Multi-time Pushcart Nominee, Meghan Sterling has been published in The Los Angeles Review, Rhino Poetry, Rattle, Colorado Review, Nelle, Meridian and many other journals. Her first full length collection These Few Seeds (Terrapin Books) came out in 2021 and was an Honorable Mention for the 2022 Eric Hoffer Grand Prize in Poetry. Her chapbook, Self Portrait with Ghosts of the Diaspora (Harbor Editions) will be out in 2023. Her second full length collection, View from a Borrowed Field, won the Paul Nemser Poetry Prize (Lily Poetry Review) and will be out in 2023. Her third full-length collection, Comfort the Mourners (Everybody Press) will also be coming out in 2023. She is the Program Director at Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and lives in Maine with her family. Meghan will be leading a one-day poetry workshop starting on August 12th. Monson Arts recently asked Meghan a few questions about her experience in engaging in new poetic forms, writers finding community, and her own (prolific!) writing life.
Monson Arts: Part of the class you’re leading at Monson Arts involves learning then practicing new poetic techniques (anaphora and epistrophe). As a poet, what is the value in exploring a technique or style that falls outside your normal practice? For you personally, how has experimenting with a different set of rules and parameters helped you with your poetry?
Meghan Sterling: As writers, we can get stuck. We can write what’s comfortable, and find ourselves not growing or challenging our natural rhythms. This can lead to writer’s block, or can just lead us to never examine the areas in our writing that can use improvement. I studied forms for years and then broke out of them, with a fresh perspective on my own voice, on the way I write the line. Using techniques such as anaphora (creating a pattern by repeating the beginning of a line) or epistrophe (creating a pattern by repeating the end of a line) can help lead us into interesting places we would not have explored otherwise. I find that really learning these techniques has broken me out of old rutted ways of thinking. I think it’s something we as writers all need to visit at least once a year. Where am I being lazy? Where am I doing what is expected? Where can I bring fresh energy? All these questions, and the techniques that help us re-examine our approaches, make our poems more interesting, and more meaningful.
MA: You’re the programs director at Maine Publishers and Writers Alliance, an organization that “works to enrich the literary life and culture of Maine” by bringing together all literary types in Maine “to sharpen craft, create community, and celebrate great writing.” How important is it for writers—who normally exist as solitary creatures—to have a like-minded community to engage with? In your role at MPWA, how will you draw new writers and literary types into the community? And what would you suggest to Monson Arts in creating a community of writers?
MS: Literary community is hugely important–not only for one’s writing, but for one’s spirit. Writing can be such a lonely activity, and you can feel like you are the only writer on the planet. How often do you tell someone you are a writer and they don’t really know how to respond? But when you engage with other writers, you are with people who understand what it is you do (and often, what it is you are compelled to do by your own creative impulses!). Writers together can support each other, offer assistance, a network and know-how, give feedback, discuss craft, talk about breakthroughs, commiserate or vent, or just give each other advice about something they have gone through that you might be new to experiencing. It is a safety net to the writer, a way to stay connected to the greater world.
As MWPA Program Director, I am constantly trying to draw in new voices, new perspectives and new members. We like to offer a lot of free (for members) or very inexpensive ($10 for nonmembers) presentations to members and nonmembers so that people in marginalized communities and people on limited budgets can participate in our literary community and learn from the best writers, agents and publishers around. Additionally, MWPA has a lot of free programs to reach people–there is Community Word, and Gather, and we always offer at least one member scholarship for each workshop. Our goal is to bring this community to anyone and everyone who wants to be part.
MA: You’ve had two books of poetry and one chapbook published this year, congratulations! Do you feel that you’ve been particularly prolific recently or have you built up a steady practice that has led to a groundswell of words? And how has living in Maine affected and inspired your writing?
MS: I was able to create a very healthy writing practice due to covid–I started writing a poem-a-day. I still do, at least one. So the last 3+ years I have amassed a tremendous amount of material. Becoming a mother to my young daughter has been the primary source of my inspiration–the way I have learned that I am part of a lineage, the way my daughter reminds me of her namesake, my grandmother. The way I worry about her future, and the future of the planet. All this is the material I draw from. Besides creating a new poem a day, I revise poems a few times a week and submit to 3 journals on Sunday afternoons. I also like to get-away a few times a year and see if I can shape a collection out of the material–I often see patterns and obsessions that lead to the eventual creation of a manuscript. Being part of a literary community at MWPA also is very grounding and focusing–we are all in it together, and I always have lots of people to turn to for advice. So yes, 2022 was a very prolific year! Three collections out in 2023. I can’t wait to see what collections come in 2024.