Mary Akers: Hi, Sarah. Thanks for agreeing to speak with me today. I loved your poem at first read. We’re honored to publish it. “Untitled” is what you chose to call it. That really interests me because it still is a title, in the same way that not making a decision is still a decision. Could you talk a little bit about that and why it felt like a good way to introduce your poem?
Sarah Voss: You do cut to the heart, don’t you, Mary? I’ve always hated poets who use “Untitled” when there “should” be something much more profound and descriptive. So I surprised myself when, after the poem had come out of the birthing ink, I found myself typing “Untitled” at the heading. As often as not, my titles come first, but this one was just “there” and I never even second-guessed it. However, after your insightful commentary above (which, alas, never even occurred to me), I’m a little more humble than I was before. It’s similar to the negativity I felt about divorced women until I became one. Sometimes I learn to let go of my “judging” addiction the hard way.
MA: Well, honestly, I expected you to say something about the link between the theme of futility and the futility of searching for a title for this poem. That’s where I was going with it, anyway. 🙂
I’m curious. Did you read poetry as a child? What were some of your favorite poems or poets?
SV: As a child I read voraciously, and that included some children’s poetry, but, alas, time has an insatiable appetite for memory, and has eaten so much of mine that I can’t remember any specifics.
MA: What inspires you most about the poetic form?
SV: Initially, I loved the rhyme and metric patterns found in formal poetry and for a while I was challenged to turn these templates into poems that both made sense and flowed well. In hindsight, most of my efforts at writing traditional poetry turned out to be somewhat stilted. Nonetheless these formal exercises gave me a basic sense about poetic structure which I “feel” when crafting the free verse that I now prefer. It reminds me of playing chess with my 5 year-old grandson this past weekend. Incredibly, he had all the moves down perfectly and was lightning quick in making them. He still needs to learn to strategize, though. When he masters that, he’ll be totally amazing. Well, okay, he’s already totally amazing! I mean, I had to really work to keep that little tyke from beating me.
MA: I’m always interested to hear what authors think of the illustrator’s selections. What did you think of the image Jenn Rhubright chose for your piece? Did it carry any special meaning for you?
SV: One of my best mentors didn’t like this poem at all. It turns out that he didn’t like the personification. But Jenn not only highlighted it, she gave that old man futility a face. Awesome. And a little scary, too.
MA: And finally, what does “recovery” mean to you?
SV: Some things (and some people) in life keep hounding us, trying to teach us something we need to understand. Recovery is one name to describe that delicate moment when we realize we finally learned whatever it was we needed to learn and the incessant hounding has somehow disappeared.
MA: Mmm. I like that. Thanks for speaking with me today, Sarah. I enjoyed the discussion. And for our readers, here are some additional links to learn more about Sarah’s work.