What We Talk About When We Talk About Writers: An Interview With M.F.A. Student Carolee Sherwood


Welcome to another installment of WWTAWWTAW (that’s a mouthful).  Over the course of the semester, we’re going to be interviewing the writers who make up the first class of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.

This week we talk to Carolee Sherwood over email. Carolee is a painter, mixed media artist and poet living in downtown Albany. She works as a writer specializing in social media for a local marketing firm. She has roots in Northern Maine, where she was born and raised, in West Virginia where she received a degree in journalism and Portland, Oregon, where she learned to crave city living and a stronger sense of herself. Her training in storytelling and careful observation came at the knee of her writer grandfather, a truck driver with a quick wit. She is raising three sons, ages 9, 10, and “almost 13.” Carolee blogs at the good universe next door.

What drew you to the MFA program?

I had been looking into low-residency MFA programs for years, but once I found a full-time job I realized they were no longer an option.  I dabbled by taking a graduate class at Saint Rose during the Spring 2011 semester and loved being back in the classroom after, ahem, a couple years of being out of college.  But I didn’t want a degree in English — I specifically wanted an MFA in creative writing (poetry). When I heard this program was on its way, I knew right away I’d apply. It’s in my backyard. I can take a manageable course load. And hopefully, since it’s in-person, I can benefit from a sense of community. I’m not one of those writers who believes in isolation–I get lots of energy from social connections and mutual suffering.

What or who inspires you to write?

At the risk of sounding like a crankypants, I don’t believe in inspiration. I believe in sitting down to write and stumbling upon images and playing with the sound of language. That said, certain themes repeat in my work. In the open mic scene where I’m active, I’ve developed a wretched reputation for writing relationship poems. Why is it wretched? Because it’s true! I do write a lot of relationship poems, but I hope they come through some interesting lenses (like dead deer at the side of the road), and I hope they have vivid visuals and a strong sense of place.

Who is your favorite author?

Dear Stephen Dunn, I love you madly. Love, Red. I am also a big fan of Robert Pinsky, Amy Gerstler, Richard Siken, Ann Sexton, Irene McKinney and Denise Duhamel. My favorite poem of all time is T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

What do you hope to accomplish by the time  you graduate?

I have no idea. Am I allowed to say that? Is it bad to commence such a large undertaking and have no idea what I want to accomplish? Is it enough to expand my literature background and hone my voice? If pressed for something more significant, I would say these are the candidates for the thing I hope to accomplish: “Fix” one of the three manuscripts I have. Start and finish an entirely new manuscript. Build upon/complete one or both partial manuscripts I have — a Prufrock project (yes, that Prufrock) and the Bernadette poems (an alter ego).

What was the last good book you’ve read?

These are recent books I’ve read and loved and you must read them all: Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch, Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Long Quiet Highway by Natalie Goldberg. The last poetry book I read that stuck with me was Back Through Interruption by Kate Northrop. It was published in 2002, I found it at Dove & Hudson and it broke my heart this summer (as all good poems should do).