Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite authors to share the work of their favorite poets. This month, Kelly Weber has joined us to discuss the poetry of Sara Henning and world building in poetry, evocative imagery, and memory’s relationship with lyricism. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.
Ryleigh Wann: How has Sara Henning’s work inspired your own?
Kelly Weber: Henning’s collection was one of many I read as I was thinking about ways to build a sort of complicated family mythology in my first published book, We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place. She writes in an unflinching way about trauma and weaves the narrative structure of memory with a lyricism that moves so deftly on the page. There’s such an emotional honesty and directness with luscious sound play and distinctive imagery in her work.
RW: You’re the author of the recent publication, We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place (Tupelo Press, 2022). What was the process of creating this collection like? Where did your interest in mythology or formal poetry begin?
KW: This collection really grew out of trying to find a lyric shape and articulation for asexuality and aromanticism, and a lot of the book’s wrestling with the sonnet form and some of its amatonormative traditions are part of the crisis of that book. For a long time I struggled with traditional poetic forms and their restrictions–I still haven’t found a way to write into the sestina that feels genuinely inspiring, for example. But with this book, I realized I loved inventing my own formal changes on the page, like writing a poem with the ampersand as its primary and only piece of punctuation, or really skewing and strangling the traditional sonnet crown into something that was interesting to me. Ultimately the process of creating this collection was about finally finding what was interesting to me about the lyric poem on the page. The thematic concerns followed the formal experiments I was trying, and gradually the themes and shape of the book emerged from there.
RW: Why did you choose to read these poems specifically?
KW: “The Truth Only Starlings Will Speak” reminds me of the vivid, evocative description in Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish”–one of Henning’s many fine skills as a writer is her ability to articulate an image with such lush verbs and word choice. Images in that poem like “lymph nodes feverous / in their recursion. Bending to this rapture” are so perfectly observed in both sound and image. This poem is exemplary of her ability to slow down a narrative moment and find the highest lyric pitch within it. Too, she does this brilliantly in “Terra Inferna,” a poem I also love for the girl and the mare “wild enough / to end everything,” the power and agency within those figures. There’s also so much agency and power in “Once, I Prayed in the Water”–a poem that so beautifully celebrates the speaker’s desire, her autonomy, her sense of eroticism and pleasure and living life to the fullest that leads to that sudden, stunning turn to an elegy for the mother, the burial of the person the speaker once was, and a meditation on how “all things beautiful & terrible / begin to burn.” I love the tension of the water and the fire in this poem, their yoking together through shine.
RW: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?
KW: I’m so thrilled that my first book, We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place from Tupelo Press, is now out in the world, and I’ve been busy with readings and events and workshops in support of that release. I’m also excited for my second book, You Bury the Birds in My Pelvis, coming out this fall with Omnidawn Press. It’s a lot happening at once but I’m so grateful for all of it.
Sara Henning is the author of Burn (Southern Illinois University Press, 2024), Terra Incognita (Ohio University Press, 2022), and View from True North (Southern Illinois University Press, 2018). She was awarded the 2015 Crazyhorse Lynda Hull Memorial Poetry Prize, the 2019 Poetry Society of America’s George Bogin Memorial Award, First Prize in the 2020 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award (Passaic County Community College), and a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in poetry to the 2019 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her work has appeared in journals such as Quarterly West, Crab Orchard Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Southern Humanities Review, Witness, Meridian, and the Cincinnati Review. She is an assistant professor of English at Marshall University.
Find her website here.
Purchase her latest collection Terra Incognita here.
Kelly Weber (she/they) is the author of We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place (Tupelo Press, 2022) and You Bury the Birds in My Pelvis, winner of the 2022 Omnidawn First/Second Book Prize (forthcoming October 2023). She is the reviews editor for Seneca Review. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in a Best American Poetry Author Spotlight, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Southeast Review, Salamander, The Journal, Passages North, Foglifter, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Colorado State University and lives with two rescue cats. Find them on Instagram and Twitter at @KellyWeberPoet
Visit her website here.
Purchase their debut collection We Are Changed to Deer at the Broken Place here.
Ryleigh Wann (she/her) hails from Michigan and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. She earned an MFA from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in The McNeese Review, Longleaf Review, Rejection Letters, and elsewhere. You can visit her website at ryleighwann.com
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