Sarah Nichols is a writer and artist living and working in Connecticut. Her first chapbook, The Country of No, was published in 2012 by Finishing Line Press. Her second book, Edie (Whispering): Poems from Grey Gardens, will be published by Dancing Girl Press in 2015. Her poems have been appeared in Right Hand Pointing, MiPoesias and the Silver Birch Press Noir Erasure Poetry Anthology. A passionate cinephile, her film criticism has been published in the journals desistfilm and Senses of Cinema. In 2013, she participated in the Found Poetry Review‘s Pulitzer Remix project, creating 30 poems out of the text of Philip Roth’s novel American Pastoral.
Her poems “Disaster Porn” and “The Magic Flute” appear in Volume Six of The Found Poetry Review.
How did you first get introduced to found poetry? Do you remember your first found poem?
I was introduced to found poetry through a workshop that I took with Ravi Shankar at the Wesleyan Writers Conference in 2009. Among the great variety of poems that were discussed, the cento appeared. It seemed like such a novel and wonderful form, but of course it’s very old. We were asked to try our hands at it, and I ended up creating a poem that had lines from Joy Division songs, Ted Hughes, and Sylvia Plath. That was my first found poem.
Talk about your work that was published in FPR. How did you get the idea? What was the writing and revision process like for you?
I got the idea for the poem “Disaster Porn” after reading a review in the New York Times of Kenneth Goldsmith’s latest work, Seven American Deaths and Disasters— I thought it could be interesting to make a found poem out of a review on a book of found poetry, and to personalize it: “I was a little black book of heartbreak…” And the poem came very fast—within an hour or two of my reading the review.
“The Magic Flute” was more difficult, I think. I have long wanted to make a poem out of the screenplay from Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep ? is the film’s source material). There are scenes in the book that are interpreted differently in the film, and the passages that I took my poem from is one of those. I wanted to make something about time and loss, which the film speaks to so eloquently. I have since made a poem out of the screenplay, but I think this one is more solid. So maybe this is the Blade Runner poem I’m supposed to have.
Do you consider found poetry more of a process or a product? Explain.
I find that it has elements of both process and product. It’s a process in that I am reinterpreting the words that I find, and what that ultimately becomes is the product. Process is crucial, for me, in that a source has to “speak” to me. Being a writer was a job that chose me as much as I chose it, and the same is true, I think, when looking for source material; it can’t just be a random work of great literature. I have to feel close to it, and that’s why I’ve worked with some of my favorite writers and their books. For example, I did an erasure poem from John Cheever’s story “The Swimmer,” which owns a deep piece of my heart, or having the opportunity to rework Philip Roth’s American Pastoral–again a book which is huge for me. It’s my voice writing over their words, in a sense. A palimpsest.
Critics often accuse found poetry of being “unoriginal.” How do you define originality? What importance do you place on originality in your own work and in other art you consume?
There is, of course, Ezra Pound’s edict: “make it new,” and found poetry can absolutely do this. As for my own work, I don’t know how original I am! My first collection was heavily influenced by Sylvia Plath, and I tend to work in an autobiographical vein. However, I want to show the world some small piece of itself that might have been overlooked: a piece of loss, or heartbreak, or absurdity. I think that’s what I look for in the work of others— do they zero in on those small details that no one has seen ? Are they showing us parts of OURSELVES that we haven’t seen ? For example, I was especially moved—and disturbed—by the 9/11 chapter of Goldsmith’s Seven American Deaths and Disasters. The eyewitness accounts reformed into a terrible poem tableau. Details like all of the paper coming down out of the sky, or people in Chinatown going about their business: all of this forms a new whole.
What are you working on right now, poetry or otherwise?
I’ve rediscovered my love of photography, and so am taking a lot of pictures. I get caught up in the editing process. As for poetry, I have two ideas floating about in my head right now: poems taken from Edie Sedgwick’s biography, and telling her story in found poems, or, making poems out the original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming. It’s always a little frightening, not knowing if something is going to work; my last writing project (the Grey Gardens poems) came so easily, and it didn’t feel like work.