Creative Honesty and Being True to the Writer Within: A View From the Visiting Poet Michael Sarnowski

InterviewsAt Kingston, we have tried to foster a creative community not only for our students but for other authors who come to visit our University. The Kingston Writing School had the pleasure of welcoming visiting poet Michael Sarnowski to do a reading on February 28th 2013. Michael received his MFA in 2009 from Vanderbilt University. He read work from his thesis Mapping the Catacombs, introducing the KU audience to his entrancing, tactile poetry. In a brief chat with student Amber Koski following the reading, Michael expressed how important honesty is in all writing; the interview below supports his conviction to authenticity. 

Amber Koski: How was your time with the KU faculty/ staff, what did you take away from your conversations and interactions with those members? 

Michael Sarnowski: My time at KU was fantastic. The faculty and staff were warm, welcoming, and unflinching in their support. Not only was it a pleasure to re-immerse myself in a graduate writing program, but it was inspiring to see the framework that had been established for the writers. You could tell that there was a balance of support and trust with the students, a guidance that recognized each writer for their individual strengths. What has stayed with me has been the sense that as much as KU is offering a writing program, they’re offering a community for writers. Beyond the classroom there is a wealth of readings, exposure to publication opportunities, and writers enthusiastic to engage.

AK: What reactions/ commentary did the KU students have after your reading (if you can recall)? You have been a helpful and valuable mentor to me upon your return to the states, what benefits can this sort of support have for new writers? Do you have past tutors who still give you advice, perhaps from your days as an undergrad? 

MS: After the reading I was able to speak with a handful of students and faculty, and the focus shifted away from conventional questions regarding craft and towards more specific poems or concepts that intrigued them. This one-on-one interaction gave both parties the opportunity to really extract something meaningful from topics which may be less likely to appear in a workshop. For example, discussions were broached regarding the nature of honesty and vulnerability in writing, and how to approach delicate content without overstepping the bounds of sentimentality. There were also comments on individual poems that had resonated with people. Personally, the most rewarding aspect of a reading is establishing a connection with someone. Not only is creative writing an opportunity to experience the world as someone else, but it’s incredible when those ah-ha moments crest when we realize we’re not as alone in the world as we had thought.

Open lines of communication between writers and mentors are extremely important, particularly because of the inherent solitude of writing. It’s an act that tends to happen in quiet moments, in time that you have carved away from work, sleep, or whatever else fills your days. So there’s the initial gain of receiving feedback, but the collateral benefit of influence and inspiration for both the writer and mentor. If we become too isolated, it becomes a necessity to have someone around to help you “kill your darlings,” to quote Faulkner (or Quiller-Couch? Or whoever else that phrase has been attributed to).

I’ve been incredibly fortunate and forever indebted to have worked with tutors like Mark Jarman, Rick Hilles, and Aimee Nezhukumatathil. They have all put in plenty of overtime in their support and cultivation of my work. If I can repay a fraction of the support they have shown to others, I’ll be on the right track.

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