Sarah Averill—writer, teacher, and winner of the 2010 Chautauqua poetry contest—knows poetry.
Like many writers, Averill grew up in a household filled with books. She cherishes memories of her father reading The Hobbit to her when she was small, and remembers growing to read “everything” on her parent’s bookshelves, regardless of the reading level or subject matter.
“I got in trouble once in third grade,” she admits, “for bringing in a trashy romance novel.”
Her father’s love for songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon nurtured Averill’s budding love for lyrics and wordplay. In the second grade, her grandfather presented her with a paperback Robert Frost anthology. It was her first experience with poetry. Within the same year, she wrote her own book of poetry, which she remembers fondly as being filled with “terribly deep metaphors” that she considered “mind-blowing, like ‘life is a river’ and ‘my heart is a clock.”
Growing up, Averill also developed a deep fascination with science. She appreciated “collecting and observing weird things,” and enjoyed going to museums. Once, she even created her own museum in her backyard by filling empty concrete cylinders with “neat things… [like arrangements of broken glass, pine cones, antlers, [and] plants” that she discovered by exploring in the woods. Now, she says, she considers switching from teaching history to museum education.
“I really just love showing people things they wouldn’t have noticed and getting the excited about them,” she says. “That’s what I love about teaching and writing as well.”
As a Buffalo native, Averill heard often of the Chautauqua Institution—the performances, the art, the music—but the first time she heard of the writers’ program was during a poetry workshop with Philip Terman in 2010. She hadn’t attempted to publish anything since high school, but she allowed fellow poet Fred Zirm to “talk her into [entering.]” Much to her surprise, her poem “How Beautifully the light Includes These Things”—written about the Children’s Museum in Utica, NY—won first place. It was featured in The Chautauqua Daily, the local newsletter, and went on to be published in Chautauqua.
Averill is working toward her MFA in creative writing at Goddard in Vermont. She cites as inspirations her mentors while there, Kenny Fries and Elena Georgiou. She also enjoys the work of e e cummings, Mark Doty, and Louise Gluck, among others.
“One of my mentors… told me to get up and read poetry every morning, and I think that’s really helpful,” she says.
Averill is working on two collections of poetry. The Throwing-Away Doll is based loosely on the experiences of her grandparents, who lived in Japan after WWII, and The Capture of Snow is about “art and science and war and silhouettes,” she explains. She is currently adapting a series of poems featured in Snow into a biographical novel about Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, a Vermont farmer who created a way to photograph snowflakes.
“I’m most inspired by the process of creation and how that drives people who create and discover—artists, musicians, scientists,” she says. “I think that the more random and esoteric knowledge you have, the more you have to draw from in your art.”