By Angela Doll Carlson
In yesterday’s interview with Sarah Masen, we chatted about her latest album, The Trying Mark, a mature reflection on a life full of longing, wonder and awe. Today we delve a little more into this new project as we discover what makes Sarah such a unique artist, including her deep thoughts on community, nurturing, and chicken keeping.
Angela Doll Carlson: The new album seems to be full of a sense of longing, most specifically seen in the lyrics of “The Way for Now”:
For now I am a field in winter waiting
This cold it is a shield
No man, no plow, no seed will find its way beneath me
For now I will not yield.
Can you tell me more about that?
Sarah Masen: I wrote this song while I was reading Fanny Howe and Carolyn Forché. I was also reading Audre Lorde and Octavia Butler. Between the four of them I had two women holding up the bones of the dead saying, “We once lived, we still live! We moved, we move now!” and the other two saying, “Speak while you can, even if no one listens! Poetry is not a luxury, the poem can nurture!”
I wonder if this song sits between the work of the dead and the work of the living, between hearing and understanding, between witness and good speech. It is that desert father desire to let the field of self be nurtured by death so that when the season of need comes (and it always comes) knowledge will grow.
ADC: You are such a multi-faceted artist—potter, poet, parent, songwriter, and most recently, urban chicken keeper. How are your chickens?
SM: Fine, I think. I asked my son this morning if he thought the chickens could understand us. He said “No, but we forget that.” He is also the one who holds them tenderly, kisses their necks and says, “I love them so much and they are going to be so delicious.” Was it Holy The Firm where Annie Dillard exclaimed, “Who knows what God loves?” Bless them chickens…“salted with fire.”
ADC: A few years ago you had a sort of “nurturing season.” You talked about having a welcoming, hospitable home to everyone but then felt you drew back. Can you talk about that?
SM: I accidentally hate people sometimes and I need a lot of breaks and I’m really (really) good at crying. I love caller ID and on many a night you will see my two dumb eyes staring at the ceiling imagining in HD what might go wrong tomorrow when I should be sleeping. The doctors say I have Woody Allen syndrome—fatal unless I can document my nerviness in some way.
It has taken years of conversations with friends, therapy, and failure for me to begin to receive my limitations with kindness, especially having grown up thinking the summons to serve neighbor and God excluded care for/of self. I love what Jon Stewart said, “If you don’t love yourself, please, for the sake of all you call holy, stay away from your neighbor.”
If we have pulled back a bit, it has been to better balance out and soak in my friend Ann’s proverb: “Alone, I find myself. With others, I find God.”
ADC: You love all things Mary Oliver. How do you respond to her poetic question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
SM: I just put the question to David [Sarah’s husband] and he says he plans to read, observe, report, and cultivate within and without what goodness he can manage and share with others. I love that about him. And I plan to hand him lots of glasses of water and almonds and things. For me, I hope I’ll get my giggle on. Big time.
Angela Doll Carlson is a poet and essayist best known for her blog Mrs Metaphor. Her first book, Nearly Orthodox—On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition, is due out from Conciliar Press in Summer 2014. Angela currently lives in Chicago, IL with her husband, David and her four outrageously spirited yet remarkably likeable children.