Walking Into Lightning

Ellen LeFleche

In the aftermath of her beloved husband’s death from ALS, author Ellen LaFleche took up her pen to create Walking Into Lightning, a collection of poetry which emphasizes the sensual and physical losses of widowhood and challenges our current notions of grief. Her interview is a delight to include in our line-up.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: In recent years, I’ve had several friends whose spouses have succumbed to MS, ALS, cancer and a myriad of other devastating illnesses. In every case, they’ve grappled with whether it would have been a blessing to have no time to prepare for such loss—for instance, an accident—versus having too much time and feeling powerless to slow things down. What is your own take on this?

A: That’s a hard question. Sudden deaths often happen because of a drunk driver or shooter, or perhaps suicide or drug addiction, so there must be a lot of anger or guilt in those left behind. My husband was remarkably calm about his fatal diagnosis of ALS. He’d worked for decades with senior citizens as a gerontologist, so he’d dealt with loss and death his entire career, and was for a time on the board of our local hospice. After the diagnosis, we did what I call pre-grieving: lots of talking, planning, and trying to enjoy simple pleasures like watching a baseball game or visiting our newborn grandson. Slow deaths are very hard on the caretakers. And while such a death is hard to accept, there may be some relief that the suffering is over.  I tried to honor my relief by not feeling guilty about it, and integrating it into the loss.  Processing anger after losing a loved one to accident or violence would be much, much harder for many people.

Q: Did the inspiration to express yourself through poetry come while your husband was still alive or was this after you became a widow?

A: I came to poetry many years before John got sick.  When he was in the hospital weeks before coming home to hospice care, I didn’t have the time or desire to write, but I used my cell phone to email myself an idea or image related to what was happening.  For example, the IV bag looked like a “goblin’s bobbing head” to me, and that line eventually made its way into a poem. Taking a few moments every day to engage with poetry was a way of calming myself; I knew I would want to tell our story as a way to help others who are grieving.

Q: Tell us about your writing journey prior to the development of Walking Into Lightning.

A: I always wanted to write.  I think it was just a natural instinct for me.  When I was six years old I wrote a story called “The Sneezing Apron.”  Imagine a page of lined paper with first-grade printing and a story about an apron that was allergic to pepper!  My grandfather kept it in his wallet for years.  I think it eventually fell apart, but that simple act was pivotal to me — the idea that someone could deeply appreciate what I had to say!  I had many teachers who encouraged me to write. Before Walking into Lightning, I had three poetry chapbooks published and was honored by winning several prestige prizes.

Q: Early in your career, you worked as a local reporter. How did that influence your growth and organizational skills as a writer?

A: Working as a reporter was great training. I learned how to write for specific audiences, how to appreciate editing as well as criticism and praise from readers, how to organize my thoughts as I was driving back to the office from a meeting I covered, how to view events critically, etc. I worked at a local weekly newspaper and especially loved writing feature articles where I could include descriptions and imagery.

Q: One typically doesn’t think of science (biology) and poetry in the same sentence and yet this was the case for you. How so?

A: I majored in biology (long story), and while I never worked as a scientist, it was wonderful preparation for creative writing. I’m very interested in writing about the body, for example, and biology provides imagery and details that might otherwise not occur to me. For example, in Walking into Lightning, I describe conception as happening under “the fallopian orchard,” an image that occurred to me many years ago while studying the textbook for a class on reproduction.

The scientific method was also great training for professional journalism and essay writing, a way to organize an article as a “hypothesis” and the steps to proving (or disproving!) what I want to say. Sometime, disproving my own ideas, while frustrating, is the best thing that can happen!

Q: How important is to you to incorporate your working class background into your wordsmithing?

A: My working class background is central to my writing. My parents worked for many years in textile mills. My dad would come home with his clothes stained in rainbow colors from synthetic dyes. The smell of the fumes was terrible. He later developed bladder cancer, which is strongly linked to working with dyes.  That was a great sorrow for us, and I felt a lot of anger, which is an emotion I rarely feel.

My first chapbook, Workers’ Rites, is a series of narrative poems about the lives of workers: a gravedigger, waitress, cloistered nun, ballet dancer, dowser, etc.  We need to honor all workers and their jobs, especially jobs that involve low pay and direct services to people.

Q: There’s no shortage of self-help books on the market about dealing with grief and I’m sure you must have read a number of them. How did these texts help shape some of the major themes you’ve explored in Walking into Lightning?

A: I read a lot of self-help books about grief and had many mixed reactions. It was helpful to know that other people have gone through similar pain. It was also helpful to get tips on finances, etc.  Several things bothered me immensely, though. Most books don’t acknowledge the sensual and physical losses that come with losing a partner. The solution offered was a series of tips on how to start dating again. Most books reiterated current clinical theories that grief lasting more than six months is “complicated grief” that might require therapy. I understand this – some people fall into deep depression, for example, or cannot function at their jobs – and can benefit greatly from professional help. But the word complicated? All grief is complicated.  There are so many individual factors, and six months is not realistic for a major loss. We need to take our own good time with grief.

Most books focused on the loss of one beloved person. But many family deaths are multiple – think bus accidents, house fires, acts of war, mass shootings, etc. My dad died a month before my husband, and my only sibling died three weeks after. Talk about complicated grief! There was a synergistic effect that rippled through my entire family.  I wanted Walking into Lightning to show that grief is supposed to be complicated. I also wanted to fill a gap by including sensual details of a marriage.

Q: Great title, by the way! What inspired it?

A: John was a Midwesterner who loved storms. We met and married in western Massachusetts, and on the very rare occasion when we had a tornado warning, he’d go outside to admire the green tint of the sky! I’d scream at him to follow my daughter and me into the cellar. But thunderstorms were his specialty!  He’d stand on the porch and admire the lightning as it got closer and closer. This drove me crazy, oh yes!  The title poem is about scattering his ashes into a thunderstorm.  I didn’t literally do that; the poem is an extended metaphor about surrendering his cremains into a place that he loved.  When my six-year-old grandson saw the book title for the first time he said, “But Mémère, you’re not supposed to do that.”  So my grandson and I talked a little bit about what a metaphor is, and that, of course, nobody should ever walk through lightning carrying a metal urn in their hands!

Q: In novels and plays, one either comes up with a plot and then peoples it or develops characters and identifies conflicts which will challenge them. A poem, of course, is a completely different platform. What comes first for the poet?

A: It’s different for every poet. I am very interested in using imagery. My process usually starts with an image around which I can explore an idea.  For example, a few months after John died, I was walking into town on an errand. It was the morning after Halloween, and I saw a crumpled white sheet in the gutter. I assumed it was an abandoned ghost costume, and that raised all kinds of interesting thoughts and images. This resulted in a lyric poem about the workings of memory titled “I remember our first Halloween together.”

Q: One of the unexpected elements of the book is the inclusion of poems about the sensual and physical losses of widowhood. What governed this choice for you?

