By Jessica Johnson
Amber Coverdale Sumrall was originally introduced to me over a decade ago through a friend whose mother had been attending Amber’s writer’s workshops for years. Knowing I wanted to develop my writing and begin to share it, she suggested I check out Amber. This was a pivotal point in my writing journey.
Not only is Amber an incredible poet, she is also a gifted teacher and guide and has a knack for gathering the most incredible writers into a space where magic is practically guaranteed. If it weren’t for Amber Coverdale Sumrall, I would not have grown nearly as much as a poet or as a woman.
I cannot underestimate the influence she has had on me — and continues to have. I know I am not the only one who feels this way about her, as she has been a long-time supporter and nurturer of the local writing community through her co-production of the long-running Celebration of the Muse, among other events.
I hope you enjoy learning more about her.
How long have you lived in SC? What brought you here?
I came in 1970 for the first time because I had to get out of L.A. and I knew I wanted to go north and explore. I was with my boyfriend at the time, who had just graduated from UCLA Law School. We renovated my Volkswagen van and took off to explore.
We were going to go all the way up the coast, through Canada and down the other side with our three cats. We got to Santa Cruz and I just fell in love. Santa Cruz was a place that felt like community, like a wonderful, wild, free place to discover.
When did you write your first poem?
I actually wrote my first poem up here. It felt so good — the process of creating through words. It felt like this was a practice I wanted to keep. It wasn’t writing the poem per se, it was the process. Sitting, letting things flow in, capturing them, and then working with them.
Who has influenced your creative life?
I had one teacher in high school, Mother St. Agnes, who told me I was a writer my junior year. She said, “You have a gift with words, you are a writer.” And I thought, “Uh yeah, right,” because I didn’t feel like a writer at all. I just did my assignments. But she said — check into that, go there, consider that.
Maude Meehan was also a tremendous influence. I took her workshops and loved her dearly; she became a very dear friend. She was a wonderful teacher.
When did you first refer to yourself as a poet?
Other people started calling me a poet. Maude, I think, was one of the first. She was very no nonsense about it, “You are a poet.”
Are there other creatives in your family?
My grandfather was the editor and my uncle was the sports editor of the L.A. Times in the 50s.
Do you have a writing routine?
No. I do not have a writing routine. At this point, something comes in and I want to work with it, so I don’t have a routine. I’m not writing as much as I used to write. My writing retreats are when I write the most…I think what’s hard for most of us is finding the time, uninterrupted time, to sit with something and let it simmer.
Do you have dry spells? What do you do when you have them?
Well, I just have them, and don’t worry about it. I trust that poetry has been around so long in my life, I don’t think it’s going anywhere.
What are you working on now?
My third book of poems is coming out next year , and everything that will go in the book needs to be looked for revision purposes.
What do you do when you are not writing?
I work in the garden. I’m filling bird feeders. I’m making food. I’m meeting friends. Reading. Working on a retreat. Trying to get through email, all that stuff of life. A lot of daydreaming. Daydreaming is a way to check in with what is beneath the busy-ness.
Do ideas come to you in a flash or do they percolate?
Both. I can have a flash – the poem I am working on now was a flash that came through, just one line. Other poems take a while and I have more of a cognizance of the whole poem, the shape of it, but of course then comes the work. They are always a surprise.
What never fails to inspire you?
Nature. I do what is called “forest bathing.” It’s Shinrin-yoku, an ancient Japanese art. I walk in the forest as often as I can and there are many benefits for me – inspiration, calming and being with the beautiful redwoods. That is where my inspiration always comes from.
What is the most surprising thing about your creative life?
That it took. That it stayed with me. I can move around, go hither, thither, and yon, but poetry has never left me. I always go back to it. It really is a spiritual practice.
What is the best advice you have ever been given about being a poet?
Keep writing. You are unique and you have something to say and your viewpoint is different that anyone else’s.
What is the biggest myth about creativity?
That you have to be born with talent. Everyone has talent and creativity is about how we live our lives. Every moment is an opportunity to live it creatively or blindly and that’s what creativity is. It is a myth that we are not all innately creative.
Is there any advice you would give to someone who says they are not creative?
Find something you love to do and do it. Whether it’s gardening, whether it’s feeding the birds, whether it’s going for a walk in the forest – it’s all creative. What’s calling to you from inside? Spend time with yourself alone so you can listen to those voices. We are all sparks of the divine. All of us. I really believe that.
Learn more about Amber’s writing and retreats at www.ambersumrall.com.
Raised in Aptos, Jessica Johnson is a freelance writer and blogger dedicated to inspiring others to live brave, creative lives. Learn more at www.jessicajanisjohnson.com. Email your questions, comments and creative suggestions to her at email@example.com.