Sarah Herrington On Poetry, Yoga, Healing And Henry Rollins

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FLB: What was your inspiration for the story in Rough Magick?

SH: There was a period of time I was teaching youth in NYC and I found myself escorting a group of teen and tween girls on a field trip via school bus in the Bronx.  Their conversations inspired me.  Then, I was inspired by a word:  Venus.  I thought of planets orbiting and the plant that eats, the trap.  I wanted to explore the beautiful and dangerous parts of young love.   

FLB:You are working on a novel. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

SH: I would describe it more, but as I write it it is changing before me!  (see the writing-as-figuring-things-out answer to your next question)  I'm interested in exploring what it means to feel invisible.

FLB:  What is your favorite part about writing? What is most challenging?

SH:  I love writing and do it obsessively, even if it's just for me and doesn't go anywhere.  I've written since I was a little kid and love reading, too.  Writing helps me learn what I think and feel about experiences.  Reading helps me understand others and think about the world. Because I use writing as a way to explore myself, it's challenging sometimes to find the story.  I love visual language and could just describe and stack images in the form of words for pages and pages....with nothing happening!  To really figure out what I do think and feel about something, what the story is, and how to share that with others (if I want to) can be hard.  I have to dig, I have to face myself. Sometimes I need others to read what I wrote and tell me what they see.   Anything I've actually published takes many drafts.

FLB: You were selected as an Oprah “Poet to Watch.” How did that come about? Can you share a short poem with us?

SH:I was so honored by this.  I got an email from Oprah Magazine in 2011 saying I was in the running as one of five women poets in their "Poets to Watch" story for O Magazine's first Poetry Month issue, and would I be interested?  I am so glad I responded to the email with a yes!....I had first assumed it was spam or a joke and almost ignored it.  The Oprah crew had done research for women poets that had been writing and involved in the community for years.  I had been writing poems, had been volunteer teaching with Girls Write Now, a non-profit that matches NYC women writers with teen girls, had been reading poetry at Cornelia Street Cafe and the Bowery Poetry Club, had studied at the Bowery Poetry Club and NYU.  I think the fact that I had a website and put some of my actives online, helped Oprah find me.  For the week leading up to the decision as to whether or not I'd be one of the five women, I kept seeing big pictures of Oprah on the side of NYC buses.  I would silently talk to her....because of course I wanted to be included!  When I was selected I was honored also because the other women in the issue are amazing and so accomplished and inspire me.  We had a photoshoot for the issue.  I had to wear a bow tie which I didn't want to do, but if the Oprah crew says to wear a tie you wear a tie.  They selected a line from one of my poems to showcase in the photo.  Here's the full poem--it's about how I started writing poetry as a teenager:

Voice

my tongue was a small branch
bent
by a young hand
folded on itself,
mute

that’s when poetry began
little leaves
small ears

in silence the self grows
to multitudes
and disappears

earth reacts
the stalk grows thick
roots are long

even the strongest wind
is an echo
of past disasters

my voice sits on silences
a loud tree rustling
dark dirt

FLB: Who are some of your favorite poets and why? What are some quick tips for people who want to write poetry?

SH:  love so many poets!  I love Rilke, who is both tender and fierce. I love Walt Whitman, who is such a yogi-poet to me. I love Adrienne Rich. In the contemporary landscape, I love Ocean Vuong and Rachel Eliza Griffiths, who was another Oprah poet.I think it's good to read your work out loud to see how it sounds.  Poetry is at its root an oral tradition.  I think it's important to read a lot of poetry, too and its lessons will seep into you. And it's fun to just play on the page and not worry if it's "good" or "bad."  It's good to remember you're not alone in your writing...you are part of a lineage and everyone who wrote before you who you resonate with is a sort of family.

FLB: Great way to describe Rilke!  You have an MFA from Lesley. What was that experience like? What are a few important things you learned?  

SH: I had ups-and-downs with my MFA but am ultimately glad I did it.  The biggest thing I learned is writing is not as solitary as I thought.  It was so helpful to learn to share my work more with others, both for feedback and community.  I met amazing teachers, too, because I suddenly wanted to learn more and more.

FLB: Tell us about your journalism career (where you’ve even published etc). How do you choose a topic for a story?

SH: I fell in love both with personal essays and author Q&As/Interviews during my MFA.  My personal essays have appeared in the New York Times, LA Times, Poets and Writers Magazine and other spots.  I do interviews regularly for Interview Magazine.  I try to pick topics and people I'm obsessed with to write about.  For example, for one of my NY Times essays I wrote about a time I was having panic attacks because I wanted to figure out more about that time...that time was haunting me.  I can have an obsessive mind but writing and writing teachers have taught me that's not bad!  I can channel that into producing art and interviews are part of that.  

FLB: I know you just moved here from a lifetime in New York. How is it? What are the differences that feel especially significant to you?  What do you most miss ( I know it is a long list!). What do you most love about L.A.?

SH: I love both places but had been in NY my whole life...I started to feel flat in NYC and literally had dreams at night that I was in Santa Monica..... so made the leap!  I love how LA is a mix of urban grit and nature.  The mountains and ocean of LA inspire me.  Even though I've been in NYC since I was a teen I grew up on a farm and there's a part of me that needs a hit of nature from time-to-time......LA allows me to find both.   I love that there are so many diverse areas in LA.  I love the sunlight (NYC gray gets depressing to me, especially in winter).  I love being closer to LA friends and there's a great energy of story-telling here that inspires me.I do miss some things, though- I miss the energy of NYC.  I didn't realize how much I myself am composed of that energy until I left it.  Now, my insides vibrate with this zoom zoom NYC energy but it's not matched by the outer world (LA is more laid back) so that contrast is interesting.  I miss walking!!  I like driving but there is so much sitting in LA! and I miss that inherent athleticism of NYC.  I miss the familiarity...you could blindfold me in NYC and I'd show you around.  I miss my friends and my writing group.

FLB: You’re a yogi as well as a poet/writer. How do  these two things influence each other in your life?

SH: Yoga has taught me so much about writing.  The more I got into yoga, the more I realized, OH....writing is a practice, too.  I can show up to my page like I do a yoga mat and practice....I don't have to get so hung up on things being "perfect."  Yoga asana (pose) practice clears my mind and drops me into my heart.  I like writing from that place of clear mind and full heart, so often write directly after a yoga class.  I believe stories live in our bodies and yoga helps me hear my stories.

FLB: As the Program Administrator at LMU in the only yoga studies program in the country, what are your daily responsibilities and long term goals? Can you share a particularly interesting experience as part of this program. (Anything you want to share about the program is great!)

SH: I also came to LA to work for LMU.  The university has the country's only Masters in Yoga Studies and I'm helping support it.  It feels like an honor to do this work, and there's a lot to learn, too.  We just had our free Yoga Day where we took over the campus with yoga classes.  I'm helping to support current graduate students and am hoping to get the word out to future Masters students, too.  I like that this program honors the intellectual, historical and spiritual aspects of yoga.  Yoga is not just poses!  I think it's good to have a program in our culture that looks at spiritual texts, Sanskrit, the history of yoga in an academic way.  It is a serious course of study, if you choose it.

FLB:  Tell us what inspires you most right now. Fashion, music, literature, art etc.

SH:Now that I'm driving in LA I'm listening to the radio lots!  I'm weirdly obsessed with Henry Rollins' radio show.  And I need to go check out the Broad, a new contemporary art museum in LA.  Visual art always wildly inspires me.  I'm also currently inspired by the Pacific Ocean.

FLB: I LOVE HENRY ROLLINS!  And you, of course!

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