A: I wanted to acknowledge the physical losses of widowhood because most self-help books ignore this reality.  Physical loss adds a dimension to grief that many people might not feel comfortable talking about, even to a therapist.  After my recent book launch, I received a card in the mail from someone who was in the audience and felt great relief that this aspect of grief was honored.

Q: What were some of the challenges in writing personal poems about marital intimacy while honoring the feelings of family members who knew your husband?

A: This was the great challenge in writing the book.  I had to think deeply about what should remain private and what could be shared as a way of honoring what was lost. I relied heavily on metaphor and beautiful images rather than explicit details:  definitely not porn and at a level below erotica.  If the book were a movie, it would have a rating somewhere between PG and R. This challenge of what to include and how to write about it came from a deep appreciation of our marital privacy and my goal of helping other grievers to know that it’s okay to talk about physical loss.  I also thought about loved ones who knew John and told several relatives that is was ok if they didn’t read the book.

Q: How did writing this book help you to heal from losing your spouse to ALS?

A: Every person needs a container for their grief. It could be volunteering, making art, traveling, gardening, etc.  Writing was my container, a safe, enclosed place where I could figure out my feelings. I wanted to write poems that offered grieving people the solace of being understood. My therapist said that true grieving requires understanding the lost relationship in all its dimensions, good as well as bad. Writing these poems helped me to do that.  Because the loss of my husband was bracketed by the loss of my dad and my only sibling, I was overwhelmed not only with sorrow but with endless tasks to take care of and other people to comfort.  All of this during one of the coldest, snowiest winter in memory. I didn’t go through the traditional bouts of deep weeping that many people experience.  I hardly ever cried that winter; I was locked in a state of numbness. Writing the poems served as a kind of metaphorical weeping. In fact, there is poem in the book titled “Prayer for Weeping.”

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher who would not only be the best match but also a supportive and sensitive partner to the material you wanted to share?

A: Several of the poems in the book won prestigious prizes, and initially I was very optimistic about finding a publisher or winning a contest that included publication. I came close a few times but didn’t quite make it.  It took two years to find Saddle Road Press.  A friend cyber-introduced me to Don Mitchell and Ruth Thompson. I couldn’t have asked for a better publishing experience.  Don provided amazing design options. He took the sumptuous photograph that appears on the cover. Ruth served as a perceptive and gentle editor. I was going through an unexpected health crisis at the time the book was accepted, and working with Ruth and Don helped me to cope with physical discomfort.  We emailed almost every day during the process and shared life events that were happening and interesting stories about our daily lives. It was the perfect blend of hard work and human connection.  I couldn’t recommend them more highly.

Q: What advice would I give to creative writers who want to explore grief and loss? 

A: Don’t worry about following current theories about grief. Challenge ideas that don’t resonate with your personal and cultural experiences of grief.  Make sure to give yourself the time and space to write. This is the most important part, allowing yourself the space to write. Be comforted. Be held. Know you are not alone.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m trying to organize another collection of poems.  It’s a challenge at the moment because these poems are not thematically related and do not follow a narrative arc like Walking into Lightning; I’m not sure where this project will take me.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Thank you so much. I appreciate everyone who has read these comments.  And I’d like to thank all my wonderful friends and neighbors who kept me fed, nurtured, and held during my winter of loss.

 

 

 

 

 

Bright Pink Ink

BrightPinkInk1.2.jpg

“Poetry,” wrote John Keats, “should surprise by a fine excess and not by singularity. It should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts and appear almost a remembrance.” In her new collection of poetry, Bright Pink Ink, Laura DiNovis Berry embraces this very idea of connectivity and relatability by penning poetic reflections that celebrate the pitfalls and joys of simply being alive through odes to rugby, ruminations on being a military spouse and falling in love.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and when you first knew this was what you wanted to do for a living.

A: I think I truly invested my time into writing once I ran out of new books to read in the little library of the elementary school I attended. I later went to West Chester University of Pennsylvania as an English Composition major, but it was only in my junior year that I rediscovered my adoration of poetry.

Q: Are there any other writers in your family?

A: Yes! My oldest sister, Christine Leonard, is also a published writer; she wrote an adorable children’s book, “Zebra Beeba,” a few years ago and is now working on a suspenseful Young Adult piece.

Q: Do you remember the first thing you ever had published?

A: If I remember correctly it was a poem I wrote when I was about eight years old or so. It was called “Sleepy Head” and encouraged laziness to the tenth degree. I think it was published in a collection called Young Poets of America – something to that effect anyway.

Q: Who are some of the authors and poets that had an influence on your writing style and your view of the world?

A: When I was young, the fantasy greats J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, held me in their thrall. Once I reached high school, John Updike was one the first writers who truly impacted how I approached my own work. His romanticism of the mundane struck a chord with me.

Q: Teachers often discourage poetry as a viable avenue for building a writing career. Agree or disagree?

A: It is extremely hard to make a living from simply producing a book of poetry. In addition to crafting poetry, I write book reviews which not only act as a form of income but serve as a platform for modern poets struggling to bring their work to the public’s attention.

Q: Did you choose poetry or did poetry choose you?

A: Poetry chose me. I only began writing verse when I felt teenage hormones first sink their hooks into me. In an attempt to translate how I was feeling, I started writing poetry. It served as a conduit for emotions I didn’t understand or quite knew how to express.

Q: Favorite poem by a famous author?

A: “Marriage Year 43” by Betsey Cullen. Cullen isn’t famous yet but she should be. Her chapbook, Our Place in Line, is an utter joy to read.

Q: What is it about this form of expression that particularly resonates with you?

A: It is fluid. Poetry does not want to become contained, and if you, the poet, find yourself trapped mentally then no good poetry can come of your efforts. Writing a good poem is like finding a four leaf clover. The harder you look, the harder it is to find.

Q: Describe what a typical writing day is like for you.

A: I’ll be honest – I don’t have a set writing schedule or a typical formula I follow; however, I have found my most productive writing sessions occur while I am flying. There is nothing else to do except sit and write and so, I sit and I write.

Q: Do you let anyone read your works in progress or do you make them wait until you’re finished?

A: I am a big believer in letting people view my work before I bring it to its completion. Different eyes can find treasures in a piece that the original poet couldn’t even have dreamed existed!

Q: You chose self-publishing rather than going the traditional route. What did you learn from the DIY experience that you didn’t know when you started?

A: I learned how to create a book cover which resulted in a fun (at times frustrating) little series of experiments!

Q: What are you doing to promote your work?

A: I am seeking out anyone willing to talk to me and was very happy to see my local library purchased a copy of my book! I’ve also sent free copies to some souls willing to read and review my work.

Q: Best advice to aspiring poets?

