Sarah Beddow is the author of Dispatches from Frontier Schools, our newest collection of poetry.
It’s available for pre-order for $10 so order you copy today! We interviewed Sarah so you could get to know her a little bit.
How long did it take you to write Dispatches from Frontier Schools? What was your process for pulling it together?
I began writing these poems midway through my first year working at “Frontier.” The workload was
overwhelming, and I was wilting under the pressure. I started writing these poems as emails to
myself and then as posts on Facebook. Basically, they were pain cries out into the abyss that is social
media, a desperate plea to be seen in my struggle.
After three years of writing them, I began to see an arc and thought there could be a whole book
here. By year five, I was explicitly working on the poems with a book as the end goal, and I knew I
was going to stop writing them at the end of the year—under the notion that you have to stop
sometime, and five seemed like a nice round number. Then it ended up that my fifth year at Frontier
was the year COVID shut schools and I officially left the school shortly thereafter.
I drafted the majority of the poems in the collection on pretty much the same day the events
depicted occurred. After I wrote the final poem, I organized them by year, and then I printed them
all out and stuck them to my office closet. I highlighted the major themes and motifs because I love
highlighters and I love organizing! Then I looked at how those themes and motifs spread across the
collection, tightened threads where I could, wrote new poems based on the piles of notes I had
accumulated to fill in holes, and deleted poems that didn’t work as hard as others.
Then I traded manuscripts with a friend (the incredible and lovely Sarah Kain Gutowski) and had
my husband Jeff “standards-based grade” them, using the same 1-4 scale I used for student work,
where 4 is mastery and 1 shows no evidence of mastery. Both Sarah’s and Jeff’s feedback helped me
see the language and get a sense of what the poems were actually doing, instead of just what I
thought they were doing.
So how long overall did it take? I think 6 years, maybe a little more, from first poem to the
manuscript draft that I sent to Riot in Your Throat.
What’s a favorite poem from the collection? Why?
I particularly love “Dispatch re: Big Dick” because it is foul-mouthed and funny (or I mean, it makes
me laugh), while getting at the ways working in K-12 education can be so weird that people on the
outside think you’re making things up or exaggerating for effect. I also really love “Dispatch for:
[redacted]” (page 13 in Night Music Journal Volume 8) because I know what the missing words are
but no one else (beyond my husband and two people I shared it with) ever will—and that also
captures something about the teaching experience. Teaching is so intensely personal and generates
very intense yet time-delimited interpersonal connections. And trying to explain those relationships
is futile because they just don’t translate to anything else, in my experience.
What’s your writing routine look like? How has the pandemic changed it?
Well, I quit my teaching job because of the pandemic, and now I have so much more time to write. I
write very routinely now, and I write whatever the hell I want. I’ve been writing short stories and
weird little essays and poems that aren’t even part of a bigger project! The time the pandemic
opened up has allowed me to be playful in a way I haven’t been since before I went to grad school.
Juggling writing with a teaching career and a family meant I had to have a project, something I could
write into over and over again, if I wanted to sustain a writing practice. I needed a track to run on
because I didn’t have enough creative or emotional energy to create something new every time I
managed to sit down to write. All of a sudden, without teaching, I can be so free.
I meet with a writing group over Zoom twice a month. Each month we pick a theme and talk about
model texts during the month’s the first meeting and then we share our writing for the month’s
second meeting. It’s been so sustaining and so fun to experiment with the different themes and
techniques we’re trying out together.
Who are your favorite poets?
I love Ntozake Shange (as the book will attest), Philip Larkin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jane Cooper,
William Carlos Williams, Etheridge Knight, Patricia Smith, Morgan Parker, Tanya Olson, Marina
Blitshteyn, Rachel Zucker, Carmen Giménez Smith, Suzanne Gardinier, Eunsong Kim, Matthea
Harvey, Caolan Madden, and Vijay Seshadri. I also love the poetry of my blurbers, which is why I asked them to blurb me: Rachel Mennies, Sarah Kain Gutowski, and Krystal Languell.
What are you reading right now?
I am currently reading Maya Pindyck’s Friend Among Stones, which is one of those books that has
been on my shelf far too long but Maya’s new book Impossible Belonging is coming out soon and that
spurred me to action. It is filled with these short, gem-like poems that refract light in all directions. I
went to Sarah Lawrence with Maya and have long been impressed by her work.
As much as I love poetry, my true love when reading is fiction. I recently finished Ruth Ozeki’s My
Year of Meats and Kristen Arnett’s With Teeth. Both made me pleasantly uncomfortable, though in
very different ways. Next up is either Wild Seed by Octavia Butler or Matrix by Lauren Groff, both of
which are sitting on my shelf and looking at me expectantly.
I also finally finished reading The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession by Dana
Goldstein. Goldstein’s thesis is basically that every fight we’re having now is a fight we have always
had about education: Are teachers professionals/experts or just some ladies who take care of kids?
Is teaching labor? What even is good teaching and how do you train people to do it? If you are in
education or interested in education, I can’t recommend it highly enough because it highlights how
the country has always struggled with the role of public education, especially teachers and their role
in American culture.
What’s your favorite non-writing activity?
The cheap answer here is reading, which I think I am better at than writing. I also love baking, often
elaborately, and cooking. My favorite kind of cooking is the kind of cooking where I make
something delicious out of the scraps in our fridge. Or when I make some kind of soup with
homemade stock and homemade bread, a feat I rarely accomplish but damn do I feel good when I do.
What is one good thing that came out of the pandemic for you?
Not to belabor the point, but I quit my teaching job. My life is much freer and easier. I spend more
time with my husband and my kids. I cook again. My house is cleaner/less trashed. I write more. I
craft more (textile arts for the win!). I see my friends more and talk to them more, and when we talk
it isn’t entirely about my teaching job. I’m doing work in educational publishing, and a lot of the
work I’m doing now flexes the curriculum-development muscles I never quite had the opportunity
to fully utilize while teaching. Also I started therapy again for the first time in almost twenty years,
and I exercise more. Just all in all, I’m so much healthier and happier.
[…] in. (See a picture of the whole manuscript, taped to my closet and colored coded, on my publisher Riot in Your Throat’s blog.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, the biggest hole was levity—all the love, friendship, and good work, […]