Spring...Summer...Take the time to chat with someone.

Do you remember when home telephones usually rested on a gossip bench with a short unforgiving cord or hung on a kitchen wall with a long spiraling cord? You had great conversations either sitting on the bench in a slouch, legs outstretched and crossed at the ankles, or leaning against whatever wall the phone was on or stretching the cord to wherever you wanted to sit.  It is that sense of “back in the day” of easy wonderful chatting that I engaged Dr. Wyman in a conversation.

Sarah Wyman, PhD (photo provided)

Sarah Wyman is an associate professor at the State University of New York college in the Hudson Valley.  A published poet, workshop leader and teacher, Ms. Wyman captures the richness of life’s myriad “all things considered” and imparts her wisdom unselfishly to others to broaden their sense of the world.

Here is our chat.  

* * *

bill berry, jr.:
Dr. Sarah Wyman, I am glad that we will have a brief chat and I will do my best to keep it brief though I could probably chat with you so much longer than what we agreed to.  LOL.  You are a college faculty member, scholar, academic writer and researcher.  You exist in what many folks perceive to be a rarified world of academia and its “gentile” nuances.  As a retired higher education administrator, I know academia is rife with the same complex issues facing other professional occupations; however, I recognize that when you put significant “brain talent” in the same place (i.e. on a campus/within an academic institution) it becomes a challenge to be prolific in one’s scholarly career as a faculty member and pursue, if not maintain, a creative writing career.  How do you juxtapose and advance your academic career with your non-scholarly creative persona? 

Sarah Wyman, Ph.D.:
Just last night at a poetry reading, I asked the poet about his practice. He too, juggled an academic position and a creative life, so he understood the hunger in my question.  His poems seemed very meditative, but he argued that they were work not meditation.  I was interested to hear about how he structured his latest book thematically on the 4 states of water: liquid, solid, gaseous, ether.  He had a designated writing desk and a clear project he could pick up and put down. I have always written discrete poems, but I would like to start thinking in terms of a book of more clearly interconnected pieces.

One of my pals in the same boat recommended that when I am traveling and don’t have quiet time to sit at a table and summon my thoughts, to just hold myself to 17 words each day.  I like that advice so much.  During the semester, I often cannot find time for the quiet meditation I require to collect my lines into poems, so 17 words, usually extracted from leftover impressions of a busy day, can be strung together as a nice necklace and put me to sleep.  Sometimes, I try “word sparks” where I choose 4 words or ask someone to suggest them, and weave them into a poem. Just that tiny prompt can start a whole chain of thoughts.  When I have more time, I set a timer for a morning hour and write as continually as I can, warm months up in an eggplant-colored treehouse.  Revision work fits more easily into the sporadic snatches of time that come along with a busy schedule. Like practicing music, I need to stay in touch with language by thinking through words in a freely creative way every day.

Writing poetry expands beyond personal need or relief.  Audre Lorde, who died early of cancer, had great wisdom on the reason for writing and the role of poetry in society.  She valued the consciousness of living as much as the rational thinking that many societies emphasize.  In “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” she writes, “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” For her, the process of writing poetry brings consciousness into being as thought. These articulated thoughts produce ideas, and ideas become actions that can change the world.  How can we know what we think if we don’t tap into this invaluable consciousness?  Poetry sustains us and enables us to take responsibility and work for social change.

I appreciate your question about balancing work / life and your understanding of a career in “higher” (?) education where one often feels pulled in several directions at once. Like any teachers, we are dedicated to our students and feel great satisfaction when we see learning happen.  Some of us are quite driven to produce scholarly work because our professorial jobs depend upon it, others because we can work with the beloved material that enticed us to spend so many extra years in graduate school. I love being involved in faculty governance, advocating for my colleagues, and learning about how the institution operates.  It’s great to have a stimulating job, and nothing feeds the artist like vigilant observation and attention to detail.  Academic life can be so demanding, though, that my connection to poetry is compromised.  Luckily, we have many poets reading on campus. Listening to them can help bring me back.  I also visit our art museum, and try to speak with the visual works I see.


Okay, you have now made me reminisce about my old stomping grounds especially my “adventures” in the SUNY system (first Black dean at Stony Brook way back in the day) senior level executive positions at community colleges (Rockland and Cayuga,) and visits to several of the 4-year campuses including New Paltz (again, way back in the day.) But I want to stay focused on your creative side, where you find poignant solutions to that dimension of yourself so your creativity is not diluted or unnecessarily compromised by your scholarly life in academia.  So, let me take advantage of the crack in the door. 

Please share the last 17 words that you secreted away in your notebook –any day will be fine though today’s words may be appropriate.  And write me a poem that can be embedded in our discussion before this chat ends.  Since I am locked in a socio/political mood {too much CNN and a little cable Fox thrown in for diverse, unsettling comparisons or my reactions to a local February 8, 2018 production of “for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf” or a pending workshop on “White Privilege” at a local church that will be conducted by two women who represent “black” and “white” worlds and both who I respect,} I offer (yeah, you did not ask me… and your point is? LOL) these 4 words for you to work with: divide, understanding, status, and arrogance.  I guess you are now wondering why you let yourself get involved in this chat. (Smile.)


Hello Bill.  Thank you for these words that set me thinking.
Divide Understanding, Status, Arrogance
Here is the poem that appeared from them, thanks to the tease of spring that’s been playing with us all.