A: First, edit. Next, allow a friendly, but discerning, editor to survey your piece. Then edit and edit again.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A:  I have two works in progress currently. One is a memoir about achieving my lifelong dream of owning a dog, and the second is a poetry collection dedicated to those fascinating animals.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: I am on twitter @rightoffthevine and my book reviews can be read on Vocal.Media at https://vocal.media/authors/laura-dinovis-berry

 

 

Places and Times

 

ATurfa cover art

“Poetry,” wrote Robert Frost, “is what gets lost in translation.” For a lot of today’s adolescents – and no shortage of adults as well – the chance to go beneath the surface and explore a poem’s meaning is so often dismissed because, frankly, other forms of expression seem like much less work. A case in point is my nephew Eugene who balked throughout his public education that there weren’t any or enough words that rhymed with the actual words he wanted to use (i.e., pterodactyl). As an adult, the closest he allows himself to get to poetry is the greeting card aisle…and even then gravitates only to short verses with obvious rhythmic patterns. Oh, Eugene! The expressive word-pictures, philosophies and insightful turns of phrase you’re missing out on!

For the rest of us, poet Arthur Turfa’s Places and Times is a cozy invitation to step – as if through the frame of a gallery painting – into the reflective moods, passions and travel experiences that have shaped this globetrekker’s vibrant life.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

 

Q: “At home in the world” is a phrase that could easily be your personal motto. How have you been able to put that mindset in active practice in your years of traveling the globe?

A: One way is to learn something about my destination. It could be some of the language, or it might be someplace I want to see there. Having seen tourists act like tourists or tour stereotypical Ugly American, I try to connect somehow with people and places.

Q: Is there a favorite place that calls to you – either as a destination to return to or one that’s on your wish list of places you’ve yet to visit?

A: Oh yes! Berlin. I have been there primarily as a tourist, but also as a student. When there was still a Wall, I lived for a summer with German friends. My great-grandfather was a cadet at the academy in nearby Potsdam, and that plays some role I suppose. When I am there, I am rejuvenated.

Q: People who love to travel are often bitten by the wanderlust bug at an early age. Was this the case for you and, if so, how did it subsequently influence your writing style and your view of globetrekking?

A: My parents like to travel, but they stayed in the US and Canada. I liked to travel. So far I’ve bene to 41 states, Europe seven times, Asia once, Mexico once, and Canada six. The way I remember best is writing I remember a place, persons, or an event that is either historical or personal. Most of my travel to Europe was to learn German, and I immersed myself in the language, literature, and culture.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your exposure to languages other than your first one.

A: In my father’s hometown near Pittsburgh, I heard about ten Old Country languages regularly, as well as accented English. Three of my grandparents were born in Europe; my paternal grandparents still spoke Hungarian daily. Those experiences form the basis of my second book Accents. My mother taught me some French; her mother was a Walloon. The Germans in the family were all speaking English, but I learned that also. Languages came easily to me.

Q: You’ve had a number of interesting careers during your life – pastor, educator, and soldier. What have those diverse pursuits taught you about the creative, business, and discipline aspects of being a successful author?

A:  All of them have given me tons of experience, I’ll say that! The careers have taught me how to set a schedule, to make good use of time, and to keep on track. Creativity is needed in all of them, and there are some carry-overs. For example, I have used pastoral skills in the classroom, I have taught as a pastor (even in sermons), and found military skills contribute confidence and a “let’s-get-the-job-done” attitude.

Q: You’re also a moderator on Google+. What does that involve and how does it sync with your writing activities?

A: Lately it has taken me away from them except for prompts and occasional pieces. Sometimes the personalities can get in the way of poetry. But some of those pieces become part of something larger. Peppered Poets is a guild for people who want critique and to wrestle with poetry. Words on Fire is another smaller group with amazing talent. POETS is the largest but very diverse. These groups bring me into contact with different styles of poetry. I also have found some very food friends from all over the world of whom I can ask anything.

Q: Let’s talk about your passion for poetry. When was this first ignited?

A:  Of course I was exposed to poetry in school. I learned what I had to, and tolerated what I was given. However, I liked hitman. In my senior year in high school, my English teacher saw something in me. He allowed me to spend most classes in the library, reading anything I wanted to. I wrote reports and found myself loving literature. Auden’s poetry really grabbed mem, and still does. Sadly, a teacher could not do that today, unless there was Project Based Learning.

Q: What were your early poems like and how do they compare to the poetry you’re penning now?

A: The first things I wrote were lyrics for songs, heavily-influenced by what I was listening to at the time. As far as early poems, they were nature or history-based. I actually found a few undergraduate poems recently, and they were not terrible. They are on a Google+ Collection of mins. The ones I remember best though, I cannot find.

There are some similarities with current poems in terms of content and structure. But I have learned to love sonnets. Getting older has improved them, I assure you!

Q: Tell us about Places and Times and how its development came about.

A:  I had a break of about 20 years from writing poetry. During that time I wrote sermons, lesson plans, had civilian and military education happening. In my free time, I was not interesting in writing anything. A friend, Carol Worthington Levy, sent us a print from a trip she and her husband took to Italy, and that sparked something. Maybe my mind was turning to poetry again. I started writing. After my deployment to Germany I finished the dissertation, and wrote more. Cautiously, I posted a few things. Joanna Kurowska told me my poetry was good enough to publish. While I had a piece or two in a journal already, she encouraged me to produce a book-length manuscript. During the period between the years 2007-2011 I wrote a lot of poetry, mainly as a break from everything else I was doing. My life has calmed down a bit, and I had the time. She told me to contact her publisher. And Carol’s artwork graces the cover of my book.

Q: How would you describe your style as a poet?

A: People say I am a painterly type of poet. I create a scene and/or tell a story. Structure helps that a great deal. I do not like short lines, unless I am writing in a certain form. In the process of creating the scene, telling the story, I let the emotions come out subtly. I love sounds and words. Like a good painting, a reader might need to step back from one of my poems or re-read a section to appreciate it.

Q: Has anyone ever said to you, “Poetry? Why? There’s no money in it.” What’s your response to that?

A: Not exactly, but some think it is frivolous or pretentious. I will work something into a poem about them or their attitude.

Q: I feel fortunate to have grown up at a time when reading and writing poetry were part of the English curriculum. Sadly, though, the exposure so many young people get to this form of creative expression is either through nursery rhymes (which suggest a poem isn’t a poem unless it’s a la-dee-da rhythm) or epic tomes like Beowulf (which are cumbersome and impossible for most to understand). As an educator, what do you feel can/should be done to make the study of poetry more fun and approachable and, accordingly, something students might voluntarily seek out as enjoyable reads when they’re adults?

A: Students need to be exposed to the classics; there is no question about that. But there are creative ways to do that. There is a lot of good contemporary poetry out there, but some parents object to language and theme (but they watch/read/listen to worse). Students need to try their hand at writing something of their own.

That being said, most English Departments debate over what and how much to read. Some song lyrics would be good to stimulate interest.

Q: Who are some of the poets and writers whose work you especially admire and/or draw from for inspiration?

A: Among the better-known ones are Auden, Eliot, Whitman, Hopkins, Rilke, Goethe, Plath, Bukowski. Among those from my Google+ communities my mentor, Joanna Kurowska, Denise Baxter Yoder, Jose Coelho and Martha Magenta,  Locally, Ed Madden and  Ray McManus,

Q: What sorts of things do you pick up on that eventually appear in your writing?

