Announcing our July Illustrator: Pam Brodersen!

Brown Days_King of the MarshWe are thrilled to announce that Pam Brodersen has graciously agreed to allow us to use her beautiful photographic images to illustrate our July issue.

Birds on a Line (Requiem)

 

 

 

Pam worked for years as a freelance photographic illustrator in her Chicago studio creating images for national print campaigns. These days, she uses digital tools to capture the world around her and creatively alter the images to express their deeper beauty and resonance.

Sanibel Surf (Words Like Rain)

We are so fortunate to have her donate her time and talents to illustrating this issue. Thank you, Pam!

 

 

 

Interview with Jackie Craven

Jackie Craven

This spring, Jackie Craven met with four poetry friends in Johnstown, New York for an informal afternoon of feedback and discussion. The poets, who have been meeting regularly for more than a decade, listened to Jackie read “White Lightning” and asked her about the poem and her writing processes. A short bio of each poet appears at the end of the interview.

Sandra Manchester: Your poem reminds me of “Ego Tripping” by Nikki Giovanni. It’s an oral poem, and has powerful images spilling out, one after another.

Jackie Craven: Welcome to my strange, quirky world! My mother was an artist whose work explodes with surreal images— an old man grows angel wings, an angel sprouts a mermaid’s tail, monkeys wear human faces. Growing up with her paintings, I guess it’s natural for me to dwell in the realm of the fantastic. My fiction chapbook, Our Lives Became Unmanageable (Omnidawn, 2016), follows characters who grapple with otherworldly compulsions and dilemmas. “White Lightning” continues that theme, but the voice is different from anything I’ve attempted before. Writing this poem really was an adventure.

Catherine DeSalle: I can’t imagine what I’d be thinking of to come up with the images you used—lips like an iron gate, a tongue curled like a slug. Did the poem come from a memory? A dream?

 

JC: It’s hard to know what stew images bubble up from—maybe they’re just a part of me, like the images in my mother’s paintings. However, I do credit fellow writers (you guys!) and my teachers for helping me bring the strangeness to the surface. Several years ago, I took a workshop with Tim Seibles at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Tim encouraged us to experiment with metaphors and to seek unexpected juxtapositions. Whenever I read Tim’s work, I come away with a sense of shock and awe. Check out these lines from his poem “First Kiss”:

…her mouth pulled up
like a baby-blue Cadillac
packed with canaries driven
by a toucan…

The images are insane, but they overflow with emotion. I can hear a young, love-sick narrator grope for words as he struggles to describe sensations he doesn’t fully understand. I wanted to achieve something like this in “White Lightning.” Using Tim’s poem as a model, I filled pages with ideas, rooting around for the kind of outrageous statements that might be spoken by someone who is reeling out of control.

 

Virginia Bach Folger: As you wrote, did you imagine the words rushing up from the printed page? Or did you see this as a poem that you would recite to an audience?

JC: Both! I’m in awe of poets who have a flare for performance. I could listen all day to Tim Seibles, or the gorgeous, rolling voice of Yusef Komunyakaa. And I love the rhythm and energy of Danez Smith, who has won many poetry slam awards. I wish I could perform like that, and I’ve been participating in a lot of open mics to build confidence. But, I’m truly an introvert. I hope that my printed words will convey sounds and emotions, even when the poem isn’t presented aloud.

 

Catherine DeSalle: But you read it very well just now!

JC: Thank you. “White Lightning” is a persona poem—to read it aloud, I need to step inside the skin of an entirely different person. The narrator has his own experiences and his own vocabulary for expressing those experiences. He says things that would not occur to me naturally. So to read this poem aloud, I have to summon some acting skills.

 

Catherine Norr: Your speaker mentions several mythical gods and legends. I love these! Did the mythical references pop naturally into your mind, or did you need to do research?

JC:   Some, like Götterdämmerung and Jabberwock came automatically, but I doubt I would have thought of Nithhogr or Smaug without digging. I wanted my speaker to compare his experiences to grandiose events, so I searched for allusions from mythology, sci-fi movies, and Dungeons and Dragons lore. I selected Nithhogr and Smaug because I loved the sound of their names and the associations they stir. If you asked me specific details about the tales, I’m not sure how much I’d remember—I’m just taken with the sounds.

White Lightning

Virginia Bach Folger: That’s fascinating, and opens up permission for the rest of us. Tell us about your writing process. Do you find you’re more productive when you stick to a routine, or when you’re more flexible with time and places?

JC: My life is as chaotic as the situations in my stories and poems. I have no routine. There are periods when I do little writing, and then—without warning—stories and poems come in a gush. The funny thing is, some of my most productive writing times are when I’m also extremely busy with other activities.

Virginia Bach Folger: The title “White Lightning” gave me the impression that this would be a sexual poem. On first reading, I imagined something bright and flashing—like a climax—rather than about drinking.

Catherine DeSalle: I thought so, too!

Catherine Norr: White lightning is a kind of alcohol. I think the double meaning adds to the poem. I love the layers of meaning and the shifting images– “squeezing music / out my pores till my skin stretched to cellophane…”

Catherine DeSalle: I was reminded of a stream-of-consciousness story by George Saunders. As you read, I didn’t think too hard about the literal meaning of the words. I was caught up in the sound of your voice, and the rhythm.

Virginia Bach Folger: How happy are you with the title?

JC: True confession? I’ve changed it. After “White Lightning” appeared in r.kv.r.y., I decided to include the poem in my collection, Secret Formulas & Techniques of the Masters (forthcoming from Brick Road Poetry Press). The collection is about the thirst for magic potions and the desire to alter reality. Many of the poems are based on paintings by my mother, so I gave “White Lightning” a name that corresponds with that theme. The poem is now called “The Absinthe Drinker (Egg Tempera & Oil).” It’s probably a good thing Secret Formulas will be in print soon, or I’d never stop rewriting the poems.

 

Virginia Bach Folger: How do you know when you’re finished?

JC: You should see my cabinets—overflowing with half-finished manuscripts, work I’ve tinkered with for years and can’t let go of. I just hope that the old poems don’t crowd out the new—there are so many ideas clamoring to get out.

 

 

Catherine DeSalle is a visual artist who writes poetry and essays.

Catherine Norr is the author Return to Ground (Finishing Line Press, 2014). Her work has also appeared in Avocet, The Evening Street Review, Oriel, The Sun, and other journals.

Sandra Manchester studied with Robert Pinsky at the New York State Writers Institute. She writes poetry and memoir based on her life growing up with itinerant farmers.    

Virginia Bach Folger has recent work published or forthcoming in Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction, The Fourth River, Lumina, The Bacopa Literary Review, and The Virginia Normal.

