Arts and Culture

Acclaimed poet Sarah Gorham is probably best known in Louisville as the founder and editor in chief at Sarabande Books, the award-winning literary press that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. She’s the author of four books of poems—the latest is “Bad Daughter,” published in 2011 by Four Way Books—and her work has been honored by fellowships from the Kentucky Arts Council, the prestigious Yaddo and MacDowell arts colonies, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Gorham switched gears for her new book, a collection of essays from University of Georgia Press titled “Study in Perfect,” which won the AWP Award for Creative Nonfiction. In a starred review, Kirkus Reviews calls the book “a contemplative, lyrical, splendid collection.” 

The essays range from an expansive consideration of “The Shape of Fear” to an elegant two-sentence essay on “The Perfect Conversation”:

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.” 

Gorham will read from and sign copies of “Study in Perfect” at Carmichael’s Bookstore (2720 Frankfort Ave.)  4 p.m. on Sunday.

I sat down recently with Gorham to talk about the elusive and contradictory nature of perfection and poetic license in the lyric essay form. 

On switching to essays from poems: 

“I started a series of poems called ‘Study in Perfect,’ prose poems, and some of them were page-long prose poems, and I realized they were closer to lyric essays, so I just went with the idea. That’s where I am now. It’s a much more relaxed form. It’s a very natural form for me.”

On the nature of perfection: 

“I am definitely a perfectionist. I want to create a beautiful product, no matter what that is. (I hate the word product!) It’s also a concept that has so many facets to it. I began with these little tiny essays, as I said, or prose poems, and I looked up the definition of perfect, which is just the most obvious thing to do. And there’s like, I don’t know, at least a dozen facets to ‘perfect,’ including precisely accurate, exact, exactly right, having all the required and desirable elements, qualities and characteristics, and then there’s a mathematical perfect, the grammatical perfect tense, the perfect future tense, there’s a botanical perfect — the perfect flower has both stamen and corolla, so it can reproduce itself.

“This concept was like a statue I could walk around and observe from so many angles.” 

And the flip side: 

“The Japanese concept insists something perfect have a flaw in it. I mention these in the introduction. Sir Francis Bacon noted ‘there is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.’ So the inverse of perfection—imperfection—felt like a logical leap to include in this book. And of course there are  so many more imperfections in this world than perfections.”