Interview with Sara Adams - Money, Time, and Love

Happy 4th of July! To celebrate, we have our own fireworks going on over here. We just talked to Sara Adams, whose chapbook we're super excited about!

Sara Adams is the author of two forthcoming chapbooks: Poems for Ivan (Porkbelly Press) and Western Diseases (dancing girl press). Her work appears in publications such as DIAGRAM and Queen Mob's Teahouse. Sara lives in Portland, OR. She sat down to talk with us about her newest collection, Poems for Ivan, which will be available from Porkbelly Press so soon. 

Tell Tell Poetry: How many hours did you spend on your collection?

Sara Adams: Can we measure this in years instead? :) I've been working on these poems, though super on and off, for at least 5 years. And there are only 9 pages of poems in here. It's a micro-chapbook.

What was the most difficult moment, line, poem, or section of your collection? What made it so difficult?

This collection was actually a slow, steady process. There wasn't any crisis moment. Every time it didn't feel finished, I stopped working on it and picked it back up a few months later when I felt ready. If only all work was so flexible!

How many unpaid hours do you spend on supporting poetry?

I've been reading for Crab Creek Review for a couple of months, and just started reading for Red Bridge Press / Rivet Journal literally yesterday. I think it's only a couple of hours per week at this time, but in the summer, when I have a break from my teaching job, I'm planning to put in more hours.

What does a normal day look like for you? How do you spend most of your waking hours?

I'm a middle school teacher, and have never been asked this question. Feeling like a bit of a celebrity, to be honest. I'm at school from about 7:30-4:30, often later. Most of those are contact hours with students. I primarily teach writing, literature, and humanities. It's a small school, so I also do health, art, and other things, and we're basically like family-- for better and for worse! It is very intellectually and emotionally engaging, but oh so exhausting. After work, I spend time with my partner, read student papers or prep for my next day's classes, then often stay up late reading / writing poetry or submitting my work. Or if it's a tough day at work, I might spend the evening complaining and/or sleeping. I spend most of my waking hours feeling like I don't have enough waking hours. I often get really, really into something I'm writing or working on, and have to force myself to go to sleep so that I can be a functional adult in the morning (absolutely a requirement for my job).

What allows you to keep writing, even when you don’t want to?

I don't really force myself to write, except during a National Poetry Month 30/30 challenge. I'm friends with a lot of fiction writers (and ~more than friends~ with one) who emphasize the “butt in the seat” idea, putting in the time, word counts, progress, etc. I do feel this way when I'm working on a fiction project; I think I'm afraid of losing the thread. But with poetry, I really only write when I feel like it. Forcing myself to write doesn't work. So, that's one reason it could never pay the bills.

How do you define literary success?

For me, literary success means that the work keeps coming out of me, and it's new and interesting. I try not to focus on getting “better.” I understand that it's feasible for some writers to aim for supporting themselves financially with their writing and I think that's pretty awesome. I know that poetry will not pay my bills, and I'm okay with that.

What would you do if you didn’t write?

Maybe I'd get a side job that actually makes money! I like to work.

What is the most memorable writing advice you’ve ever heard?

I recently wrote about this in another interview, but I can't think of a close second to mention here. My writing / life mentor, Alisa Slaughter, advised me to keep pursuing interests, careers, cities, etc. Just to keep doing things that interested me. I think she was implying that having things to write about, and wanting to write about them, is far more important than honing craft. You can't say something well if you don't have anything to say.

What are you currently working on and where do you see yourself and your work in the next 5 months? 5 years?

I had 3 poetry chapbooks accepted for publication in the last year (yasss!), so I'm interested to see what goes into crafting and publishing a full-length collection. I'd love to have a full-length poetry book out within five years. And I'd really like to do something with all these fiction starts I have lying around! Despite reflecting earlier about how stressful fiction-writing is, it's a process with its own intrigue and rewards. I think I need big chunks of time to get into these, so I'm hoping I'll feel like working on them over the summers. In the next five months, I'd like to just keep plugging away and submitting to journals. I also recently did my first poetry reading, so I'd like to do more reading and interacting with the lit community in Portland.