New collection by Greensboro poet gives voice to unloved creatures

by Jordan Green | @JordanGreenYES

Sarah Lindsay wrapped up a hectic day of proofing pages at Pace Communications. Parking on the wrong side of the campus set her back a couple minutes. When she arrived at about 8 o’clock at the UNCG Faculty Center, she found a group of about 50 — a mix of grad students, retired professors and graying boomers — waiting quietly and attentively.

Lindsay’s fourth full-length poetry collection, Debt to the Bone-Eating Snotflower, is due out anytime. Her first book, Primate Behavior, published in 1997, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and since then the Iowa native and UNCG MFA graduate has turned out a new collection roughly every five years.

The last book, Twigs and Knucklebones, treated archaeology as science fiction by imaginatively fleshing out societies beyond the limitations of contemporary human knowledge. Debt to the Bone-Eating Snotflower similarly tackles obscure biology, and much of it is set in the oceanic depths.

Dense with arcane geographies, flora and fauna at first glance, Lindsay’s poems eventually yield for the patient reader jewels of insight into the human condition. (Disclosure: Lindsay and I attend the same Episcopal church in Greensboro.)

“I find that I try to give voice to things that I really don’t have any right to give voice to,” she remarked in between poems during her reading at the Faculty Center on Nov. 14. “The urge is there. I just hope I’m not doing an injustice.”

She described the poem “First Ring,” which is too new to be included in the book, as “a kind of creation of the universe thing.”

Hard to imagine giving voice to the raw material of the universe, but here it is: “Iron was my core, and stone my skin.”

A couple poems into her reading, Lindsay admitted that it was “a little hard to make the mental switch” from proofing pages to reading poems. Later, she stumbled over the word “seashore” in the collection’s title poem.

“It’s a new book; it’s not really out yet,” she explained. “I’m still having trouble reading it.”

The poem seems to reflect on the fragility and accident in biology, while hinting that something wondrous might be at work behind the scenes.

About the recently discovered Osedax mucofloris, or “bone-eating snotflower,” Lindsay writes:

… Without her (and the him she keeps for his lifetime, in her body), every seashore would be barricaded by skeletons of whales. The tides would rattle.

Lindsay moved on to a companion poem, which comes a close second in distilling her vision.

“It is striking to me for the first time that this poem called ‘Carnivorous Sponges of the Antarctic Ocean’ has something in common with the one about the person with diabetes,” she said. “There’s a lot of, in other circumstances I would be dead.”

Then she joked, “You can tell how cheerful my thoughts are when I’m curled up alone.”

True to form, the poet alternates between the voice of the carnivorous sponge (“Our spectrum of color is dark and less dark, our music, water against itself”) and narrative description (“Faceless, gourd-shaped animals clamped to the floor of a frigid sea, they wait for the sway of water to introduce a sea louse, a worm, an ostracod, then snag it with spiny teeth, or toothlike spines”).

The final line builds dramatically and with empathy from the helpless, identity-less and uncomplaining life of the sea sponge to a threadbare sentiment that any person who has dealt with terminal illness or severe disability could appreciate: “We hold to life as though it is dear to us.”

Want more info?

To purchase a copy of Debt to the Bone-Eating Snotflower, visit, call 360.385.4925 or e-mail


Create Your City is coordinating a number of arts-related events as the holiday season gets underway in High Point this weekend. Four new exhibits open at the Theatre Arts Gallery on Friday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wine and beer will be on sale, and the event includes an update on the Ignite High Point initiative. Then, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. a lighting ceremony will take place at Mendenhall Transportation Terminal with live music, food trucks and baked goods from Sweet Josephine’s on hand. On Saturday, a trolley will provide transportation from a parking lot at 303 W. Green Drive to several antique stores and art galleries. And on Sunday, Nov. 24, beginning at 2 p.m., a “holiday parade and art takeover” will feature an art scavenger hunt, live painting, busking, food trucks, and arts and crafts vendors.