Interview by Jonathan Taylor at Everybody’s Reviewing

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JT: Melissa, I hugely enjoyed your poetry collection I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, which seemed to me original, strange and often sublime. At the same time, your neo-Romanticism is also accompanied by an eye for the beauty of the everyday – so that the sublime mixes with the mundane (“Washing clothes … is an act of prayer,” you say in one poem, and another is entitled “Starry Night, with Socks”). For me, I would say this was one of the hallmarks of your style – but do tell me if I’m wrong. How would you describe your style?

MS: I love that assessment, Jonathan – especially that you called I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast “strange.” In pointing out the commingling of the mundane and sublime, you nailed not only my style, but also how I experience the world. I grew up in a secular home. My father is agnostic, and my mother is spiritual with a deep curiosity about supernatural mysteries. We didn’t go to church, but I would sit at the top of the jungle gym in my back yard and talk to god. I believed and still believe that god is in my backyard. That’s part of it. Also, there’s something a monk said to me years ago when I was learning Buddhist meditation. He said, “When you learn to relax inside your mind, you can be on permanent vacation, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” You don’t need to go anywhere or seek anything. The beach, the flower, the mountain – they are all inside you. So, yes, I carry them with me when I vacuum and put on socks. Then I realize that vacuum cleaners and socks are sublime too. So, I think I would describe my style as you have, except to also possibly add that I think figuratively. I’m sure I have driven people crazy with my constant metaphors and analogies in everyday conversation, but if I want to understand or explain something, my mind almost always reaches for a comparison.

JT: Clearly, there’s a lot of cosmic and creation imagery in the collection.  What themes and ideas were you exploring in this respect?

MS: I was exploring a feminine, cyclical conception of god, time, and the universe. Rather than fashioning my poetic god in man’s image, I fashioned her in woman’s image. It was important to me that she be god and not the diminutive or adjunct “goddess.” I wanted to convey her as the origin and the all powerful, but I also wanted her to be present in the whole of everything. So, in I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, most everything is pretty much a microcosm of the divine and the all. That’s why a pancake is creation flattened out. It’s all interconnected, all divine. As well, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast plays with ideas of reincarnation, god birthing the universe, and god attempting to parent the world.

To read the rest of the interview, please visit Everybody’s Reviewing.

 

Patricia Smith Interview for VIDA Voices & Views

About This Episode:

In this episode of VIDA Voices and Views, Melissa Studdard interviews poet and fiction writer, Patricia Smith, who reads from her award-winning poetry collection Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah and discusses topics ranging from the poetic inspiration of children’s books to learning how to use technique to resonate your voice in the reader’s head.

About Patricia Smith:

A renaissance artist of unmistakable signature, Patricia Smith has been called “a testament to the power of words to change lives.” She has authored and edited six critically-acknowledged volumes of poetry, a children’s book, a crime fiction anthology, and a companion volume to the groundbreaking PBS history series, Africans in America. Her numerous accolades include the Rebekah Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and the Phillis Wheatley Award in Poetry. As well, she is recognized as one of the world’s most formidable performers and is a four-time national individual champion of the Poetry Slam. She was featured in the film “Slamnation,” and appeared on the HBO series “Def Poetry Jam.” Additionally, her works have been transformed into award-winning films and plays, and her vocals have been featured on jazz CDs and radio commercials. An accomplished and sought-after instructor of poetry, performance, and creative writing, Patricia often appears at creative conferences and residencies and is a Cave Canem faculty member, a professor of English at CUNY/College of Staten Island, and a faculty member of the Sierra Nevada MFA program.

To learn more about Patricia Smith, please visit: http://www.wordwoman.ws/

 

Photograph by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Patricia Smith Quotes from This Episode of VIDA Voices & Views:

“When something comes back to your head more than three times, it’s begging to be written about.”

“If you learn how to look at the world the way a poet looks at the world, you will lose your mind—because inspiration smacks you in the face wherever you are.”

“[Poetry] is one of the only things you can do where your voice is always legitimate.”

“I want to be able to put a poem I’ve written on a table and have someone pick it up and say ‘Patricia, you must have dropped this poem’ and my name’s not on it … We should all be in pursuit of signature.”

“If you don’t tell your own story or even find a way to tell snippets of your own story, you give permission for someone else to do it.”

“I kind of think of poetry as a second throat.”

“When you’re afraid of parts of your story, you’re afraid to even write them down.”

“The key is to still have all that feeling and all that spontaneity in the poem but be able to bring it under a structure so that there’s a tension developed.”

“If you say you are impassioned about writing, you should want to write in as many ways as possible.”

Voices of Bettering American Poetry Interview

What’s the earliest experience, or a stand-out experience, you can remember that made you realize that you can be yourself, write as yourself, and write about issues that matter to you? Has this been difficult for you? 

