Sandra Beasley is the author of three books. In 2011 Crown released Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales From an Allergic Life, a memoir and cultural history of food allergy. Her second poetry collection, I Was the Jukebox, was selected by Joy Harjo as winner of the 2009 Barnard Women Poets Prize and published by W. W. Norton. Her debut collection, Theories of Falling, won the 2007 New Issues Poetry Prize. Her poetry has appeared in such magazines as Poetry and The Believer, as well as The Best American Poetry, and has been translated into several languages including a German chapbook, Die Abtastnadel in der Rille eines traurigen Lieds (translated by Ron Winkler and published by Hochroth Press in 2011).
Beasley was born and raised in northern Virginia, where she attended Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. She is the daughter of visual artist and a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General, and has one sister. She holds an MFA in creative writing from The American University, and a BA in English from the University of Virginia. For the last decade Beasley has lived in Washington, D.C., where she freelances for such publications as the Washington Post and leads workshops at the Writer’s Center. Her principle creative project at the moment is a third full-length poetry collection titled Count the Waves.
When it came to the topic of poetry, third grade was a turning point in Beasley’s childhood; Beasley writes of her third-grade poetry teacher,
A woman threw the door open, swiftly maneuvering her generous hips through the narrow gap between table and wall to claim a roomier corner. Her honey-blond hair was a wave that crested and flipped up at the ends; her eyelids glimmered teal; her perfume bloomed with gardenias. She wasn’t a teacher. She was a force of nature.
Beasley’s Web site is www.sandrabeasley.com and her blog is www.sbeasley.blogspot.com; she is active on Twitter (@sandrabeasley) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/authorsandrabeasley). Be sure to watch the video of her reading a poem on the left, too!
Who is your favorite poet?
I love Elizabeth Bishop for her tone, her imagery, and her control. I love Langston Hughes for his range, his handling of political anger, and his music. Both are inspirational masters of form.
What is your favorite poem?
Oooh, impossible to pick one. “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot, “Night Madness Poem” by Sandra Cisneros, “o by the by” by e.e. cummings, “[My life closed twice before its close]” by Emily Dickinson, “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath, “When You Are Old” by William Butler Yeats, “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
What line(s) of poetry do you love?
Though this will seem cheating, keep in mind I am quoting only a single grammatical sentence~
He only wondered (as he always did
when he plucked from the base the first thick leaf,
dipped it into the sauce and caught her eye
as he deftly set the velvet curve against
the inside edges of his lower teeth
and drew the tender pulp towards his tongue
while she made some predictable remark
about the sensuality of this act
then sheared away the spines and ate the heart)
what mind, what hunger, first saw this as food.
— Henry Taylor, “Artichoke” (In what I think is clearly a nod to Keats’ “This Living Hand”]
What word do you love?
What word do you hate?
Where do you write?
At home, I have a dining table that doubles as a desk in my tiny seventh-floor studio. The desk faces the doors to my balcony, and from there I see all across DC’s Woodley Park. I try to keep the space as clean and bare as possible. But ever since I’ve been on book tour, I’ve learned to be flexible in my writing habits. Sometimes I’ve found myself scribbling endwords to a sestina in the margin of a set of Google map directions—drafting with one hand, driving with the other.
Mountains or beaches?
I’m inspired by mountain vistas. One of my all-time favorite road trip memories is of driving with a station wagon full of artists up to Medicine Wheel, in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming, on the last day of our month at the Jentel Residency. The view was epic, and it was surreal to see snow on the ground in July—with wildflowers blooming up through the white.
But in my heart, I’d choose a shore walk over a hike every time. There is nothing more restorative than swimming with turtles in Maui’s Honokeana Cove or having a quiet day to go shelling along the beaches of Destin or Sanibel Island. When I lived in Miami for five weeks via the LegalArt residency, I was always sneaking off for a barefoot walk along the lower tip of South Beach. It makes me lonely, being by the water. But poets are good at being lonely.
Summer/warmer climate or winter/cooler climate?
Though I love a good ice storm now and then, I am a creature of sunshine and hot weather. Perhaps we can blame the Texan heritage on my father’s side. I’m the only person I know who opted to leave the mid-Atlantic so she could summer in Mississippi—two years in a row.