Behind the Words: Michael Sarnowski

Posted by on Jul 25, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Michael SarnowskiThe aspect of “New Religion” that I am most enamored with is Michael Sarnowski’s ability to describe something without naming or placing it explicitly. My curiosity as a fellow writer left me craving answers about the poem’s intentions. Sarnowksi’s craft for layering dimensions so thoughtfully and in such a provoking tone makes for a worthwhile read; and interview.



Amanda: Were you raised in a religious home? How does that affect your work?

Michael: Religion was a part of my upbringing, yes, and although I distanced myself from the church and any affiliation as a teenager, it has remained fertile ground for content in my writing. Generally speaking, mythology (like all storytelling) affords us the opportunity to think about the world and self-examine. It propels questions about the human experience, and where we position ourselves on a polarized spectrum (good/evil, right/wrong, etc.). A poem like “New Religion” uses religious allegory as a reference point, but it’s anchored in the conflation of the grotesque imagery of Jesus’ crucifixion with the allure of thinness. What happens when the horrifying sculpture above the altar shares aesthetic qualities of the idealized human form we see on magazine racks in the grocery store? The intrigue for me was to dig deeper into that dynamic.


Much of the delight of this poem is found in its honesty. Is the speaker in the poem meant to represent a struggle, transparency, or both?

In a sense, both. Although the speaker is documenting a struggle, they are self-aware of the destructive nature of their desire. Transparency is just the honesty that comes with being able to reflect and recognize what one has put oneself through. I suppose it’s acknowledging that the damage can’t be undone, but that it can be understood.


When you wrote the poem, were you able to have the image right with you, or were the descriptions taken from memory?

Sourcing the images came from both the immediate moment and from memory. When I was young, I went on a school field trip to the Eastman House in Rochester, NY. George Eastman was the founder of Kodak, and his home is now a museum and archive for film and photographs, among other things. I have vivid memories of looking at old photographs and daguerreotypes from a Civil War archive, which was the origin of the soldier’s body image in the poem. Primarily though, the poem was born out of the imagery of the crucifixion, and I wanted to allow that description to be the foundation for the introspection that followed. The image of a man nailed to beams of wood is so visceral and unsettling, especially when you’re a child sitting in a pew who’s told that sacrifice was made for you. Those two extremes, the bloating and emaciation, prompted the poem and the larger conversation of body image.


Best writing advice you could give the readers of Spry?

I find the most intriguing poems force us to ask questions of ourselves that take us out of our comfort zone. Some of the greatest joys and harrowing vulnerabilities occur when reading a poem that reveals something you didn’t know was inside you, like a doctor’s diagnosis.


In your opinion- what should we be reading RIGHT NOW?

Michael Sarnowski Interview, by Amanda Stopa

Alan Heathcock’s short story collection Volt. Through recurring characters, readers see the generational impact of violence and get to explore moral gray areas at a safe distance from the fictional town Heathcock has created.


Amanda Stopa is originally from the Seattle area. She holds an MBA, and an MFA in Creative Writing and has had work appear in New Fraktur Arts Journal, Philadelphia Stories, and Bearers of Distance: An Anthology.

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