Monday, March 9, 2020

TBR: Permanent Marker by Sarah Cooper

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe! 

We don’t expect an elevator pitch from a poet, but can you tell us about your work in 2-3 sentences?

Permanent Marker follows a speaker as she remembers her dead brother, imagines a life with him and attempts to speak to his son.  Set against a southern backdrop, this is a story of addiction, of family and queer identity.  These poems do attempt to reconcile the loss of a sibling and yet resist asking “why.”

Which poem/s did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which poem/s gave you the most trouble, and why?

The first poem, “We Thought About It,” was not one I enjoyed writing, but it did give me the least trouble.  This poem oozes honesty and hesitation.  I chose to place it first because the story of this chapbook is not “addiction is sad” or “this poor speaker lost a sibling.”  The story is complicated because the emotions of loving someone who is an addict are vexing.  This poem strives to encapsulate one experience with the brother where feelings of anger, love, fear and protection intersect. [link to this poem below]

Always, my mother said,” went through numerous renditions.  My mother, father and I shared the experience the poem addresses and I wanted to tell the story through a perspective that was not mine.  My brother was an addict.  And yet, the reality of watching your parents make decisions about his body is one that I can’t explain.  So, opted not to with me as the speaker.  I think this poem works best from my mother’s perspective especially the part of watching my father and recounting his words to the funeral director.  Invoking persona here, and a few other spaces in the book, makes the collection feel collective and collaborative because that’s what life has been for me. [link to this poem below]

“The Lump” is a poem I wrote in a day while ruminating on bodies and embodiment.  These visceral connections to a person who is gone are ones I carry most intimately.  This poem attempts to take a childish act (though potentially quite harmful) and spin it into a story about gratitude. 

Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

This manuscript was rejected five times from various chapbook competitions. (Yes, I kept track.)  But, to be honest: it needed to be rejected. The more distance I gained from the experience of loss the more I became able to craft poems about the experience instead of just narrating the experience.  Looking back at previous drafts of poems I find myself thinking: I’m so glad this went through twenty revisions or The rhythm now fits the pacing of thought of the speaker.

One of the great highs to this process was getting to work with Eli Warren (@eliwarrenphoto).  He did the cover art and head shot for this book.  Eli is a local photographer whose work is stunning. 

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

“You own everything that happened to you.  Tell your stories.  If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” (Anne Lamont, Bird by Bird).

How did you find the title of your book?

When I was working on my MFA, Rick Mulkey, during workshop, suggested I title my thesis Permanent Marker.  I had a series of poems about my brother in the thesis and “Permanent Marker” was the title of a poem in the thesis (the same one that’s in the chapbook).  At the time that phrase felt strong and intriguing.

A few years later, as I began putting a chapbook together, I kept finding artifacts with my brother’s name written on them.  Each time I was startled to not only see his name but his handwriting.  I kept thinking, How did I not see this before?  Or, was this even here before?  Then, one day, I went to visit my parents, got out of the car and saw the ax (that’s the cover art) nestled in a tree stump near a pile of chopped wood. I took some photos of it and knew I had to go back to Permanent Marker as the title.  Those two words hold the weight of perceived permanence and the ways we are marked by living.




READ AN EXCERPT, “We Thought About It” & “Always, my mother said”:


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.