Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wednesday Poet Series - Aleah Sato

For me at least, discovering new poets whose work I enjoy is like an epiphany each and every time. The thrill is always there again.

While I can’t guarantee that everyone is going to have the same tastes in poetry that I have, I’m certain there are others out there who will find a common value in many of the poets whom I enjoy.

I find there is often a common thread that runs between poets that links them, one to another in terms of style, voice, background or interests. This is not only true looking back at some of the greats that are no longer with us, but contemporary poets as well.

The poet featured in this Wednesday Poet Series has a kind of raw and earthy voice that I appreciate in poetry I read. Small wonder that I identify with some people she counts among her influences.

I discovered her by reading a submission for Rogue Poetry Review. She was represented in the Winter Issue with three outstanding poems.

She has two books, Badlands and No Peaceful Sleep.

Aleah Sato is a young (chronological) voice but certainly one with a growing maturity that resonates so well. She was kind enough to the following e-interview with me. I hope you will enjoy this bit of insight into the workings of this exciting poet.

Aleah Sato on Poetry / Exclusive Interview

for Stick Poet ~ May 2007

Michael: I want to start by thanking Aleah Sato for agreeing to do an e-interview and taking time out of her day to put up with inquisitive intrusion into her artistic life.

Aleah: My pleasure.

Michael: You grew up in southern Indiana, rural Indiana I believe. How did you get from a country girl environment in the U.S. to Canada? Do you maintain dual citizenship, or which do you claim?

Aleah: Although I was born in Indiana, my family moved a lot when I was quite young. As an adult, I have traveled extensively throughout North America – so moving around is natural for me. I moved up to Toronto in 2002 to be with my husband and I retain US citizenship and landed immigrant status in Canada.

Michael: How has a multi-national flavor impacted your writing?

Aleah: Honestly, the differences in Canadian and American culture are subtle, despite all of the stereotypes... and the differences have little impact on my writing. I suppose that’s because I choose to write about basic, visceral human needs and not so much about cultural quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Michael: What kind of formal art education if any have you had? Who have been you biggest influencers in the development of your writing?

Aleah: I spent a few years in university, but dropped out to travel. I have been influenced more by instinct and my love of reading than by any formal training.

Michael: I would say that your instincts and reading have served you well. Are there any authors or poets that from your reading you feel influenced you especially in your own work or contributed in some way to your broader view of poetry and literature?

Aleah: Yes, I was very influenced by Anne Sexton. I like the way she wrote about aspects of the self that are not so lovely - and the directness of her poems. I also love(d) Robert Frost, Ai, Wanda Coleman, Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith, Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Audre Lorde, Poe, Sapphire and so many others. None have influenced me as much as Anne Sexton, though. I consider her to be one of the first women poets to write with real abandon about vulnerabilities of body, mind and spirit.

Michael: In numerous poems of yours that I have read there is a sense of fragility where it comes to families. I’m thinking of Nine Years or Family for instance. How much of your own life shapes your work?

Aleah: I personally believe that everything we do, be it a profession, a creation, an invention, etc is motivated by our need for answers to our existence. Obviously, when I write I am motivated by the questions I have about my experiences and those of my loved ones. However, there’s a fine line to walk. While my work may take a personal voice, it is a conglomerate of many stories, not just my own.

Michael: A very raw, edgy, earthiness is prevalent in your work. Especially in Badlands Something I am often drawn to, by the way, and I especially enjoyed The Longest Winter. Do you ever worry this pigeonholes you too much and wish for a different tone or broader range in your voice?

Aleah: I am always striving to improve my writing in both style and substance. (I am my own worst critic.)

So yes, I worry about being pigeonholed as being a “women’s issues writer” or the like, but at some point you have to embrace the criticism with the praise, and try to ignore the labels. Labels, like stereotypes, are rooted in some basic truths, but you can’t let yourself be limited by them and you can’t get too comfortable.

Michael: Your husband Rick is an artist. Tell me what it’s like for you, being in a relationship with another artist... do you talk shop? Is it complementary to both of your artistic endeavors as individuals or do you find interacting about each other’s work to be difficult?

Aleah: We became friends through this shared interest; however, Rick has gone on to be an artist AND a business owner. Right now, the demands of running a small business force him to nurture and favor the latter. I hope that will change at some point because I think he’s one of the most talented artists I know. I definitely like talking shop with him whenever possible.

Michael: How much should poets today be involved in political and social discourse? Have we gone too far off the beaten path of literature itself?

Aleah: I don’t think I’m required to enforce any particular political or social discourse in my writing simply because I am a creative person. Some poets build their work upon certain political or social messages because it is what compels them. I think that isn’t necessarily anchored to creativity.

I prefer to write about the basic truths of humanity: the life/death cycle, loneliness, the body, our life as animals and so on. Everything else seems to expand from these human conditions and needs (and how these needs are sometimes denied).

Michael: Your blog’s name is interesting. Jane Crow Journal. I’m guessing this is a feminist take off on Jim Craw, am I right? Tell us a little about it and how it came to be.

Aleah: That would be rather sophisticated of me, but I am afraid it is a little less thoughtful. It’s taken from the Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds song “Crow Jane,” which is also loosely inspired by the old blues tune. There’s something austere in the name Jane Crow that appeals to me.

Michael: Where do you see poetry fitting into society today? What is your strongest case for the relevance of poetry and the literary arts to people who are not drawn to it?

Aleah: I think the biggest block to poetry’s universal appeal is how it is being taught to our youth. While I feel the classic writers have a place in university courses, I think the language and subject matter of classic poets and writers simply gets lost in translation to modern youth culture. If more contemporary poets were allowed into classrooms, I believe more people would connect to poetry. The spoken word scene does this to some extent, but it sometimes seems to promote better entertainers than poets. I’d like to get back to poetry – where the written word also resonates.

Michael: Are there any special projects that you are working on currently that we may look forward to soon? What do you hope the future holds for you and your work, ten to fifteen years from now?

Aleah: I have a September show at the G+ Galleries in Toronto: Extinct, a collection of poems and photographs, with photographer Elizabeth Siegfried. More information can be found here:

I also have a chapbook coming soon called Stillborn Wilderness (Pooka Press).

My plans don’t go beyond one week these days, but I’ll be around doing something. Ongoing stuff can be found here:

Michael: Lastly, who are some of your favorite contemporaries in poetry and why?

Aleah: Christine Hamm, Carla Funk, Todd Swift, Nicole Blackman, AD Winans, Greg Orr, Wanda Phipps, Arlene Ang, Corey Mesler and so many more. Why? They are all skilled writers.

I’m always looking for new poems to devour and can’t imagine this list ever being finite.

Michael: Aleah, Thank you very much for allowing me to invade your privacy for the sake of art. It has been very interesting and enjoyable. Best wishes in the future, we will keep you on our radar and expect to see some more outstanding work.

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