Sara Quinn Rivara is the author of Little Beast, the newest collection of poetry we’re publishing. It’s now available for pre-order so snag your copy! (Books will be shipped late April.)
We wanted our readers to get to get to know Sara a bit better so as we asked her the usual interview questions.
How long did it take you to write Little Beast? What was your process for pulling it together?
I began writing the poems in Little Beast probably around 2016, when I was sending Animal Bride into the world. I had lived in Portland for two years by then, and wanted to write a book about miracles: I’d moved myself and my son across the country and started a new life with my husband and stepson. But a lot happened between the summer of 2016 and 2021, when I began sending this manuscript out. The election, a terrible and triggering slog through family court around custody, my father’s death, my husband’s cancer diagnosis and treatment, our boys growing into middle school, then high school. And I realized: I was angry. I was incandescent with rage sometimes—and that my rage was shared, that my experience with abuse and misogyny wasn’t just personal, wasn’t just a series of unfortunate events and choices I’d made in my life, but it was a collective. So the book is a book of miracles but it is also something else, a battle cry, a keening. In many ways, being finally safe in my personal life with my child allowed me the space to write my rage and my miracles and start to push beyond the boundaries of what I though was proper for a poem, or fitting.
It takes me a long time—yeas, obviously, to put a book together. It has lived in different orders, different forms: do I want a narrative arc? an emotional arc? do I just throw the **&^% poems down the stairs and see where they land? I’m lucky to have a writer for a partner—he read through each incarnation of the manuscript and helped me see which arcs were working and which weren’t.
What’s a favorite poem from the collection? Why?
I’m not sure I have a favorite, but “Eve in the Wilderness” felt like an important shift in my writing and the way I thought about escaping abuse—that it was part of a bigger story, beyond me, that I was able to reject the idea of being good and likeable and pliant (which are harder things to reject than I thought, particularly as a white woman who was brought up in a culture where white womanhood is seen as soft and obedient and feminine and one’s entire social capital is based on fleeing physical beauty and how close you can align yourself with white supremacy and power). I love the idea of the wilderness, the place where there be monsters, where those who are not accepted by the establishment dwell. In western mythology, the wilderness is a place to be tamed, cultivated, subjugated, made into a walled garden. I guess I realized how done with that idea I am, how the only stories worth telling and hearing are those that challenge the status quo, that kill the old gods, that say there is a different way of being.
What’s your writing routine look like?
Peripatetic at best. I work full time, am a full time parent and step parent, have an insane custody arrangement that necessitates regular cross country slogs, and generally am not good at stillness and focus. I wish I could say I have one of those writing processes that famous writers have: “wake u, spend three hours drafting, lunch, spend a hour revising, on hour reading” etc., etc. But I write in spurts—I often draft by hand in a composition notebook, or in the notes app on my phone, or on the back of papers at work, and then put the drafts aside for weeks. Sometimes to the point where I forget that I’ve written them, in fact. I prefer revision—I don’t have to start from scratch!—and need that space between the initial draft and revision to have emotional space but also to be able to see the little crumb-trails my subconscious was leaving, see through the burst to see what I really wanted to say. I have been able to use those cross-country slogs as mini-writing retreats (though they are fraught with emotion and anxiety and tension). And I am lucky that once a year my husband—also a writer—and I take a week off from work and rent a cabin somewhere near the ocean or in the woods and spend the entire week writing and revising. I get a lot of work done during those weeks, and then can shoehorn early morning hours or the hour between dinner and homework help to revise and polis. Now that my son and stepson are going to college next year, I’m guessing I’m going to need to shift my writing routine, or it will shift itself. I’m both excited and apprehensive about what that will look like.
Sara’s writing space
Who are your favorite poets?
I’m not sure I have favorites, but I do have touchstone poets whose work either shaped me or that I come back to time and time again. Diane Seuss, who was my first poetry teacher, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Dorianne Laux, Marie Howe, Lucille Clifton, Eleanor Wilner, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Theodore Roethke. But there are so many contemporary poets whose work I love too: my amazing blubers, Shaindel Beers and Jennifer Givhan, Jessica Walsh, Donika Kelly, Ocean Vuong, Laura Kasischke.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished Jay Hopler’s Still Life and Jessamine Chan’s The School for Good Mothers and eighteen thousand see catalogs.
What’s your favorite non-writing activity?
I’m also a semi-professional classical singer, and sing with a number of opera companies and chamber choirs in Portland; I am a distance runner and try to run a race every month except January; during the first two years of the pandemic I took a Master Gardener course and began the process of shifting our small urban lot to a permaculture homestead. I am not great with down time, obviously.
Pre-order Sara’s book, Little Beast.