Interviews

Sarah Warren on Poetry and the Racialization of Women’s Bodies

Every year, our sister site, the online literary magazine Arcturus, hosts a poetry contest. This year the contest was judged by Reuben Quesada, who awarded Sarah Warren the prize for her poem “Anatomy of an Eating Disorder // Chiamyó Milagros.” Sarah’s a writer, musician, and educator. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English at the University of North Texas in Denton, while teaching and writing from Norman, Oklahoma. Sarah received a scholarship to study at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and her writing has appeared in Gravel, BlazeVOX, and Hobo Camp Review. Her poem “Oklahoma History” appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Oklahoma Today. Sarah is a regular contributor for World Literature Today.

Below we discuss the inspiration for her award-winning poem, the ways in which Chicano and Native American Literature has inspired her work, and her plans for what’s next.

Amy Giacalone

Where did the inspiration for “Anatomy of An Eating Disorder” and “Chimayo Milagros” come from?

Sarah Warren

“Chimayo Milagros” was really a decade-long processing of a trip to New Mexico. Well, many trips to New Mexico, but in particular a class I took through the University of Oklahoma on Chicano literature. It was because of that class, and my professor, Dr. Robert Con Davis-Undiano, that I first experienced Chimayo. It’s a magical, crazy place. I think what really struck me about the place was it’s immense beauty (the nature, the structure of the church), plus the lore surrounding pilgrimage to the place. Once there, the first local I met was definitely on some kind of drug, and later I learned that Chimayo was—at least then—a local heroin mecca. I guess I am intrigued by the various ways we find ourselves trying to escape life — nature, religion, substances. “Anatomy of an Eating Disorder” is a reflection on a lifetime spent as an overweight female. This poem came very quickly, after finally opening up my truths and looking into the ways in which I allowed myself to hate my own body — which was based on societal standards of “beauty,” but also some very real and painful moments with family and how they thought I should look and be. So, in a way, I suppose both poems were inspired by conflicting cultural ideas and what is real, and, ultimately, what is of actual value in the grand scheme of things.

Amy Giacalone

You studied Chicano and Native American Literature for your Master’s degree; how has this influenced your work?

Sarah Warren

So much of my life has been in the American southwest, and my childhood and youth were spent with a mother who worked for the Indian Health Service. So, I grew up in and around tribal areas from Oklahoma to Alaska to Arizona — plus, I have always loved New Mexico and have spent considerable time there. I spent the past eleven years of my life, up until July 2017, in Dallas, Texas. All of these locations are a blend of Chicano and Native cultures to me, in some way. It is the root of where I am from and who I am, based solely on place and cultural surroundings, and I can’t help but recognize those things as home to me, despite the fact that I identify personally as Caucasian. Home is the culture you are surrounded with, and Chicano/a and Native art, music, history, food, and general aesthetic are simply part of the fabric of my life.

Amy Giacalone

Your poetry seems so cemented in identity: what is the relationship, if any, between race and gender in your work?

Sarah Warren

In terms of race, I think part of the ongoing conflict in my own writing it trying to parse out how I fit into those traditions that taught me, but are not in my actual DNA. I don’t mean that in any sort of racial dysphoria kind of way — I’m not advocating the Rachel Dolezals of the world or any sort of cultural appropriation. But I do tend to write through identity as it is rooted in upbringing and surrounding, for sure. It’s the notion of always feeling on the outside, and in many instances, directly because of race. As a woman, I’ve observed that my body becomes somehow racialized — and I’m sure many women have experienced this unfortunate phenomenon. As women, we are presumed to carry certain physical features based on what race we appear to be. Well, men, too, for that matter, and everyone in between those binaries. Race and gender are at the heart of every stereotype and assumption, and I am constantly at odds with that in my writing, as many writers, artists, and musicians are. Ultimately, the body is our main vessel on this planet and in this life, and when it is being used to credit or discredit how we identify ourselves, it can and should strike a nerve in all of us.

Amy Giacalone

You currently reside in Norman, Oklahoma. How long have you lived there? How has this place influenced your writing?

Sarah Warren

Norman is the place that will always be home. The most recent move back was this past July, 2017. Before that I was in Dallas, Texas, and there is a strong possibility I’ll be back there in the near future. I left Norman in 2006 to teach in Texas, and I may very well leave again for the same reasons. The state is on the verge of a teacher walkout over salary, which has been disturbingly low for decades — and I know that I am meant to teach, but I also need to live (as do all teachers!). I have been in and out of this town my whole life, though I’ve lived in several places. I was born here, got two degrees here, and am currently here waiting for the next step in the journey to make itself known. This town is the basement and ground level of who I am, and so much of me is made from this place. I’m a third generation Normanite and sixth generation Okie, and I will always identify as such.

Amy Giacalone

Congratulations on being almost finished with your PhD in English! Can you talk a little bit about your dissertation? Have these studies had any effect on your poetry?

Sarah Warren

Oh goodness, this PhD has had everything to do with my poetry! I’ve worked with some brilliant writers at the University of North Texas (Bruce Bond, most notably, is my dissertation director), as my focus is in poetry writing. The reason I felt compelled to move back to Oklahoma in the summer of 2017 was really to get rooted in my dissertation topic, which really is essentially about my relationship to Oklahoma, the flyover states. Gender, race, religion, politics, and everything in between are showing up in my writing. At the center of it all, I suppose, I want to understand how we got where we are now as a country — through the lens of my experiences in Oklahoma and the surrounding areas. It’s a dark night of the soul endeavor, for sure.

Amy Giacalone

What are you working on now?

Sarah Warren

I’m currently working on that dissertation, finding my perfect teaching situation, and compiling my first book-length manuscript. You know, small stuff.

Sarah Warren is a writer, educator, and musician whose work has appeared in Gravel, BlazeVOX, Hobo Camp Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Norman, Oklahoma. Find her at http://www.sarahrebeccawarren.com.

2 comments on “Sarah Warren on Poetry and the Racialization of Women’s Bodies

  1. Amy, I *love* your poetry. There’s healing, resonant force in your writing. Thank you for sharing it and I will be looking for more of your writing — e.g. the book-length manuscript — to come.

    Like

    • Sarah Warren

      Thank you so much! All of my work is so much more valuable if othera can find meaning and value in it. I appreciate you!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: