Profiling Sarah Aronson 

By Emma Neslund

The first time I saw Sarah Aronson, she was holding a 12-gauge shotgun.

This was, actually, in-line with the image I already had of her. We had never met, but we were connected the moment I landed in Missoula. My first human contact, my Uber driver, raved about her. And then my first Missoulan phlebotomist, needle in hand, “You gotta meet her!”

Everyone I met was telling me about this Sarah Aronson. Also from Alaska, also a poet, also a baker. It was like entering high school in the shadow of an older sibling who had conquered the halls and graduated, a real stud with— to raise the bar even higher— her own radio talk show! High-shooting competition. I already looked up to her, and, though I knew her blood type, I didn’t even know what color hair she had. 

But, seeing her there, pumping shells out of that gun and reloading the thing, I just wanted her to be my friend. I had only ever shot nerf guns and was wide-eyed and open-armed. “Hey! Sis! How do you hold that thing? Hey, do you fly fish too? (Of course she does.) Will you take me?

Sarah— intense, playful, compassionate and badass— reminds me of home. Her favorite piece of clothing is this fake black leather jacket she got ten years ago. She actually bought two of them and hasn’t even broken into the second yet. I understand the instinct— you never know when resources will dwindle, when a storm will delay all transit and there will be a run on milk at the only Safeway in town.

If Sarah only had one last swim, it would be in a tarn, one of those freezing mountain lakes with a view of the ocean in Southeast Alaska. If she had to commit a felony, she’d chain herself to a glacier. Her go-to gas station snack is one of those cold, hard, red-delicious apples (we Alaskans aren’t snobby when it comes to produce) paired with string cheese. Sarah is the kind of person who doesn’t like it when people forget to push their chairs in. That’s rude. She doesn’t like that entitled sh*t. 

And, like I said, Sarah bakes. She is most proud of having crafted a croque-en-bouche French pastry cream-puff tower. But her favorite, go-to baked good is caramel apple pie. At the first MFA barbeque I went to, the crowd formed around this delightful green, Matcha Tea Cake. Yep. Sarah.

Sarah describes poetry as her first language, a bizarre medium that allows intimacy as well as distance. No one can pin her down. She was inspired to begin writing by an engaged elementary school teacher. Fluency came afterwards, nourished by life’s bumps. Though most at ease in poetry, nonfiction is Sarah’s more satisfying medium. Hence, her MFA a year ago in Poetry and Nonfiction.

Sarah took a trip to Juneau, Alaska last summer to research her current project, a nonfiction book about a glacier around which her childhood orbited. She compared it to Missoula’s mountainside M. Friends, family, church, education: her whole life grew around this glacier, which has now receded over a mile and a half. In the rain (because it rained the whole time she was home), Sarah touched the glacier for the first time in her life. You’ll have to read the book to find out why.

Contrasting her trip home, Sarah recently traveled into the Craters of the Moon desert. She saw my face contort when she said the word, ‘desert’—you see, desert is death for Alaskans. “I know, I know,” she said, “I had to train for it.” But she had to do it. “The desert landscape allows the eyes and heart a rest,” she quoted. Sarah Aronson bleeds back to her roots while punching forward, shooting on.

Sarah Aronson writes poetry and nonfiction from Missoula, MT. Her work can be found in the High Desert Journal, Yemassee, and the Big Sky Journal among others. She is also the host and producer of the Montana Public Radio literary program, The Write Question. Sarah Aronson is the recipient of the 2018 New American Poetry Prize for her collection, And Other Bodiless Powers

Emma Neslund is a second-year in the Poetry MFA at the University of Montana.