Kenneth P. Gurney. I have never met Miriam Sagan and I think I have only seen her perform her work once, even though Santa Fe is just an hour drive from Albuquerque. Based on her reputation and awards, it is my loss.
What got you started into poetry? What age?
Miriam Sagan. I was 12, in 6th grade. My stern teacher Miss Penell encouraged me.
KPG. What is your favorite sandwich?
MS. Open faced smoked salmon.
KPG. How much influence does your university degree(s) has on your writing of poetry and how?
MS. I hate to say it—but close to zip. I was trained in the classics in high school, exposed to the Beats later…college wasn’t very important, not even my MA. I did have some good mentors, though, that I’d never have met otherwise—Robert Fitzgerald and John Malcom Brinnin.
KPG. Is there any other endeavor that you are passionate about outside of poetry? How does it enrich you?
MS. I love installation art, text installation, outsider art, visionary art, land art, the weird, the funky. I’ve tracked it all over the continent. I’ll drive hundreds of miles to see something like Foamhenge. I just love this stuff! More and more, I want to make it.
Also fascinated by archeology, and have been to many North American sites.
This interest ties in to some “mapping” I do in my poems—creating a personalized map of a place.
KPG. Tell us about one of your favorite poetry experiences.
MS. Reading in Raton, NM. A snowstorm. I’m reading by a small light at a podium in a cavernous old department store building with pressed tin ceilings. There is substantial audience, but we’re swallowed up in the dark space, the quiet snowy streets outside. I read a poem about a local place. A voice comes from the back, “I was there once. It wasn’t exactly as you described it, but close. It was…” and the person went on to set the scene. It was like another poem coming back to mine.
KPG. Do you have a connection to the American Civil War? Relative who served? Visited a battlefield and have a story?
MS. My family of Russian Jews arrived circa 1915. But my husband Rich has an affinity for the Civil War. We’ve been to Gettysburg and Appomatox and more. Very haunting. Those monuments in little towns in upstate New York mean a lot more to me since I’ve read about the suffering of that war.
KPG. If you could wave a magic wand and place a poetry book into every high school english classroom as required reading, which book would it be and why?
MS. The Collected William Shakespeare. Because he knows everything about poetry and human life! Probably that book is already there. But no one reads it. I have gone on so long and loud about WS that in my current poetry class the kids really teased me about it, and did some stand up routines about him!
KPG. Where was your last selfie taken? With anyone?
MS. Full disclosure-I’ve never taken a selfie. I don’t have a cell phone.
KPG. What is your favorite National Park? Why?
MS. Great question. I love so many…Grand Canyon? Because it’s so…you know…grand. Also, I’ve hiked down it and rafted out. And I was there during a very grief stricken time, too, and it helped me.
KPG. What reoccurring themes have you noticed in your poetry over the years? Is there a point of personal experience you revisit often?
MS. Being able to fly. Romantic love—lost and gained. Landscape, land, place, geography. Buddhism, Judaism. The poet in the world. Manhattan. New Mexico.
KPG. If you could be present at any moment in history as a safe observer or unsafe participant, what event would you visit and why?
MS. Frankly most of history terrifies me. I’m not even sure I want to experience what is happening right here during my lifetime. An ordinary afternoon in ancient Rome? Where I’d go shopping for groceries and wine and experience the city streets and then a party in a villa? Something low key, when famous ruins were still famous buildings.
KPG. How has the Santa Fe poetry scene changed over your years of being involved with it?
MS. When I got here in 1984, it was quiet. Mei-mei Bressenbruge was local—John Brandi, Arhur Sze, Leo Romero. I came with Phil Whalen. Met Joan Logghe, Natalie Goldberg. Great poets, not much scene. Then things took off with open mic and magazines, and some slam from younger crowd but in some odd way, it felt like things stopped growing for a while after that. About a half dozen years ago, recession, more young folks in town, liveliness has picked back up some. I think Santa Fe will always be more of a environment that fosters poets individually than a place with a scene.
KPG. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or no chocolate at all?
MS. White chocolate—which is sort of no chocolate at all. What I really like is a coffee flavored hard candy!