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Sarah Ann Winn’s piece “Field Identification” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 21, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I grew up in Akron, Ohio, right on one of the Portage Lakes. My writing is rooted in my past. The setting for so many of my poems is one seen from ten concrete steps down from my grandmother’s back door, seated on an old grey dock, where I can still see our house, the lake, my aunt’s house, and the point which juts out and hides the “back part” of our lake. If Lorca can “sleep the dream of the apples,” my writing turns over in the place that I love, sleeping the dream of lake life.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
The warmth and friendliness of the people in the Midwest is what makes that region truly special. Beyond my childhood, as I roam, it seems like the fastest friends I make have a strong connection to the Midwest themselves. We laugh to discover it, in large and far flung places like San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, or Washington DC, to bump into someone from a small town in Ohio seems unlikely. It’s almost as if we can recognize each other, and some beacon pulls us together far from home.
How do your experiences or memories of specific places—such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head—play a role in your writing?
The lake outside my childhood bedroom window has gone underground in my imagination, and even unnamed, still crops up in a lot of my writing. I comb my memories of the sweet township where I went to school, Coventry, for details. They’re still so poignant, and emotionally charged for me that they creep into poems which have nothing to do with memory. Even though I moved away when I was 19, and only visit a few times a year, it’s still the place that I revisit most in my writing.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I write every day, mostly at my own desk, but who doesn’t love a pretty coffee shop or museum bench? I’m starting to miss spending time on my deck, which is another favorite of mine. I have a pretty firm daily routine in place so that whenever I travel, or am bogged down by some event in my life, I can cling to that structure, and it usually pulls me along. When I start to feel stuck, I pull up refdesk.com and use their “daily” section as a prompt, or write a cento from sources that are completely unlike each other, or sources that are completely like each other, but not at all about what’s starting to block me. I love writing prompts, both coming up with my own, and responding to other people’s nudges. I also meet weekly with a really supportive group of women poets, and just knowing that they’re out there, putting one foot in front of the other, and one word in front of the other on the page helps me to keep moving forward. I think loneliness/isolation is one of the biggest blocks that anyone can face. I’m so lucky to have a strong support system of friends online and in person who I know are going through the same trials and tribulations in their creative lives, and who are willing to share comfort and encouragement.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I know a piece of writing is finished (or at least ready to be set aside/sent out) when I can’t “tweak” any more. I don’t know if you’ve seen stones which an artist has polished until a landscape emerges. I asked the craftsperson who was selling them at a local fair how she knew when to stop polishing. She laughed and said when the birds started to vanish, that’s how she knew. She’d polish until she saw the birds, and stop before too many faded back into the rock. I am still trying to learn how to stop before the birds vanish.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
This is such a hard question! I’m a re-reader, and a former librarian, so I have a book for every mood. Right now I’m loving Lydia Davis, and trying to emulate her more in my prose poetry (I know, she’s a fictioneer, but her spare style makes every word count), and mourning Terry Pratchett’s passing, so I’m rereading all the Discworld books. I just read a wonderful biography about L. Frank Baum called Finding Oz, by Evan Schwartz. I have a stack of Linda Bierds’ books and I dip into them on mini-breaks as I work. I think the common thread is an attention to details, and making every image count. This is something I strive for in my own work.
What’s next for you?
In addition to the manuscript I’m currently working on, which seems to be mostly ekphrastic, I’m starting to invest more energy into my ideal of creating/encouraging community, and I’ve started a “Poet Camp,” which is a residency that moves around the country, always trying to stay close to art centers. My goal is to try to keep prices affordable, and to give people both some time away from their daily lives dedicating to creating new work, and to meeting fellow artists from other areas of the country. Those connections that I’ve made in my travels have been something that sustains my writing when I’m not with others, and I hope that Poet Camp can help people find the same support and friendship.
Where can we find more information about you?