Welcome To

Buy Now

Sara June Woods

Sara June Woods is a poet living in Chicago. She is the author of Wolf Doctors, which came out in March from Artifice Books and Sara or the Existence of Fire, which is forthcoming from Horse Less Press this fall. With Jeannette Gomes she edits Skydeer Helpking.

Blurbs

"You know when you're reading a book and you recall a strange moment from childhood, one hiding in you you hadn't looked at in years? You were at the grocery store with your mother, browsing produce under the cold fluorescents, staring at prices, when you, your mom, everyone else in there felt a tug, from nowhere, and another, and were snagged into the quickening of time and flung into each other, into shelves, through walls, flying out into the sunlight; glad, together, wearing the names of pets... This is Wolf Doctors, and it is a true joy."

– Donald Dunbar, author of Eyelid Lick

"Sara June Woods is a jewel hotel when it comes to the impossible account of the individual thrill. Give her a sentence, and she'll build a monument made out of dissolvable grocery lists. Give her a word, and she'll make it adventurous and personal. No, listen to me! I'm not just a traffic cop! Woods knows what it means to witness your own wilderness."

– Carrie Lorig, author of NODS

"Sara June Woods stretches her poems like skins over the framework of the modern world - Red Bull bones and Internet veins underneath. But these poems are bigger than the now we live in. They stretch and yearn and grown and WANT, these sharp little gems, and then they look back at themselves and laugh, with all the humility and surprise that marks the very best kind of poetry."

– Amber Sparks, author of May We Shed These Human Bodies and co-author of The Desert Places

Reviews

Related Posts

Featured Book

Wolf Doctors

An Interview with Sara June Woods

06/11/14

Sara June Woods is one of what I consider to be a small group of “magic” writers – someone able to take an ordinary moment (or a line) and then transform it into something else, something desperately, beautifully tender. In case you’re unfamiliar, in the best cases of leading by example, here’s a short one (originally published in jmww):

 We Woke Up Neck Deep in Cherry Blossoms and the World

We woke up neck deep in cherry blossoms and the world
was spinning around us. You were mouthing a phrase to me,

something like I am sorry for this but the blossom smell
was in my nose and clouds began to form over us s p i l l i n g
l i t t l e  s t i c k y  d r o p s and they tasted like a sweet
vinegar on my face.

You are a bird in the crook of my arm and I want you
to have this spice rack our daughter
made in woodshop.

These clouds
have come          here to
save us.

Sara June Woods' new book of poetry, Wolf Doctors – released by Artifice Books in March – may be her first full-length collection, but really, she’s one of those people who seems like they’ve been around forever. I had the opportunity to talk with her, below, about Wolf Doctors, revision, sweetness, and of course, the lurking specter of death.

Simon Jacobs: One of the first things I noticed upon opening up Wolf Doctors is the visual differences in how some of the poems are presented now from the form in which I originally read them - i.e., you've shifted a bunch of them from stanzas into prose. What inspires these kinds of decisions? Is it an aesthetic thing? How does a poem dynamically change, in your estimation, when it goes from one format to another, if at all?

Sara June Woods: I think a lot of those got switched around because I had a vague sense of "not totally happy with this" and just started trying things. I think at the time I was feeling a lot more picky about how exactly things appear on the page and was super drawn to making those rectangular blocks of words. In some of those I was still attached to the idea of line breaks, though, and that's why the slashes ended up in a handful of them, even after I switched them to prose poem style blocks.

I think it changes the way you read the poem. On the page and in your head-voice and out loud. Generally now I know what kind of poem I'm going to write before or as I'm writing it. Usually because it's in the style or voice of something I've written before. I'm usually working on projects or series now, but when I was writing Wolf Doctors I ended up doing a lot of trying to reinvent what kind of poem I thought I could write whenever I sat down to write a poem.