Monarch’s Arrival
Spring seems to tease with the arrogance of butterflies
divided against themselves, each wing forward, a tug against the other
so that their colors smear a tumble,
wet drops rubbing together, antennae misunderstanding
snow drop signals.
When a sudden frost appears, the majestic status of the season,
bold as a purple tulip,
orange as a monarch’s sail,
Cowers back into earth as it hardens.
The pilgrim rests on its return from the south
lands by a crocus as though to seek shelter
weeks before the scheduled transformation
when it will hide under cover of its own making.
If it survives, tissue thin and fluttering through dusty puffs,
the freeze will be outfoxed. If not,
we’ll find its wings like glass, frozen in a sidewalk puddle.

Yes, it helps so much to keep attending arts events when it seems like the demanding door keeps closing on imagination.  Poetry readings, art exhibitions, musical productions all take me away from day-to-day business (however fascinating) and give me wonderful new ideas to chew on.   I enjoyed the Aaduna video of your Harriet Tubman performance, for example, and that reminded me of my friend Nkeiru Okoye’s opera Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom

Here are some of my 17 word send-offs

Half Dome half slip from the skirt of darkness where pebbles peel from the rock face. Fall.

Chimps teach foundling warmth and war. Jane learns love and chooses banana behavior as specimen over mate.

Dairy Bob rhino farm freshly jettisons macaroni dip on two-toned fries still hot at the tips.

Foam holds water like cells between liquid river and ice that encases each green leaf in winter.

Puffed napkin red heart caught on a chicken wire frame, ornaments the love compost of our days.

Thanks for the continuing conversation. Please send some more words. Maybe we could offer a quartet of terms up to our readers each month and see what comes to be.


Thank you for your creativity and the idea of a “quartet of terms.”  We will take that someplace…soon.

I was wondering as the spring semester approaches closure in the next several weeks, what are your plans for the summer and will it be a sustained time to write, explore and discover and is there a special way that you approach your writing in terms of when, how, why, etc.


Yes, I am eagerly anticipating the semester’s end. Even though I will be teaching a bit in the summer, May brings a change of pace.  When university work is in full swing, I have to produce a great deal. I am always close to words, but not always to my own poetry. My journals are full of early versions of what could be poems. As of Tuesday, when I finish my last class, I plan to commit myself to more listening and looking, to taking in, rather than continually cranking out to meet various requests and needs. 
We do not see what we hold and call it extraordinary. All the religions of the world demand this.  Poetry is another type of faith, in my opinions. 

Just this morning, I started reading Louise Glück’s poetry again. I love the way she turns the world into paintings, sketches of what is happening around her especially in her mid-career work such as “Cottonmouth Country.” She has written books with great energy, and then written nothing for as long as 2 years! I am amazed by the fact that creative folks work in these ways. But then, that’s life. We are all artists, after all, and actively allowing ourselves the time, as well as being lucky enough to be granted these openings, makes all the difference.


I find your tasks of writing for you, and your academic work and professorial responsibilities interesting and all too often complex and possibly at intersections of conflict. And please note that this observation is based on my prior academe administrative sense and perspective.  So, Dr. Wyman if you were not in academia, with your educational background, what would you be doing?  

Plus, I need to add that our chat is coming to an end. And you will be missed.  So as we come to saying “See ya…whenever” is there some wisdom that has defined and shaped your life that you can share with our readership?  

Dr. Sarah have a great summer! We will be in contact in your role as an aaduna contributing editor.


Bill, in other spaces you have referred to “screaming” lilacs.  I appreciated that evocation as I share a Madeline-type sensory memory of lilacs that brings me back to nursery school or kindergarten times when we brought flowers to school, their stem ends wrapped in soggy paper towels and all bunched in silvery tinfoil to keep them moist but not dripping all over our clothes. These were to be gifts for the older students who were taking off for the next phase of their educations.  I love that tradition of honoring those who go before us and of thinking back to poignant times like those that stay written on our bodies with physical markers of remembered scent or touch or sound.  I have a new puppy and for him, all is sensation.  He wants to know the world with his tiny teeth and his powerful snout.  If I were not in academia, I might be a kindergarten teacher like my aunt and grandmother. I think that’s what was always expected of me. But I could have thrived well as a human rights activist / lawyer or a child psychologist. As a teenager, I most wanted to be a mail delivery person “mailman” because I loved writing letters more than almost anything – little folded gifts.  People didn’t have specific or “high” expectations for me – but that was probably a good thing. It may have closed off some options since I never considered them, but then my being a professor was certainly not on anyone’s radar, including mine until well into my 20s.  Of course, I would love to be a poet first and foremost, but that has always fit into my life of family and work. I have not given my writing enough time, but I have always honored the pen.  Thank you for the opportunity to work with you and the wonderful aaduna poets.  Very inspiring.

I think the wisdom that has shaped my life comes from a few mother figures who taught me, (1) family is not defined by blood, (2) to give love openly is a risk worth taking and most people respond with relief and gratitude for being recognized, and more recently, (3) when anxiety tenses the body, to notice and actively relax it.  There is so, so much to learn in this beautiful world (as a puppy will remind you!)

Enjoy the summer, Bill, and keep that garden growing!

aaduna - an online adventure with words and images - a globally read, multi-cultural, and diverse online literary and visual arts journal established in 2010.  Visit us at www.aaduna.org where we put measurable actions to our words.

Help us build community!  Share with your friends,  "like" our Aaduna-Inc facebook page and follow us on twitter @ aadunaspeaks !  

aaduna-Inc aaduna-Inc  Visit regularly for updates !