A Conversation with Perugia’s Intern
Sam Brown is completing a summer internship at Perugia Press, sponsored by the Praxis Program at Smith College. This is the second summer internship that Perugia has been able to offer, as a partnership between Perugia Press and Smith College. Jean Blakeman, Perugia Press board member, conducted an interview with Sam about her experience as a Perugia intern and as a poet.
Q: What first brought you to poetry?
A: Around the age of twelve, I recall my mother telling me she had written poetry as a child, and I remember a particular poem she said she’d written that went something like this: “What if up were down / and black was white / what if the sky was the sea / and wrong was right?”
I have been a songwriter since I can remember, so I tried to replicate it into a song at the time – but instead it ended up sparking a deep interest in poetry writing, so I joined the poetry club at school.
Q: How did you first encounter Perugia Press?
A: I was introduced to Perugia Press by Matt Donovan, director of The Boutelle-Day Poetry Center at Smith College. I met Matt when I took Reading Contemporary Poetry with him during my first semester at Smith. The course reignited my love of poetry, and by the end of my second semester I had decided on the poetry concentration. As part of that, I was lucky enough to be put in touch with Perugia through Matt to fulfill part of my concentration’s requirement. I feel very lucky that this internship is a “requirement!”
Q: What have you been involved with so far at the press?
A: From creating a stockpile of posts for social media to researching emerging BIWOC poets to reading manuscript submissions, I have worked on a wonderful variety of projects. I am currently working on grant research and creating new classroom companions for Guide to the Exhibit and Grayling.
Q: What are some things that stay with you from the books you’ve been working with?
A: Most recently I re-read parts of Guide to the Exhibit, which beautifully constructs the feeling of loss and death through animals and nature. In the poem “Parkinson’s Disease, Late Stage Ghazal” the line “Now I search your shelf for a field guide to sorrow” sat with me for a few days. If only grief had a field guide! But perhaps poetry is our way of creating one. The title also taught me what “ghazal” means, and I always love deepening my understanding of language and poetic forms.
Q: Other than being Perugia’s intern, tell us a bit about yourself.
A: I am an Ada Comstock Scholar at Smith College in my third semester after transferring from LaGuardia Community College in Queens, NY. I’m a singer/songwriter/entertainer and have been gigging around NYC for about 18 years. I have a background in theater and comedy as well. I am a psychology major with plans to become a clinical psychologist, and I’m an English minor because I love words.
Q: Perugia’s work centers on highlighting the work of women writers. Do you see a connection between the mission of the press and that of Smith College, where you are a student?
A: Absolutely! Being an older millennial, I grew up as the world was deepening its understanding of sexism and awakening to the idea of intersectionality. Clearly there is more work to be done, but places like Smith and presses like Perugia often lead the way, as academia and the arts tend to. By the time I arrived in Northampton, I was starving for an education in what women have contributed to our world, particularly women of color.
Q: How do you see poetry fitting into your life as you move forward?
A: I am a writer before anything else, and poetry is more a compulsion than it is an effort (editing is another story). I hope to have my work published, and to use my voice to shed light on the harder things in life, the questions that don’t have clear answers, and something like hope. It is both a gift I give myself, and one I wish to give to others. And in my songwriting, I strive to write lyrics that could be poems. For me, poetry is everywhere, in the language and ways in which I express myself, and in every observation of the people and places that surround me.
Editor’s note: It’s been such a pleasure to work with Sam Brown this summer. With COVID-19 necessitating internships be conducted remotely again this summer for Smith College, a great match was made between Smith, Sam, and Perugia Press! Thanks to Jean Blakeman for conducting this interview, to Smith for funding the internship through Praxis, to Matt Donovan for sending Sam our way, and to Sam for your creative, diligent, and careful work this summer.