This Choice is Who You Are has been my mantra these past years: a mantra for becoming the person I want to be. I believe that choosing to live with the attention that poetry demands is a good start.

In the podcasts, I look to other artists to learn from their experiences.

I ask poets how their work with poetry influences the choices they make in their daily lives, and how these, in turn, affect their sense of self and their relationships.

How are they using the experience of art to shape The Good Life for themselves?


JedThePoet

Jed Myers lives in Seattle, where he is a psychiatrist with a therapy practice and teaches at the University of Washington.

His poetry collections include Watching the Perseids (Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award), the chapbook The Nameless (Finishing Line Press), and the limited-edition handmade chapbook Between Dream and Flesh (forthcoming, Egress Studio Press). Among honors received are Southern Indiana Review’s Editors’ Award, the Literal Latte Poetry Award, New Southerner’s James Baker Hall Memorial Prize, Blue Lyra Review’s Longish Poem Award, and, in the UK, the McLellan Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, Rattle, Prairie Schooner, Nimrod, The Greensboro Review, Crab Orchard Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Crab Creek Review, The National Poetry Review, The Journal of the American Medical Association, Rise Up Review, DIAGRAM, Canary, Solstice, Magma, the anthology Two Countries: US Daughters & Sons of Immigrant Parents (Red Hen Press), and elsewhere. Jed has for many years played a part in the open-mic community in Seattle, now helping to maintain the consortium Seattle Easy Speak. He is Poetry Editor for the journal Bracken.


Poets mentioned in the podcast include:
Allen Ginsberg
Robert Creeley
Louise Glück


Original music and artwork by Karl R. Powell.

Please subscribe through Soundcloud,  iTunes or your podcast app. Consider liking the Facebook page, to help spread the word. And, lastly, if you want to suggest a writer I should interview, please Get In Touch.

Dear Di,

This morning nearly felt like summer. I had ran the 6K in a long-sleeve wool undershirt and thin jacket. I actually felt overdressed by the half-way mark. Oh, but how I long to sit in the sunshine! To listen to the waves, and read a good book. I have been very good this year about taking the cod liver oil every morning, so I know it is a psychological need, not a physical one: sunshine. Seeing your photos makes me happy, and only a tiny bit envious. I would hop on a plane to visit, if I didn’t need to get out of debt first. I am trying to simplify my life.

I did that once – drastically – not that long ago really. Simplified my life. My whole life in a hatbox, a terabyte, and a 55 meter square apartment – as you well know. Then, as things do, things became complex again quickly. For all the wonderful experiences I gained through it, last fall my life seemed to sprawl again. Uncomfortably. I am still getting my feet back under me.

Do phoenixes improve themselves slightly with each incarnation? Rise from the ashes just a tiny bit more beautiful than before? I’d like to think so. Some days I think I’m doing so.

It is a pattern now: I look in the mirror and see something new I dislike about myself, have some new understanding of a thing that makes me less than what I aspire to, that is hard to face. Like finding out you’ve had spinach on your teeth all these years, and no one told you directly. Suddenly all the times people averted their eyes makes sense. Only it is much more serious than a bit of spinach, and discovering the ugliness makes me burst into flames again and again. Fall into ash. And then try to build myself up again with the knowledge of having borne the ugliness under my skin, and trying so hard – not just to leave it behind – but also leave with it the shame: “Oh my god, I was a person who…”

I find it is less painful to stay in the present.

The doctor, the acupuncturist, the physiotherapist all say to stop driving myself so hard. But how else can I live with myself? It’s not like the movies, where the love of a good man (or a puppy) solves everything. Do you have mornings where you look in the mirror and say, “Right now, I like myself. In this moment, I know I am something good in the world.”?

IMG_20170620_074808_391

You know what it is like when you have finished cleaning the apartment. Everything in its place. Beautiful, balanced and functional. That moment, when you can sigh and appreciate the beauty? I want that when I look at my life. Just for a moment. Do we get that, ever? Do people have those moments? Do you?

There have been two or three moments that I remember savouring that kind of contentment. I don’t mean while sipping wine in the south of France on vacation, but driving to pick up the kids from day-care. But I put it down to a chemical-tipping toward hypomania. And it was always followed by a sense of restlessness.

I know this is cryptic, and I apologize for that. If I had the patience, I would take up quilting as a meditative, metaphoric process to try and relax. I love the idea of textile arts as much as I love the idea of gardening. Somewhat solipsistic writing will have to do, I’m afraid.

I will burst now into flames again.

But, honestly, I do wonder if I’m alone in this. If you recognize this, too?

I’m wearing this silly fitbit that tells me my heartrate soars when I sleep. The doctor says it is probably PTSD, since my heart is healthy. I am unguarded when I sleep. I guess that makes sense. Lately my teeth have been falling out when I sleep. And strange men have been following me into claustrophobic rooms. I’ve been searching for poems about birds to read before bed, hoping that I can conjuring flying dreams instead.

