Sara J. Grossman

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Five years before my first book of poems would be accepted for publication, I was awarded a Hedgebrook writing residency. I arrived at the farmhouse a rainy Saturday in June, exhausted from the double-layover (New Jersey to Washington to Colorado and then Seattle) and a little drunk on the lushness of the island. You have to believe me when I say that every plant on the island seemed to be blooming upon my arrival. When I walked into the farmhouse, I met Amy Wheeler and Hedgebrook’s founder, Nancy Nordhoff, who happened to be visiting that day. How had I gotten so lucky?

At the time, I was working on a final draft of my first book, Let the House of Body Fall (New Issues Press, 2018), an exploration of physical disability in post-September 11th America. I had a lot of work to do and as I settled into my five week stay, I learned just how necessary Hedgebrook was for completing this work.

I like to think that whatever happens in the cottage stays in the cottage, though there are obvious exceptions to this rule. After all, the book I worked on while at Hedgebrook will be a public one. But there is something private about the cottage work, a privacy that no one else can or will know about. It was a compelling privacy but a complicated one, too. I wasn’t used to spending so much time with myself, as well as with my work. No distractions. Just me and the work––some days it was a pleasure to see what I’d made; on other days, my poems frightened me. I frightened me. At Hedgebrook, though, all of that was OK. If I wanted to––and only if––I could report on my day at dinner. But silence was also accepted. That’s the thing about Hedgebrook. You don’t have to be anything for anyone else. Your only responsibility is the work.

In the months and years to come––especially in my my most challenging moments of imposter syndrome during which I’d convince myself that I’ve never been a real poet and I should stop calling myself that––my mind would return to Hedgebrook. I’d close my eyes and there, across the table from me, would be novelist Ruth Ozeki, who I had been fortunate enough to share time with that June. Or, I’d be walking to the garden with poet Tara Hardy and novelist Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela to gather artichokes and camomile, all the while talking about postindustrial cities and how to fight for justice under capitalism. And then I’d be at my writing desk in Fir working on a draft of a poem, with my manuscript pages taped to the walls, seven different titles strewn across the floor in disgust.

Though I went on to other residencies in the time between the writing of my first book of poems and landing a contract for it, Hedgebrook is the shelter that I return to in times of struggle. It was, after all, the place in which I made my first draft ready for submission to contests. But it was also more than that. Hedgebrook was a safe place for my work––a place where I could experiment with range and style without fear of judgement. It was a place that allowed me to lose myself for a while in service of the work. It was a place wherre I was allowed to get lost.

I suppose there is one last exception to that rule I mentioned earlier––“what happens in the cottage stays in the cottage.” There will always be the notebooks. So if you happen to stay in Fir, look me up under June 2012. I think I left some notes about poetry, or at least a note about where to find the wild raspberries.

Bio: Sara J. Grossman’s first book of poems, Let the House of Body Fall, will be published by New Issues Poetry & Prose in 2018. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, Michigan Quarterly Review, Omniverse, Verse Daily and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution, and is a Visiting Fellow at Pennsylvania State University. She is currently at work on two book projects, A Natural History of Data (a cultural history of weather data in the United States), as well as a new book of poems currently titled Notes Toward Dysmorphia.

 

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