Why Do I Write: About Babies


When I write about things, it’s usually a ‘once and done’ kind of thing. I write about this mountain once, or this retreat in a couple stages, or this kind of relationship… I tend not to dwell on the same exact thing over and over again.

Unless that thing is babies.

Going over a lot of the things I’ve been writing lately, I realized that a good bit of them focus on children, children at mass being one of the constantly recurring images. Whether I am writing a reflection on Christmas or Easter, I tend to write reflections on the Christ Child rather than the man, Jesus. I’ve written more poems for and about my nieces and nephews than I have all of my lovers combined. It seems I would prefer to write about the beauty of a child’s eyes than ever look another adult in the eye, period. babies

It would be easy enough to write this off as my baby fever beginning to bleed into everything I do. I’m a twenty-two year old woman who is unmarried and itching to change that. I’ve had horrible bouts of depression where my body longs for a child, and could only really be placated by getting a pet (hence why I welcomed Seviper, my ball python, into my family. My precious, scaly little baby :3 ) I could pretend that this writing obsession with children is just a phase, or a fad, that I’ll grow out of, much like I grew out of writing about high school and college concerns, as soon as I have my own children and become tired of dealing with children all the time.

It would also be easy to excuse my baby-obsession on the fact that I work as a full-time nanny as my day-job. At the moment, I work with three boys, but most of my time is spent chilling out with the infant (who I’m pretty sure thinks of me as the red-headed food-and-fun machine). With so much of my time spent with children, it could just be a coincidence that my mind tends to be focused on children most of the time, right?

I honestly believe, however, that that would be denying one of the innermost truths of my being. Almost since the time I began even thinking about the word ‘vocation’, I always knew that I had been Created to become a mother. Every other pursuit of mine- poetry, dancing, social justice, faith, love, companionship, understanding- every little thing I do I do with my future children in mind. And this is not because I have raging baby fever that can be calmed, or that my vocation to be a mother would begin and end with the act of having and rearing my own flesh and blood. I was already becoming a mother when I was a child- in the way I saw things, in the way I reacted to things, and in the way I anticipated things. In my friendships, in my relationships, in my work… in everything I do I behave in such a way as to make myself a better mother; a better me in general. I’ve come to the realization that I write so much about children, with the imagery of children, because it is one of the main ways in which I see this world; through the eyes of a mother, in which I have the responsibility of a mother to everyone and everything in my vicinity. I am more compassionate when I view my enemy as someone else’s child. I am more patient when I think about my friends’ mother talking them through the situation that is vexing to me. I am quicker to pity, rather than despise, when I look at others through the eyes of their mother.

So it is only right that I would display this in the purest way that I ‘see’: through my writing, and especially my poetry. It is in my metaphors, in my dedication to the Holy Mother, in manipulating the imagery of my own mother, in writing indirectly to my future children, and love letters to the children of others. Everyone is somebody’s baby- as someone who believes in her own vocation as a mother, it is hard for me to see the world in any other light.

How does your vocation in life change the way you see? Whether you write or read, how are you affected?

Why Do I Write: With Such Weird Titles


Sometimes in my poetry, my titles make sense. They fit the mood of the poem, or reveal something more about the poem if you look up what that specific phrase (such is the case with Laughter of the Spirit and Liminal Space).

But then there are the others. Poems with titles like ‘Ponyboy’, ‘Sunshine’, ‘Monkey’, ‘Running Man’, ‘Aegipan’, ‘Snake’, ‘Mountain Man’ etc. If you’ve at all noticed, these kind of weirdly named poems tend to be love or lust poems. That’s because all of these weird titles are actually nicknames. Some of them are boyfriends I’ve had, some of them are flings, some of them are crushes or personal fantasies about people. Some of these men know their nicknames (and hence know which poems are about them), and some of them don’t (thank goodness). These weird titles are, in fact, dedications of sorts- while the poem itself may be open to being applied to the reader’s own sense of what love and lust may be, and may relate to the reader’s experience of such things in the consuming of the poem, the title belongs only to the person that the poem is dedicated to.

