Fiction takes a poetic journey in ‘Wild Milk’

Author Sabrina Orah Mark will read from her short-story collection Wild Milk, which blends fiction and poetry, today at Prairie Lights.

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Fiction takes a poetic journey in ‘Wild Milk’

Sarah Baugh/EarlyGirl Photograph

Sarah Baugh/EarlyGirl Photograph

Sarah Baugh/EarlyGirl Photograph

Lauren Arzbaecher, Arts Reporter

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Each genre of literature has particular tenets that make it distinctive, but some of the most poignant writing comes when genres cross over. In Wild Milk, an exciting collection of short fiction, author Sabrina Orah Mark creates intricate stories that intertwine poetry and fiction. She will read from Wild Milkat Prairie Lights on July 23.

Mark received an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is the author of two prose poetry collections, The Babiesand Tsim Tsum. Her writing takes on a new style in Wild Milk, published in 2018 by Dorothy, a Publishing Project. Mark noted that her writing process changed after becoming a mother.

“After I had children, I wasn’t able to just sit down and work for these 16-hour blocks like I used to,” she said. “What started happening was that the prose poems started getting almost these holes in them and more outside air started seeping in, because I would be interrupted, and then I would come back. In many ways, what started off as prose poems just got bigger and bigger until one point I think I realized the poems had morphed into short stories.”

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Though it is a book of fiction, Wild Milkis still influenced greatly by poetry. The collection pushes the boundaries of genre, blurring the lines between what makes a short story and what makes poetry. The blend of styles gives the book a powerful impact; Amy Margolis, the director of the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, said Mark’s unique style injects life into the short stories.

“You can tell in Wild Milkby the way she uses language that she’s a poet, because she has a poet’s relationship to every part of how the words behave on the page,” Margolis said. “Her stories aren’t plotted in a typical way. They behave more like waking dreams, where the images are strange and familiar at the same time and above all, alive.”

Each story is an innovative journey through relationships, emotion, and human experience, but with a poetic twist. The stories don’t follow the typical structure of fiction, instead taking a more unconventional route.

“I think the style of these stories leaves a lot more to the imagination,” said Kathleen Johnson, the Prairie Lights events coordinator. “It’s more about recurring themes and images than it is about a strict plot. You have to approach it the same way you approach poetry, with sort of a malleable mind.”

In addition to the collection, Mark has also recently started writing an essay column about fairy tales and motherhood for The Paris Review. Both Wild Milkand the new column have pushed her out of her comfort zone of poetry to explore writing in numerous genres.

“Writing the stories has given me access to this whole part of myself that I felt was staying very quiet,” Mark said. “Now the essays, in terms of being creative nonfiction, feel even more revealing. Strangely enough, I felt safest behind my poetry, and the stories exposed me in one way, and now the essays are exposing me in other ways.”