A: Really all kinds of things. These range from a glimpse as I drive or have more time to linger outdoors, a piece of music, people I know, situations involving them and/or myself. I also pick up some themes from other writers.

Q: What other types of writing do you do?

A: I do have a YA draft in process. Additionally I still do sermons, an article for a professional publication. The dissertation took some time but was interesting. And lesson plans!

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: Right now I am editing a manuscript for a second book of poetry, tentatively entitled Accents. I am also submitting to journals, both print and on-line.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: That I am an avid baseball fan, especially of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Q: Where can readers learn more about your work?

A: https://www.facebook.com/Arthur-Turfa-Poems-of-Times-and-Places-Reflected-293732337470677/

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4616169.Arthur_Turfa

http://www.amazon.com/Arthur-Turfa/e/B00YJ9LNOA/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1468187274&sr=8-1

https://plus.google.com/u/0/collections

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A:  Thanks for the perceptive questions and the opportunity to answer them!

 

 

 

Another Autumn

Yvonne Higgins Leach

Was there ever a more dreaded phrase heard in a classroom than “Let’s read a poem,” “Let’s interpret what this poem meant,” or “Let’s write a poem”? One can’t help but wonder how many careers of aspiring young poets were nipped in the bud by teachers who simply went about teaching it in all the wrong ways and made their pupils eschew this form of expression for the rest of their lives! Fortunately, Yvonne Higgins Leach was not one of those students scared off by the depth of what poetry has to say. We’re pleased to put Yvonne in the spotlight to talk about her debut collection, Another Autumn.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: Tell us about your journey as a writer and, especially, what fueled your enthusiasm to express your feelings through poetry?

A: I started writing poetry in sixth grade. My sister Michelle was about six years older than me and she was writing poetry. She introduced me to the art form, and more than anything, she instilled in me that I could write and that poetry was a gift to anyone who wanted to give it to the world. I went to a Catholic school and every day we’d say the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. After starting to write poems, I approached my teacher and asked her if I could read one of my poems instead of having the class say a prayer (that’s asking a lot when you think about it!) and she agreed.

From there, I got involved in my high school literary magazine. I had a teacher – Mark Arnold – who was influential at such a critical time in my life. He did after-school workshops and even a mini-course where we went to the Oregon Coast for a week with about six other students. In college, I got a degree in English, took as many creative writing classes as I could, and met another mentor and talented writer, Alex Kuo. Alex was more than a teacher, and I vouch for all my co-student friends when I say that. He took each of us under his wing, advised us constantly, read our work carefully and gave honest feedback. We’d do things outside of class too. He’d have us over to his house and we’d go camping. Having a sense of community around poetry was phenomenal. Those were great years.

My MFA came later (from Eastern Washington University) after I was in the workforce for several years. You know, you go to graduate school and you get a degree in Creative Writing Poetry and you make these goals for yourself: mine was that I’d have my first collection of poems published by the time I was 30. Well, my reality at 30 was that I was going through a divorce, raising a daughter, and had started working for a Fortune 100 company. A short three years later, I was in a new relationship and raising two daughters. I did well at my job and was recognized for it, so they kept giving me harder, more challenging assignments and more responsibility. I took on each one and just did my best at it and over the years I found myself an executive and leading good-sized teams and handling major PR corporate issues. The job became a 50 – 60 hour week, easy. But regardless of all that was happening in my personal and professional life, I never gave up on poetry.

Q: Many an aspiring writer has lamented, “Oh, but I just don’t have the time to write because I’m too busy raising my family, climbing the corporate ladder, cleaning the house, etc. In your own experience, you had more than a full plate to fill your waking life. What was your secret to making room for the written word?

I remember many a day at work being tired because I started a poem at 10 p.m. at night and wouldn’t finish until the wee hours. And then I would work on refining it throughout the evenings of that week. For me, it was as if I couldn’t help it. Either I had an experience that moved me to the point that my inner voice said: this has to be told, or someone tells me a story and I am so moved I said the same thing: this has to be documented. When that happened, the poem would stir in me until I could carve out time to get it on paper.

Q: Tell us more about your writing process.

A: It usually, but not always, goes like this: something strikes me…an idea, a story, an experience I had directly, and it tells me that it must be written. I then feel it is something that needs to be made separate, in and of itself, and to be shared with others. I’ll sometimes write the idea in a notebook; but often it just hangs around in my head and heart. When I actually get to the point where phrases are being written in my head or I see the structure of the poem taking place then I know it is time to write. From there, I live with the poem for days and sometimes weeks, replaying the lines, the images, in my head and I’ll tweak them, refine the poem over a period of time. I do a fair amount of this in my head.

Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works in progress or did you make them wait until you felt you had polished it to perfection?

A: I do allow people to read my work as I create it. I find that having an “early reader”, as I call them, is very helpful. He or she usually can tell me right away if something isn’t working, is a bit clunky, or unclear. Also, just recently I joined a small community of poets and we now post first drafts on a website called Inked Voices that allows us to critique each other’s work. It’s a really useful tool.

Q: What is your favorite style of poetry?

A: I have two favorite styles of poetry: free verse, especially when a poem uses regular patterns of sound and rhythm that are close to how we speak naturally and yet create an emotional experience that blows your socks off. I have always loved the elegy as well. I know it might sound strange to admire the “melancholy poem that laments its subject’s death” but what I appreciate in an elegy is by the end there is some form of consolation.

Q: Who are some of your favorite poets?

A: I’ll put them in two categories – those who have passed and those who are living.

Those who have passed: Theodore Roethke, for his largeness and realness in poetry. Raymond Carver, for his simplicity of language and expression.  The Irish poet Seamus Heaney, for his acute eye and ear and sense of storytelling in poetry.

Those who are living: some of my favorite poets are Tony Curtis, not the singer, but the Irish poet. He really knows how to capture an experience that moves you.  Edward Hirsch…I find his poetry precise, thoughtful, accessible, and his passion for poetry insatiable. He has written several wonderful books about poetry as well. W.S. Merwin, for his love of the world, both physical and spiritual. And last, Ellen Bass, for her gorgeous poetry that has a great balance between intelligence and heart.

Q: If you could sit down for lunch with any of these beloved wordsmiths, which one would it be, where would you go, and what question would you most like to ask?

A: I am of Irish heritage so I would definitely sit down with Seamus Heaney in an Irish pub in County Derry in Northern Ireland where he grew up. I would ask him to describe what he felt was the hardest thing he overcame as a writer in his lifetime.

Q: My favorite part of any interview is shining a spotlight on a book’s debut. Another Autumn is your first published work. Brava! It’s time to brag and tell us what it felt like to hold that first copy in your hands.

A: It felt surreal to be honest. I remember first feeling happy with the cover art because it represented authentically the title and so many of the poems in the book. Then I read it front to back as an actual book in my hand and that was a wonderful experience.

Q: What’s the story behind the title (and is it a teaser to future “seasonal” collections)?

