Fierce Friday: Sarah Cooper

poet and Crossfit box owner Sarah Cooper

poet and Crossfit box owner Sarah Cooper

"In the words of Audre Lorde, “Every woman I have ever loved has left her print upon me…” Choosing one woman to speak of is a challenge but it would have to be my mother. " Sarah Cooper

When I first met Sarah Cooper, I had forgotten how good it felt to be strong in my body. Sarah reminded me of the satisfaction I used to get from pushing myself to be stronger, and she reminded me that my body does not exist for other people. Strong is beautiful.

Out of all of your accomplishments, what are you most proud of and why?

There isn’t one milestone that I am most proud of.  However, something that I am grateful for is that I don’t fear change.  There have been a handful of times in life where I have felt stuck or compromised and instead of staying in those situations I’ve changed them.  That being stated changing situations has often led to success I wouldn’t have otherwise: earning my MFA, adopting a stray cat, learning a new sport to be a division I athlete, going to the Women’s March on Washington or opening a small business.

What are you currently working on? How long have you been working on it? How did you become interested in it/ where did you get the idea for it? 

Currently, I am working on my fitness.  I’ve been doing CrossFit for almost five years now and within that sport there is always room for many improvements.  Specifically, I am working on my snatch.

As far as writing goes I am working on three different poetry chapbook manuscripts.  One, Permanent Marker, is close to being finished.  The other two (titles not yet established) are in the revisionary and arrangement phases.  One is about queerness and the sense of being queer one has living in a southern space.  The other manuscript is about my mom and the evolution of our relationship the past few years.

Activism is now part of my daily routine.  I am striving to stay informed, to make meaningful connections with people who share common interests and to engage in conversations that challenge me personally and politically.  Activism is different for everyone.  I am choosing to attend rallies (as a body, a participant or a speaker), make phone calls, teach meaningful works that insight conversation for my students and co-facilitate a book club called “Feminist Friday.”

What issue are you currently most passionate about? What is the one thing you would like people to know or understand about this issue?

EVERYTHING.  But seriously, the environment, access to healthcare, government funding (or lack-there-of) of programs, LGBTQIA rights, pervasive ableism, media representations, immigrant rights, gender equity, refugee rights, funding for academia…in short: the future. 

Honestly, fixing one of the aforementioned items won’t resolve multiple issues.  As a country we have to be better.  We have to be more accurately informed about policies, about whom we are electing, about our already elected officials.  We have to be vocal, we have to write postcards, make phone calls, rally and create communities that foster activism. 

What book or film with a female protagonist would you recommend and why? What female author’s work would you recommend and why?

At this moment I’d recommend everyone read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I’ve taught this novel in my literature classes and will be teaching it this semester as well.  This text is a dystopian novel set in the wake of a political climate what is regressing socially.  (Sound familiar???)  Additionally, I’d recommend Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work Herland.  This utopian piece is useful as we attempt to move forward through the next four years.  Gilman investigates gender constructs and society through fictional characters in a way that causes one to investigate his/her own notions of ability, opportunity and place.

Name one woman who has influenced you/ had an impact on you, perhaps as a mentor. Why and how did she impact your life? 

In the words of Audre Lorde, “Every woman I have ever loved has left her print upon me…” Choosing one woman to speak of is a challenge but it would have to be my mother.  That seems like an easy answer but the details of the answer are compelling.  She has impacted me most because our relationship has spiraled into a beautiful life together.  As a young child she was present, fun, encouraging and most importantly never told me I was a girl in a limiting way.  It wasn’t until grade school that I heard that phrase.  As a teenager she listened, respected distance and continued to love my choices, my process of becoming a woman.  Now as an adult she continues to be a force in my life.  The past three years she has been battling cancer.  Some days she does this with grace, others with humor and always with pain.  This battle has made her more formidable to me it has also given us new spaces to love in, to be in with one another.  There are so many reasons why my mom is the best answer to this question but to keep it short I’ll just share this poem:

22 Truths or Advice from the Matriarch

  1. If you are cooking without wine you’re wasting your time. 
  2. Some people aren’t meant to have children and some are smart enough to know that.
  3. Being gay or lesbian or queer is not a choice but committing to the wrong person is.
  4. If you drink three cups of yerba mate tea before hitting the cocktails you’re always better off.
  5. Re-gifting is a gift.
  6. Camping, dancing on bars and skinny-dipping are always fun, but do so when you’re young; when you’re old the recovery is hell.
  7. You are too strong to be told who you are so don’t listen to anyone, but me, because I’m not just anyone.
  8. Putting me in a nursing home will only ensure the rest of your life to be haunted by a post-menopausal ghost.
  9. If you don’t have anything nice to say, write it down. 
  10. Your Dad’s family is special, so treat them as such, special people who should be caged, studied and documented but never set free.      
  11. If you have a cat you will always have standards.
  12. I’m always proud of you so remember that when you think about making a fool of my words.
  13. Everything is temporary, except red wine stains, tattoos and stretch marks.
  14. Remember where you came from because it’s where I will always be with a warm fire, my knitting needles, an open ear and a bottle of Patron.
  15. If anyone asks you where you’re from tell them nowhere they’ve been; it will keep them wondering and keep you safe.
  16. I gave birth to you, hours of physical pain with nothing to medicate me, not even an Aleve, so remember pain is always relative.
  17. A good friend will help you pull you through any situation.  Well, maybe not you, you’re so tall, but your flexible and that will always come in handy.  
  18. Never read someone’s phone or mail unless you have a valid reason, like curiosity.
  19. Making bets with me is a bad idea—me losing means you losing.
  20. You have so much to offer but don’t show all your cards at once; the rules of dating and gambling are interchangeable.
  21. Don’t do anything to your body that gravity will impact.
  22. I was born to have you and you were born to listen to my advice.

Sarah Cooper earned her MA from Purdue University and MFA from Converse College. She is a former Poetry Editor at South 85 Review and current Assistant Editor of Poetry at The South Carolina Review. Sarah teaches at Clemson University and is an owner of Tiger Town CrossFit.