Sarah Viren Recommends...

“I’d say the sonnet saved me, but that would seem too dramatic. So instead I’ll ask that you imagine me four years ago: a new mom to a crying baby. A writer of two unfinished books. A queer woman marooned in West Texas. The winter rains won’t stop. I’m sad, alone, and uninspired. But then I sign up for a poetic forms class. I learn to scan. I read a curtal sonnet by Gerald Manley Hopkins, a terza rima by Gjertrud Schnackenberg, a jokey pantoum that makes me cry. And now when the baby’s screams wake me around four, I rock her tiny form without complaint and in my head I start to write a sonnet. My mind all feet. My baby now asleep. I am an essayist, not a poet, but that means nothing when I’m working on one line, trying to find or make a word that fits the sound and meat of it. Most of the time, I think of genres as crude masks we’re made to wear, but it is also true that when I struggle with my prose, I’ll stop sometimes and try to write a poem. And if I give myself just one constraint—no b’s, shaped like a tree, translated from another tongue—suddenly I am free.”
—Sarah Viren, author of Mine (University of New Mexico Press, 2018)