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Telling my truth as a woman and a writer has not only been difficult; it’s one of the greatest, most ongoing battles of my life. I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that almost every day I write is a day I struggle to say what I really think and feel. As well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge that what I really think and feel is at times so repressed by and so buried beneath everything I am supposed to be that I can hardly find it to write about it.

Realizing that you can be yourself, write as yourself, and write about issues that matter to you is not the same as feeling empowered to do so. For me, it’s a process, and the biggest awakening has been reading Audre Lorde. I’m not all the way brave or all the way awake yet, but reading Lorde shook me up and startled me out of a sort of debilitating politeness. She made me realize that it’s not only my right—it’s my responsibility—to speak my truth. I came to her late, through my girlfriend, Amy King, and I wish I’d discovered her decades ago. My whole life would have been different. I keep Sister Outsider on my desk, and I keep quotes from “Poetry is Not a Luxury” and “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” on my hard drive. Lorde says:

We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.

What liberates me is not overcoming fear but taking fear for that wild ride from my gut out to the page.

Read the rest of the interview HERE.

 

 

 

Fiction Earth: Episode 1

 

 

Here’s a fun new podcast hosted by Paul Harrison. I was delighted to be on the first episode, along with Shaindel Beers. Below are Paul’s notes about the show and a link to the Fiction Earth website.

Fiction Earth Podcast 1: With Melissa Studdard And Shaindel Beers. 

Welcome to the Fiction Earth podcast.

In this first podcast I had the pleasure of chatting with poet, authors and teachers Melissa Studdard and Shaindel Beers.

In this first podcast we discuss poetry, writing, creativity, personal inspiration, and also throw in a little bit of fun and nerdy entertainment.

On the podcast

Shaindel, Melissa and myself had a fantastic chat and covered everything from spirituality to Star Trek, as well as looking at personal inspirations and motivations.

Hope you enjoy the podcast.

Melisa Studdard And Shaindel Beers Discuss Poetry And Creativity–Podcast

 

 

 

VIDA Voices & Views Interviews with Cheryl Strayed & Don Share

I’m thrilled to announce the release of two new interviews for VIDA Voices & Views. The first interview features writer and activist, Cheryl Strayed, who reads from her celebrated memoir Wild and discusses topics ranging from her own feminist origins to the glimmers of beauty, art, and power contained within suffering.

Cheryl Strayed is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Wild, the novel Torch, and two more New York Times bestsellers, Tiny Beautiful Things, which is comprised of advice from her “Dear Sugar” column, and Brave Enough, a collection of her most popular quotes. Celebrated for transforming suffering and loss into power and grace, Strayed’s books have been translated into forty languages. As well, Wild was made into an Oscar-nominated movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern and was chosen by Oprah Winfrey as the first selection for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. In addition to writing, Strayed is co-host of the WBUR podcast Dear Sugar Radio, which originated with her “Dear Sugar” advice column on The Rumpus, and she is a long-time feminist activist and one of the first members of VIDA’s board of directors. Critics have called Cheryl Strayed’s work “both a literary and human triumph.” To learn more about Cheryl Strayed, please visit: www.cherylstrayed.com

Here are some of my favorite Cheryl Strayed quotes from the episode:

 “When I was a kid of just six or seven years old, I learned the word ‘feminism,’ and I’ve been a feminist ever since.”

“Literature is my religion. Books have been the thing throughout my life that have offered the greatest consolation and enlightenment and illumination and all the things that we go to religion or spiritual practice for.”

“Writers get this bad rap, like we’re so competitive and at each other’s throats, and I would say, ‘Yeah, every once in awhile there is somebody who is like that.’ But mostly what I feel is that we go to the same church and we speak the same language and have the same values and beliefs in a deep sort of way. And I feel the presence of that. And I love the sense of community among writers.”

“Life and literature are not about ‘should.’ They’re about who you are really. And who you are really is so much more interesting and complex and beautiful than those artificial surfaces that we all want to show the world.”

“Every decision I make is informed by my feminism. There is no separating me from my feminism. It has informed me from the beginning. Same thing with my femaleness, my fill-in-the-blankness, my being a mom. Certain things enter you that are so central that you are always speaking from that place.”

“I was alone so much, and I was always surrounded with the living world. You know, when you actually decide to believe the truth—that every tree you encounter is a living thing—it changes your perspective on what alone means.”

“The big fear around writing memoir is, ‘Will people judge me?’ And, yeah, some people will. But some people will say ‘Thank you. Thank you for showing a version of yourself that feels true to me—because I am that way too.’ And nobody likes a braggart. Nobody likes someone who is like, ‘Oh no, not me. I’m perfect.’ We like the person at the edge of the party who says, ‘You know, I’ve had four miscarriages’ or ‘I’m divorced’ or ‘I’m in recovery because I used to be a drug addict.’”

