Monday, July 6, 2009

Welcome Sage Cohen

I'm thrilled to introduce you to Sage Cohen and her new book, Writing The Life Poetic: An Invitation To Read & Write Poetry, which does not have a blue cover - I'll fix that :) If you write anything you need this book. If I had to review it in one word, it would be FUN!

Her "TRY THIS!" exercises are fabulous, like this one: "Put on a cape and declare yourself the superhero of something: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, dog walking, properly conjugated verbs--whatever sweet spot you are ready (or even better, not ready) to claim."

So here we go! Please post your comments and questions for Sage, and of course there's a brand new shiny copy of Writing The Life Poetic (in the correct colors) waiting for one lucky participant.

Q&A with Sage Cohen, Author of
Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry
a new book from Writer’s Digest Books

How does poetry make the world a better place to live?

I think poetry fills the gap left by the so-called objective truth that dominates our media, science and legislation. Many of us want to comprehend and communicate the complexity of human experience on a deeper, more soulful level. Poetry gives us a shared language that is more subtle, more human, and—at its best—more universally "true" than we are capable of achieving with just the facts.

How has integrating the reading and writing of poetry into your life impacted you?

I will risk sounding melodramatic in saying that poetry saved my life. I stumbled into a writing practice at an extremely vulnerable time in my early teenage years. Poetry gave me then, as it does today, a way of giving voice to feelings and ideas that felt too risky and complicated to speak out loud. There was a kind of alchemy in writing through such welcoming them in language, I was able to transform the energies of fear, pain and loneliness into†a kind of friendly camaraderie with myself. In a way, I wrote myself into a trust that I belonged in this world.†

Do people need an advanced degree in creative writing in order to write poetry?
Absolutely not! Sure, poetry has its place in the classroom; but no one needs an advanced degree in creative writing to reap its rewards. What most people need is simply a proper initiation. I wrote Writing the Life Poetic to offer such an initiation. My goal was that everyone who reads it come away with a sense of how to tune into the world around them through a poetic lens. Once this way of perceiving is awakened, anything is possible!

Why did you write Writing the Life Poetic?

While working with writers for the past fifteen years, I have observed that even the most creative people fear that they don’t have what it takes to write and read poetry. I wrote Writing the Life Poetic to put poetry back into the hands of the people––not because they are aspiring to become the poet laureate of the United States––but because poetry is one of the great pleasures in life."

Who is Writing the Life Poetic written for?

Practicing poets, aspiring poets, and teachers of writing in a variety of settings can use Writing the Life Poetic to write, read, and enjoy poems; it works equally well as a self-study companion or as a classroom guide. Both practical and inspirational, it will leave readers with a greater appreciation for the poetry they read and a greater sense of possibility for the poetry they write.
What sets Writing the Life Poetic apart from other poetry how-to books?

The craft of poetry has been well documented in a variety of books that offer a valuable service to serious writers striving to become competent poets. Now it’s time for a poetry book that does more than lecture from the front of the classroom. Writing the Life Poetic was written to be a contagiously fun adventure in writing. Through an entertaining mix of insights, exercises, expert guidance and encouragement, I hope to get readers excited about the possibilities of poetry––and engaged in a creative practice. Leonard Cohen says: "Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash." My goal is that Writing the Life Poetic be the flame fueling the life well lived.

Is it true that your book and your baby were conceived and birthed at the same time? What did you learn from this process?

Yes, I often refer to my son Theo and Writing the Life Poetic as my multi-media twins! I found out I was pregnant with Theo about two months into the writing of the book and I was making final edits to the book in layout two weeks after he was born. It was fascinating to have two of the most potent creative processes I’ve ever experienced happening in tandem. What I learned is a great respect for the birthing journey; it is one that has completely rewritten me along the way.

I am writing a monthly column this year for The Writer Mama zine titled "The Articulate Conception" which chronicles my journey of becoming an author and a mom. Through the course of ten essays, I am exploring this double-whammy birth trajectory--from the twinkle in my eye to the bags under my eyes. The first column is available here:

What makes a poem a poem?

This is one of my favorite questions! I’ve answered it in my book, but it’s a question that I’m answering anew every day. And that’s what I love about poetry. It’s a realm where invention is not limited entirely by definition; there is room enough for the endless possibilities of the human. Every time we try to draw a line around what a poem is, something spills over into the next frame, shifting the point of view and demanding new names: olive, token, flax, daffodil. A poem is all of these, or none of them, depending on the quality of light and how the blade in the next room stirs the night.

What do you think people’s greatest misperceptions are about poetry?

I think the three greatest stereotypes about the writing of poetry are:

1.That one has to be a starving artist or deeply miserable to write great poetry.
2.That reading and writing poetry are available only to an elite inner circle that shares secret, insider knowledge about the making of poems.
3.That poetry does not fund prosperity.

I hope very much that Writing the Life Poetic helps offer alternatives to some of these attitudes and perceptions.

I’d love to conclude with a poem of yours. Would you be willing to share one?

Of course! Happy to!

