Sarah Godsell‘s collection Seaweed Sky is a stunning collection of life, love and everything in between has already been nominated for its first accolade, having been shortlisted for the NIHHS Awards.
We had a quick chat with Sarah ahead of the reading.
Seaweed sky is such an enchanting name. How did you decide on it?
The name actually came from a high school friend, Ruth Heyns, whose family used to say to each other “I love you up to the seaweed in the sky”. I loved that so much. Then when I was writing the poem that became seaweed Sky, I had that concept of opposite worlds living together in my head, of choosing outside of the given choices, and seaweed Sky because the representation of that. Of magic and hope, but also tenacity and strength and love.
You say your book was years in the making. How did it feel to finally hold your collection in your hands?
It was surreal. First I couldn’t get over the excitement. Then I panicked because it is hard to put something out into the world, and I found things I didn’t like and wanted to change. Then I let go. I made peace that some people will find something useful for them in it, some won’t. And that’s ok. I have a soft spot for it as my first collection. Like- perfect imperfections, type thing. I love the honesty and how hard I was working in all the poems. I want to hug myself when I read some of them, others I cringe when I read, and I know this is part of the process.
Which poems are you most excited about?
I love building. I think it speaks consistently to the fragility and volatility of the work we as artists and young people and South Africans and people against the white supremacist ableist neoliberal heteropatriarchy (sorry that’s a lot but it’s structures that do a lot of damage) are doing. I love seaweed Sky. Because it’s about choice, even in all of the ways choice is made impossible. I like quiet, even though it hurts. I think it speaks to how a lot of activists don’t know how to tend to their own pain. I also like pink form because we don’t tend to speak about the complexities of contraception enough.
You’ll be in conversation with Busisiwe Mahlangu. Share with us a little bit about her and what you most look forward to sharing this moment with her?
I stan for Busisiwe. She is one of my favourite up and coming poets, and she has reduced me to a puddle of tears on the floor. I am honoured that she is in conversation with me about this book. I am inspired by her honesty every day battles with staying alive.
I’m looking forward to seeing what questions she has to ask me about this work- what was valuable for her. Where she thinks I need to work harder. I believe in a community of artists that holds each other and also pushes each other. I am lucky that I have friends who do this, who I learn from all the time. Busi is one of those voices.
Your book explores love, life and everything in between in the most colourful of ways. Distilling and processing emotions is hard enough. Tell us about the selection and editing process for this book. Was it challenging? Are there any pieces of work you would have liked to include but did not?
Editing is the hardest process. I began with 100 poems for this book. With the gentle but firm editing hand of Vangile Gantsho we cut it down to those that work for this specific collection. Sometimes I had repetitive poems, we cut those. Many poems just weren’t good enough. Some I cried over. Some I was stubborn about. Like “map” – which is for my grandfather who died in 2010. Vangi told me the poem wasn’t good enough. I agreed with her. And kept it in anyway because I wanted to have that acknowledgement to my grandfather. I think one thing I struggled with was a cut off date. I started grappling with race in more productive ways in my more recent poems, and I wanted to include them, but they didn’t fit what the book was then. So those pieces will be in my next book. So just allowing it to be what it is, to take the form, to sit with it. It was very challenging. I cried a lot and had to put it away for months at at time. It took 3 years from when the manuscript was compiled to get a final draft.
What do you want this book to be remembered for?
Wow. This is a tough one. Maybe two things: honesty about the ugly in the world, and hope for the ability to change it.