Now I’ve dated quite a bit, being a person who enjoys immensely the entire hoopla that comes with dating casually (dating seriously has always been an entirely different thing for me), as well as being someone who has always been fascinated by what I would consider to be the beauty of the opposite sex’s place in my own life, so I have a lot of poems about men and how I view them in different stages of awe, desire, longing and questioning. Not all of them are denoted with nicknames. Some of them have normal love poem names, ‘Your Fingers’, ‘Thirteen Years’, ‘I Like You’, ‘On the Shore of Coronado’, etc. These poems will never be as personal as the ones that have nicknames attached to them. While the poems themselves are always addressed to a specific person, the poems without nicknames are always a larger reflection on the feeling of love, desire, longing, etc. rather than the ways in which that specific man elicits those feelings, whereas the poems with nicknames will always focus on how a specific person makes me feel.

So there’s a little insight into how I name my poems (which all of my titles are important, I may expand on the other titles later). As a reader of poetry, do you take much notice of the titles of poems? As a writer of poetry, do you spend much time on your titles/ use titles at all?

Why Do I Write: About Africa (Sehemu Mbili)


In a previous post regarding the poems I’ve written about Kenya, I focused on the overarching experience. We did so much in such a small span of time, and learned so much, that from the get-go the trip was already slated to become a huge part of me growing-up and getting to know the world.

However, during this trip I also experienced what it would be like to truly, fully believe that I was about to die. See, when I was getting all of the shots necessary for entering Africa, I only got those that are legally required. Because of my sensitivities, I never get shots that are not ‘required’, and I figured that malaria was really all that we had to guard against (and we had pills for that). Also, when in Kenya, we were told to take care with the water- we were supposed to make sure that none of it got into our bodies without being filtered. I followed the rules, of course- except for when I forgot while shaving my legs. I put my nicked up skin right under the running water and never thought twice about it.

A couple of days into the trip me and another girl became violently ill. At the advice of one of the local priests, we got taken to a clinic to be tested for malaria. The other girl came up positive for it. I came out negative for it. One of the other members of my group told me to be glad that I didn’t have malaria. But I wasn’t glad- I was still in so much pain and I wept because now I didn’t have a reason for it.

It’s been three years now so I can’t honestly tell you if I was really in any danger of dying or if my paranoia was kicking up the pain to the point where I simply believed that I was dying- but I know that if you had asked me then, I was convinced that I wasn’t going to be coming back to the States.

Now this is where this gets relevant to my poetry. When I look back at the poems that I wrote while in Kenya, I’m often stricken by the images I used, the short/conciseness of the poetry, and how obsessed it seems that I was with the idea of ‘belonging’.  If I could pick out one of the biggest flaws that I have in writing poetry, it would be that I just love to write images for the sake of images, and will draw out a poem that could have very well ended much earlier just to keep drawing out those images. I also tend to use a plethora of cross-sectioned imagery that blends theology and nature and the gothic and grotesque. However, with my Kenyan poetry, I use very little abstract imagery at all. Most of it is simply recounting what I’m seeing in a simple way. Most of the poems are ridiculously short, for my average line-length. And everything is focused on that idea of being part of a Kenyan family through adoption-by-tree-planting, or feeling at home at Lake Nakeru, or taking individual villagers as sisters or brothers in spirit.

At the time, this seemed perfectly natural. Looking back now, I realize that these were poems I was writing when I thought I wasn’t going to be writing for much longer. These were the last poems that I thought I would ever write. I didn’t have time or the energy for pretense or huge, long expositions about the things I was seeing in Kenya, either positive or negative. I just wanted to put down what was going on around me, and who was around me, as I was dying. I wanted to feel like, if I was going to die an ocean away from my family, that I was at least going to die surrounded by some kind of family. I wanted to die loved.

Even when we did finally get me correctly diagnosed with typhoid and got me medicated, the fear never left. It still hasn’t left. When I get sick now with a huge cold or a fever, I often have dreams that I never left Kenya. That I’m still there, getting ready to die, and that my life up until now has all been one huge fever-dream. Whenever I feel like I have little or no hope, or that I am all alone, I find myself writing about the savanna or the songs that I barely even remember. I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing about Kenya, even if I do never get the chance to go back (though I sorely hope I will be able to, sooner rather than later).