SJ: When I started reading your poetry a few years ago, I was enamored by the tone, which is very specific - your poems feel very intimate and sweet, borne by sort of casual and unfussy language and, I don't know, something like wonder. What I mean to say is, sometimes I think to myself when reading your poems, "russ woods house style." I know this is kind of a tricky thing to ask about and possibly explain, but can you talk about tone in your poetry? Is this tone something you've worked at crafting over time? Has this always been the way you write poetry? Let's talk about deliberation.

SJW: I do know what you're talking about. I think it's a way of communicating that a) comes very naturally to me, b) is more or less consistently interesting to me and c) I've developed over a long period of time. Before I was writing poems I was writing and performing songs and before I was writing songs I was writing & drawing these little gag webcomics and before I was doing that I was writing poems, and I think the style I write in now is something I've slowly cultivated through all those different forms. I think it has something to do with my sense of humor and what I think is a fun or interesting way to say something, even if it's a really sad thing. I think I am in wonder a lot. At least the side of myself I like the most is always in wonder. I have always been a strong believer. When I was younger I believed in God (which my phone just tried to autocorrect to Godzilla). Now I believe in the universe, in beauty, in magic, in poetry, in love. Not separately, but maybe like the thing that ties all those things together. I think things connected to that belief in some way, whether it's reaffirming it, or wallowing in it, or questioning it, or screaming at it, are what inform all the poems I write. Or at least the ones I finish.

I think this has always been the way I've written poetry, but it's gotten a lot more refined, more distilled. If you were to go back and read my song lyrics, for example, you'd probably find plenty of examples of that voice you're talking about. Some similar "moves" to ones I do now. But you'd also find a lot of me trying to write like other people and kind of giving up halfway through and then performing this kind of half-song like it was finished. Poetry taught me how to revise, and I think that's been really important.

SJ: Let's take this a little further. Would you be willing to share a bit of your revisioning with us? Maybe a part of a poem and what it was tempered into, and how it got there? I am all about demystification, and this is process, process, process. Show me your seams.

SJWW: Yeah, I'd like that. Here's one I changed a lot. I will say it's super rare anymore for me to revise things quite to this extent, as I think I know a lot more how I want to write poems and how to make them get there than I did then. I think this is interesting though. Here's the earliest version of the poem I can find:

SOUTH FORK

I'd like to begin this poem by giving a shout out to all my people.
Hello people who think they can make their lives better  by balancing
the amount of time they are productive, amount of time they are lazy,
amount of time they are at home, amount of time they are with friends
and amount of time they are out and the various combinations of these
states. You are my people.

When I was about seven years old one time I was walking down the
stairs to my parents house and said to myself After all these years I
have finally found a body! This might be the most important thing you
can know about me, but we are always navigating original doubt.  I
know that our parts can be fit together in a certain frantic way but
more and more I am questioning the importance of that.  Maggie Nelson
says that fucking doesn't affect anything, that it is no foundation
and I want to be clear that I am talking about fucking here.

I want my last meal to be a live bear. I want him to be delivered to
me on a platter that is comically small for him to be sitting on, and
I want to go up to him and try to take a bite and just get mauled to
shit. This would be totally acceptable. Ideally, though, he would lay
there and let me try to eat him for a minute first. In the best case
scenario I would walk up to him, pretend to shake his hand, say I
finally found a body and then he would lay down and I would settle in.
I would even get through the fur and get a bite, get to taste what
living bear flesh tastes like before his enormous paw comes down,
crushing my skull. What a saint.

This is one of those poems that you see in an online literary magazine
and you skip, because there are too many words in a little space and
it seems like it would take a lot of effort to read. Don't worry, I
do it too. It's okay.

I am now talking to the people who did not read this poem.

