How does Love Stretch us as Writers? Our Interview with Meghan Sterling

I’ve always had trouble writing love poems. They can be so cheesy, so sentimental, so hard to make “real” or interesting. So when I read Meghan Sterling’s book These Few Seeds, I was amazed to find that Meghan had done what seems impossible to me. Not only had she written a love poem, she had written a whole book full of them.

The book felt like it was so much more than a book of “love” poems. In our interview with her, Douglas Manuel and I discussed her work and asked her about her writing process, her daughter, her new book, and we found some valuable insights about what a real “love” poem can contain.

You can listen to the full interview here. Here are some takeaways.

 

Love is a Braid

Maybe the reason why Meghan’s poems feel like more than “love” poems is because for her love is a braid of multiple emotions – “Hope and fear and longing, terror, joy and exhaustion and disappointment, feeling like a fraud and exhiliration. All of those things are woven and tangled in every moment.” While a lot of the poems on the surface might seem like love poems to her daughter, to her grandmother, to the planet, they also hint at other themes – fear of what might happen to the planet, hope for her daughter, sadness at the loss of her family members – and many poems that explore the miasma of feelings as they wrap into something far more complex than you could ever name in a single word.

 

I’ve Birthed All Children

Many of Sterling’s poems seems to be about motherhood, but it would be more accurate to say that they springboard from motherhood. Building off the idea that love is a braid of different feelings, so too motherhood has made her feel, as Naomi Shihab Nye might term it “the size of the cloth.” Meghan had a child later in life, which stretched her heart to make her not just more loving toward her daughter, but toward all mothers, all children, and the planet we share.

In our interview she discussed how the murder of George Floyd affected her as a poet where she references Floyd calling out for his mother. Meghan discusses the way this hit her, how, after having a child she feels like she better relates to and understands all mothers. So this murder hit her particularly hard. Later she came across a story about a sea-bird who defeated a predator, giving its own life to defend her chick. She combined these stories in a poem that explores the fierceness of motherhood and what mothers will do to protect their young. This is, maybe what separates poets and artists from others – the ability to imagine that we are the other, that what affects other people could and does affect us too, and so we need to be more careful with one another and preserve rather than destroy.

 

The Poem Under the Mundane

Of course, like many poets, the source of inspiration still remains mysterious and somewhat unpredictable for Sterling. She says that sometimes something seemingly mundane stirs her to write a poem, and she doesn’t know why. She’s learned not to fight it, but just to write it. Maybe it starts with something mundane, but goes somewhere unexpected. She only has to stand aside and trust that the work will tell her what it is “really” about. It can be triggered by something seemingly trivial – jeans that don’t fit anymore, folding socks, noticing a moving van, seeing a neighbor cut down a tree. If the sensation emerges in her gut that there is something to explore, Meghan has learned that if she stands aside and lets the poem unfold, that deeper meaning will reveal itself.

 

In Summary

If you, like I, have always wanted to write a truly touching love-poem, I recommend starting by reading Meghan Sterling’s book These Few Seeds. Think of love not just as one emotion, but the braiding together of all emotions. How does love expose your fear, joy, despair, hope, etc? How does it come up from the seemingly “mundane?” What happens when you let the mundane stir you and what else can it point to when you step aside?

 

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