It’s given me a lot to think about, in terms of what is truly important. If these poems are any indication, at least there is some proof that family has always, and will always, come first to me. That, no matter what, I am always desperate for family. To belong somewhere. To have people who are proud of me, who miss me when I’m gone, who will be there when I come back. I am lucky, and I thank God every day, for the family He has given me- my family by birth, those family members I choose, and even the family I am still in touch with worlds away in Kakamega, Kambiri and Nairobi. It’s a bit silly to know that it took almost dying for me to fully recognize that and stop taking that for granted, but there it is.

So if you come across any poetry of mine written about my time in Africa, re-read it now, knowing that I thought that those poems were going to be my last words. Or you can even read the ones I’ve written after  coming home, and see how I have dwelt on just what it would have meant to go to eternal rest there, or what is has meant to come back to my family in the States.

Why Do I Write: About God


I haven’t done one of these in awhile, so I figured it was about time that I got back on track with this series of posts…

[Trigger warning: Sensitive topics]

One of the most prevalent things that I write about is God. There’s no ifs ands or buts about it. There’s a reason why my first really cohesive collection is Drunk Dialing the Divine– it’s not that I don’t write anything but Catholic-Christian poetry, it’s just that I write these kinds of poems in a very frank way, and also in a very forceful way. They aren’t the most pious of poems, in the conventional sense (with titles like ‘Drunk Dialing the Divine’, ‘God is a Nutter’, ‘Unusual Penance’, what would you really expect?), but they are rather profound. And though they seem irreverent at first blush, they most obviously aren’t- these poems readily get published through Christian journals such as Time of Singing, GLOW, devozine and Radix, as well as being distributed through parishes, through such publications as the More Informed,  or religious schools in the literary magazine of Regis University, the Apogee- my poetry has even been taught in local high school youth groups. (I’m doing a reading for a group in an Englewood church on Friday).

So here’s a little background on where this aggressively devotional poetry comes from:

I was raised Catholic, in a Catholic family, made up of Germans and Irish people who probably have no idea what not being Catholic even looks like. I was a cantor for my Sunday mass regularly since eighth grade (though I had cantored my own First Communion), and went to CCD classes. I went to every retreat offered from middle school to high school, volunteered as a middle school mentor for awhile, was apart of the CORE team at my high school, led retreats and gave testimonials, and went on two mission trips with my youth group (once to Juarez, Mexico, and another time to Kakamega, Kenya). I chose to go to a Jesuit university, where I am now double-majoring in Religious Studies and English, and work as a Sacristan at the masses. My relationship with the Church as always been pretty solid. I love the rituals. I love the rhythm of it. I love the community aspect of it. While I don’t always agree with specific parts of Catholic dogma, I at least appreciate the thought that goes in to all of the different parts of it. I love how intellectual the Church is, and has been, throughout the ages. I love how it isn’t individualistic, and focuses on the Church as a whole first.

What I have had problems with, numerous times, is God. You know how some people wish they could have God without the Church? I’ve often found myself thinking the other way around. Why couldn’t we have this amazing organization, community, ritual and togetherness without the messiness of a personal deity?

This comes from a place of personal anger, of course. I was born with autism, which was much more crippling when I was younger than it now that I have my coping mechanisms. I was born with people blaming my mother, whom I love, for being a bad mother because of the way I was born. I was born listening to people use people like me as their reason not to believe in God. To this day, I still wake up every morning angry as all get out about being born in such a way that I cannot avoid hurting the people I love or myself just by trying to be myself.

I’ve also had a bunch of horrible crap happen to me. I’ve been molested, raped, verbally and physically abused- my best friend died when I was eight- I grew up in an area that, while affluent, had a very high suicide rate- and I have had someone try to suffocate me to death with a pillow for not wanting to kiss them.

