Peace Corps Writers
Talking with Sandra Meek (page 2)
 Talking with
Sandra Meek
page 1
page 2
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Who are the RPCV writers in this collection?

Derick Burleson (Rwanda 1991–93), John Isles (Estonia 1992–94), Susan Rich (Niger 1984–86) and Margaret Szumowski (Zaire 1973–74, Ethiopia 1974–75).

At what age did you decide that you wanted to be a poet?

Well, I began writing “seriously,” in my estimation at the time, in junior high.

Do you think of yourself as a poet or a professor?

Both, really. But you have the order right.

What gives you more joy . . . to finish a poem? to give a lecture?

Finishing a poem, definitely, or rather, writing when it feels like something’s happening. And when it’s not happening, pulling weeds to avoid thinking of how it’s not happening.

Would you take one of your poems and describe how you developed it — do you begin with an image, an idea, or feeling, and how does one line lead to another?
Road Scatter

A single vibration breaks the story
to the crystal remnants

of perfect pitch. A wheel-
flung pebble, and sun

pierces the windshield’s tint.
The next days

spider the glass. The heart
is damage, a small pit: for wheel-

flung pebble, substitute
bullet, and the tire still

rotating mid-air catches
the last rayed light: the camera’s

pinhole a magnet
for angels, a needle’s eye clustered

with crushed wings. Flight
didn’t survive the breakage.

What was filmed was landing.

Published in American Letters & Commentary; reprinted on Poetry Daily

Every poem brings its own process. Most often, I suppose, for me a poem begins with a phrase, with writing from that, around that, following the possibilities. I tell my students when you are beginning a poem, you have to be willing to write crap, and I write plenty of it. Then, hopefully, I find in that what seems to me interesting phrases, connections, juxtapositions, and the poem has begun.
For this poem, I remember thinking about the simple visual of a pit in a windshield (having, I believe, been hit by gravel), and how multiple stories could be behind that small pit. Looking back now in my journals, I see that actually what began this poem was material for another poem, a much longer poem that was grappling with what was for me a very difficult subject; I had traveled to Suriname with a colleague, and had sat in on interviews he conducted with the primary figures of the political turmoil there in the 1980s — the former military dictator (or “revolutionary,” which he prefered) who overthrew the government; the head of the “Jungle Commando” in the civil war; journalists and relatives of those tortured and killed under the military government. From that interview with the dictator and his “ambassadors,” one thing particularly haunted me: he saw that my colleague had a certain book among his papers, one published just after the coup celebrating “the revolution,” which contained pictures of all the primary figures in the coup, including the men in that room; they started going through it as you might a high school yearbook, laughing at how they looked twenty years ago. The thing was, though, that the man who took the pictures and wrote the book was one of the men who “turned” and was tortured and killed to “send the people a message” by the men in that very room. In my notes I see a phrase from the very rough writing that led to that long poem becoming the opening to this short one; it began “A single bullet hole.” That became “A single vibration broke the story,” as my thinking about this photographer and the men laughing in that interview somehow blended with the “road scatter” image.

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