Lyric Essentials: Jenny MacBain-Stephens Reads Sarah Nichols

Lyric Essentials

In an installment fit for October and Halloween, Jenny MacBain-Stephen shares Sarah Nichols’ work with us and talks about her own experience with found poetry. Thank you for reading and supporting the Lyric Essentials series!

Riley Steiner: Why did you choose these two poems to share with us?

Jenny MacBain-Stephens: I chose to read “Little Sister Remembers Helter Skelter” and “Little Sister’s Sister.”

I’ve always been a fan of Sarah Nichols’ poetry. Her poems are surreal, creepy, and multi-layered.  Her chapbook Little Sister (from Grey Book Press, 2018) does not disappoint in these areas.

Jenny MacBain-Stephens reads “Little Sister Remembers Helter Skelter” by Sarah Nichols

RS: Sarah Nichols’ chapbook Little Sister, where these poems come from, is a collection of found poetry. Sarah uses the novel Violin by Anne Rice as her chapbook’s source material. What is your own experience with found poetry?

JMS: I was new to experimenting with found poetry until I participated in several month-long poetry challenges over various Octobers (called “The Poeming”) the past couple of years with a group of other poets, facilitated by E. Kristin Anderson and Samantha Duncan and Sarah Nichols.

Nichols was one of the poets who participated in these as well. An author is picked (like Anne Rice or Stephen King), and then each poet is assigned a book by that author to create a poem a day and publish it in a private closed group on social media every day in October.

Because it is October, the authors are usually horror-related or maybe focused on science fiction. It is an awesome experience. We always review the rules about using another writer’s words to create something new, and each poem is attributed. I’ve created many poems using this method now, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

Jenny MacBain-Stephens reads “Little Sister’s Sister” by Sarah Nichols

RS: What do you admire about Little Sister as a whole? 

JMS: I love the musical references in the chapbook (the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” P.J. Harvey, Joy Division,) and even though the Little Sister is “Little,” she seems off and a little violent and the reader also doesn’t even know if she is real sometimes. The speaker is distrustful of her but also at times says things like “She is my own breath.” There are images that play with mental hospitals, and God, and evil, and sex, and I love the idea of playing with those boundaries.

RS: Did you discover anything new about these poems after reading them out loud, as opposed to reading them on the page?

JMS: I did. In “Little Sister Remembers Helter Skelter,” the first line is, “I don’t believe in confession. I was a little abomination, girl.” If you read this line faster and skip over the comma a bit, it sounds like the reader is talking about herself, rather than addressing the “girl.”

And this little change up for me is symbolic of these poems—is the Little Sister a separate entity or are the girls the same?  Is one person severed into little dark pieces? I think so.

A poet from Connecticut, Sarah Nichols has published four chapbooks, including How Darkness Enters a Body (2018) and Dreamland for Keeps (2018). Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Dream Pop, Memoir Mixtapes, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Rogue Agent.

Further reading:

Read an interview with Sarah Nichols in Speaking of Marvels
Purchase How Darkness Enters a Body from Porkbelly Press
Get Little Sister from Grey Book Press

Jennifer MacBain-Stephens lives in the Midwest and is the author of four full-length poetry collections: Your Best Asset is a White Lace Dress (Yellow Chair Press, 2016), The Messenger is Already Dead (Stalking Horse Press, 2017), We’re Going to Need a Higher Fence, tied for first place in the 2017 Lit Fest Book Competition, and The Vitamix and the Murder of Crows, which is recently out from Apocalypse Party. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. She is also the author of ten chapbooks. Recent work can be seen at or is forthcoming from The Pinch, Black Lawrence Press, Quiddity, Prelude, Cleaver, Yalobusha Review, Zone 3, and decomP.

Further reading:

Visit Jenny’s website
Purchase The Messenger is Already Dead from Stalking Horse Press
Read Jenny’s work in Yalobusha Review

Riley Steiner graduated from Miami University, where she studied Creative Writing and Media & Culture. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she enjoys baking, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and spending way too much money at Half Price Books. Her creative work has recently appeared in the Oakland Arts Review and Collision.


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