I’ve listened to my friends tell me about the horrible things that happened to them- drug addiction, incest, being beaten, parents/ siblings being killed in front of them, abortion,  etc.- and found myself even angrier that there was so much sickness in this world that it made me seem like I was a lucky person.

And you know what? No ‘This is God’s plan’ or ‘It will all work out somehow’ seemed to make that better. You can’t tell me that horrible stuff like the things I’ve been through, like the things that the people I love have been through, are the machinations of the loving God that was talked about in the homily every week. I almost couldn’t handle it.

But the thing is- my love for the Church wouldn’t let me let go of my love for God. The practices of my faith basically tricked me into letting God into my heart- despite all of my anger and plans to renounce Him- and let Him persist for Love of me.

So where does poetry come in?

I’m not perfect. And I’m not going to tell you that my faith story is ended and resolved. Or that it’s happy right now. Or that it’s mostly happy. Because, at most, that would probably be a half-truth. Read my poetry, and you’re probably going to understand that about three lines in. My religious poetry is not some explanation of revelation or theology that I’ve solidified- it’s my own relationship with God that I’m trying to really work out.

The only solid thing I’ve got to go on is ‘Things are Because God is’.

And I share these with you because I’m not preaching- I’m trying to have a discussion. I want people to read these poems and go ‘I’ve thought that before’ or ‘you’re so far off’ and have a conversation about it. There’s not enough conversation, especially in the arts, with the Church. We need more. And I’m just a start.

 

Edit: I realize that this sounds a bit downer, I did end up going on a tad of a rant there. I do assure you that I am completely in love with God, whatever our differences may be, and that I in no way condone not returning God’s love.  Though I am largely angry, I am also largely content- I’m kind of like the Hulk in the way that I manage my anger about existence. You can be angry and happy at the same time. I promise.

Why I Write: About Autism


Another topic that comes up often in my poetry, whether or not it is specifically mentioned, is autism. I actually write about it a lot more than it may originally seem.  I have two named ‘Diagonsis: Autism Spectrum Disorder’ and ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’; which are pretty straight forward. But I also have poems about it called ‘Alien’, ‘The Nothingness’, ‘Anxiety Attack’, ‘Eyes’….. things that aren’t specifically labelled as being about autism but most definately are.

I write these poems because they are me. I am an individual with high-functioning autism, also known as Asperger’s Syndrome (at least until 2014 when they are planning to absorb the diagnosis of AS into high-functioning autism completely). Things like meltdowns, breakdowns in communication, misunderstanding of social norms, bewilderment at the way ‘normal’ people behave, and a lack of understanding why ‘eyes’ are supposedly always a symbol for something good in poetry are things that I struggle with in real life.

The reason I don’t always label these types of poems as being poems about autism straight out is two-fold. For one, I wasn’t informally diagnosed until last year. We’ve always known that there was something a more than a little off about me in relation to other people, but for the longest time my mother just fought through it with me and did her best to help me understand other people while not erasing the essential person that I was, problems and all. When I started becoming more of a danger to myself and other people (autisic people, when they have meltdowns, aren’t acting out because they want attention- therefore they don’t make sure not to hurt themselves) my mother took me to a general doctor who diagnosed me with a strange mixture of social anxiety and OCD which he thought could have contributed to the compulsive self-harming behaviors that would happen when I had a breakdown. This was quite a stretch, and it would be at least three more years before we would find the answer that fit me to a T- and I was diagnosed by a friend who is a psychologist but, since I do well enough with my own coping strategies, we have not taken the time or the money to get it written down on paper. I know what I am, it doesn’t bother me, and I enjoy having a community with which I finally can fully relate to.

For two, my autism is a deep part of me. There’s no way I can just seperate the way my autism tinges my world, so why should I make all of my poetry that is specifically about my challenges with it seperate? Every poem I write is going to have a bit of that literalism that makes sense to me. It’s going to relate things that people normally associate with certain things (like love to looking into someone’s eyes) to things that I myself understand (like love to be fascinated with their teeth). It’s going to be a bit more straightforward, and anything that is written that seems abstract is something that I most definately had rooted in something physical that I had encountered, or an image that I had actually seen. It’s hard for me to make up whole new images. I can really only combine what I know.

