One Question Interview: Sharon McCartney


Sharon McCartney is the author of a number of poetry books, including Karenin Sings the Blues and The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her most recent book is For and Against.

Your recent book is described as a visceral exploration of relationships.  Is there a particular way poets should write about relationships, either for the sake of an effective poem or just plain old real-world diplomacy?

I hope that my writing about relationships is truly visceral. I hope that it has power, that it incorporates strong emotion and makes the reader both think and feel. The word “exploration” is particularly significant here because I write in order to understand the world and my place in it better.  Sometimes writing helps me figure out how I feel about a particular challenge. Sometimes I discover things that I didn’t realize about myself when I’m writing.

If there is a particular way that a writer should approach writing about relationships, I think that it is in that sense—the sense of discovery and exploration. When you’re exploring, you don’t always end up in nice places—isn’t that part of the fun? If you’re writing to be nice, to be diplomatic, you shouldn’t be writing. A writer’s first loyalty is to herself, as a writer and as a person, a self-reflexive person.

However, you also have to live with yourself. I can’t live with myself if I think that I have gratuitously and thoughtlessly caused heedless pain in other people’s lives. Some pain is inevitable in any human relationship, but, if you can, it is, of course, best to try to avoid causing unwarranted pain. I try to be as honest and truthful as possible, to acknowledge the good and the bad in both myself and in the other person. It’s important to acknowledge love even when you’re writing about the end of love. Part of that is just an attempt to preserve integrity, to not feel that I am betraying myself or anyone else by being biased (but of course I am!) or petty or simply dishonest.

You show respect for people by not lying. I think that you can be creative without lying if you try to remain true to the details and to the motivations, including your own. I have occasionally desired revenge. Who doesn’t? And what great material for a poem! But you have to acknowledge it as such. You can’t let yourself off the hook.

As far as an effective poem goes, I think that the “truth” has more power than anything else. And that means the details — what was said and what was done and when and where. This is what makes up our lives and what we react to. The act of trying to understand and transcend those details is what, I hope, creates art.


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