 

Interview with Susan Cole

Susan Cole

Lauren Kettler: Susan, this is a rare treat for me because you and I have been comrades in writing more than a decade now, and our friendship spans even longer than that. I feel privileged to have perused the gamut of your writing, all of it nonfiction and personal. In addition to an array of smaller autobiographical pieces, your manuscript Laughing Goat: A Sailing Memoir chronicles your life cruising the Caribbean with your husband John and daughter Kate. There are so many ways to tell a story. Tell us a little about why memoir and who’s influenced you most in this genre.

Susan Cole: I began writing the story of our three-year voyage a few years after we returned. Our sailing adventure was a transformational experience—leaving our home and roots in Fairfield, Connecticut behind and setting out to sea. I wanted to understand why I went on the voyage and how it changed my life. Two memoirs that influenced me: Abigail Thomas’ Three Dog Life and Lee Martin’s Such a Life. Thomas’ frankness about living with her husband’s brain injury helped me to realize I needed to put myself in the center of the story. I loved Martin’s strong sense of place.

 

LK: Below is one of my favorite Laughing Goat passages:

“Some time after John moved in, I had a dream in which I was sitting in a crowded train station at night. I was on a bench with other passengers, next to a broad plate glass window that reflected the high arched ceilings and glittering glass chandeliers inside. The window overlooked a busy downtown thoroughfare. Waiting for my train, I was alert yet absorbed in the book I was reading. Suddenly, a giant bare foot crashed through the window and a big laughing bearded man popped through.”

The above is for me a seminal description of John’s footprint, pun entirely intended, on your life. In a smaller piece you said, “Bashert, soul of my soul. I fell into your dream and you awakened mine.” I think more than the cruising, John was the adventure of your life. How did and does his presence continue to shape your writing?

SC: As you know, John died last summer of lung cancer. I wrote “Harbor Lights” about those last months (r.kv.r.y, April issue). John and I were together 44 years. We met at work in our twenties. He was a sailor from Connecticut; I grew up in landlocked Ohio. He talked me into buying a leaky 50’ 1903 Fire Island ferryboat and living in Long Island Sound—our first boat, which later sank. When I met John, I was in psychoanalysis and beginning to come to terms with the deep love I’d had for my dad, who died when I was ten and about whom I never spoke. John burst through my reserves. He had tremendous vitality. He remains my inspiration.

 

LK: Kate was seven when you and John set sail with her for a cruising life in the Caribbean. You say in your sailing memoir:

“Kate bounded in from her cabin. She showed me a poem she had just written about having to wear shoes again. She stood next to me while I read it, peering over my shoulder. In the poem, she imagined going back to the States and wrote about shoes that pinch, that make you sweat and slow you down. … I realized how much I loved the wildness. I had loved watching her shinny up the mast and seeing her lead children and dogs into crazy tropical adventures where she hadn’t known what the outcome would be. I hadn’t wanted to stuff her or us into tight shoes that pinch– that slow you down.”

What did it mean for you as a woman to take your young daughter on this adventure?

SC: During the voyage, Kate operated the dinghy by herself, swung on the halyard in long graceful arcs over the water from bow to stern, wrote two novels and befriended “boat kids” from around the world. On the other hand, when there were no kids around, she was lonely. Peeking into her cabin one day when she was reading aloud, her stuffed animals arrayed attentively around her, pierced my heart; another time in Belize, when we were stuck on an island waiting for a part, Kate said, “This is no way to raise a child, moving from place to place!” Although I was torn about ripping apart the secure life Kate had in Fairfield, I was glad that she could experience the freedom of blue-water sailing.

Harbor Lights

LK: A riveting aspect of your sailing memoir is that the places you encounter are as central as the characters themselves:

“I swatted back branches and vines that crept over the dock and screened out the hot afternoon sun. Lizards scurried across the dock and butterflies fluttered in the still air. Something–a bird? an iguana?–clicked from the bushes. On the river, we passed fishermen in cayucos casting their nets. Flocks of birds rose, silhouetted against the pale dawn light. We were back on the Rio Dulce.”

Talk about your seduction with exploring the new and seemingly uncharted.

SC: John and I first read about the Rio Dulce, a lush river in the heart of Guatemala, twenty years before we left on our voyage. The Rio Dulce is a “hurricane hole” where boats take shelter during hurricane season. After arriving at the river, we sailed through a narrow green canyon where red-tailed hawks swooped and spider monkeys raced along the treetops, into an isolated world of boaters thrown together in a remote jungle—grizzled old loners, romantic young single-handers, scammers on the lam and families who crossed oceans to get there. At a dilapidated marina in a lagoon, Kate and I weathered Hurricane Mitch while John was on a business trip in New York. Despite the dangers, the Rio Dulce filled my senses and empowered me.

 

LK: At one point in the manuscript, you say:

“Yet that time in our lives, the time we had together on Laughing Goat, was like a warm beating heart.”

In your writing, how much of this traversing the seas is the recounting of real life and how much, in your personal journey, is metaphor?

SC: While voyaging, we faced adversity together–a sudden squall, water in the diesel tank, a sheared coupling on the engine shaft. I learned to engage in what was in front of me, to listen and to move quickly. This differed from my life in Connecticut, where I could lose myself for hours (most likely, in depression) after just a phone call from my unstable mother. Learning to navigate the seas helped me navigate other challenges, like John’s cancer.

 

LK: French writer Francoise Sagan once said, “If I didn’t live well, I couldn’t write well. And if I didn’t write well, I couldn’t live well.” Paraphrase that for yourself.

SC: “I shall write so I may learn to live.”

When Kate was in college, John and I moved aboard Smooch, a catamaran, and sailed between Fort Lauderdale and the Bahamas. After we found out about John’s cancer, we stayed put in Florida so he could get treatment. He remained relatively robust but not strong enough to sail. During those years, I awakened at 4:30 in the morning, made coffee, settled down with our golden retriever at my feet, listened to the water slapping gently against the hull, and worked on the Laughing Goat manuscript. While my actual world involved chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, I imagined myself on Laughing Goat with John and seven-year-old Kate. Remembering my hopes, fears and uncertainties on the voyage, recalling John’s tenacity, helped me through the day-to-day challenges of living with his illness.

 

LK: So what did you leave out? And what haven’t you written yet?

SC: I attended a writer’s workshop at the University of Iowa two weeks after John died. Although I’ve taken writer’s workshops in Iowa for about ten years, I’m now stunned that I went so soon. I learned in the workshop that while it was too early then, I wanted to write in some way about the experience we had been through during his illness, either in essays or a book. As for what I’ve left out, in nearly every piece of writing, I dabble at the edges of the darkness and dysfunction in my original family. I’ve never tackled it head-on.

 

 

Lauren Kettler is a playwright and sometime journalist who moonlights as a copywriter in her day job. Her full-length plays have had readings and/or productions across the country, including “Good Night, Mrs. Bernstein” featured in the OPEN Festival at the 14th Street Y, Manhattan, and “Knock” which took 1st place in both Stage 3 Theatre New Play Festival in Sonora, CA, and the Florida Playwrights Competition. Lauren, an inveterate New Yorker, has been temporarily living in Florida for the past twenty-six years.

