Sarah J. Sloat’s chapbook, In the Voice of a Minor Saint, showcases small moments that belie great significance and trumpet the author’s ear for the specific. This collection is rich with metaphor, and Sloat uses form in a way that emphasizes the lyric. Broad in scope, while still giving the reader intimate insight into the speaker’s psyche, these pieces are touched with the divine. In the Voice of a Minor Saint was re-released earlier this year from Doubleback Books, an imprint of Sundress Publications.
Sundress: Do you have any writing rituals or routines?
Sarah Jane Sloat: I don’t. I just try. If I’m stuck, which I often am, I read.
Sundress: Your poems often deal with smallness and small things: tongues, bees, grains of rice. “My heart is small, like a love/ of buttons or black pepper” and “Mine was a small world, small/ and flawed.” Tell us a little about how this theme developed.
Sarah Jane Sloat: I have a button collection. And the world’s smallest Indian pot. I like things you have to get close to to appreciate. I like “things” in general. After “In the Voice of a Minor Saint” I put together a chapbook focused on things found in the home – the whisk, the faucet and toothbrush.
In the case of this chapbook, smallness has to do with the minor saint, patron of the overlooked and unassuming, who fail to get much attention. S/he’s their champion, though they probably would never ask for that.
Sundress: Tell us about the process of writing a cento like “Naked, Come Shivering.” Did you build the poem around one line, or did you find lines to fit what you wanted to say?
Sarah Jane Sloat: A cento shouldn’t use more than one line from any single poem. That’s the only rule I’d pay attention to.
Every cento I’ve written so far, including “Naked, Come Shivering,” I’ve done by pulling lines I loved from French poets, mostly the surrealists. I am always struck by their beauty, their oddness, how many lines seemed self-sufficient and self-contained. I put the lines together in a way that rings right, without any goal in mind.
In “Naked, Come Shivering,” the line I started with was either “not wanting anything to die of hunger” or “the whole town has come into my room.” Both evocative, bust-down-the-door kind of lines. The title came last.
Sundress: What is your favorite poem in this collection, and why?
Sarah Jane Sloat: This is very difficult. Probably it was “Ghazal of the Bright Body.” I’m a big fan of the ghazal. This was the first one I wrote, and for me it shrugs off all its could-be burdens. It avoids becoming overwrought, which my less successful ghazals (hopefully unpublished) do not.
Sundress: Besides writing, what is your favorite way to participate in the literary community?
Sarah Jane Sloat: After writing, I participate, if you can put it this way, by reading. I really believe reading is a way to interact with the world. In reading, I feel I’m participating in the past, present and future. And you can chose your company. And be introverted to your heart’s content.
I recently got the latest issues of The Journal (Ohio) and the annual RHINO. I’m not ass-kissing when I say they’re really wonderful publications, and in both of them I found work I loved by poets I’d never read before, who are now my imaginary friends.
There are also dozens of online journals I read and love – DMQ Review, Adroit, Plume, Birdfeast, etc etc.
I live in a foreign country so my participating in an English-focused literary community excludes physical presence! I’m not terribly outgoing or social, I must admit. But I keep up, like most everyone, on social media.
Sundress: What is the best writing advice you have ever been given?
Sarah Jane Sloat: There’s no right way.
Sundress: If you could tell the world one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Sarah Jane Sloat: It would be what most poets who want anyone to read their poems would say:
I want to everyone know that I have not died
that I have a golden manger in my lips,
that I am the little friend of the west wind,
that I am the immense shadow of my tears.
Sarah J. Sloat lives in Frankfurt, Germany, a stone’s throw from Schopenhauer’s grave. Her poems and prose have appeared in West Branch, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Beloit Poetry Journal. Sarah’s chapbook of poems on typefaces and texts, Inksuite, is available from dancing girl press, which also published Heiress to a Small Ruin in 2015.