Sara Wainscott on The Social Distance Reading Series
Sara Wainscott is the author of Insecurity System, winner of the 2019 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize (Persea, 2020), and a chapbook, Queen of the Moon (dancing girl press, 2017). She is the recipient of a fellowship from the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria, Italy and has been named to the NewCity “Lit 50” list of people who influence literature in Chicago.
In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.
“I thought I knew what a sonnet was, what a sonnet could do. But Sara Wainscott’s Insecurity System demands that I abandon my misapprehensions. Here, the sonnet is made new—revitalized by the restless brilliance of Wainscott’s mind and music. These poems unsettle the reader. And they speak to the self’s unsettledness even in the most familiar spaces.”
“The poems of Insecurity System weave a knotty textile through the pleasures and pains of an uncertain world. With sonic precision and dazzling turns, Sara Wainscott traces the overlapping mysteries of ragged branch and flowering pears, of flitting moth and distant lovers. Here, the dead are never truly gone, but bloom as roses or clouds, with generous persistence. This work is a master class, not only in poem-craft, but in all kinds of ecstatic creation.”
How do you begin a new piece of writing? What conditions help your writing process?
I write by observing first. The weather is warmer these days, so I’ve been walking through the alleys of my neighborhood and photographing trash and this seems helpful to whatever I’ll work on next. I’m listening to real and recorded birdsong and also dance remixes of pop songs, and this also seems helpful. Pleasure is the main condition. If I’m having fun, I keep writing. If not, I stop.
What was an early experience that taught you language has power?
The Sesame Street Dictionary held enormous power for me when I was about 5 or 6. Realizing that words could describe other words dazzled me. I wondered how words got to be words and what would happen if something didn’t have a word attached to it or if the word for something ended up being the wrong name for it. In some ways, I’ve been following these questions my whole life.
What poets or writers do you continually go back to?
Lately, it’s been Arthur Sze, Joseph Ceravolo, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Jean Follain (trans. W.S. Merwin), Georg Trakl (trans. Robert Firmage), Chika Sagawa (trans. Sawako Nakayasu).
What is your favorite childhood or adolescent book?
My single most frequently checked-out library book of the late 1980s is probably Haunted Wisconsin by Beth Scott and Michael Norman. The book contends that eerie and unexplained occurrences unfolded in small towns all around where I grew up, in contrast to my unremarkable existence there. The book uses reportage rather than storytelling, a stance that’s simultaneously boring and terrifyingly real.
What are your thoughts/experiences on social distancing?
Some things I miss and look forward to experiencing again. Some things are altered and will be altered in ways no one can picture yet. I’m not okay with not knowing, but there isn’t any knowing yet. In poetry, I adore negative capability. Much less so in life.
Where can we find you? Link to your blog or website:
The Social Distance Reading Series
Brought to you by The Vermont School and Green Mountains Review
We’re thrilled to host The Social Distance Reading Series, a collaboration between Green Mountains Review and The Vermont School poets. In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. At this point, we are focusing on collections by poets whose book events have been cancelled between January through May 2020.
Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.
–Didi Jackson, Major Jackson, Kerrin McCadden, and Elizabeth Powell, series curators.
–Kylie Gellatly, editorial assistant, interviewer.