Saturday, May 16, 2015

Poet Sally Nacker on Inspiration and Healing


Sally Nacker, poet
Sally Nacker is a colleague from the Fairfield University MFA program, and I had the honor of being in workshop with her, with Lary Bloom at the helm (the keynote speaker of the Ridgefield Writers Conference). Whether you’re a poet or a prose writer, you’ll find Sally’s thoughtful insights on the writing journey, including on writing as a way of healing, a reflection of a poet with a sensitive and caring spirit and much to share.

Sally received her MFA in creative writing (poetry) from Fairfield University, and her poetry collection, Vireo (Kelsay Books 2015), has been a finalist, a semifinalist and an honorable mention in three poetry book prize contests. She is a frequent visitor to the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst.

AA: What was the inspiration for Vireo?
SN: Poems throughout my collection, Vireo, have been largely inspired by nature. That is the foundation for most of the work. Interwoven throughout my observations of nature are elements of joy, loss, love and grief. The collection also includes poems I composed on paintings to which I have felt drawn. In the end, the death of my mother was my ultimate inspiration.

AA: What primary obstacle did you encounter in completing Vireo, and how did you overcome it?
SN: A huge obstacle occurred when I became aware that I had accidentally described the red-eyed vireo's nesting and feeding habits inaccurately in two major poems. This sudden realization happened a few months after my mother died. I was in my last semester of graduate school, completing my thesis. I felt my collection (thesis) finished and was searching for its title. I began reading Audubon's notes on the red-eyed vireo in detail for ideas and then realized my mistake: In two major poems, I had the red-eyed vireo nesting in a birdhouse and feeding at a feeder. The red-eyed vireo, in fact, builds its cupped hanging nest onto the forks of branches, and eats fruit and insects.


Vireo, by Sally Nacker
Book jacket by Kathleen D. Michaud
I panicked! I emailed my mentor, Suzanne Matson, and my best friend and friend of the work, Leslie Schultz: “What am I going to do?" They were extremely compassionate but didn't really know what I could do. Perhaps, they suggested, I could adjust the poems a little. Out of sheer inspiration, I began writing the title poem, "Vireo." The poem began as a letter to my mother, a reaching out to her to say that the birds we watched together one spring perhaps were not vireos. Then, as I continued to write and rewrite, the poem spoke to me: It doesn't matter that the birds were not vireos, only that my mother and I thought they were, and that we derived such joy together by watching our vireos. I emailed my mentor and said the only title for this collection is Vireo. She replied: "Look no further."


AA: What primary lesson did you learn during this project?
SN: I learned what I had always felt: Art is organic, and within art accidents can be gifts. I could not have come up with the poem "Vireo" without the experience I just talked about. If it had been an idea before I wrote the poem, a manipulation of sorts, the self-discovery would not have taken place, and neither "Vireo," the poem, nor Vireo, the collection, would exist.

AA: Is there anything you'd like to add?
SN: I received my MFA in January 2013. Vireo was accepted for publication in October 2014 and published in February 2015. During the two years between graduating and publishing, Vireo was a finalist, a semifinalist and an honorable mention in three book prize contests. Along the way, I added new poems I had written that deepened the collection, and changed the ordering of the poems. My mother's death sent me into a profound grief that was released the moment I received word of Vireo's acceptance for publication. The book needed to be released in order for me to heal.

Vireo can be purchased on Amazon, at Barrett Bookstore in Darien, CT, and Books on the Common in Ridgefield, CT.

Sally Nacker will be at Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference in Madison, CT, on Tues., May 26, at 4:30 p.m. Or visit her at Sally Nacker.

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