Now I’m not putting this out there so that I can garner pity or followers just because God saw fit to slot me into this specific neurotype. In fact, I discourage that kind of behavior because it is paternalistic and just downright insulting. I am simply stating, once now and never again, that this topic does come up quite a bit in my poetry and that I’m not just writing about it because I know someone with it or read about it and thought that it would be a nice little topic to write about. When I write about it, these are things that actually happen/happened/and are happening to me.

So now you know.

Why Do I Write: About Suicide


Especially in my earliest published poems, it might seem like the only thing I write about is other people’s suicide. Contrary to popular belief, this is not because I thought that writing about suicide was cool. Far from it. I very rarely write about the actual person’s motivation for killing themselves, or lament the loss of this or that brilliant person. For the most part, anything I write about suicide is directed towards the society that the suicide killed themselves in.

The county I come from has a high rate of suicide among young adults and teens (I read at one point that it is as high as 9% or something- which honestly doesn’t surprise me). There isn’t a single year that has gone by, since I got into high school and became aware of these kinds of things, that someone close to me or my friends hasn’t killed themselves. (When I was in elementary school, a peer’s parent killed himself but that was not something I was fully aware of until later). Even now in college- last month, a friend of my little brother killed himself, and last week a friend’s ex got plastered and jumped off of the roof of a house and died in the hospital. If it seems like I write about suicide alot, it is because I am literally surrounded by it. And I am disgusted by it.

By ‘disgusted by it’, I don’t necessarily mean that I am disgusted that a person has chosen to end their own life. Though I may not think that it was really the best choice, I’m aware that it was their choice and that what is done is done. But I have found myself increasingly disgusted by the response of the community to such tragedy. People who never knew the kid rush to claim to have been ‘secretly their best friend’ (seriously, not even kidding. Every. Single. Time.), people who I watched bully the living hell out of the kid snap at anyone who dares bring up what they did swearing that they themselves were really ‘misunderstood’, and people get out of class to mourn someone they never knew. The suicide threats afterwards are staggering as well. Every time a kid kills himself, twenty more have to tell their friends that they themselves wanted to kill themselves and holy shit we have to give those kids ALOT OF ATTENTION until they get tired of it five days later and everyone goes back to acting EXACTLY the same as they did before this all happened (despite extreme professions to change their ways). People forget who the person who killed themselves really WAS and make up this pretend person who never existed and then beat that dead horse until there’s nothing left. Which, inevitably, leads to the mindset that makes suicide a viable option to many teens.

It’s this never ending cycle that I’ve found myself stuck in year after year after year and almost every year I have to write about it just to get it the f out of my system.

Why Do I Write: About Africa


So since I have finally accessed what I did and did not already publish from my collections pertaining to Africa, there’s going to be a random rain of those poems coming on the blog.

One of the questions I’ve been asked by peers in my poetry club is: you’re a middle class white girl. Why do you have so many poems that a) talk about Kenya b) have random Swahili in them c) generally reference a different continent.

Unlike other questions, this one has a pretty straightforward answer. The July of 2010, the summer right before I entered college, I went on a month-long mission trip to Kakamega, Kenya to plant trees, dig a new well, repair houses and learn about the lifestyles of native Kenyans.

I can say, without a doubt, that there has been not a single experience in my life that has affected me more than that one month.

I learned how to make a well, I learned enough Swahili to be equivalent to a Kenyan toddler, I got my butt handed to me in a soccer match with seven-year olds, I was stricken with typhoid and was pretty sure that I was going to die (I didn’t fully recover until another month into the school semester- welcome to college!). I made Facebook friends with young adults across the ocean, I became painfully aware and overwhelmingly appreciative of what I have, and I now sponsor a child in Kenya through Compassion because of my connection to that place (I hope to sponsor more when I have more financial stability and independence). I dream of Kenya more than anything else. One of my only solid life goals is to go back there, hopefully to visit both the friends I met and to meet my sponsor child, Kelvin, as soon as I graduate.

