Posted: April 20, 2007
Sarah Twombly '07 is Mount Holyoke's contestant in this year's Glascock poetry competition, which will take place April 27 and 28. We recently asked her about her work.
Q: When and why did you start writing poetry?
ST: I cannot remember when I first put pen to paper in the form of verse. I think poetry was a way that I translated the world for myself from the very beginning. I began playing the piano when I was very young, and I suppose that the rhythm of music lent itself well to verse. From the time that I could put words together I was creating stories and distilling those stories into images that emerged as what I can see today were the beginnings of poems. I still have the remnants of some of those writings today. I don't know why, exactly, I wrote. I still don't. I can only explain it as a compulsion. I don't understand the world when I'm not writing it. Even when I was little, I understood things (a tree, the actions of my mother, city traffic) by turning them into strings of words. I guess it's the compulsion to understand the things around me that drove me to write.
Q: Who are your favorite poets and why?
ST: Elizabeth Bishop is the first that comes to mind. She has a simple way of laying down an image that speaks to universal concepts that I envy, and her use of meter and form drives her poems forward. I have always loved Mary Oliver. The Leaf and the Cloudis one of my favorite books. I read it myself at least twice a year. I think we overlook Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss all too often as writers who bring children to poetry, and they are poets who influenced me with their use of rhyme, humor, and a surprising tenderness when it comes to the serious side of humanity.
Q: How has your experience at MHC influenced your poetry?
ST: Mount Holyoke is a very rare space, and although not particularly populated by writers, per se, there is a passion here. I cultivated a group of like-minded people--or better said, we found one another. There are not one, but two groups of students who meet around the midnight hour, gather with flashlights and candles, to read the works of the great poets. I have been out in the woods until 4 am reciting verse and discussing the meaning and reason of poetry in today's world--with students studying Arabic, biology, studio art, and religion. At Mount Holyoke, English is not relegated to the English department as a course of study for its students, or its faculty, and that has made all the difference. My ability to study poetry, pursue a thesis in the English department, and complete an anthropology major simultaneously, is what has made this institution expansive for my work and helped me draw from a number of sources for my poetry. The faculty I have worked with have been patient with me, graced me with wisps of confidence (which I have always been lacking in), sharpened my work, and been more than generous with their time and resources. I cannot say thank you to them enough.
Q: How did you feel when you were chosen as this year's Glascock entrant?
ST: After I was notified that I was this year's entrant I felt as though the committee must have made a mistake. The students who entered this year's competition were exceptionally phenomenal poets, and I wish it had been one of them. After an English class with Mary Jo Salter last week I went up to the Stimson Room and looked at pictures of past competitions, trying to quiet my nerves. Mary Jo had been in the competition when she was 21 as a student from Harvard. In the quietly poised, browning photographs was a composed Sylvia Plath, a smiling Robert Lowell, and a diligent James Merrill. It is rather awe inspiring to be among such company, but I feel ill-equipped to linger too long.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
ST: I am going to spend the summer in New York as an intern at Esquiremagazine, which I am thrilled about. I am still on the housing hunt, but I have faith that something will turn up. I have one more semester of school left, in which I will be diligently working on my thesis, and after that, the wide gaping world awaits. I am petrified. I keep a jar in my kitchen which I call my contingency plan. I put money in it every week, and if all else fails, I will buy a van and live quietly by a river somewhere, writing. That is my greatest aspiration in life: to make enough of a living that I can afford the rent for a small room and spend my days better understanding the world by writing it down. Eventually, I would love to be a creative writing professor, as editing and facilitating the love of writing in others fills me as much as my own writing does, but the future is long, and the world is wide, and I do not pretend to know what it has in store for me. I suppose I will have to wait and see.