 

Interview with Kyle Laws

Kyle Laws

Juditha Dowd:  Your poem in this issue of r.kv.r.y, “Into the Fire,” starts with the line, “Around a Philadelphia piano bar sweaty with beads/off glass…” Years ago you moved to the Southwest from the Philadelphia/Jersey Shore area, where you still have close ties and visit often. What prompted the relocation, and what has kept you there?

Kyle Laws:  I was born in Philadelphia and grew up on the Delaware Bay side of the Jersey shore. I suppose you always want what you don’t have. In high school, a friend and I plotted to go west. We wanted to experience the desert.  She went to Tucson and I ended up in Pueblo, Colorado, a town on the Arkansas River, the old border with Mexico up until 1848. I came there with another friend at the time.  The first stay was short, six months. Then we moved back to Wildwood, NJ, and stayed in the area for four years. I lived down the road from Town Bank, an old whaling community. I had first met the friend, a Colorado native, in Wildwood.  He became my husband. After four years, he wanted to move back to his hometown of Pueblo. I followed him, somewhat reluctantly. Before leaving, I did a big research project on the historical whaling community for a South Jersey history class I was taking at the time. It was a form of good-bye to the landscape I loved. I still use the research in my writings. In many ways, being away from that landscape deepened my appreciation for it while I was becoming rooted in the Southwest. I have written about both in poems, the dichotomy and the sameness. That area of Southern New Jersey on the Delaware Bay remained largely untouched for centuries, and what people experienced when they came west in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a wide open primitive land, is what I grew up with. It was like spanning time and space. Pueblo has what was—at the end of the nineteenth century—the largest steel mill west of the Mississippi. People came from all over the world to work there. Guggenheim’s first foundry was in Pueblo. My father was a machinist at the same factory in Philadelphia for forty years, retiring from the plant in his sixties.  The similarities are interesting. The ethnic mix in Pueblo is broad because of the international labor force. Many of the ethnic neighborhoods still exist. It’s an unusual place to live and relatively inexpensive. The art scene is lively. And I was able to make a living independently, working out of a Victorian house that is also my residence in one of the historic neighborhoods for thirty years now. Because of the independence, I could concentrate on writing and go back to New Jersey and Philadelphia for research and retreats. My sister lives in South Philadelphia in a brownstone she inherited from our mother. She’s very willing to share it.

So Bright to Blind frontcov-01

JD:  In your book So Bright to Blind you tackle the subject of Los Alamos, giving voice to scientists, like Oppenheimer, and others involved in the project or someway affected. What drew you to this subject?

KL:  The time of the development of the atomic bomb was the same time as the early years of the marriage of my mother and father. So much was happening in the world at that time that directly impacted them, which ended up impacting me even though I wasn’t born until the 1950s.  I wanted to understand that part of history in order to understand my family. The dilemmas and decisions that the scientists faced were huge. One of the interesting books I read in my research was Oppenheimer’s The Open Mind, a book of essays on the shelf next to Marilyn Monroe’s bed at the time of her death. The cultural foresight he showed in those essays along with the apologia for the bomb ranks only after Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis written while he was in jail. Both are gripping emotionally and philosophically. And the development of the atomic bomb happened not far from where I live, in a landscape very similar, an isolated high desert that had been captured on film for decades in Westerns.

 

JD:  I admire the way you braid historical events, geographies and lives that intrigue you.  Where does inspiration typically begin—in the personal or the external?

KL:  It begins in both. But often it is the external that prompts a response, something I read or see or hear. And because my natural inclination is to place it in history and landscape and within my own frame of reference related to my family, the personal comes in. I will often physically place myself in a historical setting. In late 2015, I took a studio a block from the river walk in what had been a commercial building beginning in 1891with furnished rooms on the second floor. There was a tremendous need for housing at that time for steel and railroad workers because both industries had grown so quickly. The remodeled building purchased by the Pueblo Arts Alliance for artist studios kept the basic layout of rooms. I’m in Suite A at the top of the stairs, an L shaped room. I did research on the residents and commercial tenants. Out of that came a series Woman in Suite A about a writer who came west and took a room in the building in 1922. She contributes to magazines that popped up after World War I about her life in the bustling steel town. And she befriends a steelworker from Luxembourg and a saddle and harness maker in the shop below. Both are based on historical people. I didn’t start out taking the studio to do that, but my curiosity led me there and the narratives started popping into my head. That series is coming out this year in collaboration with a photographer who integrated the poems into her photographs of Pueblo and the surrounding area.

 

Into the FireJD:  Many poems set a fragment of your own history against a desert landscape. I’m thinking now of “Roving,” “Over the Precipice” and “Running of Blanco Sol” from So Bright to Blind. Place seems very important to you, both as concept and daily reality. Do you find the desert geography particularly evocative?

KL:  The desert is a diverse place geographically. In Pueblo, we’re in the high desert at 4,500 feet. And Pueblo is in a bowl useful for agriculture. We’re surrounded by mountains on three sides and to the east is land that was part of the Dust Bowl.  For a number of years I used to walk that landscape in spring and fall, the only time it’s hospitable for hiking. From the highway and even walking, it seems entirely flat and then you come to a precipice of a canyon carved by a river. The Purgatory River is one I’ve descended a canyon to walk along. Its historical name is El Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatório, River of Souls Lost in Purgatory, named by the Spanish, first whites through here. The name gives you an idea of the desolation. Yet there are people who settled along the canyon bottom happy for the water. Electrical wires were strung on cut trees. And you can find petroglyphs carved in the canyon face from earlier peoples. The orioles that you find nesting there in late spring are visually stunning in their orange and yellow against the pale rock and tracks along the river. I never came across another hiker. That is the landscape that was used in “Roving.”  “Over the Precipice” was in Canyon de Chelly in Arizona when I camped along the bottom with a Navajo guide and two photographers. “Running of Blanco Sol” was on La Veta Pass. Because we’re in a bowl, most of the ways out are over passes so they show up repeatedly in poems. All three of those poems, along with other poems in the book were part of a series I did in response to Zane Grey’s Desert Gold. He is one of the historical writers who beautifully captured the western landscape.

 

JD:  Some poems take opera as a subject, others have a theatrical feel, like mini dramas. Does the poem initially come to you visually, as a scene? Or aurally, as music? Or … ?

