Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sarah Elizabeth Schantz

Sarah Elizabeth Schantz grew up in a bookstore named The Rue Morgue—one of the first mystery bookstores in the US. She is an accomplished short-storyist, with many awards under her belt. Schantz holds an MFA in Writing & Poetics from Naropa University. She currently lives with her family in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Boulder, Colorado, where they are surrounded by open sky, century-old cottonwoods, coyote, and screech owls.

Schantz's debut novel is Fig.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve been reading a lot of poetry, which is new for me. I just finished Dorianne Laux’s exquisite collection, Facts About the Moon, and before that Marie Howe’s What The Living Do, and Ellen Bass’ Like a Beggar. I soon learned there is a connection between these poets as Howe dedicated her book to Laux and blurbed Bass’ The Human Line. I learned of Howe when I heard her read “Practicing” on Fresh Air. Every once in a while, I encounter work by someone else that feels like work I could have written—I don’t know how else to describe the feeling, and please understand that I am not by any means saying I could write a poem as gorgeous or as honest as “Practicing,” because I couldn’t, but I am attempting to explain the affinity I feel for it. From there, I discovered Bass, and then serendipity led me to Laux. I’m part of the Facebook group, Creative Writing Pedagogy, and someone was asking for work about the moon, and that was how I came across Facts About the Moon. Ironically enough, that week I participated in a panel with Kim Addonizio, who co-authored a book on writing poetry with Laux and is also acknowledged by Bass in The Human Line. The panel topic was “The Essence of Darkness” and I was floored by Kim’s erudition. Immediately, I bought her novel, Little Beauties and her story collection, The Palace of Illusions—the first explores OCD and the second fairytales—two themes I also explore in my own writing. But back to the poets I first mentioned: As a fiction writer, I appreciate the narratives Howe, Bass, and Laux all employ, but also the brutal nostalgia their work evokes.

I teach creative writing, and I’ve been overseeing an independent study on confessional poetry. This means I’ve been re-reading a lot of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, but I also read Robert Phillips’ study of the movement, The Confessional Poets. It’s been interesting to think about the confessional mode in today’s world. For example, my teenage daughter was telling me about a girl she knows who posted a picture of herself standing in front of an abortion clinic as her status update on Instagram; posed, she had her hands on her belly, and wore a long, sad face while the caption read: “I just lost the love of my life.” When I look at Plath and Sexton, as well as their male counterparts, I see how their “mad” autobiographies were in every way a reaction to the atrocities of both world wars. But it’s also important to note that while Plath, and particularly Sexton, were accused of over-sharing, especially when it came to poems about the female body and the female experience, they were still very much concerned with the discipline of poetry while simultaneously and quite intelligently self-mythologizing themselves in such a way their personae became the personae of every woman, and really everyone reading their work. The narcissism and voyeurism of social media sites like Instagram and Facebook are disconcerting, but as an artist, I am intrigued by the documentation of self (after all it is an epistolary form of personal narrative, is it not?). In the case of the girl mentioned above, I worry people (especially young people) use these sites as diaries. Then again, both Plath and Sexton were accused of over-sharing too, or of just sharing subject matter they shouldn’t share at all. I teach a workshop on secrets, and how they’re the core of any narrative, but this is what I wonder: If the confessional poets served as the voice of their readers, what happens to art when the everyhuman no longer requires the artist (or art) to be their vehicle for confession? What happens when social media sites replace publication/art? What happens when there is no revision process? No one but the “writer” and the immediate “audience” to see the work before it goes live, before it goes viral? The word viral is also of interest as it implies contagion and illness.

I am reading Staubs and Ditchwater: A Friendly and Useful Introduction to Hillfolks’ Hoodoo by H. Byron Ballard (aka “Ashville’s Village Witch”) as research for the novel I’m currently writing titled, Roadside Altars, about a teenage metal head girl who is haunted by the ghost of a twin sister she (mostly) absorbed in utero. Other research books include The Distinctive Book of Redneck Baby Names by Linda Barth, Ozark Magic and Folklore by Vance Randolph, and a deep study of the Rider-Waite Tarot since the novel follows the Fool’s journey through the major arcana cards in the order they are numbered. I recently read The Roundhouse by Louise Erdrich, and fell in love with the rambling unreliable narrative of her young male protagonist. Important books in my “To Be Read” tower not yet mentioned are: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson; All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; and How to Walk Away by Lisa Birman. I just started The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, and I’m excited to read the following books either being released now, or about to be, such as: The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch, Four-Legged Girl: Poems by Diane Seuss, and Slab by Selah Saterstrom. On this note, to conclude, I must say this: Even though To Kill a Mockingbird is my favorite book ever, I WILL NOT BE READING Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. Until I know for sure that Lee was not taken advantage of (there is so much hearsay right now), I will not buy the book (which, from what I know, is the rough draft of TKAM anyway), and if I do ever read it, it will be as a study of Lee’s evolution as a writer.
Visit Sarah Elizabeth Schantz's website.

The Page 69 Test: Fig.

My Book, The Movie: Fig.

--Marshal Zeringue