Getting to know sandee storey and her new book Every state has its own light
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
I first encountered poetry in school, of course. Then I was an English major in college. I loved reading poetry, but I dabbled at writing fiction after I graduated. When I was 34, after I had just finished writing a novel I didn’t really like, I picked up a pen to write some new fiction, and poetry came out instead. I looked at the words and their form on the page with some astonishment, but I kept going. I proceeded to write poetry until fall, 1988. I got some poems published then, too.
I didn’t write any fiction after that, though I have written a lot of non-fiction. Journalism and co-authoring a non-fiction book occupied my mind for the next 17 years. I started writing poetry again in 2004, when Massachusetts poet and poetry event organizer Harris Gardner, whom I had never spoken to before, dared me in a telephone conversation to write four new poems to present at a reading the next year. I took him up on it. I was kind of slow to get started, writing lines one by one on sticky notes at first, but I got more and more into it.
In March, 2005, I joined the local weekly collaborative workshop Jamaica Pond Poets and continue to write poetry and attend today.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
Any place and time are fine for me to write. I especially like airplanes and airports for some reason. Most important is to have a special notebook. I take it with me everywhere, and when a poetic thought comes along I write it down. I also sit down with it on purpose sometimes and just write anything that comes to mind. Often, that turns into poetry. Sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s fine.
I write about 40-55 poems a year. Because I worked for newspapers with strict deadlines for 24 years, it feels natural to try to write a poem or two every week. That way I have something to take to Jamaica Pond Poets on Saturday. I usually work on the poem several times during the week. After the workshop, I file a hard copy with notes from the workshop on it. Each week I pull out a poem to revise. Some end up in a DNR (Do not resuscitate.) file. (Poet Alice Kociemba gave me that perfect, kind but firm term from medicine for it.) But I revised many and keep them.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
They have come from all of those at one time or another. Sometimes something sounds “crazy” to me. Then I know that’s probably food for a poem. At least it’s something I want to figure out on paper. Often, I can’t quite understand something or enjoy it to its fullest until I write a poem about it. Other times I feel like I am writing down secrets that can only be told properly in the language of poetry.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
Nobel prize winner Wisława Szymborska of Poland, who died in 2012, has most directly influenced me, but it’s hard to explain how exactly. Reading her work almost always inspires me to write a poem of my own. How that poem is specifically connected to hers is usually hard to tell. I do know I often read a poem of hers and think: I wish I wrote that! Or: I have noticed something like that myself. I feel an affinity for her and marvel at her original way of expressing what she knows. Many readers of her poetry probably feel that way.
I like many, many poets’ work and keep a running list of favorites. I love reading poetry, especially by contemporary poets.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was is a project book? etc.
Many people remark about the title, Every State Has Its Own Light. Yes, I mean geographical states but also personal ones. It is the opening line of a poem, and light appears often in the book, unique each time.
Creating a collection of poems is an entire creative project on its own, I discovered. I enjoyed it a lot. While I was in that process I would walk around in a dream state for hours. I thought in terms of four sections, wrote a page describing flavors or themes, then found poems that fit them. I closed the doors to my dining room, so the cat wouldn’t arrange the poems for me. I spread about 90 poems out on the dining room table, physically moving them to stretch out under the section descriptions, like cards in Solitaire. Then I ordered them within the sections, just by reading them together.
The Jamaica Pond Poets were very helpful after I put a manuscript together. At my request, they marked on the table of contents any poems, most of which they had already seen, they thought the manuscript could or could not “do without” so I could reduce the manuscript, and they gave me other helpful suggestions, too.
I had some trouble coming up with titles of sections and the book. So I typed up a list of lines from poems that I thought might make good titles, and I asked Jamaica Pond Poets to vote for ones they liked. Every State Has Its Own Light, the first line of the poem “Travel,” got a lot of votes.
Read a sample poem from Every State Has Its Own Light:
Where the View is Unobstructed
The sun setting looks just like
the sun rising,
split in two on the curved horizon,
balanced on the edge
of the same half-lit, hopeful worlds.
The yin and yang once were tears,
the dots in each, the pairs of eyes that cried them.
Now light and dark are twirling cheek to cheek.
The sun setting is the sun rising
far away, just out of sight.