Peace Corps Writers
Talking with . . .
    

In July 2001 Peace Corps Writers published an interview he conducted with Sandy and 5 other RPCV poets

The Circumference of Arrival

An interview by John Coyne

SANDRA MEEK LIVES IN Rome, Georgia, with her dog Duende, and teaches writing and literature at Berry College where she is an associate professor, and co-editor of Ninebark Press. Sandy was a PCV in Botswana from 1989 to 1991.
Printer friendly version      Her first collection of poems was a chapbook, The Circumference of Arrival, published by Elixir Press in 2001. In 2002 Elixir Press published Nomadic Foundations that won the 2003 Poetry Prize from Peace Corps Writers. In 2005, Elixir published Burn. Recently she won the $10,000 Dorset Prize, the largest book-publication prize for poetry in the United States, for her third collection of poems, Biogeography. This collection will be released by Tupelo Press in the spring of 2008.
     I spoke to Sandra recently about her Peace Corps experience and her writing.

Sandra, where are you from and what is your academic background?

I was born in El Paso, Texas, but we moved to Fort Collins, Colorado when I was four, and that’s where I grew up.
     I have a BA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing from Colorado State University (1986, 1989), and a Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing, from the University of Denver (1995).

Why did you join the Peace Corps?

Sandra Meek in Botswana

I wanted to feel like I was doing something worthwhile, and something exciting — the Peace Corps seemed both.

Tell us a bit about your Peace Corps service in Botswana.
I was an English teacher and Head of the English Department at a new Community Junior Secondary School, Boswelakgosi CJSS, in Manyana, Botswana.
Were you able to travel much when you were overseas?
A few countries. I went to South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi and Kenya.
Lets talk about today. You have just completed editing an anthology of poems. The book is entitled Deep Travel: Contemporary American Poets Abroad. How did that book come about?
I’ve been very interested in poetry that comes out of international, cross-cultural experiences ever since I was in the Peace Corps. About three and a half years ago I decided that, since I thought there really should be an anthology of this work, I would compile it; the experience gave me the opportunity to go even deeper in this reading, and to put together some of this very powerful poetry. It was a three-year process of reading, selecting.
You have 34 poets in the anthology. How many individual poems are there? Roughly how many poems did you read to get to that number? How do you pick one poem over another? For example, do you need to read the whole poem?
There are three poems from each of thirty-four poets. I read many, many poems to get to that number.
     I researched widely to get as comprehensive of a list as possible of living American poets who had traveled or lived abroad, and who had written from their experience. I then went through all of these poets’ books, reading closely all poems with an international connection.
     From those I selected the authors. Then I picked three poems for each, and contacted them and their publisher(s) to request permission to include their work in the anthology; it was important to have the author’s support from the beginning because I asked each author to write a short prose piece on what international travel has meant to his or her life and work. These prose pieces, which range from a paragraph to several pages each, appear along with the poet’s brief biography as an introduction to the poet’s work.
     I was simply looking for the best poetry which evidenced the qualities of what I name and discuss in the introduction to the collection as “the poetry of deep travel”; that is, poetry that doesn’t merely skate the surface of the “other” culture or nature, poetry that instead approaches both self and other not from a space of authority and mastery, but rather from uncertainty, from a humble and generative openness to discovery.
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