A: The title comes from one of the poems in the book. I picked it because many of my poems are about the passage of time, which the seasons represent so well.

Q:  You are what I would consider a working poet. Most poets are academics and tied to a college or university. Do you have thoughts on the academic versus the working poet?

As with most things, there are advantages and disadvantages. I have two primary thoughts on this: One, I think if one is in the academic environment there is a lot of support for writing, because writing is taught there and “the structure” and peers tend to be very supportive. In the work world, often your work and your writing are very separate so you frequently have a feeling of isolation when it comes to your writing. It is easy to not feel understood. Second, I think it boils down to how a writer manages his/her time to write. I don’t think anyone can deny whether you are tied to academia or the work world, we’re all busy people. It’s a matter of how you carve out the time to write. For me, it was often late at night after all the duties of the day, both professional and personal, were done. That was just my reality.

Q: What about the naysayers who declare, “But there’s no money in writing poetry. Why aren’t you writing novels instead?”

A: For me, it’s a matter of what drives your passion. I have always had a passion for poetry, knowing there was no money in it. I wouldn’t want to change genres just to make money. I would feel like I would be leaving my real self behind.

Q: The resistance that a lot of people put up toward poetry and its interpretation often stems from their exposure to it in elementary school and high school. What do you say to the person who says s/he doesn’t understand it and, accordingly, chooses not to read it?

A: Poetry is an exchange. I believe both parties have some responsibility in that exchange. The poet’s responsibility is to capture the essence of the poem through the use of his/her tools — words, line breaks, rhythm or song, metaphor — in a way that allows the reader to understand and experience it. I don’t believe in poetry that is so complicated or obscure or internal to the poet that the reader never does understand it. On the other hand, I believe the reader does have a responsibility, too, to give the poem a chance. To wrestle with it, talk back to it, read it again and again because by engaging with it he/she will discover more about the poem and I am certain something more about themselves. When we have this exchange, we make meaning together.

Q: On that note, what’s your personal list of “Ten Poems You Need To Read Before You Die”?

A: What a fun question! “Digging” by Seamus Heaney; “Traveling Through Dark” by William Stafford; “Musee des Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden; “Sonnet Xvii” by Pablo Neruda; “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost; “Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke; “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins; “What the Doctor Said” by Raymond Carver; “Fall” by Edward Hirsch; “Elegy for a Walnut Tree” by W.S. Merwin.

Q: What’s your philosophy on the writer and the reader?

A: Like a painter, s/he starts with a blank canvas and then, with the tools at hand, paints a scene, image, portrait, whatever it might be. Then the painter waits for a viewer. Poetry is similar. I start with a blank white page and my tools are the words, rhythm, images, metaphor, white space that I create into an experience. The relationship between the writer and the reader is by definition removed by being experienced through text, a body of words on the page. It is a particular kind of exchange between two people most often not physically present to each other. If the poem is good, it is often a passionate form of communication between strangers, and often immediate and intense. Reading poetry is a way of connecting – through a medium of language – more deeply with yourself even as you connect more deeply with another. As a result, I believe the poem delivers on our spiritual lives precisely because it gives us the gift of intimacy and privacy and participation that we wouldn’t experience otherwise.

Q: You’re hinting at the spirituality in poetry. Can you tell us more?

A: Oh most definitely. I have two perspectives on this: First, Wallace Stevens said that “poetry is like prayer in that it is most effective in solitude”. Poetry often comes out of silence and it longs to discover the mysteries of life; hence it is kinship to prayer. So when you think about it, poetry is one of the soul’s natural habitats. In that moment when the soul captures what is deep within we attain something spiritual. I look at the poem as the soul in action through words on a page. Second, poet Pablo Neruda said in so many words: to feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. He also said “but to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, that is something greater and more beautiful because it widens our boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.” I believe that is what poetry does. It connects us.

Pablo told a wonderful story related to this. When he was a young boy in his backyard, he looked through a hole in the fence and much to his surprise the hand of another small boy shot through. When Pablo looked through the hole again, there was a marvelous white sheep there the boy had brought him to gaze at. But the boy had disappeared. Pablo then went into his house and brought out his favorite treasure: a pinecone, opened, full of odor and resin, which he adored, and set down in the same hole in the fence. The next day the pinecone was gone. This little story is about how all of humanity is somehow connected. And when the exchange of gifts occurs, whatever they may be, that is indestructible. Poetry, to me, is an exchange of gifts.

Q: Now that you have more time to write, what do you hope for?

A: Because my time was limited for literally decades, and as a result, many of my poems fit just on one page, I hope to explore writing longer poems, and perhaps write about more philosophical topics. Many of my poems are about experiences, and from there, I have an insight. I’d like now to explore other topics for poetry, like maybe take on concepts and see where the poem goes. As an example, recently I went to a reading where a poet read a 10-page poem about particles meshing into the thing they are closest too. It took her a year to write that poem. I am also reading other poets “by the pounds” now and feeling like I am getting a more complete perspective on the contemporary poetry scene in the U.S.

Q: So who is on your current reading list?

A: I have been reading poets I consider on the national scene but also getting to know many of the local poets in the Northwest. On the national scene, poets include: Claudia Rankine, Nicky Finney, Tony Hoagland, Ross Gay, Gregory Pardlo, Jane Hirshfield, Terrance Hayes, Jamaal May, Saeed Jones, Ocean Vuong, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kathleen Jamie, and Wesley McNair. I could go on and on. I am having so much fun consuming poetry!

Q: Where can readers learn more about you?

A: At my website: www.yvonnehigginsleach.com

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: If you feel you have something to share, a story to tell, a poem to write, then do it. Don’t let that critical voice we often hear inside ourselves shut you down. You have every right to create!

 

 

 

A Chat with Morrie Warshawski

Morrie Warshawski

When first reviewing Morrie Warshawski’s (www.warshawski.com) online profile and many interviews, I came away wondering, “Who is this man?” Trained as a poet in his earlier years, Morrie has become one of the most sought after fundraising consultants/facilitators in his field. Specializing in working with non-profit organizations, he has managed to stay true to his own core values. His eclectic words of poetry lay on the page, inviting the reader to make of them what they will. This is clearly a thinking, feeling, man who values life and humanity in equal measure, and I’m pleased to introduce him to you. Welcome Morrie.

****

Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

Q         The poems you’ve written in your latest book, This Afternoon (http://warshawski.com/index.html), seem strange and meandering, with snippets of words ripe with imagery cobbled together. What is the message or meaning you are hoping to convey to the reader?

A         I’m hoping that readers will not look for meaning! When you stand in front of a painting by Jackson Pollock it doesn’t help to ask “what does this mean?” My poems are a bit like those paintings. I’d love for the reader to approach each poem as if it were its own little universe, to delve into it and experience what delight they can from the involvement with language and images.

Q         What happened in your life that prompted you to write this particular book of poems now?

