By Jillian Risberg
In these trying times, in a state of disconnection — poetry and storytelling are about connection, like other types of art.
“I love when a poem makes me feel something drastic,” says poet Jessica Sarlin. “It has the potential to broaden my world and open my heart.”
And she calls it an accomplishment if a poem of hers can do that in a tiny way for someone else.
Once she puts it out there, she lets the piece speak for itself.
Of her long (comedic) poem about a self-improvement seminar, three friends loved it, each with different interpretations of what it was about.
“One thought the setting was a 12-step meeting, one thought it was a group therapy session in a mental health institution, and another thought it was a corporate training class. They weren’t wrong,” Sarlin says the poem lent itself to whatever they brought to the reading.
Her poems develop when she is struck by a hard to grasp feeling or poignant thought that she suspects might be universal, and inspired by a set of opposites or a relationship between two unrelated things.
“I write a draft while the thing is bubbling in my head,” Sarlin says she goes back and gives it structure. “I cut and make changes; read it again and again. At some point, I have to smack my own hand and say, ‘enough.’”
Sarlin says often writing poetry is an emotional necessity or catharsis. It helps her express feelings and thoughts ‘too big’ for regular prose or an essay.
“There is space in a poem for interpretation and symbolism,” says the poet. “When someone connects with one of my poems, on any level — it’s like being seen and understood.”
For years, Sarlin was a ghost writer and has started to publish things under her own name.
“I’ve been writing and submitting feverishly these past few years and I’ve been blessed with some success,” she says. “I’m
excited to keep going.”
She has wanted to be a writer since fifth grade, when her teacher kept a bunch of ten-year-olds spellbound with war stories and poems most certainly not age-appropriate.
He spent all year teaching hundreds of Latin and Greek word roots plastered around the classroom, and everyone had to write a business letter from the perspective of their grown-up selves.
“I wrote a letter to Frank Lloyd Wright because I pictured my future self as a famous architect and Wright was the only famous architect name I knew,” Sarlin says. “I remember (the teacher) called me up to his desk to discuss and I thought I was in trouble.”
He was actually impressed and told her she should be a writer.
“I spent weeks trying to write dramatic, stereotypical poetry to impress him –- with sunflowers and babbling brooks. I’m sure it was cringe-worthy,” says the poet. “I never forgot his encouragement. Writing is one of my favorite things and I’m still working to do it well.”
Billy Collins is her favorite living poet, and Sarlin loves Mary Oliver, Wisława Szymborska, Emily Dickinson and Maya Angelou.
She follows many poets on Twitter, and says sometimes a tweet will knock her out as hard as anything written by a famous poet.
Poems are her outlet between short stories.
“My short story, STATIC, is in the winter issue of Door is a Jar Literary Magazine,” says the poet. ”It’s about a human raised by a family of televisions. I hope everyone reads it.”
When Sarlin had a dry spell this summer, she found herself writing poem after poem about writer’s block.
“About how my writer’s block was going to eventually resolve itself: ‘I will make something that wasn’t there before/it will be ugly and full of unbearable nonsense/but its children will be my favorites.’
“A few days later, I wrote one of my favorite short stories to date. Somehow, it worked. I’m not going to question the good voodoo,” she says.
And the poet calls herself a B+ artist.
“I love to draw and have the heart of a cartoonist,” says Sarlin. “I’m not sure my words and pictures are on the same journey. They may have to stay in separate lanes for now. I’m good with that.”
When it comes to her fans, she says, ‘send me your poetry because I want to read it. If you like my poetry, we should probably be friends.’
Follow her journey at jesssarlinwriter.wordpress.com.