From a Newtown Literary contributor: Sara Cahill Marron
Writer Sara Cahill Marron’s work was featured in issue #14 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed her about her writing and her answers are below. For more, check out her website, or follow her on Instagram @saracmarron, or Twitter @misswind_
When you think of Queens, what first comes to mind?
The first thing that pops into my head as I write in another heat wave is the times I spent running around Jamaica High School in the dead July and August heat when the Sri Chinmoy runners were running the Self-Transcendence Race, which is the longest running race in the world, topping off at 3,100 miles. I typically would be heading out for a five-mile run, maximum, and I’d take a lap with these runners who had been up running since before dawn. It was inspiring. That, and the navel orange glow of the “F” train sign with its singsong “This is a Queens-bound train to 169th St” that meant I was going home.
Some other places that shaped my growth as a young woman in Queens color my reflections: the Bayside Diner off Northern Boulevard; American Martyrs Church on Bell Boulevard; the parking lot in Bay Terrace, Bayside; the intersection of Homelawn and 169th St; the square mile encapsulating Parsons, Union Turnpike, 164th St and the Grand Central Parkway containing a liquor store, a home, and a hospital that squared off an entire chapter of myself.
How does Queens influence your writing?
The people from my neighborhood in Jamaica, the first restaurant I waitressed at in Bayside, the coffee shop I worked at and got fired from after two terrible hours of the morning rush; the many interconnected highways it took for me to travel from work to home and back again (the Grand Central Parkway to the Clearview to Bayside, or the Grand Central Parkway to the LIE to the BQE to Brooklyn or beyond); and the sounds of people’s lives.
I’ve been away from Queens now for two years, at law school, and my next manuscript was born from this borough. The stories that people told, inadvertently as a way of telling about their day, or directly as a way to entertain and pass an evening, became the poems and lines that wouldn’t shake out of my head. There’s a smokiness like burned cedar that comes to mind when I think of how I feel connected to that place, to those people. It doesn’t make any sense or have root in anything real, but it’s jostled free by the huge divot on Union Turnpike as I’m turning right to double-park at the Chase so I can get cash to pay my landlord the rent and the pizza shop across the street has its doors open and there are college kids laughing or screaming or who knows what and some cop car flicks its siren on, not for my pitiful job at double-parking, but screaming elsewhere toward some smoking story told down the road connected by a few highways, on the Island maybe, or down the block—might even be my house—I am so close to every stranger that the endless flow of traffic and steam and walkers and lookers doesn’t feel foreign or unreal or bothersome; it feels like my blood, blue in the veins, and I close my eyes and let it flow through me.
What is the last piece of writing you read that made you laugh or cry (or just especially moved you)?
I’m currently rereading Spring and All by William Carlos Williams, and it’s heartbreaking. It’s for a project I’m working on that’s based on correspondence between me and a poet from Jackson Heights named Morty Sklar. Morty was my friend. He and I met on the F train many years ago, when I was a much worse writer than I am now. His emails to me, and our meetings, were about mentorship. He was a true teacher, and a true New York poet, although he never lost that wanderer spirit that once took him on a motorcycle ride through the middle parts of the country to Idaho.
Spring and All was one of his most frequently quoted books when he gave me feedback on my own work, and as I’m working on this manuscript, I’m taking Morty’s transmitted advice via W.C.W. seriously: BE SPECIFIC. So I’m rereading, and rethinking about those days on the F train, picking my way through the 169th Street station so I might find the rare empty seat on the morning commute in the car that wasn’t yet filled from commuters crammed in at 179th Street; being specific about setting, being specific about Queens, specific about writing, about connecting, and about what those things mean.
Some other books that are open on my table are Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology, Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, and H.D.’s Trilogy. I also have this great book of daily Rilke poems that I read from each morning when I write. It’s a lovely way to start the morning.
What inspires you?
Research; learning something really specific and strange that I’ve never heard of before; new combinations of words; or new words in their entirety. I get bored easily when things become repetitive, which is much of daily living. Routine and aging is very repetitive, but that is peaceful in its own right. To create, and seek inspiration, all I need is to find something new. I don’t even necessarily have to like it. Things I dislike are interesting to me, too. If it’s foreign or new, there’s something to discover there, as least for me. Creativity requires exploration.
What does your writing process/routine look like?
In transit; most of my poetry is written on trains, lately. I dislike writing longhand while in motion, because my handwriting is already so abysmal that even I can’t read it. I do a longhand writing practice in the morning of at least three pages every day. I keep a Google Doc for each year of drafts for transit poems; 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019—these documents are a mess and each are longer than book length, full of poetry. Much of the content has been published, after I pull out specific pieces and edit them, but they are always first drafts in that document.
I write in the transit document and harvest from it at different times. A poem written on the train at 7:30 a.m. doesn’t get edited that same day. I try to let things brew for a few days, at least. That way, when I come back to them, I am different or the poem is different or the world is different—either way, something has changed and I’m able to take a scalpel to the fat and edit it properly.
From there, I pull the good stuff into a submissions document and start the active editing. I actively edit 3-8 poems for a few months and start submitting them once I feel they are clean. Other writers that I know sit on their work for much longer, tinkering and parsing it until it reaches that “perfection” place. I don’t like that, it makes me crazy. I like to keep things moving, and when a piece feels clean enough, I send it out in the world to be rejected, or to find its mate in a journal. For me, submitting, rejections, and publication are all a part of the writing and editing process.
When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?
Writing happens as a kind of constant hum in the background of all things—so those transit docs often get opened and drafted in as a result of the following activities: I love opera and the Met. If I had more money, I’d attend more concerts at Carnegie. When I worked in Manhattan, I used to go to every free Friday at MoMA, and knew the rotating free days at other museums. I like to go to baseball games with my dad, and to drive to the beach. I run, and have run long races like the marathon. I like to eat healthfully, and cook foods in new ways. Cooking and learning about food inspires me. There is opportunity for art in so many things.
What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
My second book, tentatively titled, Geographics, from which the poems published in Newtown Literary were selected, is currently in the circulation world of small presses, looking for the right home. So that project is “finished” or in final editing stage, for now. The manuscript that I’m actively writing and editing is tentatively called How to Be Specific. That’s the manuscript based on correspondence between Morty and me. I’m excited about that one, about both Geographics and How to Be Specific, because they both push at form in different ways from the way my first book Reasons for the Long Tu’m did.
How to Be Specific uses the email format to deliver its poems and examines the wise love required to teach the youthful, and the delicate suggestions and patience exchanged from the older mentor to the younger mentee. The two figures in this book are writers living in Queens, riding the F train and arranging to meet at Union Square for lunch and coffees—but the story is about the transmission of knowledge, and how delicate the receiving of that knowledge can be, yet how integral it is that the mentor persist, that our teachers teach with love.
What should I have asked you that I didn't?
I suppose I could have answered this in the “what inspires you” section—but when reading just doesn’t ignite any fresh ideas for poetry, I find that listening to either rap or opera is a great source of inspiration. Sometimes I alternate for best effects. My current favorites are Logic, Chance the Rapper, Lil Baby, Don Q, Meek Mill, Cardi B, Lucidious, and George Frideric Handel’s Rinaldo (Act 1: “Cara sposa”, Act 2: “Lascia ch’io pianga”, “Una furtive lagrima”), Giovanni Battista’s Stabat Mater, and Puccini’s Tosca Act II: Vissi d’arte.