Featured Poet Interview | Sara Moore Wagner
Our fall issue's featured poet typifies Lammergeier's love of the magic that happens at the intersection of love and guts. We caught up with featured poet Sara Moore Wagner to discuss the grotesque, the role of the line in creating propulsion, and how to write a love poem that stands the test of time.
Jacqueline Boucher: The thing that initially attracted me to these pieces is the ways in which they join images of the grotesque (blood on the aisle, a burst blister) with the wild beauty of new love. Can you talk a little bit about the process of composing “Because I Think With You, Maybe I Can,” and what role those images play in crafting this love story?
Sara Moore Wagner: I think everything beautiful has that grotesque element, real love, birth, all of it! When I began this poem, I wanted to start with an utterance from someone else and then to flip it. I also wrote it to fill a space in my manuscript in progress, Swan Wife. And so, in the beginning you have those images from the mother of what a wife is not supposed to be—not meant to be wild or searching for God or meaning. Traditionally, that’s been a man’s roll (and I nodded, there, to Gilgamesh looking for everlasting life and coming upon the scorpions). As a “wife,” the world wants you to be cleaner than that, to be simple and lovely. But, ultimately, what I was missing in my manuscript wasn’t this rejection of the traditional role, but it was the love story—the beauty and transformative power of real love between two souls. So the second part of the poem, the speaker realizes she’s walking away from that life her mother “made” her for, the dress, the shoes, the blood on the aisle, and towards something which might allow her to be more wild and free, more messy, as people are.
JB: The energy between these two pieces is so different, and a lot of that feels tied to the ways in which they utilize line length to propel the pieces forward at different speeds. The short lines and long sentences in “Damselfly Nymph” create a sense of urgency that feels especially effective. What role, if any, does urgency play in these poems?
SMW: Well “Damselfly Nymph” is definitely the early stages of love where it is so urgent. It does feel a bit like clacking yourself against someone’s window over and over. You want in! My original and most fierce poetic love was H.D., and perhaps because of this influence I love the way short lines carry you through an image. Some images need it more though. “Damselfly Nymph,” needs those short clacking flutters to propel it. To me, as I read it, it feels like panic, which is what this stage of love is. And while there’s urgency in “Because I Think with You, Maybe I Can,” it’s different. She is walking down the aisle, she’s a spectator of this urgency almost, she is trying to suppress it—then there’s a calming at the end, or at least I hope there is!
JB: Love poems are some of the hardest to write, and even harder to write well. Do you have any advice for poets trying to tackle the love poem?
SMW: I think it goes back to that grotesque element. The love poems that are most successful have this element of fear of loss, of being human, that is sometimes lost when you get into those overly complementary “flowery” sorts of love poems. I am thinking of Jeffrey McDaniel’s “The Quiet World” where the lover uses up all her government allotted words and so the speaker just says “I love you” over and over. Nothing is perfect. We’re all kind of figuring out how to love someone, and it’s hard and ugly, and so very vulnerable. Basically, I’d say read as many successful ones as you can and let yourself be true to the difference you feel in your own love—it’s never the same! Some of my favorite love poems are Matthew Olzmann’s “The Millihelen,” Linda Gregg’s “The Weight,” Schomburg’s “The Fire Cycle,” All Jack Gilbert, Rita Dove’s “Heart to Heart,” and on and on, there’s so much beauty out there!
JB: What are you reading right now that excites you?
SMW: Well fiction-wise, I just read George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo which felt like poetry to me and made me jealous. Poetry-wise, I am re-reading Lucia Perillo’s collected works. I just love how she can turn an image, and the images she pulls from are so interesting and strange (waitressing, a tomato, etc.). Nickole Brown is also super fantastic. I read her Fanny Says, then went straight out and bought Sister, which I’m almost finished with!
JB: What’s your favorite bone?
SMW: I think after having three kids, I appreciate my pelvis most of all. It also has a beautiful shape—and you know, life, sex, my ability to run a mile, it all comes from there.
Check out "Because I Think with You, Maybe I Can" and "Damselfly Nymph" here!