A         I had not been writing regularly for years. Then my wife got a job in Southern California and I found myself commuting part time between our home in Napa and our temporary apartment in Santa Clarita. I had afternoons with nothing else to do, so I started writing again. I decided I wanted to focus on the moment, and on apprehending raw experiences taken directly from my life in the disjointed way that the mind works.

Q         In a previous interview by our host, Christina Hamlett (https://fromtheauthors.wordpress.com/category/morrie-warshawski/), you mention that you trained     as a poet, but later became the Executive Director for three nonprofit arts organizations. That’s quite a leap. Could you explain exactly how that significant life change came about and why you took such a divergent path from the one you started out on?

A         It’s a crazy story that involves my favorite word – “serendipity”! I was teaching Interdisciplinary Arts at the Univ. of Southern California when I applied to be an intern with the Literature Program of the then new National Endowment for the Arts. It turns out that they already had an intern selected for Literature, but they asked if I would accept an internship with the Dance Program of Artists in the Schools! I said yes, and that summer in Washington, DC changed my life. I had to take dance classes three days a week, and attend dance performances every weekend. That experience made me want to leave the University world and work with non-profit arts organizations. The rest is history!

Q         As a facilitator for non-profit organizations, you are a strategist and planner. Would you say planning and strategizing are part of your natural personality traits, or something you’ve developed over time?

A         I would say that “thoughtfulness” is a part of my natural personality. Planning and strategy are notions that I adopted slowly and at first unwillingly. What I learned is that they work and are powerful tools for moving organizations and individuals forward toward their objectives. The first time I was tasked with creating a strategic plan – when I was Executive Director of Bay Area Video Coalition – I went kicking and screaming into the process thinking it would be a big waste of my time. By the time we were through, I became a born again strategic planning devotee!

Q         You’ve worked with an impressive array of clients over the years; from high to low profile nonprofit and for-profit companies and organizations throughout America. What have you learned about yourself and others along the way?

A         Too much to write about briefly! I’ve learned a lot about patience, about what motivators are effective with what types of personalities, about the limits of being consultative and the benefits of being faciliative – and especially that I can’t solve every problem!

Q         Most people have an innate fear of approaching others for funding for any project, believing they aren’t up to the challenge. Can anyone learn to do it effectively, i.e. by reading a book on the subject, or does it take a certain personality type to successfully achieve the set goals?

A         There are so many different paths to fundraising (grants, houseparties, crowdfunding, individual asks, donation letters) and each one is more appropriate for a different set of talents and skills. Some people (introverts) prefer to write a letter or a grant, and others are more extroverted and have no trouble making a personal ask for support. I know that anyone can learn how to be successful in any of these paths through reading, taking workshops, and role playing I also know that some paths (especially the one-on-one in person ask) are much more difficult to pursue and that overcoming the impediments and fears to that path takes a tremendous amount of will power and the right motivation.

Q         You’ve also written Shaking The Money Tree: The Art of Getting Grants and Donations for Film and Video Productions , The Fundraising Houseparty, and co-wrote A State Arts Strategic Planning Toolkit, (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_17?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=morrie+warshawski&sprefix=morrie+warshawski%2Caps%2C189) with Kelly J. Barsdate and Jonathan Katz. What does writing books about your business do for you personally or in a business sense, and why?

A         Personally, it’s a great learning experience. Doing the research involved forces me to go out into the world and discover new trends, meet new people, and learn new skills. Professionally, the books have been a tremendous calling card for consulting contracts and requests to teach workshops. Published books help give me credibility, as well. And, they are a modest source of income.

Q         You have chosen to self-publish This Afternoon and offer it for individual sale via your website (www.warshawski.com). Can you tell us why you chose this method of publication for this particular project?

A         It often takes years to find a publisher for a book of poems. This particular book is very short, and very quirky. I knew from the start that I wanted the poems to be a very limited edition, and that I wanted it done “old school” – hand set type, letterpress printing, handmade paper covers, hand sewn binding – and I wanted control of the design – all things that are expensive to have and that you can’t get from a publisher. The book is a little work of art in and of itself. I was lucky to work with a great designer and letterpress printer, Lisa Rappoport (http://littoralpress.com).

Q         Who has been your greatest life or career mentor, and why?

A         I stand on the shoulders of many people who have made a significant difference to my life. Like many people, there were two high school teachers to whom I will always be indebted – Bob Richmond and Harry Klutz of Paseo High School in Kansas City, Missouri. They showed me that there was a wider world out there, and that I had special talents I could use to make the world a better place.

Q         You specialize in working with the nonprofit sector. What is it about nonprofits that excites and energizes you?

A         You have to love the non-profit sector! Its values are my values. Nonprofits want to improve the human condition, to make communities better, to serve those in need, and enhance quality of life. I’m especially drawn to working with arts and culture organizations because of my commitment to the role that art plays in our lives.

Q         What has been your greatest personal life-lesson thus far, and why?

A         Identify, clarify, and stay true to your core values. They are inescapable and are the key to your “comportment” – how you travel through life with authenticity, with a sense of mission, and with energy.

Q         What’s next for you, Morrie?

A         More yoga, more reading, more chocolate!

You can learn more about and connect with Morrie here:

Twitter: @morriew

Facebook: www.facebook.com/morrie.warshawski

Website: www.warshawski.com

LinkedIn: Morrie Warshawski

 

She Said No To The Wind

She Said No to the Wind

I was introduced to César Moran-Cahusac through our Christina Hamlett, who designed the cover for his new poetry collection, She Said No to the Wind. As a fellow poet and nature lover, I was enthusiastic to connect with him.

For every book he sells, he donates a dollar “towards the implementation and development of a tree nursery that will be the seed for an urban reforestation project in the city of Cusco, Peru.” As a poet, his works are seeds for other things as well. He inspired me to write again from that playful, dark, inquisitive, wondrous place, to walk barefoot in the sand and just breathe, and to celebrate the little things that piece together all that counts in the end. His book is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. (You can see samples of his poetry and the gorgeous photography with the “Look Inside” feature.)

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

**********

Q: In your work as an activist, poet, peace advocate and environmentalist, you share a lot of yourself with others. What are some things that people don’t know about you?

A: I think what I don’t share are my weaknesses and fears; it has been a long process to even start recognizing them. Mostly because one was taught not to be weak and vulnerable.

But, that is not true. On the contrary it is vulnerability that makes you resilient. So, as I have been writing I have been learning to accept my vulnerabilities and fears, understand and then overcome them.

It has been my poetry that has allowed me to expose them to myself; this allowed me to be courageous enough to compile them metaphorically in my first poetry anthology called She Said No to the Wind.

So, it has been a long walk where I was accompanied by my fears, and as we took this stroll we talked a lot and now I feel comfortable with some of them. There is still a lot of talking to do.

Q: That’s awesome—your poetry has a lot of heart and sharing that allows us to open up, too. What first drove you to write?

A: I have always been a sensitive and very passionate individual. By this I want to say that I feel things very intensively and these feelings are just there, lingering around me.

