Interview w/ Sarah-Jean Krahn

By Carol Smallwood

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Sarah-Jean Krahn is the Managing Editor of feminist writing journal
S/tick and holds an MA in Cultural Studies and Critical Theory from McMaster University. Her writing appears in various anthologies and journals, including Berkeley Poetry Review and Feminist Studies, and she was recently nominated for a Pushcart.

Please describe your website and your duties as editor/writer.

I like to think of S/tick as an ever-growing creative collaborative community of feminist writers and artists. In keeping with our mission to publish things that are difficult to say or hard to find a home for, we strive to share as many feminist voices as possible by currently publishing 50%+ of the submissions we receive. To some degree, S/tick snags the poems and stories that have been relegated to an eternal time-out, castigated as too complain-y, too feminist, too real. I think the message of our current logo, which depicts a headless mannequin sporting a dress made of the inverted Canadian flag, is clear: women are in distress, yet their voices are continually undermined.

It is always so exciting to connect with another writer who has stumbled upon our website and found themselves home. And it’s wonderful to see that many other online feminist journals are out there so that as many voices as possible can be heard.

Tell us about your career.

Helping others to improve their own writing has been the focus of my career so far. A background in English allowed me to create and run a private tutoring and editing business from 2010-2016 in which I worked closely with over 70 students to give them extensive feedback on their essays, theses, and dissertations. I’ve also had the honour of editing a brave and bold manuscript from a S/tick contributor. Meanwhile, I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach and tutor many at-risk students and students with disabilities at local colleges. These students have taught me and changed me.

My career as a writer is just beginning. I began publishing most consistently in journals and anthologies in 2012 after a lengthy leave of absence from creative writing during grad school. In fact, I had somewhat forgotten about that old passion that I had sharpened during my undergraduate degree in Poetry Writing classes with Tom Wayman and Christian Bök. Some of my first publications at that time were with experimental journals and presses like dead (g)end(er) and great weather for MEDIA. I am moving to the next step now, as my next goal is a book-length collection for which I am seeking arts funding.

I find that the best projects percolate in my brain for lengthy periods, and this one has been in the works for a while. In fact, “Access Denied,” the single poem that inspired my proposal, was developed and revised over about five years. It was worth it, though! Now it is published with the experimental online journal shufPoetry (September 2015). And its sister poems are ready to emerge.

Which recognitions/achievements have encouraged you the most?

For S/tick, a recent invitation to be included in an EBSCOhost database solidifies the magazine’s existence and motivates me to keep at it. If everything works out with that, I really hope it will increase exposure for all of our wonderful contributors. Another particularly satisfying achievement was the creative writing workshop that I ran in 2015 for the University of Alberta’s LGBTQIA+ Social Students’ Group, OUTreach, in conjunction with my sister, who was their VP Internal. Poems were shared, relationships were forged, and out of that workshop came S/tick’s incredible OUTreach issue (2.4), with contributions from many other queer writers and artists as well.

For myself, the recognitions that have blown me away are being included in an issue of the scholarly journal Feminist Studies (39.1) with my poem “The Impersonal is Poclitical,” having a Pushcart nomination from The Berkeley Poetry Review for an excerpt of my long poem “Weed Apologue,” and being featured on the cover of Skidrow Penthouse’s Issue 18.

Which writers have influenced you the most?

I am continually influenced by the brave and amazing writers we have the opportunity to feature in S/tick. It may seem strange, but having worked with the images so intimately, they oftentimes stick in my head and become a part of me.

I also admire women who write their autobiographies, especially when they recount their traumas, call out the political scene of the day, and make revelations about the fragility of mental health. For example, for my undergraduate thesis, I examined the autobiography of an Iraqi woman writer and artist, Nuha Al-Radi, to highlight the way her words reveal the colonialism being foisted upon that country during and after the Gulf War. The blog format of Riverbend’s Baghdad Burning is also fascinating to me, while Zainab Salbi’s Between Two Worlds is incredibly brave in its calling out of the sexual abuse of women in a powerful political regime. However, more than that, these pieces offer up the human (and especially female) remains in light of war and petty global politics.

How has the Internet benefited you?

I think the Internet has helped decentralize power in the creative writing world. It has widened accessibility and allowed for the networking of feminist writers across borders. We think of the literary world as a bastion of progressivism, but that progressivism is decidedly privileged. Who decides what is publishable is an important question to consider.

What classes have helped you the most?

My first critical theory class introduced me to the meaning of feminism, which has grown into a dominant force in my life, not to mention post-colonial and queer theories, which also play a role in my writings and worldviews. My teacher was incredibly passionate about the theory, even in the face of some outspoken skeptics, students who understandably resisted performing criticism. She encouraged my creative engagement with the issues through media like cartoons, letters, and the occasional near-incoherent scribble.

My poetry writing classes pushed me to let go of the kernel of self in each poem that I had previously fought fiercely to preserve. In fact, the editing process of seeking the most unusual images and captivating sounds perhaps allowed that kernel of self to polish up quite nicely. The classes also gave me license to follow the experimental spirit in my writing that I’ve always tended towards by teaching me to play with the aleatory, the random. While the random still heavily influences my work, I use it to try to create meaning, which is necessary to my politicized style.

What is your favorite quotation?

The one that comes to mind is rather corny, but “Conceive it, believe it, achieve it” seems appropriate. I truly believe in the power of an unwavering vision. If I want something done, I do it. Whatever you can imagine can come true if you make it true. Indeed, there is nothing special about S/tick’s birth except that we made a decision and just did it. No limits.

What advice would you give others?

I’ve already hinted at this, but edit your work; allow it to transform into something unexpected. And, of course, if you want something done, then do it. You’re the one with that idea, so you have the power to bring it into reality.

Carol Smallwood