Interview with Sarah Strange

Sarah Strange writes poetry on her « Poet in the Woods » blog, where it is enjoyed by readers from around the world, from places as far afield as Chile, Lithuania and the Seychelles. This year her blog received its 200,000th visit. With topics ranging from travel accounts, to tributes to cultural icons, to reflections on life’s surprises, the poetry of Sarah Strange is diverse in subject matter – but dedicated is the fan who can spot any poetry of hers that doesn’t rhyme !
Sarah Strange has lived in West Africa, Britain, Australia and Belgium. She speaks English, French, Italian, Dutch and German and has written poetry since she was seven.

Semantic Express: Sarah, recently your blog received its 200,000th visit… how did that feel?

Sarah Strange: Very exciting indeed. In these lock-down times many people turned to poetry – it has special value. Capturing the moment in verse, short and to the point, poetry is the best medium in troubled times.

SE: Certainly, certainly… one of the reasons why it is worth sharing poetry is the reactions you get from your audience. What made you decide to put your poetry in the poetinthewoods blog?

Sarah: That’s an easy one. It was a conversation with Cheryl Cooper also from the BWC (the Brussels Writers Circle) – she heard me read in the group and suggested setting up a blog for me to get wider coverage – no payment but just a good meal and a bottle of wine and chocolates – so I complied and so did she. In my first month I had over 3000 hits! She also suggested the title as my house is just at the edge of the Forêt de Soignes in Brussels. I was lucky my twitter account is the same – @poetinthewoods – a happy inspiration …

SE: Wow! So the BWC and the members there represented an inspiration… and as for the trees, they can be very inspiring as a place to write poetry…We can see the themes of your poetry are very diverse, ranging from nature, to personal experiences, to world events… what helps you decide what to write about?

Sarah: No particular order – current affairs first probably (ie Notre-Dame fire, lots about BREXIT, etc. lots about nature, changes in the seasons which I can see from my window, and emotions, feelings, making links with other human beings, and finally, when all else fails me as an inspiration, plays on words, puns, quotations, relevant dates, etc. I try to keep my poems non-controversial – merely stating facts not giving an opinion so my readers can make up their OWN minds. That’s very important 🙂 I like historical subjects too (i.e. Battle of Trafalgar etc.) I try to keep my subjects as varied as possible to keep the element of surprise…

SE: Certainly ! There’s clearly plenty that you can find to write about. As for rhymes – since we can see the rhymes are an integral part of your poetry – how do you find rhymes?

Sarah: I am a great admirer of Lord Tennyson and learnt some of his narrative poems by heart. Rhymes are comforting and a good medium for my ideas – I try to find unusual rhymes, reverting sometimes to words in other languages to keep the flow and the surprise…
When I was about 8 or 9 my parents gave me a hefty rhyming dictionary as a birthday present! My father and my grandmother were both poets. And I have a famous poet in my extended family L.E.L. ( Letizia Elizabeth Landon 1802-1838. ) who was known in her time at « The female Byron  » so I guess it’s in my blood … 🙂

SE: Aha, so we can clearly see many different factors behind those ideas for rhymes. It’s great to hear that your family has been such a positive contributing factor to your poetry! It’s true that the sonic effect of a rhyme can indeed be comforting and reassuring, too. As for rhyme schemes, we can see different ones used in your poetry; sometimes AABB, sometimes ABAB, etc… how do you choose this?

Sarah: That’s difficult – the simple ABAB or AABB patterns are easy and flow well. But I have to keep my touch light and my audience on their toes so now and again I do a sonnet form and one of my favourites is AAAb CCCb – this rhyming scheme probably has a special name but sadly I don’t know it. And as a special treat, so to speak, I occasionally write poems that DON’T RHYME or are even in French …

SE: That’s interesting… do you have any poems in French on your blog, or on other online platforms?

Sarah: ‘Voyage en Tram’ is in French (it was in answer to a challenge from a Francophone friend!) and « My Street in December » does not rhyme …

SE: That’s good to hear!

Sarah: I don’t believe I am on any other platforms. I did have a few poems on the « Into History » website but sadly this closed down. The owner was promoting stays in historic locations and I wrote poems to accompany them. They were whimsical efforts …

SE: Well, it is always worth trying… as for your own blog, it has followers from across the world… do different nationalities seem to prefer different themes of your poetry?

Sarah: Impossible to say – I am amazed at the regularity of non-English speaking countries who come regularly onto my blog. That’s what prompted me to put keywords on my poems by country. As you will see if you look at the right-hand side list there are a few other topics but often people like to look at poems about their own country. International events do very well indeed, as do obituaries of famous people, e.g. Nelson Mandela, Johnny Halliday, Vera Lynn, etc. For info 147 different countries have logged on at one time or another…

SE: That’s fascinating ! We also see, that on your blog you combine the posts of your poetry with photos and other images. What influences your choice of what picture to use?

Sarah: Again that was a piece of advice from Cheryl. She said a photo would encourage people to look at my poems. Many images come from the free photo sites, or from friends (with their permission of course!) and some are my own or family ones. I try to make them thought-provoking. And of course, last but not least, as a tourist guide for Belgium, I try to promote tourist locations/exhibitions, etc.

SE: Sure! And finally… idioms and metaphors feature often in your poetry, whether the expression of checking a friend’s contact details leading to a trip down memory lane, or feeling green while on the water, or of a train as an animal… how do you decide when to use idioms?

Sarah: I’m a linguist, an inveterate reader, my brain automatically comes up with puns, or quaint expressions, sometimes a little old-fashioned but I like to play with words, a bit like plasticine and put them in odd places or twist their meaning. My Belgian friends are often frustrated and cannot grasp the double-meanings but I can’t help it – I am wired that way! Not an answer, I know …

SE: Ah, there are some things we can’t help… but expressing ourselves with idioms is surely one of the better things! Thank you very much for your responses, Sarah!

Sarah: Thank you !

The poetinthewoods blog by Sarah Strange:

See her poem « Inspiration » on her poetinthewoods blog: