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Sara Ryan’s piece “13 Horses in Michigan” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Summer 2018 issue, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I have lived in the Midwest most of my life, and though I’ve left and returned and left again, it will always be somewhere I revisit, literally or through my writing. My family’s history is here—the landscapes and people I’ve loved and let go. These extinctions—everything I’ve lost and found again—comes back to life in my poetry. The geography of the Midwest is important, too: the animals, the lakes, the sand dunes, the small towns, the crumbling cities, the farms that stretch out for miles. I will always love the Midwest, and I will always come back.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
For me, the most compelling thing about the Midwest is the survival that persists here. The seasons are brutal, the lakes are stunning and vicious, and the land is unforgiving but also gives so much. The people, because of these things, are, more often than not, kind, humble, and hard-working. There is a endurance that exists in the Midwest, and I think that’s what makes it so special.
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?
Memory plays a huge role in my writing. I think memory, and the sometimes imperfect reconstruction of it, is so important to the stories that I weave into my poetry. It’s often difficult to return to the many places I’ve lived and visited and loved but, as often as I can, I make it a point to drive towards one lake and away from another. Last summer, I drove around the entirety of Lake Michigan, visiting the graves of family members and the cities and towns that keep them.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I can write pretty much anywhere (I write a lot and I write very quickly), but I prefer to write in a quiet coffee shop with a jumbo chai latte. I try to follow the “rule” of not editing as I write, but that doesn’t always happen. I don’t really believe that writer’s block exists, but that’s mostly because I don’t believe in writing when I have nothing to write about. I write when I have an idea and I don’t when I don’t! I try not to force the process of writing; I’d rather just experience the joy of it. I always try to keep a book of poems next to me while writing, for inspiration, for motivation, for the word that might be escaping me.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I’m bad because sometimes I write a poem and immediately submit it. I love revision though, and I can endlessly pick away at a poem. After I “finish” a poem, I read it to myself approximately 20 times, and if I don’t hate it by the 20th time, it might be finished.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
It’s hard to just have one favorite author, but I love Ada Límon’s work. Her work is raw and honest and feminine and brutal, and it incorporates the natural and the animal in such a beautiful and vivid way. I’m so excited to read her new book, The Carrying.
What’s next for you?
I just graduated with my MFA from Northern Michigan University. At the end of the summer, I’m moving to Texas (!!!) to pursue my PhD in Poetry at Texas Tech University. It’ll be an adventure, and I’m excited for the change in landscape. Also, my first chapbook, Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned, a hybrid collection on the strangeness of taxidermy, will be released by Porkbelly Press in early July.
Where can we find more information about you?
My website is sararryan.com, and I tweet @SaraReneeRyan.