KL:  Many poems come to me visually as it’s a reaction to what I see. And then something strikes a chord emotionally based on experiences and the beginning of a narrative starts to take place. And as the narrative develops, it moves forward into an idea that I’ve been thinking about.  And the idea could be rooted in history in this place or another, and it springs into something more universal that you can understand whether you are in that place or not, but you have the feel for where it began, an image you can take with you. Some poems do come aurally as sounds influence me, the simple call of a bird out the window, but also because there are a number of musicians in the building my studio is in. There’s a violinist across the hall. And musicians and singers practice for performances one studio down. I will hear the same song over and over, and the repetition brings thoughts of the background of the song. I hear a lot based in rhythm and blues and soul. I’ve worked with experimental musicians to give joint performances with poetry, gone to a number of concerts at their house and written while the musicians are performing. The poems that took opera as the subject were largely written while the music was being played. And if poems have a theatrical feel, that is most likely based on the storytelling I grew up with, my mother a wonderful teller of tales. Most of our experiences were bracketed into what could be considered short plays that highlighted some element of human nature. Even into her eighties, she could keep a corner of a restaurant entertained.

 

JD:  Your interests are far-reaching, and you spend considerable time on research. Where might you take us next?

KL:  I’ve written a novella in poems about Fishing Creek, the original name of the town I grew up in on the Delaware Bay. Unknown to me until ten years ago, each lot sold until 1958 contained a covenant restricting it to the white race. It’s told from the point of view of the husband and wife who were the developers, trying to come to terms with what would have been their motivations. I spent quite a bit of time for that project in the county office where the deeds are kept. The employees were quite nice to me, even though at times I would get really upset at how long the injustice had gone on, even after it was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 1948. I would ask over and over how could they have let it happen. I kept on waiting for the sheriff to show up and escort me out of the building. No one ever did.

 

 

Juditha Dowd’s poetry has appeared in Poet Lore, The Florida Review, Ekphrasis, Spillway, Kestrel and elsewhere. Her most recent book is the full-length collection Mango in Winter. She is a member of Cool Women, an ensemble that performs poetry in the New York-Philadelphia area and on the West Coast.

 

MARANATHA ROAD: The Story Behind the Story by Heather Bell Adams

Heather Adams

When We Could See But Did Not Know” is based on my debut novel, MARANATHA ROAD, which releases September 1 from Vandalia Press, the creative imprint of West Virginia University Press. Set in the fictional town of Garnet, North Carolina, the novel tells the story of two women—Sadie Caswell, whose son dies shortly before his wedding and Tinley Greene, the young stranger who shows up claiming she’s pregnant with his child.

Although Garnet is not a real town in western North Carolina, it bears some similarity to Hendersonville, where I was born and raised, and nearby places where I’ve visited grandparents and other relatives: the town of East Flat Rock; and, closer to the South Carolina border, the communities of Zirconia and Tuxedo along Green River. I don’t know of a road in the area named Maranatha, but the name, which roughly means “our Lord comes,” seems to fit the character of the place.

Our house in Hendersonville was on Kanuga Road. Follow the road in one direction and you soon reach a charming downtown filled with antique shops and host to North Carolina’s Apple Festival. Or take it the other way to arrive at summer camps with rock walls and long dirt driveways, not too different from the camp called Emerald Cove, which appears in the novel.

Growing up, our dad took me and my sister to the annual Henderson County Gem and Mineral Show, where we learned about the area’s history of gem mining—especially rubies and emeralds—and the more modest garnet, which seems right for Sadie and Clive.

Years later, this story came to me first as the image of a girl, sheltered from the rain in a dark shed, waiting for her parents to return—an image which now makes up the first chapter.

Like Tinley, my childhood was marked with a memorable time of anxious waiting. When my sister and I were in high school, we waited for our mother to return home from Winston-Salem where she was undergoing treatment for leukemia. And like Tinley, what we hoped for didn’t happen—our mother died.

Now that I’m a mother, I’m often struck by the fierce desire to shield our son from harm and unhappiness, especially knowing how arbitrary life can be. The character of Sadie first appeared to me as an older woman who sees that her adult son is headed for disaster, but she is powerless to stop it. I love Sadie because of her limitations and her conviction that she is bound to make mistakes, whether it’s by speaking up or staying silent. There might be a little something of her in all of us. Or maybe it’s just introverts. Or maybe it’s just me.

In any event, I knew these two women would have good reason to be angry at each other, but that in the end they would need to make their way to one another.

The bridge in the story is inspired by—although different from—the Peter Guice Memorial Bridge. At 225-feet high, it is the highest bridge in North Carolina, spanning the Green River Gorge, where there might be countless gems buried underground. According to family gossip, my parents on one of their first dates toured the site while the bridge was being built. Now, when I drive across the bridge with my husband and our son, that’s one of the stories I like to imagine. The other is a story about two strong, Southern women who find a way to bridge the gap between them.

Interview with Penelope Breen

Penelope Breen

Mary Akers: Hi, Penelope. Thanks for agreeing to talk with me today about your wonderful photographs. We were so fortunate to have you offer up your talents for our April 2017 issue and I had a lot of fun matching the words to the images. I’m inspired by how your close attention to objects, people, and the natural world makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. All artists spend time in composition and also time in creation, but I’m curious, which you feel takes more time and effort in your case? Do you prefer the composition and capture phase? Or the processing and selection phase?

Penelope Breen: Without a doubt the composition and capture phase is the most enjoyable. I tend to get lost in it more often than not. Being dreamy, focused and in the moment at the same time–the so called zone–is the best part of being an artist. Processing and selection provides the opportunity to see the concept completed but feels much more technical. It has its creative moments as well but takes more time and effort.

Magic Cure

MA: In terms of “image hunting,” do you go to a certain place looking for specific things that catch your eye? Or do you set out with openness to the process and assume that interesting objects are everywhere and your job is to discover them?

PB: While I do capture numerous images close to home there is always the “pull” of my garden, books, films and chores. If I am traveling and working on a project I am able to put all my energy and focus on that one thing. The freedom to do that is essential to creativity for me. Invariably, film and the influences of favored directors are referenced. Books play a significant role as well. Sometimes a sentence alone or a phrase provide a spark. My work for the last several years has not been random. There is intention.

I have been working on the notion of thematic purpose within the structure of a photographic project. I explore a set of ideas (inspired by films, books, poetry, etc.) and photograph scenes. An artist’s statement accompanies the project, which enables the viewer to have an understanding of my intentions. Engagement of the viewer, exploration of themes and interpretive conflict are my primary concerns.

A Rose Named Gary

MA: I feel as if the images you choose become something more than the thing that they already are, by virtue of your focus and composition and I would imagine this leads to emotional interpretations specific to the individual viewer. I know some of our contributors contacted you about your work. Did any of them interpret your images in ways that surprised you?

PB: I am always surprised by the interpretations of my work. An effort is made on my part to create a moody cohesiveness, however, I am interested in exploring ambiguity and interpretive conflict. Each viewer is encouraged to read the image and use their imagination. Cinema is always a strong influence. So, yes, the interpretations produced by some the writers were surprising but welcomed. I am in awe of their work.

