People of Pace: Sarah Lindsay

Before I read Sarah Lindsay’s Wikipedia page, I knew her only as the smiling copy editor whom everyone adored. I would later come to know her as one of the funniest, most interesting people at Pace, and that’s saying a lot.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when I learned that she’s written four books of poetry, been published in The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The Yale Review and Poetry Magazine. She is also the recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, a J. Howard and Barbara M.J. Wood Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award.

How can a person be this well known in such a prestigious field and stay so humble? If I were an accomplished poet, I would have “Ask Me About My Pushcart Prize” embroidered onto a velvet cape and wear it to work. The more I think about it, that mentality probably explains why I don’t fit the poet profile; somehow, Sarah stays grounded. After years of doing excellent work for Pace, I set out to find out more about this accomplished creative.

Describe your role here at Pace.

I’ve been a copy editor here for a long time, on a lot of different projects, starting with the original Piedmont Airlines magazine, Southern Bride and IGA Grocergram. These days I work on print and digital for Four Seasons, but if any Pace person has a grammar- or style-related question, I’m happy to offer my ancient wisdom.

What is the difference between reaching someone with a poem and with a content piece? Are there similarities?

It’s interesting to me how hard it is to outline the difference. But then there’s no single absolute definition of “a poem” to start with. The writer of a poem gets to choose which rules to follow.

Both should be shaped with an audience in mind (even an audience of one). Will Reader X respond to this level of formality? If X doesn’t know what I know, will this sentence still make sense? Will X possibly find this creepy? Is that a good thing?

Is there a place for emotion in content marketing the way there is in poetry?

If it’s well integrated. You can write, “I know you’ll love this product,” but it’s almost always better for the feeling(s) to lurk in the imagery — verbal or visual. And in either case, the emotion of the audience is more important than the emotion of the writer.

Your poetry has a distinct voice. Does voice play a part in content the way it does with more personal, creative work like poetry?

It does, but for content, a writer assumes the brand voice. There’s a powerful kind of creativity in producing something successful within strict limits like “This should be appealing, aspirational, witty but not eccentric, and one line long.”

Are there many of your poetry peers who work in the marketing world like you do?

I don’t know. Poets are expected to become teachers, but this is a good niche for me. One of my heroes is Wallace Stevens, who conscientiously did his job at an insurance company and wrote astounding poems.

When I attempt creative writing, often the voice of a favorite writer will creep in and trick me into thinking I can write like him or her. How young were you when your own voice began to guide your work as opposed to the voice of your influences?

It must have been a very gradual process. I still find myself wanting to imitate certain other poets, mainly when I’ve just read them, but now my cheap imitations sound more like me. I wouldn’t mind having a broader vocal range.

I’ve tried writing poems that accidentally turned into meandering five-page essays. How do you avoid saying too much?

That’s the magic of rewriting. When I have an idea for a poem, it tends to be a roughly poem-sized idea, and my problem is usually too many lines, not too many pages. I’ve gotten better at cutting down the rough drafts, because I’ve had a lot of cutting-down practice on articles at Pace.

Fortunately, I can also show poems to two friends of mine who are brilliantly able to identify the creaky floorboards, the unnecessary explanations, the chunks that will improve the rest by going away.

On the other hand, if a poem turns into an essay, make it a good essay. Or maybe the essay will squirm and shrink as you examine it, and turn back into a poem.

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Sarah is an example of how one’s passion for creativity can be translated across multiple aspects of one’s life and shared to great effect, no matter who the audience. If you haven’t taken the time to read Sarah’s poetry, you absolutely should. Her books are: Primate Behavior (1997), Mount Clutter (2002), Twigs and Knucklebones (2008), and Debt to the Bone-Eating Snotflower (2013).

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