The Na/GloPoWriMo Interview with Sarah Blake
Sarah Blake is the author of Let’s Not Live on Earth, newly out from Wesleyan University Press. Her first book of poetry, Mr. West, was also published by Wesleyan. Her debut novel, Naamah, is a provocative imagining of the story of the wife of Noah, and is forthcoming from Riverhead Books.
1. Why did you start writing poetry? Why do you still?
Poetry started pouring out of me when I was ten, but only once a year. Once a year I’d write a single poem. It was a strange, magical experience and eventually I learned how to control it and bring it out of myself more often. But if I take a break from writing, or if life forces me to take a break, poetry comes back to me in much the same way that it did when I was little.
2. What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve gotten? The worst?
Sarah Manguso told me that if I knew the ending, then the reader would be able to tell that I knew the ending, and the poem would lose energy/interest/etc. I never wrote towards an ending again! Not only do I like my poems more for it, but I like my process more, too. The worst advice—I can’t think of anything specific, but I have disregarded all of the advice that has encouraged me to be fearful about speaking up for myself and my work.
3. How did your new book come into being?
For a few years I wrote poems with no thought of a second book. And then I wrote a book-length poem, “The Starship,” about a woman who decides to get onto a mysterious spaceship, not knowing where it will take her. When it was time to put a book together, I noticed that many of the shorter poems I’d written, the more autobiographical work, pointed to why a woman might want to leave Earth. “The Starship” offered those poems relief and those poems fed into the direness of “The Starship.” They needed each other, and Let’s Not Live on Earth was born.
4. Is there a generative prompt, practice or ritual that you find particularly helpful, or that you would recommend to students, friends, or other poets?
Recently I’ve been writing a lot of poems with Kimberly Quiogue Andrews about a sea witch who moves to land. The prompt to humanize a villain has been a little overwhelmingly present through my life (with Wicked, some children’s books about the big bad wolf, etc.), so what we’re doing is humanizing the villain while maintaining her villainy. That’s the prompt I’d suggest: choose a villain, stick them in an unfortunate situation, humanize them, but let them remain evil.