COVER image

MA: And finally, because we are a recovery themed journal, what does “recovery” mean to you?

PB: Honestly, aren’t all humans recovering from something? The website pieces offered a multitude of interpretations. It was a pleasure to be a small part of that effort. Writing is a gift. One that I admire immensely. When writing an artist’s statement it is a slow process and agonizing for me. I am in awe of all the writer’s ability and congratulate them. My preferred way of expressing recovery entails using a camera and a lens. Artists are all subject to tools, aren’t we? Pen and paper, canvas and paintbrush and so on.

Interview with Liz Prato

liz-prato

Mary Akers: Hi, Liz! Thanks for agreeing to talk with me today, and for letting us have your wonderful short story “Covered in Red Dirt.” I first read it in your kick-ass collection Baby’s on Fire and absolutely loved it. I feel a strong sense of longing when I read “Covered in Red Dirt,” and an additional sense of…for lack of a better word…unfinishedness…? And I don’t mean that the story feels unfinished—it doesn’t. I mean deliberately “unfinished” in the way of a beautiful piece of wood. Something that gleams with its own confident beauty, without adding flash and gloss to distract from its essence. I think that idea gets at the longing that I feel. As an artistic choice, it’s very effective. I carry that story with me because of it.

Liz Prato: Whoa, I’m so grateful for what you’re saying about the “unfinishedness” of Covered in Red Dirt, because some people DO think it’s not finished. They’re like, “Where’s the end? What happened?” But the outcomes weren’t the actual story for me. The story was the narrator’s stasis—and it’s hard to get stasis on the page in an interesting way because, generally, nothing happens and that’s inherently dull. But there is a certain kind that occurs when you’re in Hawai‘i—especially on the more rural islands, like the Big Island and Kaua‘i. It starts out feeling like relaxation, or harmony, but can easily morph into not acting, not making decisions.

 

MA: Yes. The narrator’s stasis–such a good point. Colors are an intense and evocative part of this story, too. Beginning with Kimo’s brown skin with white splotches, then the bed’s red-brown koa wood, the red dirt everywhere, the yellow surfboard, the blue waves…and then the ending! Those final words: “bright white.” So good. It’s a sensuous, color-saturated story for me as I read and then I get slapped by that glorious and perfect ending. Was the use of color intentional on your part? Or simply an intuitive result of the writing process?

LP: A little of both. It’s impossible to write about Hawai‘i without writing about the natural landscape, and it’s impossible to write about the landscape without color. Kaua‘i is saturated with all these insane shades of green and blue and brown, and the red dirt is everywhere. I was aware that once I got red on the page then blood was on the page by association, and that opened up the story in a corporeal way. Also, race is an issue in Hawai‘i. People like to say it’s a perfect melting pot, and race doesn’t matter, and that’s ridiculous. Race matters deeply. Skin color has meaning. It’s a huge part of how people identify themselves and others. But the vitiligo (which I have in real life, by the way) is also a metaphor for how our identities get split.

Tomoka Trail, 24x24, acrylic, mixed media on canvas

MA: Another one of the standout stories for me was “A Space You Can Fall Into.” Wow. You have this wonderful talent for succinctly and devastatingly conveying a whole moment–distilling a whole life-changing moment–in just a few words. Words that are ostensibly about something else, but we know–we KNOW–what is being said, without being told. My very favorite writers do this and it slays me every time. In the passage I’m thinking of, a young girl (Shelby) is having decidedly non-romantic sex for the first time in the bed of a pickup truck with a friend of her cousin’s whom she has just met:

“…she looks up at the sky and notices it for the first time: you can see stars here. All of them. Every star that was ever made, whether it still exists or not, looks down at Shelby in the back of the brown pick-up truck, and they don’t twinkle or glow or any of those other things you expect stars to do. They just burn.”

Would you like to comment on that?

LP: As a reader, I want to be able to feel what the character is feeling not just by being told, but by how the atmosphere is rendered. There’s that scene in The Stranger where Meursault describes walking down the beach towards the Arab—who he claims he didn’t intend to kill—and the surroundings are described with such sharp syntax, words like blast and strike and gasped and bleached and blade and glare. The sounds of these words make it clear that this man is about to snap under the pressure of anger and violence. When you have an unreliable or detached narrator, like Meursault, or one who’s emotionally guarded, like Shelby, what that character won’t say outright needs to be rendered through how they see the world. Because that’s still my job as an author, to let the reader into the world, even if the character might not want to.

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MA: That’s so smart–and similar to the problem from that first question about how to show the narrator’s stasis–though in Shelby’s case it’s a sort of emotional stasis. You’ve tackled these difficult narrative choices and made them work in fascinating ways. I also appreciate your deft touches of humor. Your deadpan delivery often catches me by surprise in the best way. I’m thinking, specifically, of Meg’s scenarios for Celia in “When Cody Told Me He Loves Me on a Weird Winter Day.” Humor is such a complicated thing and can be difficult to do well. Can you talk a little bit about humor? Its benefits? Its pitfalls? In writing and/or in life.

LP: Just today I sent my husband this gallows-humor text about my dad’s first of several suicide attempts, which happened exactly 8 years ago. If someone didn’t know me, the whole thing would seem pretty bleak and even unstable, but my husband texted back “Haha!” Thank god I married someone who gets that humor as a survival tactic. It lifts us out of whatever micro-tragedy we’re mired in, and gives us a chance to breathe. Even in some of the saddest episodes of my life, I could still locate the small absurdities to laugh about. It’s not a coincidence that the first two stories you mentioned—Covered in Red Dirt, and A Space You Can Fall Into—have almost zero humor and were written during a real dark period in my life. I couldn’t see the happy or hopeful ending, and couldn’t see the humor then. But for the most part, that deadpan or gallows humor will always be a part of how I approach the tough stuff.

 

MA: Me, too. I’d be lost without gallows humor. It’s so versatile! So flexible! Multipurpose, even. :) Can you tell me something about your current writing project?

LP: I’m working on a collection of linked essays that explore my decades-long relationship with Hawai‘i through the lens of white imperialism and pop culture. I have this deep soul connection with the Islands that started with frequent visits when I was a teenager when my dad was building a housing subdivision on Maui. It recently occurred to me that the very thing responsible for bringing me to Hawai‘i is also responsible for destroying it and its culture: white mainlanders coming in and taking the land, the a‘ina, for their own. And being a tourist continues that cycle. In the essays, I’m braiding my personal narrative of coming of age in Hawai‘i as a teenager and going there as an adult to recover from the death of my entire family, with Hawaiian history and cultural affairs. I invoke Joan Didion and The Brady Bunch–wow, there are two names I never thought I’d say in the same sentence–and language and war and the ocean and ashes. In a sense, it’s a love story. My romantic beginnings with Hawai‘i were naïve and predicated on the shiny surface. Now, my abiding love encompasses not just Hawai‘i’s beauty, but also its struggles and deep wounds.

