Guernica’s poetry editor Erica Wright catches up with the featured poet of our June 1 issue.
Guerncia: When did you begin including science in your work?
Sarah Lindsay: I’m not sure—but I do remember an occasion in grad school when a professor read my sheaf of emotional stuff, and awkwardly suggested that I try writing about “something else.” I had a book of astronomy photos checked out from the library, as it happened, so I did a galactic collision poem. It was about emotional stuff anyway, but an improvement.
Guernica: Do you think science is neglected in contemporary poetry?
Sarah Lindsay: I think I’m seeing more references to it—maybe because I’m looking, maybe because there’s more popular-science writing available for dilettantes and browsers like me. Ecological concerns are daily news now (alas). And poets have been writing all along about stars and roses; it’s not such a stretch now to bring in the Hubble telescope or dark matter or genetics.
Guernica: Is there a research phase in your process? By which I mean, how do you find time to write a book like Twigs and Knucklebones that teems with information?
Sarah Lindsay: The research phase is continual, because I feel the need to read continually. When a peculiar fact or well-stated bit of information triggers a poem, most of what I’ll need is there where I stumbled on it. If questions arise later (moons of Jupiter, a three-syllable squid), Google is awfully handy of course, but sometimes books are still better, and we have lots.
Guernica: In that collection, you draw a parallel between poetry and archeology. How are the two fields connected?
Sarah Lindsay: Archaeology and memory are two ways of trying to retrieve and keep the past, both of them fallible, fascinating and doomed to be incomplete. Poetry, archaeology, and memory work to fill in, or at least outline, spaces in what we know. By writing about made-up archaeological digs I could pay tribute to some of my heroes, honor the work, mourn and sometimes mock the inevitable errors, and “know” some of the secrets the diggers couldn’t dig up.
Guernica: Nowadays, it seems like just about every poet is also a professor. Why did you choose a different route?
Sarah Lindsay: I couldn’t picture myself as a good teacher and didn’t want to be a bad one. Meanwhile I fell into proofreading, which led to copy editing, which has proved satisfying and educational. Pity about the summer vacations, though.
*Read Lindsay’s poem “In Angangueo” in our latest issue.
Sarah Lindsay is the author of Twigs and Knucklebones, Mount Clutter, and Primate Behavior (a National Book Award finalist). She has received a Lannan Literary Fellowship and the J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize, and earns her keep as a copy editor in North Carolina.