Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 2 — Sarah Maria Medina

What have you been reading, watching, or listening to lately? Who would you love to collaborate with?

I’ve been listening to Alkem’s Elemento. It came out some years ago now, but when the hurricane passed through Puerto Rico, I wanted to feel close to that time and those artists who recorded the album—my younger brother (OmNative) and our friend Diego Romero (ExorOne). It calls out to our ancestors. It calls out to a time and place—back when we were all in San Juan together. It calls out to the hurricane—I am the hurricane sometimes. Perhaps it was also calling out to the future. To Hurricane Maria. She hit hard, and now we are finding ways to support our blud families and sagrada familia.

I’d love to collaborate with Diego again. He is a muralist and a poet too, which you can tell from his lyrics. Ours is a spiritual connection—when he visited my daughter and me in México, we went to temazcales together and sang as prayer. A friend and associate, Xandria Phillips, recently said that exchanging poems with other poets with whom you have a spiritual connection is important—and I feel this is true for collaborations too. That we must honor those we collaborate with on many levels.

To support Diego Romero and his family after Hurricane Maria, check out the art on his website: www.diegoromero.net

How do you practice self-care when writing about difficult subject matter? What brings you joy?

For me self-care has always been connected with water. I was raised on the river, so even when there was violence on the river, water was a strong counter presence. And that body of water was always sanctuary. It rocked me to sleep at night. It cooled me in the summers when we’d dive off the dock. It allowed my body to be weightless. It brought me constellations as phosphorescence. I believe too that the Orishas were there: Yemaya and her sister Ochún. Sometimes, when we are inside the city, returning to the water means a bath with salts. Other times, it’s praying inside the temazcal, and giving thanks to the water. This summer, it meant my ex-girlfriend flying us out to Los Ángeles, because I hit a thick wall of sadness. She said come to the sun and the sea. And so we did, and I swam, and let the water carry me.

Joy is like light— it’s hard for me to hold onto. In La Habana, I had the honor of becoming friends with Nehanda Abiodun. She said something to me once about joy—she said that it’s not something that you feel all the time, it’s something that comes and goes. When she said that to me, I stopped feeling that internal pressure to always feel joyful— I stopped chasing joy. I decided to let it come to me more naturally, and learned that when it does come, now, I can welcome it fully. I experience it as a wild beautiful beast.

Who would you have nominated for this anthology? Is there a poem you have in mind that you could link to?

Adam Hamze’s “My Mother Cannot Look at Me Without Wanting to Cry.” It sings to me.

Do you feel that your writing is assumed to be autobiographical? How do you feel about this assumption? Does memoir play a role in your poetry?

My poetry is most often autobiographical—but on various levels. I have a strong dream life that exists outside of and apart from, yet also always connected to this plane. I often choose to let the realness of a dream speak. This is why I love poetry— there is no expectation of pure documentation (unlike memoir, which I also push the boundaries from within, where we tend to be expected to write from a more historical truth). Truth is expansive. Three months ago, my abuela held me in her arms and rocked me. Last night, I kissed a beloved and it felt very real. We argued in the dream and I woke exhausted. We were inside a light filled house in the forest, a house I’ve never known. Poetry allows me to write all of this, and to still write it honestly.

Is there anything in your work that people frequently misunderstand?  

I don’t like it when someone writes to me and says how sorry they are to read that some detail happened to me. I much prefer it when someone writes to me and says, darling you have done it—you have turned it all into art. Because what we know, as artists, is that we turn our trauma and heartbreak into art and that is a kind of alchemy. It not only heals us, but it also converts energy from the past into something new. And I think, as our family astrologer recently told me, that we are doing real work on many astral planes when we use art as alchemy.


What advice do you have for young and emerging writers? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?  

My advice is to write your truths, your multiple truths. To enter those truths from various angles. To let yourself bring in magic. To let yourself be free in your form and voice. The best advice I ever received? It was from a friend who is an artist. Before I left to La Habana, he told me to keep my pen to paper. Which, for me, means writing everyday. And maybe one day writing looks more like dancing or chanting with maracas or singing el coro with a group of Rumberos on the street corner.


SARAH MARIA MEDINA is a poet and a fiction/creative non-fiction writer from the American Northwest. Her writing has been published in Prelude, Poetry NW, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, PANK, Split This Rock, Raspa Literary Journal, & elsewhere. She is an ARTIST UP Grant LAB recipient for her poetry manuscript “Ochun’s Daughter.” She is also the poetry editor at Winter Tangerine. Medina is Boricua (The United Confederation of Taíno People). She is at work on several projects. www.sarahmariamedina.com


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 2. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”

Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for these anthologies. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.