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Meet Sara Mae

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sara Mae.

Hi Sara, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I was raised on the Chesapeake Bay, and have lived in Boston, Western Mass, Minneapolis, Baltimore, and now Knoxville, Tennessee.

I think a lot of my story recently has been about finding a home in myself and in the care of people I love. After synchronicity of blue herons followed me around one summer, a slam poet friend Jess Rizkallah convinced me to write and perform a poem about it at an open mic in Boston.

I went on to compete at the 2017 Individual World Poetry Slam, 2018 National Poetry Slam, and 2018 CUPSI Competition, as well as traveling coast to coast to get to feature at different open mics.

I also organized the Feminine Empowerment Movement Slam (FEMS) and became an Executive Director handling the annual festival and bi-weekly events until 2020. The night swimming, community meetings in kitchens, and communal makeup prep in church bathrooms that happened around FEMS events truly have made me the person I am and taught me so much about what it means to be a queer fem person and artist.

After various performing arts jobs and poetry gigs, I landed as an MFA candidate at UTK with a specialization in poetry, where I am finishing my degree now. I have always wanted to be an author, and I wonder sometimes if my six-year-old self would stomp in protest about me ending up a poet!

In addition, I finally am taking my music seriously, and have been overwhelmed with how welcoming the Knoxville music scene is. Shoutout to Josh Sorrells my lead guitarist, and Kelsi Walker of Free Women Waltzing for taking me in! For me, Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast, and my best friend Danny Mendelson, are the reason I got the confidence to push through and release my own songs.

I look up to both of them so so much.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I’m only 25 and I have been hustling as an artist with regular practice for 6 years now, and I think being SO young meant a lot of instability. I’m lucky because many of my friends who held me through periods of constant change — job changes, financial struggle, housing instability, big breakups, and so on, also have a close relationship with spirit.

And so I’ve been able to lean on the spirit when I am struggling, in tandem with my friendships, which I would describe as somewhere in between hedge witchery, Quakerism, remnants of childhood Catholicism, and the religion of queer gatherings. Zenaida Peterson, FEMS Founder, and my platonic life partner is always someone I look to for how they move with spirit and is the reason I joined West Knox Friends Meeting.

Today, I am thinking about the way Quakers talk about holding someone in the light, as their way of asking for prayers. I am big on routine and ritual because it is something I can control in times of change. Every morning I pray to the spirit and my ancestors, and I think in the last year, in particular, I have felt so astonishingly held in their light.

Not that it’s a transaction, but getting to a place where I can host friends to come to visit, cook for people I love, get into regular practices of mutual aid, and stay in a romantic relationship means the world to me… It just means a lot to have arrived here, and be able to show up for people and communities who showed up for me when things were hard.

Something else I’d add is that I am a Sagittarius Rising, and I am not afraid of conflict.

I think my upfront emotional responses and honesty can put people off. But I’m working to trust myself more, which shows up in the risks I take in my art, in the healthiness of my relationships, and in letting go of that internalized patriarchal instinct to please and be desirable, instead of living from my own desires.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I’m really proud of my hybrid approach to my work, and how I am learning to build platforms for myself without waiting to be validated by outside institutions.

(This is taking time, but I’m getting there! I’m learning how!) I keep a Monthly New Moon Newsletter, which you can find on my website, and it holds my multitudes of interests in burlesque, poetry, fiction, interior design, indie pop, train schedules, and my Gramma’s cookie recipes.

This last year of grad school has given me space to work on a few different projects that mean a lot to me: one being my Exquisite Corpse poems. I have a craft essay forthcoming from Allium Literary Journal about this, but essentially, they call back to the 1920s Surrealist game turned classroom icebreaker.

I am interested in the body horror suggested by the name, the influence of surrealism used at its best for visionary, collective storytelling, the literal folds and interruptions of the form, and the contemporary everyday use of it to provide levity and connection.

Secondly, I’ve started to blend mediums, some visual poems which I will get to work on with Paisley Rekdal when I attend Tinhouse this summer, (!!!!!) but also, exploring the Venn diagram of music and poetry as genres. I spent my spring semester in music classes, using received poetic forms to help me write songs.

So, a broken sonnet set to Mitski-aspiring synth, or heroic couplets as disco. I am hoping my thesis will be an LP that on paper reads as formal poems.

What I like about using cultural references and touch points like Surrealism, like received forms, like visuals of birding books overlaid with stanzas of poetry, is that it offers multiple access points. I hear often that I ask a lot of my audience.

I deeply want my work to be accessible as an artist, and as an undercurrent what I’m always trying to do is demonstrate how things are interconnected, even the most random of things, like a Sappho translation and a Jay Som chord progression.

Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
I make a mean Ratatouille. I run 4 miles every other day.

Unfortunately, my favorite movie is a tie between The Mask and The Godfather

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Image Credits

Taryn of Aw, Snap Photos

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