In fact, before waking up in the morning I would find myself with phrases and even complete poems in my head, but at that time I did not pay attention to them. I did not consider them important or even good enough to be saved by writing them on a piece of paper. Then little by little I took the risk to jot them down and play with the words I had written.

That is when the magic and the infatuation with words started, their meaning and sound became intensively beautiful to me. So, poetry in the form of free prose allowed me to get these feelings out, as I wanted to shout, cry, laugh, hug, run, dance, jump, and feel. Poetry became the medium to let it all out.

Q: Thank you for taking that risk of publishing it, letting it all out with us. Your cover captures the spirit of the book, with its message “to inspire”. In what other ways do you hope to connect with your readers?

A: I want them to genuinely feel alive, this is to fuel in them the urge to look around and embrace the beauty that surrounds them and that every one of them has stories that can be portrayed in a wonderful way. Hopefully, as they read this book and its lines they can understand who I am, how I see the world and kindle in the reader the urge to live life as uniquely as possible.

Q: What a beautiful way to see things. The poems in your book celebrate daily events. What do you consider the value and power of the seemingly mundane?

A: The mundane is what builds history; it has all the events that construct our lives and the lives of the people who surround us. We all, within our natural setting, weave a fantastic living textile that drapes over the landscape.

It is then when the mundane expresses colors, textures, aromas, that precipitates the wild array of events that construct our lives and makes us move us forward. By being sensitive to this magic one becomes uniquely compassionate.

Q: Your poetry also celebrates the magic of nature. From your work in the field and your Masters in Environmental Management, you’ve considered our world from multiple perspectives. What are you most passionate about when it comes to nature and conservation?

A: Yes, nature is the mother—it is what feeds us, embraces, and cradles our interwoven diverse civilization. Without her we are absolutely nothing. So by understanding her processes and fully acknowledging the fact that the consumption of natural resources is a blessing; we can see the necessity to tread gently over her, and by this I mean tiptoe.

So interacting with her should not be this greedy destruction. Moreover, we have to boldly declare the paradigm of endless growth as obsolete, not even think of sustainable development.

Q: What do you mean, abandon sustainable development?

A:  I do not believe in sustainable development, in the sense that nothing can grow forever; the concept that makes more sense is resilience.  Sustainable development is trying to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. But, nothing that grows forever is sustainable… it was a great concept presented in the Brundtland report in 1987. That had the idea to inspire people to care for nature.  But this has become a catchphrase, and abused by the interests of advocates of exponential economic growth, undermining environmental reforms. We are defunct as a species if we do not consider the fact that we need to start de-growing to reach an adequate balance and actively reduce our demands on nature.

Q: How it is possible to “de-grow”?

A: De-growth is a new term that expresses “that the only way for humanity to live within its biophysical limits and mitigate the effects of climate change is to reduce economic activity, to downscale consumerist lifestyles, to move beyond conventional energy sources, to give up on the fantasy of ‘decoupling’ economic and population growth from environmental impacts, and to rethink the technologies that have gotten us into our current predicament. There has been no known society that has simultaneously expanded economic activity and reduced absolute energy consumption” taken from   A Call to Look Past An Ecomodernist Manifesto: A Degrowth Critique [http://www.resilience.org/articles/General/2015/05_May/A-Degrowth-Response-to-An-Ecomodernist-Manifesto.pdf].

This should liberate us from thinking naïvely that technology will save us from overriding planet Earth and look into how can we become resilient and design actions towards adaptation.

Q: You are an advocate of environmentalism and peace. How do you consider these to be connected?

A: I think they are connected through compassion—when we have sincere, compassionate feelings for ourselves, these feelings ripple into the environment. In this way, we build care and slowly but surely the way we look at nature changes, perceiving its small marvels as a delicate equilibrium that can’t be disrupted violently. This is when peace sets in as the way to be in harmony with nature and the rest of living and human beings.

Q: What inspires you in your daily life?

A: Well, to be able to take the any opportunity to smile and enjoy life thoroughly by just recognizing its daily events. Just the fact of waking up in the morning makes me smile, inspiration comes by being open-minded, allowing everything to inspire me. Sounds, words people say, the weather, whatever comes my way has a meaning and brings sensations that need to be expressed.

Q: You also express yourself with martial arts. What draws you to practice?

A: I have practiced two martial arts, Kung Fu and Aikido. The latter is called the art of peace or the way of harmony. I try to live in harmony and I recognize that this is very difficult, but as I train all I want is to polish the art, the expression, the connection, the form, the movement, the ability to create kuzushi or to take your opponents’ balance in a subtle way. So, what draws me to practice is the endless opportunity one has   to polish and perfect a technique  Like with words, I go about with my training—I try to use them in the most precise way possible. The arts in general offer you a stream of incredible surprises than can only be found if you practice them committedly. One always has to train with a beginner’s mind, willing to learn something new every day.

Q: In all your activities, as an activist, advocate, poet, and as one who practices peace, is there something that you consider joins them together?

A: I think it’s my heart that joins them, yes, my heart is a wonderful thing because it embraces them all, I learn from every single one of them. They all interact, taking energy and knowledge from each other, and my heart fuels them, making them move forward with passion.

Q: There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a community to raise an author, an idea. Your book is dedicated to several key people (and our ultimate shared mother, nature). In what way have the people in your life been your village?

A: When we interact with people, they leave in us experiences from which we learn. This is in some ways streams of good and the bad, the happy and the sad.  On which we can navigate, I tend to navigate on the positive side of things, when I meet or interact with the negative side I learn from them that I definitely do not want to be there or become that. “Positiveness” is the force that I share and take from people. This I have I learned from my mother and father that taught me to always look forward for a new day, for a new way and to be able to appreciate the opportunity to learn something new.

And in that sense I give thanks to all the above, to be kind and compassionate to everybody and to draw a smile as fast as one can. In fact become the fastest smile out there and with this practice always laugh every single day of my life. So, it’s my responsibility to stir happiness and postiveness in my village. The people I have mentioned in my dedication have sparked in me this way of being, I have become resilient in so many ways thanks to them and furthermore I would have to add more people on to that list. So I can take the opportunity now to thank them all for inspiring and allowing me to be who I am.

Q: When you look at our future, as a humanitarian and nature advocate, what do you see?

A: I see that there is an urge to change people’s attitudes and level of consciousness. It is unbearable to see how opportunism, manipulation, greediness, oblique disdain for equal human rights is still rampant.

If words can trickle down as gentle rain and sensitize people; well let’s write, share the words in all its forms, so that being  said I will continue writing and expressing what I see and feel intensively.

Editorial Note: Over the course of the interview, César revealed he had been inspired to pen a new poem. We are happy and honored to share it here with our readers.

Can You Draw Your Smile?

Can you draw it fast, as fast as you can?

Yes, can you make that sparkling ivory shine like a blaze?

