On the Power of Words Left Unsaid: Saoirse

Saoirse’s name and passion are the same: freedom. As an exophonic writer, their academic interests revolve around linguistic power dynamics, especially in connection to the land. They are always trying to write poetry that breaks the English language into articulating its own colonial violence. They work full-time as a freelance editor and serve as the Editor for Emerging Voices in Poetry at Oyster River Pages. They find excitement in travel, comfort in a good cup of coffee, and love in their newly adopted puppy, Malaika. 

O: When did you begin writing? 

Saoirse: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write in some form or another but it was around the age of eleven or twelve that I began taking writing seriously. I had this silly dream of being a published novelist. But then, my English teacher turned me on to writing poetry and introduced me to contemporary poets. That’s when I began truly valuing my writing as a process, rather than as a means to the goal of publication. That was also when I began truly paying attention to my craft and genuinely began focusing on becoming better as a writer.

O: Is there a writer that you look up to, whether it be someone who motivated you to begin writing or someone whose work inspires you today? 

S: I have been lucky enough to have some amazing writing teachers over the years. Drs. Kimberly Andrews and James Hall both exposed me to ideas and writers that indelibly marked my own work. I have been in awe of the works of Natalie Diaz, Naomi Shihab Nye, Gulzar, Akhil Katyal, Tishani Doshi, Ocean Vuong, and many others! I often find myself turning to a book of poetry for inspiration when I’m stuck – on the page or in real life.

O: If you had to describe your work in three words, what would they be and why? 

S: I’m gonna cheat: Work in Progress

My work isn’t done yet and it likely never will be. I’m embracing that life and learning is a process, not a destination.

O: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

S: It’s a cliche but nothing beats that “EUREKA” moment, when you make that connection that’s been evading you and everything just clicks perfectly into place. It’s the euphoria of an achievement combined with the satisfaction of scratching an elusive itch. Those moments are few and far between but they are rewarding beyond measure. 

O: How has the pandemic changed your workflow? 

S: Well, at the beginning of this pandemic, in May 2020, I was writing my very last as an undergrad student. And I got a call from the Indian embassy saying that I will be airlifted from the US in five days. I finished finals, packed what I could in one suitcase, and repatriated. Moving countries, especially given it was not a particularly voluntary choice, changed my relationship to both the language(s) I was using, and the ideas I was expressing. It also meant adjusting to new rhythms, new surroundings, and family-but-no-longer-familiar people. It changed everything. 

O: Your work is vulnerable, unique, and captivating. Where does your inspiration come from? 

S: Life. The people I meet, the experiences I have, the books I read. I try to capture the voice of that person in the corner of the room at a party. The lone dissenting opinion in the weekly review meeting at work. I imagine what that quiet voice would say if it had not been cut off. As a queer writer, expressing transgressive truths through pregnant silences and building not-quite-homes in liminality is often the goal of my poems. 

O: What is your favorite piece of work so far and why is it your favorite? (Please include a link if you have one, we’d love to include it on the website!) 

S: I don’t know that I have a favorite. But the one I reflect on the most is Duplex, which was completed in a Brooklyn Poets workshop and also published by them. This poem took several years, multiple continents, and excessive experimentation to truly come into its own. The form it eventually took, the Duplex (a uniquely American combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues poem), hadn’t even been created when I first started writing this poem. I struggled to find a container for this poem. It rejected any home I tried for it, just as its speaker does. But when I discovered the Duplex, I immediately asked Dr. Jericho Brown to share the rules of the form with me, and he very kindly did.

O: Your pieces seem to center around the yearning for connection. How has writing helped you express this emotion?

S: I’ve never thought of my work in that way before. Thank you for introducing that perspective! I have never really consciously set out to explore a desire for connection but now that you’ve brought it up, I do see that thread weaving through some of my poetry. I’m gonna have to think on that. 

O: There are many unique characteristics to your poems, whether that is the use of blank space or the stanza breaks. What is your process for determining how a poem will look and how it will express your message?

S: Every poem is different. But silences are extremely important to me. I often start a poem with the silences, whether that is in a stanza break, or a caesura, or an enjambment, and then build the rest of the poem around it. Negative space as a technique has a long history of use in visual art and I think poetry is particularly conducive to its use. What do we communicate via what we leave unsaid? Which realities is language incapable of capturing authentically? Who’s articulate silences are we ignoring? These are the questions that keep me up at night. 

O: If you could give new writers some advice from what you’ve learned, what would it be?

S: Just write. Don’t worry too much about who will read it and what they will think. Those are important questions, but for later. When you’re just starting out, just write. Read voraciously, maximize your surface area for serendipity, and write. Just that. 

O: Do you have any upcoming projects that we should look out for? S: I have been writing (and struggling) with a suite of poems for quite some time. I’ll certainly let you know when it’s finally out there. In the meantime, I am starting a new Learning in Public initiative and in that vein, my newsletter, Caffeinated, launches at the beginning of 2023. Do subscribe!

Thank you to Saoirse for sitting down and chatting with us about everything from eureka moments to the pandemic to advice! Find out more about them through their website, Instagram, Twitter, and Mastagon.