 

MA: That sounds fascinating. I would love to read those essays. And finally, because we are a recovery-themed journal, what does recovery mean to you?

LP: I’ve always thought of recovery as the process of renegotiating my relationship to the world after I’ve fallen down, deep down, and needed help getting up. That sounds simplistic, like a sound bite, and it totally denies what an active, exhausting process recovery can be. It’s not like recovering from running a marathon, which is mostly about resting and taking hot baths and getting massages. Recovering from trauma or addiction or illness is about rearranging your insides. You have to accept and integrate new ideas of yourself and the world into your DNA, and it can be a painful and hard. But the other option is to live a life where I’m not fully engaged, and I can’t do that. That’s what my mom and dad and brother did, and they’re no longer on this earth. That’s a powerful reminder not to succumb.

 

MA: Wow. That may be the best answer to that question I’ve ever gotten. Thank you, Liz, for such a wonderful discussion.

An Interview with Pat Zalisko

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Mary Akers: Hi, Pat! Thanks so much for agreeing to talk with me today. I’m such a fan of your beautiful work and I’ve learned more about your process as we’ve collaborated on the Winter 2017 issue. One of the things I so admire is your continual search for inspiration. I feel like you are always “open” always taking in the world around you and processing it into beautiful images. Is that just my outsider perception? Or do you recognize some truth in that?

Pat Zalisko: Mary, thank you for asking me to collaborate with you. That project opened up yet another opportunity to explore in my art making. I am incredibly grateful for you sharing this project with me!

The world is a rich and burgeoning storeroom, a bottomless cupboard filled with ingredients that spark new art or a series. I am only processing what we are all seeing, feeling, experiencing, but in my own way. This project was particularly important to me, as you approached me at time when I was exploring line and mark making during a residency. I discovered several things then, including that what I read and heard was being translated into a new visual language. I’ve coined this series, Disappearing Lines.

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MA: “A rich and burgeoning storeroom.” What a wonderful way to put it. That’s going to be ricocheting off my brain pan all day. So good. I imagine when using other sources of creative work for inspiration–particularly writing, as you have done here–there must be some things that are difficult to translate, or perhaps TRANSMUTE is the better word. Can you talk briefly about the joys and frustrations of that process?

PZ: As readers, we digest writing through the filters of our own experiences, personalities, thought patterns. How each of us processes an elegant piece of prose, for example, will be different. And when I read something that is moving, I can only interpret it against my own personal biases. Powerful words stay with me long into a piece of art. But I do feel that we all share a common experience, a common thread. And I find this shared history comforting, because it at once confirms our individual dignity and our universal frailty.

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MA: I feel that your artwork offers that, too–the comfort of shared history and experience. I’ve thought a lot about the function of art, the accessibility of art, and the conversation between artist and “consumer.” I feel strongly that art takes two to be fully realized. At first, the artist is simply in conversation with his-or-her own mind … until there is someone on the other side of that art, enjoying it, experiencing it, or even hating it. But it seems to me that art takes two brains to be fully realized–-the creator’s brain and the experiencer’s brain. Do you agree that conversation is inherent in the creation/realization of art?

PZ: Absolutely. I once had a spirited debate with a mentor, who felt slighted when he discovered that his art was often misinterpreted/interpreted by viewers in a manner other than what he intended. I disagreed with him. I don’t believe that it’s an artist’s mission to dictate how their work must be viewed. Art – like writing and music – are designed to evoke an emotional response.

If a sculptor or painter – or playwright, novelist, poet – intends a work of art to portray a particular point of view, but it’s interpreted or seen in various other ways, that ‘conversation’ between the work and the viewer or reader is valid nonetheless. The ‘consumer’ of the work is just as unique as the creator: we each take in the work through our own filters and life experiences, and this gives the work just as much (if not richer) meaning. And that dialog between the work and the viewer or reader is a spiritual, expressive one.

Slattery's Ghost

MA: Along those lines, did you feel as if you were “in conversation” with the authors whose work you used as direct inspiration for a painting? Did you read and then immediately paint? Or read, let it percolate, and then paint?

PZ: The writing here was particularly powerful. In most instances, I read and allowed the words of these writers to wash over me. I read them, several times. I still return to them.

During this project, I journaled choice words or phrases, theirs or mine. I silently rehashed lines and words on a continuous loop in my head as I painted, keeping music going in the studio to maintain my pace. In this sense, I suppose, I felt more like a student, listening avidly to the wisdom of gifted instructors who could shed light on our tragedies, loves, triumphs, relationships, flaws. And I was conversing, in my way, by creating art in reply or to document what I felt. Through it all, I was learning new perspectives for the reactions we’ve all had to the experiences described by these writers.

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MA: That continuous loop is such a rich vein creatively, isn’t it? Now I feel like I need to start paying more attention to my inner loops. :)

Did any of the work surprise you? By that I guess I mean, perhaps the deeper you went into painting it, the deeper you felt the meaning of what you had read …

PZ: This is interesting. I discovered that I would dream about select pieces here … and I still do occasionally. For example, Noa Sivan’s Two Cats, Jeff Rose’s Lighting Up, and Stephen Eoannou’s Slattery’s Ghost touched me to the core. And Haley Yelencich ‘s On Transmutation continues to haunt me, unearthed old memories and treading new ground in my art. All of the authors you selected stirred up the embers of emotions that we’ve all felt, but incorrectly presumed were long dead.

Tomoka Trail, 24x24, acrylic, mixed media on canvas

MA: I feel as if abstract work lends itself especially well to emotional interpretations and that what we bring to a viewing of abstract art influences what we “find” in the painting. Do people sometimes interpret your work in ways that surprise you? How do you feel about that?

PZ: Abstraction captures things that cannot be seen, described or felt in any other way. To paraphrase Paul Klee, it makes “visible the invisible.” Perhaps exactly because it doesn’t describe in exhaustive detail that which we experience in the world, I’ve pursued it. I’ve spent a working lifetime using words as a precise weapon and tool. The ‘words’ of abstraction, however, completely elude such use. They are far more potent, can feel like the slap a doctor delivers to a newborn’s bottom or a surprise punch, without uttering a syllable. I’m hoping to feel the magic in that art, rather than literally read it.

I do agree with you: if I, as an artist, process what I’m seeing/hearing/reading/feeling in my own unique manner, then we, as viewers or readers must necessarily bring our own interpretations to a work. We have no choice. I am always interested to hear how viewers perceive my art.

lighting-up

MA: What role do you think recovery plays in the creative process? Have you found yourself drawn to images or themes that you later realized stemmed from something you needed to work through?

