I moved when I was eighteen, and my Mom still lives there. But I’ve lived in New England for a few years now, and I guess I’m getting used to it, though the winters are, as advertised, pretty brutal.

Geosi Gyasi: “Allegro Poco a Poco” is the third in a triology of excerpts that One Throne has published from Feldman’s forthcoming sequence, “Kore.” How did you come to write, “Allegro Poco a Poco”?

Sarah Feldman: I’m sorry, but I can’t remember. I wrote the sequence ten plus years ago now, and though there are certainly poems from that era where I can remember the initial spark, here I can’t. I remember parts of the writing itself – the excitement figuring out the connection between the sense of strain in those lines and the “uh-uh-uh” sound of the vowels near the beginning – but nothing about the very beginning.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you comment on these lines from “Allegro Poco a Poco” – “As the first frost bloomed/on the windowpane, and a buried fire took/each tree from within”

Sarah Feldman: It’s funny, the more questions you ask me about this poem, the more I feel like someone else wrote it. Like, it’s an exam, and someone’s asking “What is the author trying to achieve with these lines?” I vaguely remember that the author had some more overt lines in place at the end of the poem, and cut them in favour of the straight image.

Geosi Gyasi: What prompted you to start “Allegro Poco a Poco” with the lines, “The first kernel of winter cold, and the old stove having given…”?

Sarah Feldman: In the “first kernel of winter cold”, I wanted to suggest the first of the pomegranate seeds that doomed Persephone to winters in the underworld. I was also thinking, on a more literal level, of the granular quality of ice and snow.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you choose titles for your poems?

Sarah Feldman: Mostly titles come last. In the case of “Allegro Poco a Poco”, the title was already dictated by the titles of the other poems in the sequence – it had to suggest a musical movement, and it had indicate something about the way time moved in that poem.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us what we ought to know about “Kore”?

Sarah Feldman: It means “young girl” and it’s one name for Persephone, before she gets abducted into the underworld.

Geosi Gyasi: I should have asked this first – when did you become a writer?

Sarah Feldman: I became a writer twice, I think. Once was when I was eleven, and I started writing horror stories imitating Stephen King. Once was when I was sixteen, and I met a “real live” poet for the first time – Jason Dickson (he runs a bookstore called Brown and Dickson in London, Ontario) – who introduced me to contemporary poetry.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember your first piece of writing?

Sarah Feldman: My first piece of writing ever? I think – and this is only because I came across it later – that it was a rewrite of one of the stories that my Mom told about her childhood, about her favorite doll, which a boy smashed against a rock. My sister and I always pestered her to tell us stories about when she was growing up. In fact, I can’t say for sure it was my story rather than my sister’s.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific time when you write?

Sarah Feldman: I write before work – from around 5:30 to around 7:00 AM every day. It’s easiest to focus before I’ve had any interaction with the world, at a time when I know no one is expecting anything of me (well, except my cat).

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you often write?

Sarah Feldman: My desk faces a tall window looking out over Willow Street in Springfield Massachusetts – false advertising, there are no willows, but there are some crumbling brick buildings, and a lot of sky where I can watch the pigeons cluster and scatter.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced as a writer?

Sarah Feldman: Is it usual for it to always feel like the greatest challenge is the one you’re facing at the moment? I teach English at Commonwealth Academy in Springfield, and I am completely absorbed and excited by the work of my students. I love teaching, but it leaves me less mental space for thinking about my own work. So this is my current challenge – to be able to give almost everything to my craft as a teacher, while still leaving a corner of my mind free for my own writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for your work?

Sarah Feldman: Not that I know of. If anything, I have met and made connections with people through my work that I couldn’t have otherwise. Regular conversation can go too fast for me, I think, and it’s easier to articulate things in writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about “style” when you write?

Sarah Feldman: I kept coming back to this question, so I guess the answer is no. Sometimes I am aware that I am writing in the style of this or that writer as I draft a poem – but even this doesn’t worry me, at least not until I get into the deep editing stage and have to figure out how much I am borrowing and why.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific theme(s) you often write on?

Sarah Feldman: My first collection, The Half-Life of Oracles, focuses a lot on time and the way the ancient Greeks – especially Plato and the Presocratics – deal with notions of change, loss, and recurrence. At the moment, I don’t know. The themes may be the same – I like that line about how “All the old thinking is about loss. In that way it resembles the new thinking” – but my current approach tends to be more rooted in the concrete, less haunted by the ghosts of long-dead philosophers, more haunted by the ghosts of the “real” and recent dead.

Geosi Gyasi: Which writers have had the greatest impact on your writing?

Sarah Feldman: Jan Zwicky, Louise Gluck, Anne Carson, Zbigniew Herbert. Ask me tomorrow. The list will probably be different.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently reading?

Sarah Feldman: Radial Symmetry by Katherine Larson, Fasti by Ovid and Funny Girl by Nick Hornby.

Geosi Gyasi: What kind of relationship do you have with “One Throne Magazine”?

Sarah Feldman: I’m grateful for and impressed by the work George Filipovic has done on One Throne. The linking of the poems with images seems especially sensitive and dynamic.

Geosi Gyasi: Which of your poems were anthologized in “Undercurrents: New Voices in Canadian Poetry”?

Sarah Feldman: “The Great Year”; “October”; “Elegy for Dizzy the Cat”; “Black Bile” (Sections I and IV); “Four a.m. The clocktower”; Acheron (From Letters for the River); “Scherzo” (from “Kore”); “Coda” (from “Kore”).

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your works?

Sarah Feldman: For sure?? My mom. My ideal reader – the one I imagine reading my poems – is someone who is interested in how we think about time, how we use thought and abstraction to deal with loss, and the emotional residue that our thinking leaves behind.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your hopes for the future?

Sarah Feldman: I want another poem, and another one after that, and another one after that.



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