By Jami Makan
A poet who was raised in Blaine and had a difficult childhood plans to share her inspirational message with local youths this Saturday.
Sara Sutton, 30, grew up in Blaine amidst drug addiction and abuse. She is the only one of a family of six who has not become addicted to opioids. Instead of letting sadness and despair consume her life, she decided to channel her emotions into poetry. Inspired by the poets Rumi and Mary Oliver, she recently self-published her first book of poetry, Of Earth and Smoke, which draws on her experiences growing up.
“In the darkest hours of my life, it has been a poem or certain poems that have helped me survive,” said Sutton. “What I’m trying to show others, especially those who come from broken families, is that it really helps to be creative, find those things that you love in life, really hold on to those things and let them hold you up above all the negativity that is trying to bring you down.”
Sutton will be speaking at a special Teen Nite event on Saturday, April 13 at 6 p.m. Sponsored by the Healthy Youth Coalition, the event will be a chance for local youths to hear her story and learn about the dangers of drug use and opioids.
When Sutton was in the third grade, her father was deported for selling drugs. “We’ve barely ever seen him since,” said Sutton. “He is still alive but still using heroin.” The rest of her family temporarily moved to Abbotsford where her mother started using opioids. When she was in the fourth grade, Sutton and her siblings went into foster care, while her mother went to rehab and got clean. “We’re lucky we got placed with a good family,” said Sutton. “It was incredibly beneficial to go live with them, so that our parents had the chance to go get clean. They were wonderful to us.”
After reuniting with their mother, Sutton and her siblings moved back to Blaine, where Sutton attended Blaine Middle School. Her mom’s addiction troubles continued, however. “She stayed drug-free but she did start to drink,” said Sutton. “It was a struggle for me, given her alcoholism and dating abusive boyfriends.”
As a freshman at Blaine High School, Sutton reached out to some family friends for help. “My two brothers were older, but my sister and I were still in high school, so we went to live with them,” said Sutton. “They were a drug-free family, a wonderful family, and it totally changed our lives for the better.”
During her senior year of high school, Sutton studied abroad. After graduating, she attended Western Washington University, where she studied women’s rights, social activism and law. She has been writing poetry ever since she was 13 or 14, and has always wanted to publish a book of her poetry. “The vision never manifested into a reality until just recently, when my mom died in 2017 and I was about to turn 30,” said Sutton. “I told myself I want to be published by age 30. So I got the book together and got it published.”
For her first book, Sutton decided to self-publish through Amazon. “That way you can get your book out there right away,” she said. “You can have publishers approach you and request to take you on as an author and join their publishing team, which is what I am hoping will happen.” Sutton is also exploring the possibility of hiring a literary agent, because many publishers won’t consider submissions without an agent.
Of Earth and Smoke is just a small introduction to Sutton’s poetry. She has already written two or three more books’ worth of poetry that she is waiting to release. She plans to publish her next book in 2020.
In addition to poetry, Sutton is also interested in public speaking and art. She plans to have a line of merchandise to accompany her poetry, including handmade tank tops and handbags. “My artist friend and I are carving an image out of a block and stamping it onto each shirt,” she said. “It’s going to be a special project for me.”
In addition to speaking at Saturday’s Teen Nite event, Sutton also plans to do a live poetry reading on May 25 at 7 p.m. at the Mount Baker Theatre in Bellingham. She will be signing copies of her book and will have some of her handmade tank tops for sale.
It will be another opportunity for Sutton to spread awareness about the dangers of drug use and her own experiences dealing with the country’s opioid epidemic. “When I’m going through emotional times, sadness, anger or depression, I usually open up my favorite poetry book or I do art or I write poetry because those are the things that I’m really passionate about,” she said. “When it feels like the world is crumbling, as long as I have poetry, there’s nothing I can’t get through.”