Poet of the Month: Sarah Gorham


Sarah GorhamSarah Gorham is a poet and publisher who currently resides in Louisville KY. She was born in Santa Monica, California in 1954. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa in 1978 and her BA in 1976 from Antioch College.

Four Way Books published her third collection of poetry The Cure in 2003. The others include, The Tension Zone (1996), which won the 1994 Four Way Books Award in Poetry, judged by Heather McHugh, and Don’t Go Back to Sleep, published by Galileo Press in 1989. She co-edited the anthology Last Call: Poems on Alcoholism, Addiction, and Deliverance, with Jeffrey Skinner, published in 1997 by Sarabande Books.

Gorham’s poems and essays have been published widely in Best American Poetry 2006, Poetry, The Nation, Antaeus, American Poetry Review, The Gettysburg Review, Grand Street, DoubleTake, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, Ohio Review, Georgia Review, Southern Review, Missouri Review, Ploughshares, Poets and Writers, Fourth Genre, and Poetry Northwest, where in 1990 she won the Carolyn Kizer Award. In 2002 she and poet Jeffrey Skinner served as poets-in-residence at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut. Other awards include grants and fellowships from The Kentucky State Arts Council (twice), The Kentucky Foundation for Women (twice), The Delaware State Arts Council, The Connecticut Commission on the Arts, Yaddo, and MacDowell. In 1983, she received the Gertrude Claytor Prize from the Poetry Society of America and, in 2000, won the 2000 Prairie Schooner Reader’s Choice Award.

In March 1994, Gorham founded Sarabande Books, Inc. a small press devoted to the publication of poetry, short fiction, and literary nonfiction. Gorham serves as President and Editor-in-Chief. She is the wife of poet Jeffrey Skinner and the mother of Laura and Bonnie Skinner.


Three decades ago I was a student at Iowa—a scared, skinny twenty-one-year old among sixty other poets, some of whom would become the literary stars of today. I worshipped Louise Gluck, Tess Gallagher, Theodore Roethke, Merwin, and Simic. My poems, however (when I could actually write them), were cool constructions like ships made of toothpicks. It took me nearly a decade to outgrow and unlearn my Iowa upbringing, which I see in retrospect was all about imitation. Maybe that was important too.

I’m interested in poems that have a authoritative, accomplished surface, and a wounded or amorous interior. All the smarts in the world can’t do a thing if there isn’t a body lurking somewhere.

In reading, my current pleasures are Kathleen Pierce for her sensuality and sudden shifts in direction, the Eastern Europeans (particularly Z. Herbert), Anne Carson, Susan Stewart, Dickinson, Frost, Les Murray, Matthea Harvey. I have read and re-read Emerson, C.S. Lewis, and Emmett Fox. Lorrie Moore, Alistair McCleod, Nabokov. Cheever and Fitzgerald…

I like to think my poems are sometimes leggy, interdisciplinary, and hard to pin down. I move between sonnets, and long loose lines with a seemingly random tack. It’s rather like drinking gin and coffee, one in each hand. To shake myself up, I write homophonic translations of Swedish poems, or negative inversions of shorter poems with simple, declarative sentences.  I hit the random button on Wikipedia and see what comes up. All in the effort to avoid well-worn paths to finishing a poem.

At the same time, I’ve begun to work in prose–the slow, humiliating process of writing my first lyric essays. Edges have always interested me, thus the title of my second book, The Tension Zone, which is an ecological term for the territory of overlap between two contrasting biomes. These days, we’re given permission to range freely across genres so the foray into prose is naturally informing my poetry. I’m interested in how seemingly random components are knitted together. This includes bits of etymology, advice from Martha Stewart’s Living, outright confessions of longing and terror, dialogue, story, slang, the Behera Brothers, and the vagus nerve. It’s not enough though to slap them all down and call it collage, gaps glaring. I favor an art that reveals the artist fiddling, that discovers connections between unlike things, a buried order, not disorder.

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