Sara, you’re a mother. Has motherhood had any influence on your attitude and your poems?
It certainly has! I was not a very serious poet before I became a mother. Being a parent has given me more motivation to work towards my dreams, to set a better example for my children.
In my poems, I do talk about my kids a lot. Both of my chapbooks are centered around my oldest son and my experience of being a single mother with him. I think parenthood makes me see how fragile life is, and that’s something I am compelled to speak about in my writing.
How many pieces or poems have you written (and published) so far? And which one of them are you very proud of?
I have been publishing a lot in the past few years in particular, over 100 poems in literary journals in that time. I also have published two chapbooks (one is forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks), and I have two full lengths I am shopping around. I really do write a lot, I think because I am a mom in Ohio who feels separated from community and art. I make my own.
Recently, I had four poems come out in Waxwing, which was a dream publication for me. I’d have to say that is something I feel very proud of right now! You can read those poems here:
Passing it On: http://waxwingmag.org/items/issue21/3_Wagner-Passing-it-On.php
Protective Services: http://waxwingmag.org/items/issue21/4_Wagner-Protective-Services.php
Narcan Metamorphosis: http://waxwingmag.org/items/issue21/5_Wagner-Narcan-Metamorphosis.php
In the End, We Are All Daughters: http://waxwingmag.org/items/issue21/6_Wagner-In-the-End.php
Who is your audience, Sara? Do you constantly keep in touch with your readers? Have their comments helped you enhance your poems?
I think for most poets, our audience is other poets. I find I have been connecting with people more and more on Twitter. I have gotten the occasional note from someone who reads a poem in a journal and connects with it, then reaches out. That always makes my day!
The comments that most enhance my poems come from my close friends, Caroline Plasket, Christen Noel Kauffman, and Rae Hoffman Jager, who are all moms, all poets, and who all live within an hour of me. We offer each other constant attention and support, which has been invaluable to me.
Somewhere I read that you’re an Indian (Native American) woman. Is that true? Who are some famous native American poets? Do their works have some unique characteristics that (might) distinguish them from other American poets?
No, I do not consider myself to be a Native American poet. My grandfather (who is the subject of my chapbook Hooked Through) was, though. His parents had tribal Cherokee and Seminole connections in Appalachia, but he left to become a Pentacostal preacher in the city. He carried a lot of his parents’ traditions with him and told me those stories as a child, but as someone who grew up with no tribal affiliation, I would never claim that space.
There are so many AMAZING Native American poets out there, though. Of course, our poet laureate Joy Harjo is the first Native American appointed poet laureate and is someone everyone should study, read, and know. Other indigenous poets are Tommy Pico (Kumeyaay Nation), Jake Skeets (Black Street Wood), Layli Long Soldier (Lakota), Kenzie Allen (Oneda) and so many more. I think once a reader looks into indigenous poetics, they will see they are vastly different from each other, so I’d hate to say there is a distinguishing characteristic. I encourage every reader to read as many indigenous writers as possible, to hear their stories and celebrate those voices.
What is life like in your neighborhood? Do your surroundings aid you to have a better vision? Or does it distract you?
I live in the suburbs! It’s very uninspiring. We have a home owner’s association, and my neighbor has a perfect lawn he fusses over daily. It can be distracting because there’s not a lot of art and beauty in the suburbs, but I find ways to not blend into my surroundings. There’s a creek nearby where I take my children, and my backyard is full of trees, so I can go there and imagine I’m somewhere less generic.
Let’s talk about your most favorite poet. Who’s s/he? Why do you like her/his works? And would you please share one of her/his finest poems with us?
My original first love was Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), and I have always been drawn to the way she uses image (she’s an Imagist) and holds back from over explaining or confession. I also love her musicality and short lines. I was originally drawn to the way she uses myth, something I also do often in my own work, to recreate the male idea of a woman, to reclaim that. One poem that I memorized when I was younger, which is a great example of the image of Helen and how much meaning can come from that visual experience, is “Helen,” which you can read here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46541/helen-56d22674d6e41
It’s very hard to pick a favorite poet, though. My favorite book I read this year so far is Tiana Clark’s I Can’t Talk About the Trees without the Blood. Her writing floored me and made me want to be a better writer, as all good writing should.
Besides poetry, what else do you read and write? And apart from reading/writing, what other activities are you very fond of?
I really only write poetry, though one day I think I might like to branch out (maybe when the kids are older). I like to read a lot of things, though. I read fiction, grown-up books for myself when I have some time, and my eleven year old son and I read so many things together, we are getting through Watership Down right now.
I love learning about history and art, so in non-COVID times, we visit a lot of museums and cultural sites. I’m a big planner, so I love to plan holidays and parties and fun activities. I also just recently learned to ride a bike, so I am enjoying long bike rides with my husband when we get the chance.
Are your children also interested in poetry? Do you encourage them to read and write new poems?
My middle daughter (5) says she is a poet all the time. She loves to listen to me read poems (Emily Dickinson is her favorite!), and she will dictate poems to me often. She is amazing at it! My eleven year old tolerates poetry, but I do very much encourage him. I also go into his school every year to do a poetry lesson for the kids, and they all always love it. I hope the baby will be into it, too. I do share it with them as much as I can. As I said before, I write for them!
And my last question is about you. Put your hand on your heart please and listen to your heartbeat for a few seconds. What does Sara Wagner want from her life? What is she most concerned about? And where does she want to be ten years from now?
Right now, I am most concerned with getting through this year. It has been a very hard year, and I will be keeping my kids home with me this Fall. I want all of us to be happy, healthy, for there to be peace and fairness in my country, there’s a lot that needs to turn over and be uprooted for all that to happen, and I’m ready for it.
In ten years, I hope to be at peace with my own choices, and to be a source of pride to my kids and myself.