People who did not read this poem: I want you to go outside the
building you're currently in  I want you to smoke a cigarette. If
you do not have a cigarette, I want you to go buy a pack and smoke it.
I want you to then keep smoking them whenever you have free time. I
want you to become addicted to cigarettes so you become a little more
like me because I am addicted to cigarettes. I want you to curl your
fingers around each new one like something great is about to happen,
and to feel sad about each one you throw out your car window. Not for
the environment. NOT FOR THE ENVIRONMENT. But for the sadness that
comes with seeing that little white tube go. This addiction is
something you can treasure, and I feel slightly less bad about
encouraging you in this because you are the people who did not read my
poem.

Lately I haven't been getting enough sleep. Not because I'm busy or
doing work or whatever because I'm not. It's just one of those things.
Either I can't sleep or my dog can't sleep and if my dog can't sleep
then I can't sleep and if I get up then my dog gets up so usually
we're both up, with us rotating from sitting on the couch to him
peeing and me smoking to me peeing and him watching me. This is how I
spend my nights.

Yesterday you were sleeping and I tried to get back in bed and I put
the dog in bed and then I got in bed and you said No stop dusting me
and I said dusting you? and you said there's just all this
and I said tungsten? and you said that was a joke and I didn't get
that joke, but I kept looking for the tungsten because I realized I
didn't really know what tungsten was and maybe it would help me get to
sleep and maybe it would be the thing that would make every damn thing
stop feeling like a circle, like I am going around and around and
around I'm the kind of person who feels like they forget everything
when their life isn't repetitive but I'm the kind of person who gets
tired of that repetition too fast.

And here's the version in Wolf Doctors. It retains a few things, but it's really a whole new poem:

I AM A POLITICIAN OF LIGHT

and I know that our parts can fit together in a certain frantic way. 700 million years ago there were no eyes. This whole light dimension of seeing and being seen of me seeing you and you seeing me was exactly null. Nature seeps new inventions. Solar flares have been known to cause heartache. Our species is founded on original doubt. This is the beginning of the poem.

I want my last meal to be a live bear. I want him to be delivered to me on a platter that is comically small, and I want to go up to him and try to take a bite and just get mauled to shit. In the best case scenario I would walk up, pretend to shake his hand, and he would lay down and I would settle in and he would let me start gnawing his leg. But just for a minute. I would even get through the fur get a solid chunk of his meat get to taste what living bear flesh tastes like before his enormous paw comes down crushing my skull. What a saint, that bear. This is the poem’s middle.

This is one of those poems that you see in a literary magazine and you skip because there are too many words. Don’t worry, I do it too. It’s okay. I am now talking to the people who did not read this poem. People who did not read this poem: I want you to go outside the building you’re currently in. I want you to smoke a cigarette. If you do not have a cigarette, I want you to go buy a pack and smoke one. I want you to then keep smoking them whenever you have free time. I want you to become addicted to cigarettes so you become a little more like me because I am addicted to cigarettes. I want you to curl your fingers around each new one like they are these tiny miracles, to feel sad about each one you throw out your car window. Not for the environment. Not for the environment. But for the sadness that comes with seeing that tiny miracle disappear. This addiction is something you can treasure and I feel a little less bad about encouraging you in this direction because you are the people who did not read my poem. This is almost the end of the poem.

I made a Facebook status update that said I wanted to drive my car into the south fork of the Chicago River and jump out at the last minute. Or maybe even not jump out. I was in a bad mood. They call that part of the river bubbly creek because there are rotting pieces of dead animals from the stockyards of the industrial revolution still decaying, releasing gas that makes the water bubble. Three days later I read on the news that they found a car in the south fork of the Chicago River. There was a body inside. Part of me was afraid afraid that the police would call up my wife and start calling her ma’am and tell her the body was mine.

SJ: Fascinating - I love how "south fork" reappears in the revised version, like a gesture towards the poem that it once was that only you (and now, all of us) would know about. How long ago did you write "SOUTH FORK" vs. when you revamped it into "I AM A POLITICIAN OF LIGHT"? Do you allow a kind of "settling time" while you're writing poems before you determine that a poem is "done," or is it a gut thing?

