Contributor Spotlight: Suzanne Sigafoos


Photo Credit: Barbara Gundle

Suzanne Sigafoos’ essay “Green” is featured in Issue 71 of the Bellingham Review.

What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?

As I read “Green” in its current shape, here in Volume 71, I remember an over-the-top feeling as I worked on the first draft: I was falling in love with “the essay.” In 2013, I studied “The Lyric Essay,” in a workshop led by Andrea Hollander, offered by Mountain Writers Series. In the collection of sample essays Andrea compiled for the workshop, I found wide open spaces and big skies, a canvas large enough to hold my grief, a place to record the “it is what it is” that took shape within me in my mid-sixties: grief, meet acceptance.

Writing poems, my first love, is a place where less is more. Poetry was not the vehicle for this subject, at this time in my life. I leapt into this new genre along with a workshop full of dedicated, serious writers, led by a fabulous teacher/poet/author. I want to continue to write essays and continue to write poems: two loves have I.

Tell us about your writing life.

Once a month, I meet with a poetry critique group; we present one new poem or a revision. Twice a month, I meet with 5 other poets and write from prompts. We then read our new work to each other, and comment on what sounds promising and whole, or what takes off in another direction; all of this “hot off the press.” These groups are the spine of my writing life. Working alone is necessary, of course, but to collaborate with readers and critique-givers is, for me, another necessity. I learned the value of collaboration while studying acting, years ago. In performance, actors assume equal shares of risk. In writing groups, ideally, we offer our full attention and respect to each brand-new and untried line, poem, or essay, taking a risk together so every-one’s work can be bright and as strong as possible.

What writing advice has stayed with you?

Strive for emotional candor on the page. Keep going.

Which non-writing aspect(s) of your life most influences your writing?

Engaging in conversation inspires me to write, not about that conversation, but talking in relationship keeps me in practice to approach my inner self and dualities: yin/yang, angel/devil, gain/loss, yay/nay. Another aspect: I am an eager audience for visual arts, live theater and music, evenings of storytelling and poetry readings.

What is your favorite book (or essay, poem, short story)? Favorite writer(s)?

Current favorite essay: “The Thing With Feathers” by Joanna Rose. Marilynne Robinson, Wiswala Szymborska, Elizabeth Bishop, and Willa Cather are writers I return to, again and again. In Portland, local favorite authors offer workshops, their new books appear on shelves at bookstores, they give readings and inspire me by their example.

What are you reading right now?

Book 4 of Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels; M Train by Patti Smith; Maxine Kumin’s collection Where I Live; the current print edition of Fourth Genre; an article about Sonia Delaunay by Eleanor Birne, (London Review of Books) mailed to me by a friend who also loves to read about the lives of artists.

What project(s) are you working on now, or next?

Current: I’m glad to say I am editing older work with new energy, in order to assemble a full-length poetry manuscript. Sketched out: two essays. Ongoing: being true to my creative self, being a good, true partner, and a good, true friend. Exercising, which my friends and I refer to as “honoring our containers.”

Anything else our readers might want to know about you?

I was fifty years old when writing became necessary and valuable. In my twenties, I gave up on my creativity after trying, without success, to find work in the theater. Disappointed, I allowed that part of me to go dormant. At fifty, I had an “it’s now or never” moment: I grabbed poetry, poetry grabbed back, or vice versa. I began to write and study the craft, seeking poet-mates to work with. Learning to read closely is a new skill for me. I will never “catch up” with friends who have followed literature since they were in college, or younger. Like everyone, I either engage with, or cannot find a way into what a writer offers, however, reading always eases some of the pressure that comes with being a late-bloomer, or so it seems, to this one.

Where can our readers connect with you online?

I can be contacted at:

SUZANNE SIGAFOOS is author of Held in the Weave, a chapbook of poems published by Finishing Line Press in 2011. Most recently, her poems have appeared in The Oregonian, in Windfall, a Journal of Poetry of Place, and the anthology The Knotted Bond: Oregon Poets Speak of Their Sisters. Sigafoos is co-founder of River Rock, a poetry critique group in Portland, Oregon, her home since 1999. “Green” is this writer’s first work of creative non-fiction to appear in a literary journal.