An Interview: Sarah Ann Winn’s “Portage”


In her chapbook Portage, Winn captures the elusive balance of grounding a poem in the concrete world, and creating a lyrical universe for the reader, which is rare and beautiful. I had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about the collection and what inspired certain pieces.

Hailu: Why the recurring theme of apples? It reminded me first of the Adam and Eve reference, but as I kept reading I also connected to an “All American” reference. Was this done on purpose?

Winn: I’m from Ohio, and apples seemed almost a member of my family. There were two apple trees at the house where I grew up, which was a portion of the land where my grandma grew up: a Baldwin apple tree, and a Red Delicious, both left over from the days when a portion of the land was a fruit orchard. Grandma likes to bake, so if I had to name the one flavor of my childhood, it’d be apples, followed closely by home grown tomatoes. We had apple sauce, or apple pie, or apple dumplings or apple cake with many, many meals. When the canned jars of apple butter and apple sauce weren’t present, grandma would buy apples, and we’d snack on apples filled with peanut butter. It was the living embodiment of the apple a day adage.

Hailu: “Earthenware” is one of my favorites, and I can’t stop thinking about it. One line that keeps replaying in my mind is “the button that escapes to the vent.” For me, that was the line that pulled all of the emotions happening in the poem together. What made you use that specific image?

Winn: So many of the lines you ask about are very specific and concrete things which relate to my childhood – the button in my mind is from my grandmother’s button box. One of my favorite activities as a little girl was playing with my grandma’s button box, which she’d collected through her life. When anyone’d lose a button, she would be able to find a match in that box. The button in the poem relates to the things which are lost and never recovered, but which can be replaced. I wanted it to be a hopeful image, because that poem has so much to do with repair, and restoration.

portageHailu: In your piece “Nocturne” there was a phrase that stuck out to me. There is all this loving, bonding imagery, then the speaker says “She calls me mother,” and that threw me off. There is a level of detachment there that makes the piece intriguing–why did you choose that wording?

Winn: When I wrote “Nocturne,” I was specifically thinking about the people who mother us, who are not our mothers. Who could mother the moon? In this poem, I try, with limited success.

Hailu: One of the aspects of your writing that haunts me is that I cannot tell when the speaker is in reality, and when the speaker is in their imagination. I think the best example of this is in your piece “Conventry.” I could spend hours reading this and trying to understand it. What was the first thought that blossomed this piece? Was this written over a long period of time, and is it a “jigsaw” in itself?

Winn: Coventry is the name of the town where I grew up, a community surrounding the Portage lakes. Many of the things which happened in this poem are taken directly from actual images in my childhood. The owls, for instance, were placed in the upper window of a former hotel. The number would change from week to week (one, three, two, none, two facing away, one facing in, one out, and so on) and I always wondered why, until there was an article in the local paper about a drug bust there, and the owls vanished. The only things which aren’t literal in this poem are the horse’s eyes, which were, in reality, pine board knots at eye level in my bedroom. For me, those ephemeral images, right on the edge of imagination, rooted in reality, were important landmarks in my childhood.

You can read Portage for free here!

Sarah Ann Winn lives in Fairfax Virginia. Her poems have appeared or will appear in Bayou Magazine, [d]ecember, Massachusetts Review, Quarterly West, and RHINO among others. Her chapbook, Portage, is available from Sundress Publications. Her life as a poet-free-range-librarian-workshop-leader is a hybrid work in progress. Visit her at or follow her @blueaisling on Twitter.

Mari Hailu is a recent graduate of Southern Methodist University where she received her Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music and Creative Writing. She enjoys writing of all kinds, but poetry is her true love. She lives and works in Dallas, and plans to pursue her MFA in poetry in the near future. Her hobbies include running, and playing upright bass with various groups of musicians in the Dallas area.


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