PZ: I was perhaps drawn to this collaboration with you because of that reason, because as you shared these particular pieces with me, I relived the immediacy and freshness of emotions and experiences from my own life or those close to me. In that sense, it gave me the opportunity to review those events from an older, more detached perspective. It was therapeutic for me and I thank you, and these writers, for that opportunity.

Creating intellectual property like writing or art puts a face on and names that otherwise eludes the artist or writer. Identifying “it” in the work helps us understand and work it out. This can be a painful experience with beautiful, transformative consequences.

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MA: And finally, since we are a recovery-themed journal, what does “recovery” mean to you?

PZ: As I age, I’m discovering that healing means facing that which we fear most, whether it’s an addiction, an illness, our parents’ aging, dysfunctional siblings, surviving and escaping war, starvation, death. If we can confront the pain of that fear, perhaps finding solutions in creative efforts (like making art, writing, reading, composing), we emerge from these tragedies and trials, often finding love and support from others and we realize that we’re not alone.

 

Interview with Stephen G. Eoannou

Steve Eoannou

CD: The common thread in your short story collection, Muscle Cars, and in “Slattery’s Ghost” are engaging, flawed men struggling through life. This is not unique, yet your stories most certainly are. How did you develop your taut, unflinchingly honest voice? In your creative process, which comes first, character or plot? 

SE: What comes first is something real, a nugget of truth, a fact quirky or interesting enough that gets me thinking that a story can be built around it. I read a newspaper article about migrating geese taking over a local park and “Culling” was born. Ted Williams’ head is really frozen and sitting in a canister in Arizona. How bizarre is that? My parish priest was killed when I was sixteen and it was traumatic so “Slip Kid” was written decades later. I had just finished reading Jimmy Slattery’s biography and was fascinated with the multiple sightings of his ghost haunting his favorite bar and staggering down Chippewa Street. I knew I wanted to write about that and even came up with the title—“Slattery’s Ghost”—before I had either a plot or a main character. Once I stumble over or remember something that makes me curious, character comes next. What kind of guy would want to shoot all those geese with a World War Two rifle? Who would drive cross country to steal Ted Williams’ head just to bury it in Fenway? Who shot that priest five times in the back and why? Who would be interested in Jimmy Slattery ninety years after he was lightweight champ? The stories and the voices of the characters emerged when I was trying to answer those questions.

 

CD: “Stealing Ted Willams’ Head” is one of my favorite stories from Muscle Cars. This overwhelmed-by-normal-life protagonist agrees with his buddy’s plan to steal the head of famed baseball player, Ted Williams. But, like with many of your protagonists, plans don’t work out. Talk about the genesis for that character and the quirky scheme to take the head.

SE: I used to work out at this gym in North Buffalo and in the locker room there was a black-and-white photograph of Ted Williams hung on the wall. His swing was perfect. I’d admire that picture every time I went to work out. I vaguely remember reading about how his head had been cryogenically frozen after he died, but I didn’t recall the details. I found the articles online and it was all so macabre and sad. Teddy deserved a better fate. Actually, he deserved to be rescued but by whom? I was thinking about that the night I went to my high school reunion. At some point during the night, I realized I had just finished the same conversation with a guy that I’d had with him thirty years earlier. I started eavesdropping then on the conversations around me and heard old arguments like which Tripi sister was hotter and who had the coolest car back in the day. I felt like I had one foot in the present and one in the past and it struck me that that should be exactly the predicament of the guys who want to steal Teddy Ballgame’s head. Both characters are stuck—one in the past and one in the present–and they need an adventure like driving two thousand miles to steal a head to get them moving forward. I went home that night and started working on the story. It’s one of my favorites in the collection.

 

CD: What has been the most surprising thing about your life as a writer?

SE: The most surprising thing to me is that I have a writing life. Writing is humbling. I had three failed novels and a drawer crammed with rejection slips before I began to publish on a regular basis. I think I averaged about a published story every eight years until not too long ago. It’s hard to keep trying when the rejections are pouring in and there’s no support or encouragement coming from any quarter. There’s a great deal of self-validation and satisfaction with each story that’s published and each invitation I receive to give a reading or to teach a class or to give an interview like this one. I love the network of writers that I now have in my life and the people I’ve met—bookstore owners, editors, publishers, readers—who love books and reading and writing. I feel very fortunate to be a small part of it.

CD: Also, as a writer, what is your Kryptonite?

SE: Time. I fight against it every day, and it always wins. There are not enough writing hours in the morning before I have to go to my paying job. There are not enough editing hours at night before I have to sleep. Getting up at 5am to write has gotten more difficult over this past year, and I think it’s because I’m older. I have a sense of urgency now to get words down on paper because time is going so quickly. It doesn’t help that I write slowly. People always say you have to ‘make’ time to write. Well, you can’t make time. We’re stuck with the twenty-four hours we got. I can’t create an extra hour so I can revise. What I have to do is steal time. I steal from my nine-to-five job. I steal from time with my kids. Workouts are cut short or skipped all together. I’m stealing minutes at lunchtime and on breaks to polish sentences. I have a buddy who writes screenplays. He grew tired of Chicago winters and not having enough time to write because of his real estate job so he quit his old life, cashed in his 401K and headed to Hollywood. There is no Plan B. I’m rooting for him. He stole back the whole 24/7. I hope he writes something magnificent for all us time thieves nickel and diming are way through our manuscripts.

 

CD: Which writers inspire you? 

SE: John Irving was the first writer to inspire me. He was the one that made me want to be a writer in the first place. I remember finishing The Hotel New Hampshire when I was in high school and wishing I had written it. I loved how Irving could make me laugh until I realized how sad it all really was and then the laughter stopped. It was like a slap coming right off the page. I then discovered William Kennedy and Richard Russo at about the same time and loved the sense of place in their novels. They were New York writers like I wanted to be, not New York City writers. I wanted—still want—to write about Buffalo the way Kennedy writes about Albany and Russo writes about Upstate New York. Their turf just isn’t the setting for their work. It becomes a character as fully developed as any other. It took me a long time, too long, before I realized that my home town, my neighborhood, is filled with stories waiting to be discovered and told. My writing went to another level when I finally realized this and began mining in my own backyard. “Slattery’s Ghost” is a good example of this. I knew Slattery was a South Buffalo fighter and light weight champ in the twenties and that my Dad had thrown him out of his restaurant in the forties when Slattery was washed up and an alcoholic, but I didn’t know anything else. I read his biography, Slats by Rich Blake, and realized that Slats was such a Buffalo guy, a legend, that I wanted to write about him and his life and somehow weave it in to a present-day story. I was very pleased with how the story was constructed and that it found a home at r.kv.ry. How cool would it be if that story inspires a young writer out there to take a swing at writing a story of their own? If it does, I hope that writer lets me know so I can buy them a beer. I’m still waiting for Russo and Irving to buy me that first round.