At any rate, my point was to say that I’ve discovered that my heartrate is lowest when I’m reading. Even lower than when I sit zazen. So I’m prescribing myself reading this summer. With or without sunshine.

Caveat? No self-help books.

How long is your summer vacation? I can see you are in full swing with the photography again. That is inspiring. How is the book coming along? Are you peaceful down there? Finding peace of mind in your home?

I miss you.

Much love,
Ren


This is one of a series of weekly open letters to friends – friends who write back to me on their own blogs. Please click through.  Category: Correspondence.

If you’d like to catch up, read the letters in chronological order here

This Choice is Who You Are has been my mantra these past years: a mantra for becoming the person I want to be. I believe that choosing to live with the attention that poetry demands is a good start.

In the podcasts, I look to other artists to learn from their experiences.

I ask poets how their work with poetry influences the choices they make in their daily lives, and how these, in turn, affect their sense of self and their relationships.

How are they using the experience of art to shape The Good Life for themselves?


HeadshotWHS Jeanetta Calhoun Mish is current Oklahoma State Poet Laureate. Her most recent books are What I Learned at the War, a poetry collection (West End Press, 2016) and Oklahomeland: Essays (Lamar University Press, 2015). Her 2009 poetry collection, Work Is Love Made Visible (West End Press) won an Oklahoma Book Award, a Wrangler Award, and the WILLA Award from Women Writing the West.

Mish has published poetry in This Land, Naugatuck River Review, Concho River Review, LABOR: Studies in Working Class History of the Americas, World Literature Today, San Pedro River Review, About Place Journal, The Fiddleback, and Yellow Medicine Journal, among others. Essays and short fiction have appeared in Oklahoma Today, Sugar Mule, Crosstimbers, Red Dirt Chronicles, Cybersoleil, and The Emily Dickinson Society International Bulletin‘s essay series, “Poet to Poet.”

Anthology publications include poems in Returning the Gift and The Colour of Resistance as well as the introductory essay for Ain’t Nobody That Can Sing Like Me: New Oklahoma Writing.

Jeanetta is editor of Mongrel Empire Press which was recognized as 2012 Publisher of the Year by the Woodcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

Mish serves as contributing editor for World Literature Today, Oklahoma Today, and Sugar Mule: A Literary Journal. She is also editor of Mongrel Empire Press which was recognized as 2012 Publisher of the Year by the Woodcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.

Dr. Mish is director of The Red Earth Creative Writing MFA @ Oklahoma City University where she also serves as advisor to Red Earth Review and as a faculty mentor in writing pedagogy, professional writing, and the craft of poetry.

For more information, visit www.tonguetiedwoman.com


Poets and poetry mentioned in the podcast include:

Gary Snyder’s The Practice of the Wild
Annie Finch, the founder of the listserv Wompo (era BF: before Facebook)
William Stafford, “Allegiances”.
Gary Snyder.


Original music and artwork by Karl R. Powell.

Please subscribe through Soundcloud,  iTunes or your podcast app. Consider liking the Facebook page, to help spread the word. And, lastly, if you want to suggest a writer I should interview, please Get In Touch.

Dear Carolee,

I have been wondering if the “remains of winter” have left you. Has the poet-warrior returned? I am so sorry for my long absence. I’ve had to pull back for a time. For so many reasons. America being one of them. The whole concept of “it” on a social level, on a personal level. On the level of what am I now appropriating, no longer being an American, always being an American. How much does being identified as American by others make me American forever more. Whenever I speak: I speak “American”, even if I no longer speak for, or as a part of America. It is not the pain you are experiencing. It has been my own grinding pocket of noise. A pocket of past tense, of loss.

I pulled back. Listened more. Tried to discern the panic-inducing headlines (all for the sake of ad revenue), from the facts of damage. Tried to put it in the kind of perspective the priviledge of being on the outside affords. This is a different kind of self-imposed exile. One I didn’t expect, but should have. On 9/11 I felt it. And I was still actually a citizen. Even pulling back, though, Carolee. I feel like I’m doing wrong. Not appropriating what doesn’t belong to me, but then abandoning and looking at it from a position of detatched priviledge. I have no correct way to position myself in the public discourse on this. Except. The truth is there is no position of detachment. The world is too small now. Hate spreads like a virus – faster than a virus. So does fear.

What I’ve learned is that I lived in a bubble over there. As much as they talk about what social networks and the internet have done to insularize us with our opinions, I lived in complete ignorance of the real racial horrors. I was not taught in school that there was a time when you could purchase postcards at the 5 and dime to send home from your vacation, featuring lynchings. I had no idea Black men and women had to school their children in the safe way to answer a policeman if he asked a question. That lives depended on it. At least, that was the parents’ hope.

I’ve been listening and realising that while I did know the taste of government cheese, the smell of a condemned building, what it is to be a woman who jogs  alone in the late afternoon, with pepperspray in her fist – I never knew the true breadth of the ills of my own homeland. Maybe it is good Disneyland is falling apart at the fiberglass seams? A deep cleansing of the wounds, and another chance to heal?

