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The Habitual Poet: Sarah Sloat

Installment #62

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The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to: editor@poemeleon.org

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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?

A: My favorite way to get books is to have people walk up to my house with an armload of them and present them to me. This would really be my preferred method. So far only my mother has come through.


Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?

A: I’ve probably got 300 poetry books, chapbooks and anthologies. I have read most of them, say 95%. I would borrow more from the library, but I live in Germany and it’s not an option, so I end up buying a lot, and usually online.


Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)

A: I read a little in the morning if there’s time. Otherwise, I read on the train on my commute, or in the evening in my little study. I also read while walking as long as I’m not in a hurry. I used to be an in-bed reader, but not much anymore, which explains why that pile of book beside my bed is so dust-covered.


Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?

A: This month I’ve read Instructions from the Narwhal, a chapbook from Alison Titus that I enjoy reading again and again. I’m also halfway though the anthology The Book of Luminous Things, which kind of underachieves as an anthology in my opinion. Last week I finished Arun Kolatkar’s Jejuri, a terrific poem sequence I’d never heard of until it jumped off the shelf into my arms at a used bookstore in Philadelphia. 


Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?

A: I just finished “Moscow to the End of the Line,” a minor Russian classic about a hard drinker. I read “Mrs. Dalloway” earlier this year, which I loved, and “Wuthering Heights,” which I didn’t. For months now I’ve been reading Fernando Pessoa’s “The Book of Disquiet,” an excellent book that I expect to spend a long time with.

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Q: When, where, how do you write, and why? (i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)

A: I try to write early in the morning before work because everyone is asleep and the mind is fresh. Throughout the day, I take notes on paper or in a notebook whenever something occurs to me that might be worth saving. I also write or revise in the evening, or transfer fragments or drafts from paper to computer, where I’m less likely to lose them.


Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?

A: This varies widely. I just came back from a business trip/family visit, during which time I barely wrote anything. With effort, I can do a draft a day, but I never feel that’s necessary.


Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?

A: Sometimes I don’t wait at all. Sometimes I wait years. 


Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

A: I know a poem is done when I include it in a submissions bundle without feeling like maybe I shouldn’t put it in a submissions bundle.  I have sometimes been wrong.


Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?

A:  What’s an invitation?

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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

A: I don’t have any discernable system, other than a deep belief in simultaneous submissions. If I favor a poem I try to send it to at least two places. I know a poet who’ll send a poem to up to 10 publications at once. I thought that a bit much and possibly dangerous, but the more rejections I get, the more I think she’s the smart one.


Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?

A: I got a rejection last week. Yes, I did expect it, but was disappointed anyway, but at least not surprised AND disappointed. 


Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?

A: I’m bi. People like print, and I do, too, but you expand your audience 100-fold by publishing online. To be really honest, although poets all want to be published in the journals/zines they love best, I also admire those poets who appear willing to send their stuff any- and everywhere. They end up getting a lot of exposure. You could argue it’s not necessarily desirable exposure, but why not? As long as they believe in their poem, and they find new readers?


Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)

A: I had a bad experience with an editor of a well-known print publication that published two of my poems. First the editor claimed I hadn’t sent him by bio, although I had. I sent it again. Then, when publication time came, he said he wasn’t sending me a copy because I hadn’t sent him my address, which I had. He was really rude – made you feel like he was sorry to have to publish you. I dug through my emails and found those in which I had months earlier sent him my bio and my address. I resent them, pointing out that he did indeed have that information! I don’t know. With some editors you get the feeling that they hate their jobs.

I’ve also had some great experiences, recently with Hayden’s Ferry Review, for example (I figures names are okay here), and the Swedish ezine Frostwriting. A few personal rejections I’ve received, as well, have been among the more encouraging responses I’ve had.


Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?

A: I never got any hate mail, thank god. I have gotten fan mail, and that’s always great. I also enjoy sending fan mail to poets whose poems I’ve enjoyed, as long as the publication includes their email address. Years ago I read a poem (“Faking It”) by Frank Montesonti in an issue of Barrow Street and his bio included his email address. I sent him an email and he wrote back to say thanks. End of story, until last year when I bought his chapbook “A Civic Pageant,” not realizing this was the same poet, and I had the chance to regale him again with praise. Fabulous chapbook, by the way, one of the best poetry collections I read last year. Anyway, whether on the giving or receiving side, I think fan mail is great.

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Practical considerations

Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?

A: My day job eats up gobs of my time, and that is the biggest effect it has on my writing! I work as an editor at a news organization, and it’s an exciting job, but I don’t see a big impact on my poetry.


Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?

A: My husband teaches Italian, and many of his classes are in the evening. This is actually a boon to me, since aside from making dinner, walking the dog and checking homework, I have some free time in the evening.


Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?

A: I actually never wrote poetry until I was in my late thirties, which unfortunately hasn’t exempted me from writer’s block. I try not to be bothered. Worse than two months of not writing much is two months of writing complete crap.


Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

A: No, but I have a poetry brooch.

Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)

A: Yes, poetry is surely the reason I’m such an who-cares cook. Also, my poem “For Luisa, Waiting to be Fetched,” which was published in Third Coast, is about my neglecting to pick up my daughter after a class trip. I also recently had a poem published in which “the rain is sick of Italy,” a line that offended my husband. I found that surprising, since he writes poetry, too.

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Random nonsense

Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)

A: I can see the future, and it is no better place. I can also pop my pinkies out  of their joints.


Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:

a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address

b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed

c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)

A: d.) Do none of the above; instead you: I insist it is about my stepmother.


Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?

A: I would be an ü, because I love ü, and its charm is at least partly to blame for my being exiled to Germany. To make this sound you must have both depth and shallowness – the u coming from deep in the throat, the umlaut from the lips and roof of the mouth. Without ü there is no fünf (five), no Erdnüsse (peanuts), no Prügelei (pugnacious tumult).


Q: Finally, what piece of advice would you most like to share with our readers? (This can be on writing, the writing life, or anything else...)

A: Read.





Sarah Sloat was born in the sixties in Plainfield, NJ. She spent her early years as a sinophile, reading Pearl S. Buck books and Chinese poetry and watching David Carradine do Kung Fu. Sarah has worked as a canvasser for NOW, a dog sitter, English teacher, temporary secretary, reader for the blind, professor and reporter. She now lives in Germany, where she works in news. Her favorite poet is Fernando Pessoa, except when it’s Vasko Popa. Her chapbook “In the Voice of a Minor Saint” was published in 2009 by Tilt Press, and another chapbook, “Excuse me while I wring this long swim out of my hair” will be published this year by Dancing Girl Press. She blogs at theraininmypurse.




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Reader Comments (2)

Wonderful! I am a fan of Sarah Sloat's poetry, her blog, and this interview!
May 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen Kirk
I'm trying to remember how I first discovered Sarah Sloat, who is one of my favorite poets around. I can't remember! But it was years ago and it was one of those things where I thought, why doesn't this person have six books I can buy? I'm looking forward to the new chapbook. This interview was a lot of fun to read and makes me feel as if I know her a little bit (we've never met). Pugnacious tumult! Yes!
May 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessy Randall
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