PROFILE BY KENNY GOULD
Let me introduce you to the poet Mia Sara.
It’s easy because you already know her: the poet looks like a slightly older version of Sloan Peterson from the 1986 John Hughes cult classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and that’s because she is. Even thirty years later, she still gets recognized by the round brown eyes and widow’s peak that ingratiated her with an entire generation.
But let’s say that you were born somewhere outside of the Western Hemisphere, or sometime not between 1950 and 2005, and that you somehow—somehow—managed to miss the rite of passage that involved the tragic destruction of a red 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder: you might still think you know her, because Sara communicates in a way that makes her feel like a close friend. Her work on the page and her work on the screen are not so different: both are inviting, intimate, accessible.
These days, the actress-turned-poet splits time between Los Angeles and New York City with her two children and husband Brian Henson, son of the late Jim Henson, of The Muppets fame. Her work has been published, or is forthcoming in, Pembroke Magazine, Superstition Review, The Write Room, Forge, Helix, PANK, and Cultural Weekly, and she recently accepted a position as a column contributor to Barrelhouse.
“I just like words, you know?” Sara said, during a casual interview at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs 2016 conference in Los Angeles. “I’m a word person. I find them comforting and reliable and fascinating and valuable.”
She guesses that this proclivity came from an early boyfriend who kept a journal full of interesting words; however, like most great obsessions, she can’t pinpoint its genesis. When her early acting career skittered into a series of unsuccessful TV gigs, she decided to take a six week writing class with the author Jack Grapes.
“Like all good teachers, I hated him,” Sara says, though now she refers to him as “the teacher of a lifetime.” By day, Jack Grapes is an award-winning poet with thirteen books to his name; by night, a creative writing instructor who has taught over 2,000 writers through both UCLA’s Extension program and classes of his own. For Grapes’ class, Sara produced pages upon pages of work that slowly took the form of poetry. Grapes encouraged her—more than that, he helped her create a framework for her writing practice, as Sara self-diagnoses herself with an inability to stay organized.
Grapes’s method isn’t difficult: he asks students to dispel the objects of procrastination that constantly tempt the working writer (the sink filled with dirty dishes, the wood floors that need mopping, and remopping, and mopping again) and work consistently in order to move past the rational internal editor and let the creative part of the mind take control.
“When you stop thinking and just work hard and keep writing and writing and writing, that’s when you make room for accidents of genius,” Sara says. That’s how she refers to good writing—as “accidents of genius.” During her time as an actress, she always rolled her eyes when people talked about abandoning themselves to process or serving as a conduit for something greater than themselves, though now she sheepishly admits that she believes in the power of process. She doesn’t type—she writes on a pad—and estimates that she’s written poetry on every single bench in Manhattan.
And what does she write about?
“I write about my kids,” she says. “A lot. And about being old. Feeling old.” Nowhere are these themes more prevalent than in her latest chapbook, Mid-Life with Gorilla, edited by Barrelhouse blog editor Sheila Squillante and published as part of the Dusie Press Kollectiv in 2014.
“And if I don’t miss this, have I missed the boat?” she asks, writing about the nostalgia—or lack thereof—that she might one day feel when looking back at her young daughter’s Halloween procession. “I was living life at sea level, but now, the water’s rising. Where’s that ivory tower, now that I could use it? Now that youth and beauty, and other rough devotions, are sinking, along with yesterday’s missing homework and the Kodak moments?”
In three words, Sara describes herself as introverted, neurotic, and honest. Though perhaps “introspective” makes more sense than introverted—for all her professed shyness, Sara communicates brilliantly, both in person and on the page. She’s real and raw and truthful, interested in people and what she calls “the why behind the how”: basically, what makes someone tick? Sara finds that she usually knows, and it’s from this innate sensibility that she gets her poetic gifts: the abilities to tune in, to connect, and—ultimately—to heal. Insofar as her poetry has an objective, this is it. “I write because I want people to feel better,” she says. “If you’re in distress and looking to literature, it’s much easier to read a poem than a book.”
Sara is not an experimental poet, but moving forward, she wants to try new forms: she recently began a series of manifesto pieces that reflect on the things in her life. Although these pieces differ structurally from her more traditional poetry, they share her distinctive themes: children, aging, unflinching honesty.
Barrelhouse readers, Mia Sara.
Kenny Gould studied at Duke and Oxford Universities, and now Chatham University, where he’s pursuing his MFA. His non-fiction has appeared in Time Out New York, mental_floss, and Gear Patrol; his fiction with The Manifest-Station and The Head & the Hand Press. He currently lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where he teaches creative writing, practices yoga, and brews beer. Follow him on Twitter at @thekennygould or online at kennygould.com.