No. 25: Sarah Sarai
Q. Winged monkeys, especially those that shoot fire, are bound to provoke anxiety. Suppose they were granted an audience with the Wizard. What would be their top request?
If the winged monkeys finagled an audience with the wizard they would shred that curtain flapping between possibility and pretense. Not that they’re brutes, they’re not, but impatient and dexterous they are. Quick, sharp, anxious, the monkeys don’t share the ache for self-actualization the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Lion have—those wistful hybrids of Kansas and fantasy, grasping for their heart, mind, and courage. The monkeys had to negotiate far worse than self-perceived lacks, what with the witch and all. Somewhere in the Oz story it’s made known they don’t have the juice, the enchantment, to transport Dorothy to Kansas. The witch herself was tantamount to a restrictive flight plan. Enough with that. They want to explore, so all givens and ifs assumed, they will request to break the barrier between realms, fly from one state of being to another, blast consciousness, see the world. That’s a version of omnipotence tailored for these freed servants.
Q. At eight lines, “Anxieties” is one of our shortest poems. Given this compression, was your work guided more by supposition or rhyme?
In high school and college I had trouble talking in any formal setting. I’m funny and clever, not as a defense but organically, but was far too shy to work on my “sharing-,” as we now say, self. My mother would remark on that, as mothers will, on Sarah as a daughter of few words. So when you ask about “compression” I feel an old ache. Also a connection between myself and the winged ones. There is an emotional onomatopoeia to the monkeys being in a compressed poem. They’re stifled and cautious-to-fearful. In joy we expand, in fear, we contract. As for the poem itself, I am not a formal poet, not by a long shot, but “Anxieties” is a triolet (of sorts), a form I heard about several years ago and dabbled with. My dabbling came to nothing until these candidates for compression whirred over my laptop. They’re noisy.
Q. Loss of imagination is a worrisome prospect your poem brings to light. Whose work have you turned to when you’ve felt yours dim? How have those authors restored your creative spark?
Ai, Lorca, Borges, Stevie Smith, Dan Pagis, Pessoa in all his personas, Wislawa Szymborska. Many more. Many living. They convince me. They think big, observe small, and know lamentation—something old school and underrated. The schematics of inspiration is that artists generate more energy than any one page can contain. Those loose sparks find receptives. Art is a relay sport on a Mobius-strip track, the torch being passed on and on. Some runners skip and wear tie-dye or big wigs or body paint. Loss of imagination threatens the planet. If no one reads poetry or prose, who is going to create? Goodbye, the fantastical—which is quite commonsensical. That’s already in place, the public’s settling for idiocies about history and geology—legislated ignorance. Fairy tales are a lovely carry-through of imagination and sense-making, a satin shawl over a massive wolf who will force open chained doors of the willfully dumb.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Poetry Editor Jon Riccio.
Sarah Sarai’s poem, “Anxieties,” appears in The Emerald Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
What do monkeys worry about,
their imaginations grown dim?
They can shoot fires at our doubt.
What do monkeys worry about?
Their flying winds always so broad
to fright us silly limb to limb.
What do monkeys worry about:
Our imaginations grown dim?