But I know. I can say that from here. Where I am safely tucked into a healthcare system that functions. Where I haven’t felt the need for pepperspray in 23 years.

I didn’t want to write about this. My perspective is not important. But maybe what I learned from my perspective is relevant? I don’t know. I’ve tried to focus on writing.

And I know you’ve been writing. And publishing. And that makes me smile. And I know you are getting out in the green world. So have you “laced up your sneakers”? “Reclaimed the brain space?”

How are you coming with the forgivness you wrote about?

yogi bearOver the past two months, I wrote a play. Finished it. And it was like coming home. It was a great big “fuck you” to every fear I’ve had, to every question of “what’s the point”? Almost every morning, after an hour of writing, I felt like singing. Or rather, like I had just sung…or screamed.

I’ve decided that it’s time for me to take off the bear suit. Not that one.

But this one:

bear suit

I have been walking so softly – for almost half my life now – that I am a brittle presence in the world. So obsessed with belonging, with not belonging, that I’ve sprouted protection.

“Don’t touch me.”

All the while sending little coded messages into the world, in the form of poems. In books that no one can find.  I have competing desires. (If fear isn’t a form of desire, self-protection is.)

I’ve exhausted myself holding both these things in my hands, watching them fight it out. I feel like my body has mimicked every posture, in every wrong instance; my brain (and mouth) have run at the wrong tempo, and missed a crucial sign too often to deserve absolution from anyone. I’m grateful that there is something in me that resists the temptation to fill my noisy pockets with stones. But I do give up. Or give in.

I no longer care. In the quasi-Buddhist sense (because surely someone will correct me), “I” no longer care to figure myself into the equation. This little death happens daily.

And then around bedtime, not every night now, but on some nights: I have this urgent need to have my name in bold letters on the god-damned book cover, poster, neon sign.

Oh, it is so difficult to sleep in the bear suit!

How are you sleeping, luv?

XO Ren


This is one of a series of weekly open letters to friends – friends who write back to me on their own blogs. Please click through.  Category: Correspondence.

If you’d like to catch up, read the letters in chronological order here.

Dear Richard,

I don’t even want to think about how long it has been since I’ve written. Even longer than it’s been since we managed to get together for dinner in London. I am grateful you found the time and that our schedules lined up to allow it.

Since then we’ve been through an entire season. I suppose it’s fitting though. It feels like a season has come to close.

I thought about you all day yesterday. Wondering if the election results would ease your headaches. Would let you release a tiny bit from all the urgency?

IMG_20170607_175300
Looking for balance.

Here, I’ve kept my head down. Tried to detach as best I can from the flood of panic-inducing headlines that the media uses to keep us clicking, and sustaining the evil circle of fear and toothpaste ads. I do believe money makes the world go around like never before.

The thing is, I thrived in the quiet. I wrote a play. I finished a play. But even though I’ve already sent it off, and a literary manager has responded that he will argue to include it in a specific theater’s 18/19 season, I’m afraid to let myself experience any kind of satisfaction. Still wondering where that damn line is between smugness and insecurity. If I dare to sit up straight and say, “Look what I did!”, someone will knock me good in the chest. Simply because they’ll feel to obligated to remind me that there is no guarantee it will ever really get off the ground.

Why do we do that sort of thing to each other? Deny one another a few minutes of thrills and the high of having created something and having heard someone else say, “I see you, I hear you!” We all know it wears off – that feeling of joy – quickly enough. (“Marvellous”. He wrote that it was “marvellous”, and I love that because the word sounds like something you can eat with your fingers—in a very classy way.) Here, it may be very wise to actually focus on the moment? Put down the little callipers that will measure whether the ego is dangerously inflated?

For some reason I just now had that thought again about my mother telling me she used to rehearse for her mother’s death. That’s a pretty messed-up way to go through life, isn’t it?

I inherited that practice. I rehearse for the worse. I don’t trust my resilience. Although in this case, it means that I’ve started a new one: a new play. I’m afraid that if I think too hard, or spend one more minute reading theatres’ submission guidelines, I will collapse in dry pile of dust. “Run Forest, Run”. Fear-driven momentum.

The strange thing is all the world’s stories seem the same to me now. Or just as the one I have just finished. The subject matter radically different, the story the same. The poetry the same. Is this a cliché? A manifestation of the fear of not having anything more to say? New to say? Oh, my God: What to say?! I have even written to you about my mother’s dress rehearsals before.

I’m okay. I have a little whiskey here on the desk now. Talk about cliché.

How is the novel coming? Do you find politics creeping into your work, or is it a refuge from at least that particular ache?

This is brief. But I am back. And I hope you will forgive my absence. I’ve been growing.

Much love to you and M.
I’ve missed this.

XO Ren


This is one of a series of weekly open letters to friends – friends who write back to me on their own blogs. Please click through.  Category: Correspondence.

If you’d like to catch up, read the letters in chronological order here.