Leaving Buckhorn Springs
By Sage Cohen

The farmland was an orchestra,
its ochres holding a baritone below
the soft bells of farmhouses,
altos of shadowed hills,
violins grieving the late
afternoon light. When I saw
the horses, glazed over with rain,
the battered old motorcycle parked
beside them, I pulled my car over
and silenced it on the gravel.
The rain and I were diamonds
displacing appetite with mystery.
As the horses turned toward me,
the centuries poured through
their powerful necks and my body
was the drum receiving the pulse
of history. The skin between me
and the world became the rhythm
of the rain keeping time with the sky
and into the music walked
the smallest of the horses. We stood
for many measures considering
each other, his eyes the quarter notes
of my heart’s staccato. This symphony
of privacy and silence: this wildness that
the fence between us could not divide.

About Sage Cohen
Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. An award-winning poet, she writes four monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Sage curates a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. She has won first prize in the Ghost Road Press poetry contest and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. To learn more, visit Drop by and join in the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at†!


  1. Hi Sage and Deb,

    What is the biggest mistake you can make when you are just beginning?

    Great job, Deb.
    Jan Udlock

  2. Hello Sage,

    Thank you for your time. I'll play devil's advocate here. You said that the definition of a poem is ever-changing. Is there a minimum requirement or basic rule? Could I just take an eloquently descriptive story and break it into fragments, then align the fragments horizontally to call it a poem?

    I'm looking forward to reading your book. Poetry is a breath of fresh air for me and your hard work at keeping the craft alive is much appreciated. Thanks again to you and Deb for posting this interview.

    Kelly Mand

  3. Hi Jan,

    The biggest mistake you can make when you are just beginning is to bring in your inner editor and start judging your work. You need some space to make a mess, have some fun, and let your poetry roots sink in a bit before getting too critical.

    Hi Kelly,

    I like to see how far I can stretch the definition of "poem"...but if you want a quick and easy-to-understand overview of what makes a poem a poem, Writing the Life Poetic chapter 4, pages 9-10 will give you all the basics you need to know. Shoot me an email if you still have questions after reading it!

    Hi Deb,

    Thanks so much for having me here!!

    Yours in poetry,

  4. Thank you Sage. By the way, I meant VERTICALLY in my previous post but you knew what I meant (I hope). Maybe I will win your book (hint, hint, DEB!) Looking forward to it.
    Kelly Mand

  5. Thanks Sage! Judy is sooo excited about your book, but having computer problems, so I'm posting what she said:

    Thanks for sharing the interview. Wow! The book sounds wonderful - do they have it at Border's, etc? Would love to win it but didn't get to your interview in time as am having email troubles. I loved her poem. Really hit a note of resonance with me. I didn't start as early as she did, but have used my style of poetry to keep me sane in many of married life trials so I understand her thoughts of why we write poetry. Sometimes I just write about everyday things for the fun of it, too, but most of it is not ready for publication sharing. I just feel the bond and hope I can find her book. I also enjoyed reading some of your blogspot beyone the interview. Thanks!
    Judy Wendt

    more from me after the day job :) Deb

  6. Thanks for your interest, Judy! You should be able to find Writing the Life Poetic at any bookstore you frequent. It's also available online at major retailers, including I'm glad you have poetry as an outlet; it's a wonderful release, isn't it?

    (Kelly, I tried to respond to you again, but my note got swallowed up!)

  7. Sage, how do you know when a poem is done? As in just right exactly as it reads, and ready to share? I tend to study what I've written until I'm blind and then I'm still not sure it's complete.


  8. Deb, thanks for having Sage. And Sage, if you are still watching this site, I want to say that your poem was lovely. Poetry that appeals to me is like the one you presented here. I look for what I see as ribbons that twist and flow within the length of the poem. Your musical words were one of several colors of ribbons that I saw. Some ribbons are shorter than others, but one always trails from beginning to end. Stories are movies in my mind, but poetry is like painting: expressive, deliberate and concise. I hope to read more of your work. Thanks for stopping by Deb's site.

  9. Hi Deb,

    Time is the best editor. I recommend putting a poem down once you've reached the "blind" phase for at least a week. When you come back to it, you're likely to be far clearer about what needs to happen next. That said, I will also share the famous quote from Paul Valery, "A poem is never finished, only abandoned." It's not easy to know when to let a poem go into the world. The more practice we have, the more confident we can become in such decisions. I think part of the warrior training of poetry is learning to live with uncertainty -- in our lives and in our poems!

    How's that? Clear as mud? Good! Now go have some fun writing and revising!

  10. Gayla,

    I love the ribbon metaphor! Thanks for mirroring my words back to me so beautifully. You can find my poetry collection, Like the Heart, the World, on if you'd like to read more! I appreciate your enthusiasm and interest!

    Yours in poetry,

  11. Thanks so much for sharing with us Sage. You really do put poetry into the hands of the people - You make me brave enough to write poems and brave enough (one of these days) to share them. I wish you huge success as you continue to grow both of your children - Theo and Writing The Life Poetic!