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  • NYS Writers Institute

Catching up with poet Sarah Giragosian

We chatted with UAlbany's Sarah Giragosian, winner of the American Poetry Journal Book Prize for her poetry collection, Queer Fish (2017). Sarah is a faculty member in the University at Albany's English and Writing & Critical Inquiry departments.

Sarah's forthcoming book is The Death Spiral (May 2020), a meditation in poetry on survival, resilience, the animal kingdom, love, mass extinction, climate change, racism, and the current political moment.

She writes, "Unfortunately, many of my readings for my book launch have been canceled due to the pandemic, but the book is available for pre-order at a reduced price and I am available for virtual readings and classroom visits." To pre-order visit

We asked Sarah about the experience of teaching remotely in these strange days of social distancing.

Q: Is it all going smoothly?

A: While I have taught online before, transitioning my four writing-intensive classes to online formats mid-semester has been a challenge, particularly since the systems that I have been using have been subject to delays and crashes because they are overtaxed. Teaching online has never been my forte, and I have always been slow to grasp new technologies and troubleshoot technical problems.

Q: How are your students coping?

A: My students are encouraging, patient, and generous in their support! It's been heartening to see their resilience in these difficult times.

Many of them are having to share computers with family members and siblings, adapt to imperfect working conditions, and contend with financial precarity because of the pandemic, yet many of them are producing brilliant work, poems, stories, and essays that demonstrate creative empowerment and meaningful inquiry.

I do miss seeing their faces and being a part of those "aha" moments that can't be staged, that often happen organically in face-to-face learning contexts. For me, teaching--especially in the arts-- is an embodied act of translating and interrogating knowledge and the senses that can't quite be reproduced as effectively on a screen.

Q: In addition to teaching, how are you keeping busy?

A: I have been reading and writing avidly and am looking forward to reading a number of poetry collections by friends and colleagues that are on my bookshelf or that are forthcoming: Virginia Konchan's Any God Will Do, Heather Treseler's Parturition, and Charlotte Pence's Code, for example.

I also volunteer as a wildlife rehabber and work at Whispering Willow, a wildlife rehabilitation center in Schenectady. I'm a raptor enthusiast and I care for owls, hawks, and falcons each week, who are also models of resilience and power for me at this time. They often find their way into my own poems.

Here's a poem about survival and resilience from Sarah's forthcoming collection:

Family History

In memory of my great-grandmother, survivor of the Armenian Genocide No god is more inscrutable than ours. Think of how our century began: red fistfuls of pomegranate blossoms knuckling the windows in the early dawn, a warning missed and a call to rise. And at the doors—the early monsters of modernity, trained to be meticulous, expedient, propitiated neither by suffering or the skirl of exile. Think of your grandmother with her rabbit-beat heart who knew something about hope’s atrophied muscles and the secrets of rubies. She scooped pomegranate seeds into her pockets to sustain her. During the march, god roosted in her inner ear and whispered back such strange flashes of memory: the first clean A she played on her spiked fiddle, the last goat she skinned, the wet cord that tied her to her son, the gleam of her sister’s scissors that snipped it off, the gleam of the bayonet that killed him. She watched her daughter’s ribs peek through the skin, and in time, realized that god is anonymous and intimate as a nurse who can deliver pain or take it away in the same breath. What do we say? Our family history? A death sentence, and yet — you breathe. You tell me the rest.

More about Sarah Giragosian


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