Poetry News

Sarah Browning's Poetry Combines Linguistic Flourish With Activist Acumen

By Harriet Staff
Sarah Browning

At Origins, Matthew Krajniak joins Sarah Browning, co-founder and Executive Director of Split This Rock, to talk about her second full-length collection, Killing Summer, published by Sibling Rivalry Press. "In this collection, we find themes of personal loss and isolation, but we also find plenty of language and ideas that deal with the disheartening and destructive ways our elected officials deal with each other and with those they represent," Krajniak writes. From there:

ORIGINS

Your work in general, but especially the poems in your latest book, Killing Summer, is filled with implicit and explicit political themes, to the point that the reader can get the feeling that you’ve been sensitive to political realities for a long time. Did you come from a family that was politically sensitive? One that argued over trade policies or national security at the dinner table?

BROWNING

You are quite right. I was a child on the south side of Chicago during the late 60s/early 70s – a time much like this one – when politics and social change is in the air we breathe and the water we drink. My father was a civil rights activist and I marched with him against the Vietnam War when I was five. My sister and I sold bumper stickers for George McGovern’s presidential campaign when I was nine. 

Critically, too, my neighborhood, my schools, my choir, my church were what we used to call “integrated”: I was a middle-class white girl who grew up surrounded by Black people, who had Black friends from nursery school on, who was frequently the only white person in the room, in the house, at the party, on the bus, who had no idea this was unusual for a white person in America. 

ORIGINS

As an extension to that first question, how do you think the environment you were brought up in affected your current passions and interests? And in a more general sense, how do you think the environment of a writer during his or her formative years contributes to their work later on?

BROWNING

I have always been an activist, a concerned citizen, an anxious resident of this beautiful, benighted planet. I assume my upbringing plays a huge role in that. My father is still writing essays and letters to his elected officials and to the editors of his local paper at age 88, a habit I hope to emulate at his age!

I wouldn’t want to speak for other writers, but for me there’s no question that my background informs all my writing, that my lifelong preoccupations were formed by those childhood playgrounds and sidewalks, by the TV news of Vietnam and Watergate, by the gradual, growing understanding of the enduring, vicious strength of racism in our nation.

Read on at Origins

Originally Published: October 20th, 2017