 

 

Carla Damron draws on her experiences as a southerner and a social worker in her writings, including the literary novel, The Stone Necklace (2016), and three mystery novels, Keeping Silent, (2001,) Spider Blue (2006) and Death in Zooville, (2010). Damron’s short stories have appeared in literary collections and journals such as Marked by WaterSix Minute FictionMelusineIn Posse Review and Fall Lines. Damron received an MFA in Creative Writing in 2011. In 2016, she was honored to have The Stone Necklace selected to be the “One Book, One Community” read for Columbia, SC. Read more about Carla at www.carladamron.com

 

Interview with Terri Muuss

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Mary Akers: Thanks for agreeing to talk with me today, Terri. I loved your poem Write to Save Someone. I’m wondering, has writing always been your first artistic love? If not, what was it and how did you transition to poetry/writing? 

Terri Muuss: Actually, acting, theatre and directing have always been my first loves. I came to acting quite young and naturally. It will always be a huge part of who I am and how I see art in a larger sense. Much of my poetry is born out of a theatricality I possess from being onstage these many years.

That being said, poetry was always sort of waiting in the wings for me. When I was in tenth grade, my best friend was a beautiful person and poet. I spent long days at her house after school as I had no inclination to go home to my own dysfunctional house. There, she read and wrote poetry in front of me and it certainly inspired me to use it as an avenue for expression. Later, during senior year, I had a teacher hand me a packet of poems by e.e. cummings, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes that she thought I would enjoy. That packet sent me on a journey of reading as many poets as I could. Still, poetry was off to the side while theater took center stage.

It really wasn’t until I was faced with the trauma of my past and of putting myself together that writing became both a therapeutic tool and an artistic passion. To better understand the trauma of being sexually abused as a child, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Mostly poetry but also monologues. At the end, what I’d constructed was a one-woman show skeleton that became Anatomy of a Doll. I performed the show throughout New York City and then the country at conferences and in theaters. Even then, I didn’t identify myself as a writer. I thought of myself as a performer who just happened to use my writing as a script. When Veronica Golos (my friend, mentor and a gorgeous poet who’s won numerous awards) began taking an interest in my work and started editing it in a poetry workshop she led out of her house on the Upper West Side, I started to see myself in the context of being a poet and poetry as a vocation. I think the form of poetry works well to showcase the dissociation that comes with abuse much more than prose does. Veronica is still my editor, having worked on both Anatomy of a Doll and my book, Over Exposed.

But the biggest transition from actor to writer happened during my marriage to poet Matt Pasca. He’s always seen me as a writer and, before I even claimed that identity for myself, always pushed me to go deeper, to write more, to get better, to submit my work. Through our marriage I have grown as a writer and come to see myself as a poet.

 

MA: You write a lot about painful events and speak openly about them. Most people wouldn’t be able to do that. Where does this ability come from? What has been the reaction from friends and relatives about this openness?

TM: Many people have said they’ve seen me as courageous because I share the truth of my childhood sexual abuse, subsequent rapes, addiction and my recovery quite publicly. I have to acknowledge that this is the way it is perceived by other people. For me, however, it’s born out of necessity and so it’s never felt or seemed like courage. I have lived my life according to the 12-step saying, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” I know that what I keep inside me, what I feel shame about, what I try to hide, will destroy me from the inside. Giving a voice to my pain and shame and grief and mistakes gives me back my power, my joy and my life.

I’ve also grown to see that if I’m hiding the fact that I was sexually abused, I am sending myself and others the message that it was somehow my fault or that there’s something for me to be ashamed of. I’ve come to understand that what happened to me was not anything that I should be ashamed of. I was the victim so why should I be ashamed. I’ve also come to understand that the sexual abuse and the rape and the violence are a part of me but they are not the entirety of me.

Lastly, if I can help someone (with my story) to recover, let go of their shame, and move into survivorhood, then it is all more than worth it. As social worker and researcher Brene Brown states, “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount of shame in the petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive.” I choose let go of secrecy and to douse my shame with empathy, and empathy for the world must begin with me.

Friends and relatives have been overwhelmingly supportive, although for some of them, it took a period of adjustment and listening that gave birth to deeper understanding. I surround myself with people who are willing to be empathetic, courageous, vulnerable, and honest with both me and themselves. I consider myself very lucky to have a wide circle of supportive people in my life.

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MA: Are you very involved in a poetry community? Have you initiated any events? What advice do you have for readers who might be trying to do the same?

TM: I’m a licensed social worker and the macro version of social work is community organizing. The first rule of community organizing is to listen to the community. Too often, people come into a community with their own expectations and demands. They try to foist onto a community what they want to see the community have. If you’re really trying to build community, through the arts or otherwise, ask questions and be willing to hear the answers. The community might not want the same things you want for them but if community is your ultimate goal, you need to let its members be your guide. Too often in the poetry community, as in other communities, people set up an event that mirrors the kind of poetry THEY want but disregard what the community is really is looking for. Finding the right venue, format and publicity are integral to success.

My husband Matt Pasca and I run an event in Bay Shore, NY called  Second Saturdays at Cyrus which has featured poets and an open mic night at Cyrus Chai & Coffee Company. The event is successful, in part, to our long-held connections in the writing and poetry scenes on Long Island and New York City, which allows us to feature very talented poets of different backgrounds. Every day there’s a poetry event somewhere in NY but usually the poetry sounds like poetry of whoever’s running it and the poets performing look a lot like them. Second Saturdays is the opposite as it showcases both the diversity of NY community and their poetry. This is one reason it is almost always standing room only. My husband, Matt has 20 years’ worth of teaching in the high school here and a deep investment in the community, and we’ve used that to let the community be aware of this space as a safe place to come and share art, community and poetry.

I would recommend to anyone trying to build a community that it’s so important to have collaborators in any community venture. Without them, burnout is a real factor. You need to be able to share the workload, bounce ideas off of each other, and laugh together to elevate stress and keep it going!

 

MA: Do you have any books out? What is next for you? 

TM: I have two books out currently. Over Exposed is my memoir, told in both poetry and prose. Grabbing the Apple is an anthology of New York women poets that I coedited with M.J. Tenerelli. I work with a group you called the Poets of Well-being (made up of Susan Dingle, Maggie Bloomfield, Nina Yavel and I). We are all social worker-writers who are in long term recovery (we have over 100 years of sobriety between us). You can find the group on Facebook. As a group, we travel to conferences and venues to showcase how writing can be a therapeutic tool for helping others overcome addiction and abuse. We facilitated a workshop at AWP in Minnesota, at the Expressive Therapies Conference in NYC and were even invited to the 2016 NASW conference in DC. Next, I am deep into work on a new poetry manuscript with the working title “God’s Spine” which works to  showcase poems around the theme of finding beauty, recovery and spirituality within ourselves and in the beauty of connection with others.