If one of the poems that I post about Kenya raises a question for you, or you need something translated, or you just want to hear the full story about it, feel free to comment and ask me about it. (I won’t do it on my own, just because I don’t want to clutter my blog with it if no one really feels inclined to hear it!) I’m more than happy to open up about anything you’d like to know about it.

Why Do I Write: Free Verse


I’ve been asked a couple of times why I don’t bother to rhyme most of my poems.

The simple answer is that I’m really bad at it. Honestly, I have very few poems that do rhyme and are actually decent. And if they rhyme and are actually decent, ten bucks says I’m being a smart ass. The only times I choose to rhyme is when I’m mimicking or writing some kind of short satire or parody. If I’m trying to be direct and obvious about something, or emotional, or real and deep into the subject it has to be in free verse.

There’s no easy reason for that. Part of it is that I don’t really have the knack for it. Part of it is that I feel like it is constricting to me personally, and I’m not able to open up as much if I have to subscribe to a particular kind of form or verse structure. Part of it is that I like playing with lines more than words and I feel like if I try to juggle both at the same time I’ll just have the poetic equivalent of crap hitting the fan. Or just plain crap.

I have nothing against poets who do rhyme. We have a guy in my school’s poetry club that can do more damage with a well-placed couplet than I could ever do with a page-long rant. Or a billy club, for that matter. If you feel like, as a fellow poet, that I would dissaprove of you just because you are more ‘traditional’ in a rhyming sense then please stop thinking nonsense. There’s nothing I enjoy more than a really good rhyme (Mostly because I know I myself could never do it.)

What do you all think? Do you prefer one over the other? Do you like to write one kind but would rather read the other kind? Do you hate a certain poetic form so much that you’ve banned it from a thirty-mile radius of you? Do you think poetry is lesser than prose, or visa versa? I’d like to hear YOUR takes on writing forms!

Why Do I Write: Only Old Poems?


So I realized as I was posting some of my poems and queing up some more to be posted later, I realized that people might have questions about why all the poems I be putting on this blog are a) from last year/a couple of years ago or b) are marked as unpublished with a reason why they won’t be published as stand-alone poems.

Here’s why: Traditional publishers are more likely than not to refuse to take already published poems unless they are publishing them as part of a collection (so in a chapbook, anthology, or a full-length book). In this modern day and age, traditional publishers (both big and small presses) are beginning to aquire first-time or one-time rights to not only the print-published version of the poem you submit to them, but also the first-time/one-time electronic rights to that poem. That means that a poem that is ‘universally distributed’ or ‘published’ (read: posted) on a blog of any sort is unfit to be submitted to traditional publishers.

So to submit these kinds of poems, you have to find EVERYWHERE you posted that poem, take it down, and potential have everyone who has ever reblogged or shared that specific poem of yours on the internet take the poem down as well.

Seeing as that is a potential huge pain in the butt, I have opted to only publish on this blog two kinds of poems:

1. Those that have already been published in some way. They will have the ‘shortened’ version of the publication credit beneath them (the name of the journal/magazine/newspaper etc plus the year it was published) and in the section of my blog titled ‘Where to Find Me’ I will have a list of all of the publications in their longer, more legal form. Though all one-time rights revert to the author upon publication, it’s always good to give a nod towards those who have been kind enough to publish you.

2. Those that, if submitted for publishing, will only be published as part of a full manscript or will not be submitted for publishing at all. Most publishers accept ‘previously published poems’ as parts of full-manuscripts (as long at the whole manuscript has not been previously published) and so it would be safe to submit them there. These kinds of poems are not poems that I think are not good enough for publication, but often have an extremely narrow topic or theme that I a) haven’t written enough about to create a themed chapbook out of or b) there isn’t a specifc market for that kind of poem among the journals and magazines that accept single-poems for publication. They are poems that go wonderfully into longer manuscripts to keep the flavor of the entire thing fresh, but don’t stand alone in any one genre that there is a niche for.

 

I promise I have been writing more recent things. I will try to post as many of those as I can afford to, but know that I am limited in that because of my dreams of being traditionally published.

But at least now you know.