SJW: It's totally a gut thing. There was another version of that poem that was published in Ilk, much closer to the final version, but I still wasn't totally happy with it and ended up revising it again before the book came out. I think the original "South Fork" was written a few months before the version that was published in Ilk, and then at least a year went by before I revised it again into the version that went into the book. Usually if I'm not happy with a poem I'll either work furiously to revise it over the next couple weeks or else I'll just set it aside indefinitely until I am putting together a chap or collection and then will see if it's salvageable.

SJ: Do you take poems on an individual basis, or would you say you're more project-focused? Has that changed over the years?

SJW: I think Wolf Doctors was the last time I focused mainly on working on standalone poems without having a kind of project in mind. Outside of the poems that went into the making of Wolf Doctors I've written a chapbook about mole men, a chapbook-length poem in eight parts, a chapbook-length poem in sixteen parts, various collaborative projects, a book about a lady named Sara and a series of letters to people and things that either do or don't exist. So yeah, definitely more project-focused these days. Even within Wolf Doctors I sort of have mental groups all of the poems fit in, some of which are reflected in the sections divided by the writing prompts in the book. A good portion of the poems in Wolf Doctors are some of my earliest poems, or later poems I wrote when I was taking breaks from more specifically designed projects.

SJ: I've started going back through Wolf Doctors with a mind towards transformation - I feel like, beyond the sweetness and intimacy and playfulness of these poems, there's a certain fear, a kind of death-theme that resurfaces. Looking at a poem we talked about earlier, "I AM A POLITICIAN OF LIGHT," it seems to be about loss, about how tiny we are and all the things that end - the central image is of driving a car into the Chicago River, of pulling up a body that is/isn't yours. Is it accurate to read this dread, or am I just imagining it? (Keeping in mind that we are all tremendously unhappy with our bodies.)

SJW:Hahah I love how much you get me. Yes absolutely (keeping in mind that we are all tremendously unhappy with our bodies) there is some death in here. I think it's one of the things I think about in writing a lot because it adds perspective. When you juxtapose something with death you immediately can tell how important or silly it is. It's terrifying in the concrete, but kind of freeing intellectually when you're someone who tends to get wrapped up in anxious thought spirals. To remember that none of the stuff you're worried about really has that much weight to it in the long run. There's a kind of downer stretch of poems in the book that come after the second writing prompt that are all about this, but I like that they come so early in the book. It's like, okay, death, yeah, but we have to keep living still. So then what. You can't just check out mentally forever. I've tried and it sucks. I think more than anything I'm always trying to figure out that "so now what."

SJ: Ah yes, the "death suite" of Part II. The death-aspects of the book I think, though, do remain "lurking" for the most part - overall, the work feels very optimistic and wrought with a love that - while occasionally crushing - is for the very best. (Your poems have always made me really happy to read; the tacit acknowledgment of their dark aspects - "hugging isn't / even the word for what i want / to do to you i will break / your bones" - is, in my personal experience of your poetry, a part of that.) 

That wasn't a question. What are you working on now?

SJW: Well, I finished my third book a few months back and it's out at publishers, it's called Careful Mountain. I'm working on some more collaborative work: doing a sequel to rootpoems with Carrie Lorig that will be called stonepoems. Writing more Love Stories/Hate Stories with Brett Elizabeth Jenkins. Other than that, I've started and put down a couple of new project ideas. The most recent is I'm trying to write little journal entry poems. Just to capture brief moments. I always try to plan these new projects and sometimes they gain traction and I write a ton on them and sometimes they don't.

SJ: “the universe, beauty, magic, poetry, & love,” as it is.

SJW: Can I close this with a song? Can the song be this?

You might also like

  • Buy Now
    No, Not Today
    Jordan Stempleman
  • Buy Now
    if u dont love the moon your an ass hole
    Steve Roggenbuck
  • Buy Now
    Victory
    Ben Kopel
  • Buy Now
    The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
    Lydia Davis

Let your voice be heard

Subscribe to Comments RSS

Leave a Comment