“Out of our wounds, if we can get a sense of our power, that’s where our strength rises.”

“At the end of the day, what I realized is that the people who had transformed their lives the most powerfully were the people who came to the realization that that work could only be done by themselves.”

The second interview is the first of a two-part interview featuring poet and editor Don Share. In this segment, Share reads his poem “Food for Thought” from the collection Squandermania and discusses topics ranging the power of the imagination to effect change in the world to Poetry magazine’s open door policy to language’s complicity in the mania for squandering resources.

Beloved poet and Poetry magazine editor, Don Share, was a 2015 recipient of VIDA’s “VIDO” Award for his contributions to American literature and literary community. In addition to being the author and editor of over a dozen books, including Wishbone, Union, Bunting’s Persia, Seneca in English, Squandermania and The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of POETRY Magazine, which he co-edited with Christian Wiman, Share is an accomplished translator, whose renditions of Miguel Hernández were awarded the Times Literary Supplement Translation Prize and the Premio Valle Inclán. As well, Share’s work at Poetry has been recognized with three National Magazine Awards for editorial excellence from the American Society of Magazine Editors, and a CLMP “Firecracker” Award for Best Poetry Magazine. Share is celebrated in the literary community for his generosity, innovativeness, and warm wit.

Here are some of my favorite Don Share quotes from the episode:

“I don’t know of a poet who doesn’t write out of the impulse to say, ‘The world could be better.’ That’s sort of the plot of every decent poem.”

“What we all do when poetry is at its best is activate the imagination—because to solve problems, and to create a world in which any kind of justice obtains, the imagination has to work.”

“The open door doesn’t just mean everybody gets to walk through. What it means is that somebody greets you.”

“People talk about privilege and gatekeeping, but the way I look at it, it isn’t about anything more than my having a chance to put your work in front of a really big audience—and that’s all we exist to do.”

“I ask myself, ‘How can I keep thought going in a world where everything is being squandered relentlessly by all of us?’”

“If you look all over the world, at images from the most troubled places, you see women having to pay the price for the violence that occurs—whether it’s domestic violence or warfare or poverty, it’s women who have to convert all kinds of emotions and disadvantages into a world that makes it possible for somebody else to survive.”

“When people leave the room, and the best poets have spoken to them, they aren’t the same.”

* To be notified of upcoming releases, be sure to subscribe to VIDA’s youtube channel.

 

A Virtual Interview with Melissa Studdard

She asked what I’d say to other writers, and I said, “You have the opportunity to thrill someone the way your favorite writers have thrilled you. You have the potential to be someone else’s favorite writer. Isn’t that wonderful?”

Thanks to Cindy Huyser for this interview and these great questions in preparation for tomorrow’s reading.

I’ll be at BookWoman in Austin at 7 PM tomorrow night!

To Love One Thing

from Psychology Today

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — Howard Thurman

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When I was a kid, I used to love to sit at the top of my jungle gym and watch the goings on of the neighborhood. My fence cornered two others, and I could see four more backyards besides. I knew which couples got along and which were fighting. I knew where dogs hid their bones. I watched swimming pools dug and gardens planted and other kids swinging so high I thought they wanted to marry the sky. I could tell you what time each family ate dinner and when the moms made their kids sit down to homework. I was a human calendar that could have divulged the events of many days before they even unfolded.

Then one fall, shortly before Thanksgiving, something unexpected happened: A man in my neighborhood became enamored with baking muffins—blueberry, banana nut, ginger lemon, chocolate chip, jalapeño cheddar, onion walnut—you name it, he baked it. Oh how he came alive! This once very ordinary, nondescript man, who I’d never bothered to watch much before, was now lit with the fire of passion. He was radiant as he stood over the stovetop in his apron and mitts, face aglow with oven light and infatuation, waiting for his muffins to cool. He was radiant and happy, and he made others happy too. Neighborhood children began to hang around his yard and driveway to watch him bag up muffins at his worktable in the garage. Women stopped by with casseroles in hopes of receiving muffins in return. Everyone offered help when they saw him repairing a board in his fence or trimming back a hedge. The bottom line is that this man adored muffins, and through loving muffins he loved the world and the world loved him back.

Because it was close to Thanksgiving, I began to associate my muffin-baking neighbor with the concept of gratitude, and it occurred to me then, as it does now, that there are few greater ways to express thanks for these lives we have been given than to find something that thrills us and to spend our time doing it.

When we brim, when we shimmer, when we glow with love for something, anything, we become conduits of magic, and we ourselves become gifts to the world. I don’t care if it’s muffins or poetry or nursing or duct tape art or spelunking or carving idyllic picnic scenes into egg shells; when we love what we do, that love becomes an elixir for all who are lucky enough to know us. We are not only expressing our appreciation for our lives; we are giving others reason to be thankful for us too.

To read the rest of this post, visit Psychology Today.