Shattering the ice that has taken the hearts

Breaking the rusty padlocks that incarcerated joy

Invisibly loitering around lips and cheeks,

So heavy that frowns became conspicuous

Making daily strolls gloomy and the inability to open up a constant

So slap everybody with it, back and forth, be mighty

Become merciless with that smile

Release it quick as lightning that hits the ground with a rumble

Cracking elation to extent of anointing the spirit with warmth that leaks pleasure into the cells

Defusing anger, embracing shyness with a welcoming grin

Evicting shallow greetings that kill love

Invigorate with that nimble feat that flashes your dental sculpture

Allowing eyes balls and brows to expand in surprise

Permeating the spreading of fun vibes in a brink like butter on hot bread

Call upon teeth and gums; astonish at dawn, at sunset,

Halt the stiffness that has cramped faces

Bring abundance with no fear of scrutiny

Because your smile is perfect as it opens any cloud or clouted ideas

A perpetual smile cleanses the body, stretches it to enable tolerance

Killing incisive stares that bleed hatred,

It can relieve agnostic perceptions that life is only crappy

So, become a believer ignite a brouhaha that will ransack everybody,

Yes, a squawking commotion like macaws’ flying into the sunset.

Smile as fast as you can, deliver the blow that knocks out animosity

Fill that face with content; yes be quick, as fast as you can.

César Morán – Cahusac

Cusco, June 2015

The Music Girl

Kain Fairbrooks cover

“Music is what feelings sound like,” wrote an unknown author. In Kain B. Fairbrooks’ new release, The Music Girl,” a victimized child kept in isolation by her own parent not only discovers that the timeless power of music holds the key to express her emotions but also to facilitate her freedom. At just 20 years old, Fairbrooks is a newcomer to the writing scene but has made the inventive decision to ignore many of the conventions of fictional storytelling and write The Music Girl as a poem.

Interviewer – Christina Hamlett

**********

Q: For starters, tell us a bit about your journey as a writer and what (or who) inspired you to pen your first story?

A: Ahhh the one who inspired me was my mom. She used to tell me and my sister stories only using her imagination. And I absolutely loved it to death! She would even encourage us to tell stories back to her and this started my whole “I wanna be a writer” when I was five years old. In first grade, the principal of my elementary school noticed that I wouldn’t go out for recess but I would spend my time writing inside. I showed her a short story I wrote and she loved it and got it published. It sat in the school library for years while I was attending there. After that I played around with my writing, improving it- learning more techniques until the end of high school where I started getting…haha somewhat serious!

Q: Did you read books before bedtime as a child?

A:Yes I did! Just quite a few, though.

Q: What are some of the titles we might have found on that childhood bedside table?

A: The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter was one. The Road To Elyon, Dr. Seuss’s array of stories, a bunch of fairytales, Mother Goose, and newspaper comics!

Q: So what might we find on your bedside table these days?

A: Haha nothing! I know, it’s weird.

Q: One book at a time or multiple books?

A: One book at a time. It tastes better that way.

Q:  Would you describe yourself as an introvert or an extrovert and what influence does that have on your creativity, energy levels and response to feedback about your work?

A: I would think I’m an extrovert. Sometimes my creativity runs really high and boosts up my energy causing me to write multiple stories at once. Especially when I’ve had a social interaction.

Feedback can either make me go “I like your criticism! Let me get started on that right away! Oh! I can even do [insert a bunch of random things]” or “gbvaghvbdhbj why did I even start writing this- I’m a horrible being.”

Q: Tell us what The Music Girl is about.

A: The Music Girl is about a young lady who went through ten years of abuse and neglect from her envious mother who locks her in the attic. In the attic, she realizes that she wasn’t alone. There stood a very old piano that still worked and so she began learning how to play. Crying out her pain through music. One day, she escapes her mother’s wrath by killing her mother and burning down the mansion she was held captive in. She throws away her name and all that she is and begins her musical journey, learning how to play various instruments from people off the streets and professionals.

Q: The choice to craft The Music Girl as a poem story is an interesting one. What governed that decision for you?

A:  There was this story before The Music Girl that I wanted to write in the fashion of a poem but tell a story. Though, my inner thoughts told me that people wouldn’t like it- I shouldn’t try it- what if people don’t get it? So I dropped the idea, now regretting it horribly! But a few months later, I thought of The Music Girl and went…maybe it won’t be so bad? What’s the worst that can happen? A few chapters later and I absolutely loved writing in such a strange way. Also the people on Figment* helped me see that this was a great decision to write it like this, so I kept it!

(*Interviewer Note: http://www.figment.com is an online forum where writers in a multiplicity of genres meet, create, share and connect with one another.)

Q: Did you work from an outline or just allow the scenes to flow spontaneously?

A: I let the scenes flow naturally. Though sometimes I wished I used an outline.

Q: Writers often spend a lot of time editing, editing, editing. Did you do your edits as you were writing or wait until the entire thing was finished?

A: I edited as I was writing it. Because I posted each chapter on Figment every day, I had to make sure that it was on point or else my conscious would get to me. ‘Why did you post that crap?’ it would say.

Q: Was there anything significant you ended up editing our prior to publication?

A: I’m pretty sure I ended up doing the opposite and adding more in than editing out.

Q: Who’s your target readership for The Music Girl and what would you like them to take away from it by the time they reach the end?

A: Probably adults who had a horrible past and couldn’t let it go. I wanted to show people that things happen, horrible things, and it’ll try to pop itself up back in your life and make you afraid of the future. But you can’t let it do that. You can’t let it ruin you. Something like that, I suppose.

Q: The choice to self-publish has become a popular one for today’s writers, especially insofar as the desire to control one’s intellectual property and move it on to the market as quickly as possible. What are some of the things you learned during this process and what are you doing to spread the word that your new book is available?

A: Some of the things I learned are that there are people willing to help you spread the word but also to do your research beforehand. I ran into a lot of free promotional things while trying to spread the word. People do free postings on Facebook, tweets from Twitter, and give your book a read and make a blog post about it. Even book tours. It’s really incredible!

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m in the process of publishing two illustrated children’s books by Light Books and working on a horror novel called Thy Broken Mind which you can vote for online!

Q: What do you do if you come across a dry spot in your writing or hit the all-dreaded writer’s block?

A: I usually walk away and go hang upside down on the couch while looking at Oblique Strategies on my phone. Or play video games! Depends how bad it is.

Q: Ever have a bad day? If so, what gives you strength to get through it?

A: Yes I have! Laughter and music. Sometimes when it rains, it pours hard and you forget to laugh.

Q: Morning person or evening person?

A: Evening!

Q: Cats or dogs?

A: Dogs all the way!!

Q: Boba or Cheesecake?

A: Oooh….cheesecake. I’m sorry my beloved Boba.

Q: Movies that make you laugh or movies that make you cry?

A: Movies that make me laugh.

Q: The most favorite thing you have in your closet?

A: My Alucard cosplay coat that I got autographed by Crispin Freeman, an English dub voice actor!

Q: Pandas, polar bears, koalas or grizzlies?

A: Pandas!!

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: That I enjoy raves!

Q: Where can they learn more about your work?

A: Probably the best place is my Figment page, which has all the rough drafts of a lot of my writings, Basilica Press, and Twitter!