Meghan Sterling: Poet

Sterling and her Muse by Meghan Sterling, 2023.

Meghan Sterling has an amazing background. She is an award-winning poet, an editor and the program director of a writers’ organization. Here are the details. Her work has been published in benevolent and trusted magazines and literary journals like Rhino Poetry, the Los Angeles Review, Rust and Moth, and The West Review among others. Her debut poetry collection was shortlisted for the Eric Offer Grand Prize Award. Her second full-length collection, View from a Borrowed Field, won Lily Poetry Review’s Paul Nemser Book Prize and will be released in March of 2023. Sterling has much good news to share as she has other works due to be released in 2023, a chapbook Self-Portrait with Ghosts of the Diaspora, and a full length collection Comfort the Mourners.

To see this vivacious and spirited lady and hear her speak on the subject of poetry is to be enriched in heart and energized in spirit. She feeds my muse and for that I’m grateful. Here is an interview with the poet that was conducted over email.

Hello Meghan!

Hello Helen!

Here you go:

Helen: Your book will come out in March of 2023, I’d like to hear all about it. What inspired View from a Borrowed Field? And where did it take you?

Meghan: The book sprung from a deep desire for belonging and home. Also a longing for a sense of safety. My husband, small daughter and I lived for over 4 years in a small apartment in Portland, Maine and I would dream and dream that we could buy a house, but we never found anything that we could afford. My desire for a home also came from a place of ancestral longings–my Jewish family weren’t allowed to own land, and I felt this profound sense of injustice for all people who are forbidden to own land, whether explicitly or due to socio-economic inequities. After 4 years, our fears were realized: our building was sold and we had to figure out our next steps very quickly and with a small budget. We couldn’t afford rent in Portland anymore, and luckily, we were able to find a house down the street from my brother in a nearby town that we could afford and we bought it. It has a small yard and we have begun to plant fruit trees, so the dream has come true.

Helen: Wait: Poems from the Pandemic was referred to by one Goodreads reviewer as a book that contained poems that were “hard to read because they really nailed down the feelings we have all had.” Did you publish the poem from that collection anywhere else? Can you tell me more about that poem?

Meghan: My OCD is now considered “Good Hygiene” is a poem I wrote for that collection. I remember those initial months of the pandemic, the fear of germs. It reminded me of accounts I read of the Bubonic plague, of Edgar Allen Poe, of this sense that death could be lurking around any corner, clinging to a shoe or on the wind. I was raised by very clean people, and all that obsessiveness came roaring back into my life at the start of lockdown. And that as a woman, there is this learned role of homemaker, so I felt that it was my responsibility to make sure my family stayed safe. I turned into an OCD mama bear. So that poem is about wrestling with this conditioned mentality during an emergency with no known cause or end.

Helen: You’ve lived in Florida and now live in Maine. How does place work in your writing process?

Meghan: Place is very important. The atmosphere, the landscape, the language people use all influence our everyday, becomes our inner landscape. Right now, I am writing this while ice and snow flurries tap at the walls and windows of my house. Outside is a smear of white and gray. Sharp angles, a steel fence. I am taking my daughter down to Florida next month, and it will be like entering Oz: color and brightness and languid breezes. Music playing, people eating outdoors. The ‘upside down’ of here. And all of that topsy-turvyness plays a role in my poems, as I write from this winter landscape but remember the hothouse that made me.

Helen: Tell me more about your chapbook, How We Drift. How did you join the group for the Delphi series?

Meghan: I was looking for a series that focused on Jewish narratives–that press, Blue Lyra, which is now closed like so many, was one–and so I sent my chapbook there. How We Drift was my first attempt to create a narrative about growing up. I was newly married and trying to get pregnant, which took awhile, and I was casting my eyes for the first time at the entirety of the life that had led to that moment. Interestingly, the day I got the email that my chapbook had been accepted was the day before I found out I was pregnant. So the birth of that first small book coincides with the birth of myself as a mother and of course, of my magical daughter.



Helen: These Few Seeds picks up on the imagery from nature; trees, stones and other plants figure prominently in the poems. Can you relate a little of your thoughts connecting seeds and plants with the conditions in our fragile environment? With motherhood and womanhood?

Meghan: Well, my daughter is the seed that grew inside of my body, and we are all seeds on this planet, here for a while, to either do good or harm. I have been concerned with the warming planet since I was in college 22 years ago, but it has been since pregnancy that it became an obsession. We all experience loneliness at times, and I remember walks in the woods where stones, streams, trees, budding flowers were who I had to talk to, how their presence was a comfort. Their quiet listening. No judgment. And so I wrote that collection to honor them, and my daughter, who I brought into this fraught world. Also, perhaps, to alleviate some of my guilt. All the poems in the collection are seeds–thoughts, images, memories–and what becomes of them is no longer my business, but belongs to the reader, just as we birth a child or a plant sends its seeds out into the world to take root and thrive as it will.

Helen: Do you find that your writing has changed after becoming a Mom? How so?

Meghan: My writing has changed so much. My daughter is my muse, so the topics have changed. I have also become very very disciplined. I don’t have a lot of time to write, so I make sure that I write a poem, no matter how messy or short, every morning before the day claims me.

Helen: What are your thoughts about the role of community in the writing process?

Meghan: I think it is wonderful to have friends who can read your work, offer feedback, or even just to write with. Classes to take, people to learn from, Fellow writers are truly the only people who will understand why you do what you do, why you must. Having that support is a gift.

Helen: Finally, what are you working on now? I see that your year will be full of public readings. Yay! How do you feel about the return to public life and the pandemic?

Meghan: I have 3 books coming out this year– View From a Borrowed Field, which won Lily Poetry Review’s Paul Nemser Book Prize, Self-Portrait with Ghosts of the Diaspora from Harbor Editions, and Comfort the Mourners from Everybody Press. I will be doing lots of readings for these books all over the Northeast and online this year. I love being in-person; it is wonderful to read one’s work and feel the energy of people taking it in, actually listening and responding to all you are sharing. I am working on one creative project right now, it is an Ekphrastic and Epistolary project, a photograph and poem in response sent to a friend once a week, that I am doing with a dear friend of mine who is a photographer. We shall see how this project takes shape as the year unfolds.

Thank you!

Meghan

Learn more about Meghan Sterling and her work at http://www.meghansterling.com.
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Location Miami, Florida USA E-mail helen@lemushelen.blog Hours M - Th 8 - 10 PM EST and Saturday 4 - 8 PM EST
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