Count the Waves

Count the Waves: PoemsTHE BOOK: Count the Waves.


THE AUTHOR:  Sandra Beasley

THE EDITOR: Jill Bialosky

THE PUBLISHER: W.W. Norton …people sometimes think of Norton as a “Big 5” New-York-based publisher in a way that obscures its humble origin. The company was founded in 1923, by the husband-and-wife team of William Warder Norton and Mary Norton. Norton has been employee-owned since the early 1960s. Last time I visited their offices, people had “Hello My Name Is _____” tags stuck outside their doors, in lieu of fancy nameplates. The staff is really terrific and incredibly dedicated.

SUMMARY: Summarizing a poetry collection is tough! You want preening peacocks, rutting turtles, rebellious crane flies? Valentines from sword swallowers? Ukuleles? Puppets? James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, each at work on their respective canvasses? Miles driven? Seas crossed? Yep, we got all that and more.

Sandra BeasleyTHE BACK STORY: In the early phases, collections can gather like moss to a stone—a poem here, a poem there, ultimately spanning a decade’s worth of drafts. But then there’s that fateful moment where the stone goes rolling down the hill and the poet frantically chases after, trying to figure out what it all means. In my case, I realized that I wanted to write about the particular themes of travel, and the nuances of mature adult relationships; or, to combine the two, ‘love across long distances.’ One access point was to dialogue with The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, a real book circa 1853, in which A.C. Baldwin proposes a numeric code for pithy, epigrammatic communications by letter or telegraph. (Helen Klein Ross should be credited with drawing my attention to this peculiar volume—she edited a whole anthology of poets’ “Vade Mecum” riffs.) About twenty of my poems take one of Baldwin’s 8,000+ numbered lines as their title.

WHY THIS TITLE?“Count the Waves” is a purposeful mis-hearing of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43, that declares in its opening line, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways….” Specifically, the title poem is a sestina, “Let Me Count the Waves,” which puns on the iterative quality of the received form’s repeated end words  But that’s an overly academic gloss; another way of looking at the poem is that it’s a fiercely, unapologetically female take on what it means to be a poet in this day and age.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Poetry doesn’t have to be conspicuously difficult to comprehend in order to be artful—in fact, I often have conversations welcoming people to poetry, in part because my reading style is dramatic and designed to invite the audience in. That said, I think people are delighted when language that is so compressed, by definition, has a depth that rewards multiple re-readings. There’s a lot to dig for in these poems. Research is a major component of my drafting process, and my nerd-heart loves the texture of science and history in particular. I’m fascinated by the notion of an individual’s impact within the shared world around us. One of my favorite fan notes came from a military veteran who was initially attracted to the Vade Mecum series, but what ultimately pulled him in was the love stories; the vulnerability hiding beneath that shield of code-making.

“Beasley uses humor and surprise like a scythe, cutting to the root of a matter.”

~Elizabeth Lund, The Washington Post

“The poems are full of subtly arresting imagery, the kind that takes a beat to register…And they all reveal how deftly Beasley wields the final line. A poem’s close can tie it up or blow it apart—and Beasley almost always chooses an explosion, or at least a startling pivot. Her closing words shift speakers, realign priorities, reveal what’s at stake.”

~Camila Domonoske, Washington City Paper

“The poems here are vivid and energetic, fun and playful, strange and mysterious….One thinks of the realistic dreamscapes of Charles Simic, where we experience an alternate reality, or see our reality in startling ways.”

~Craig Beaven, Blackbird

AUTHOR PROFILE: I am the author of Count the WavesI Was the Jukebox, winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize; and Theories of Falling, winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize. Virginia-born and raised, I recently edited the anthology Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance. I am also the author of Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, a memoir of living with disability and a cultural history of food allergy. I teach poetry and nonfiction as part of the low-residency MFA program at the University of Tampa.

I’ve held guest lecturer positions at Wichita State University, Cornell College, Lenoir-Rhyne University, and the University of Mississippi, and visited multiple artist residencies. In November 2017, I represented the United States at Ideogramma’s 3rd International Poetry Festival “to the sea-girt shores of Cyprus,” and in spring 2019 I will be the John Montague International Poetry Festival at the Munster Literature Centre in Cork, Ireland. In other words, I’m on the road more often than not; but I count my home in Washington, D.C.


AUTHOR COMMENTS: With a third collection, an author can show thematic range and a firm dedication to poetry not only as an inspired art, but as a craft. My growing role as a teacher and lecturer pushes me to think deeply about what language can do, both in the individual poem and when working in series. I’m more ambitious than ever, and I want these lines to mean something fifty years from now. That said, we should never lose track of the fun in poetry—that glimmer of the sly, the wry, the perverse, the playful. We’re meant to be statesmen and the mischief-makers, simultaneously.


Here’s the first poem in the book:


At night my body discoversher secret geometries—

inner-flamingo knee hitch,

inner-flamenco arm arch,

Hermes’ diagonal of flight

across the mattress.

The sleeping body is selfish.

The sleeping body cannot lie.

Once there was the man

from whom I always woke

huddled at the bed’s edge.

Then there was a man who

laid his lust as a doorknocker

at the small of my back.

The first time I laid down

with you—sweat-stuck,

each onioned in the skin

of the other—I assumed

the unconscious hours

would peel us free. Yet

when sun cracked its eye

over the horizon, we were as

we’d been. And the pink of me

cocked her head, listening.

[[Courtesy of the author.]]

Washington, DC, has a remarkable community of independent bookstores. Politics & Prose is particularly consistent in stocking my books, which I deeply appreciate; I lead classes for them. Kramerbooks, Upshur Street Books, Solid State Books, and East City Bookshop have also supported me for readings and other events.

My books are available at wonderful independents that ship nationally—Square Books, Powell’s Books—as well as, and Barnes & Noble.

PRICE: $15.95 (paperback edition),CONTACT THE AUTHOR:Folks are absolutely welcome to contact me! I have online presences via my website (, my blog “Chicks Dig Poetry” (, Facebook (, and Twitter ( Emailing me at my email address—which you’ll find on the website—works just fine, too.

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Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

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