Sarah Stern was 11 years old when her middle school, Salanter Akiba Riverdale (SAR) Academy, asked each student to write “something literary” for the yearbook.
“My mother said, well, let’s write a poem,” she recalled. “And I haven’t stopped since.”
Ms. Stern’s latest book of poems, “But Today Is Different,” is a tribute to the woman who helped her write her first one. It is Ms. Stern’s first full-length book, featuring 50 poems, and deals with the heavy experiences she has dealt since the release of her last poetry collection, in 2011.
Those few years saw the loss of both Ms. Stern’s parents, both of whom inspired her writing.
Her mother was a refugee from Germany who raised seven children in a place that was foreign to her.
“Her voice is in so many of these poems,” Ms. Stern said. “A lot of the things she said were just found poems. Things that just struck me, that I would think God, I have to write this down.”
The years between books were tumultuous in other ways for Ms. Stern, who had to fend for a job anew after losing a job during the recession.
“I experienced [the recession] as a middle-aged person, looking for work, and I think that people who weren’t looking for work at that time had no idea how difficult it was,” she said. “I really wanted to write about what that was like.”
Her poems delve into the notion of women and aging amid the glorification of youth.
“I think women have a hard time thinking… that their experiences and their vision of the world matter,” she said. “As I’m getting older, I realize how important it is for women to tell their stories. And that it has as much validity as any other story.”
Her experiences are reflected in poems like “Lipstick:”
Tell me once and for all
that I’m beautiful—
that’s what I heard her say
as she looked in the mirror at
the Union Square location
at lunch time.
We are all art
Of some form but we don’t last.
That’s the thing, ephemeral,
Wonderful English-major words
That we don’t use enough.
I want to use them in sentences
as often as possible.