Happy National Poetry Month!!
As promised in this post on what I consider to be the most personal kind of writing, we’re continuing a monthlong celebration of POETRY in an interview with a poet.
This isn’t any old poet, though! She is one of my dearest friends who happens to also be a poet and writer! Mea Smith was my college roommate. She’s now my critique partner and writing-partner-in-crime. And, she’ll always be my friend!
Joy: So, Mea, first of all, tell my lovely readers a bit about your awesome self! Tell us about your family, your hobbies, your hopes and dreams and why you write!
Mea: Well, in a nutshell I’m a girl with big writing dreams, two wonderful little boys, and an amazingly supportive (and strappingly handsome) husband.
The hobbies are … I read lots, watch movies, make jewelry, go to zoos and aquariums, and attend festivals—Craft, Pecan, Watermelon, Ye Ole Days … I love them all.
Regarding hopes and dreams: My goal is to be a hybrid author. Definitions can be foggy as people are bravely paving new ways for literature these days, so for me that means being published both traditionally and independently.
Why I write? That is a BIG question and might just be a post all by itself, but the short of it is because
1) I am addicted to the feeling of creating a story.
2) Especially as far as poetry is concerned, writing cleanses the jumbled emotions and amorphous droning in my head.
3) I also love the writing community. You folks are my People. *insert group hug!*
Joy: True story time—Mea and I went to the Mississippi Book Festival for the first time together in 2016. As soon as we walked up to the street where the fest begins, we looked at each other and said, “We’ve found our people.”
Mea, you’ve written a beautiful poetry chapbook. And, you have something very special for my awesome readers today, don’t ya? A brand new title reveal!! Comin’ at you …
*drum roll please*
*Cue: NEW TITLE!!*
Mea: Salt on My Tongue
(This is a fake cover. I like pretending I’m a graphic designer.)
Joy: I love it! Title, fake cover and all!
Please tell us about this project. What was your writing process like? When you write poetry, do you sit down with the intent to write poetry or do you sit down as a poem comes to you? What has the submission process been like? What are your plans/hopes/dreams for Salt on My Tongue?
Mea: Salt on My Tongue is a collection of poems that exist because of some tough events. People I loved died; relationships were redefined; foundations were shaken. If you end up reading it, I hope you feel communion with a fellow fighter, company in the dark nights, and hope because healing is a real thing. Here’s a blurb from my website.
Poetry is extremely personal for me. I’m generally trying to figure out a situation, overwhelming emotion, or pass through a bad time.
Poetry helps me take this thing that is too big for me to see all at once and condense it into something manageable.
So when I write a poem, I’m thinking about that one thing and trying to figure it out, happy or sad; it doesn’t matter. Just something complex. That’s most of the time. Sometimes, though, a line just pops in my head and it just sticks. I have to figure out whether it belongs in a poem or in prose.
I’ve done submissions for the whole chapbook because I really didn’t want to separate the poems. I felt like an individual poem didn’t show the emotional arc. That’s the excuse I used anyway. Real Talk: I just realized a few weeks ago that I was scared that someone I knew would read one scathing poem and not have the answering non-scathing poem to counter it. So, I’m now rethinking individual submissions since I’ve recognized the above as fear trying to ruin my life again. GAH!
When I finished the chapbook, I found three contests to submit the whole gordita to. I had to limit it because there were submission costs and the small presses I wanted to submit to were not accepting at the time. But I wanted to submit right then! I’d finished a book! I had to share!
A college professor recently shared a link to a website called Authors Publish that is an AMAZING resource. This link subscribes you for the online articles AND you can download a book that lists 172 traditional publishers who don’t require an agent for submissions. I KNOW! I had to wipe drool from my chin, too. So, I’m revamping Salt a bit, adding new poems to make it book-length, and sending it to poetry publishers. Also, if you sign up for Submittable, they send out weekly emails for submissions and publishing opportunities. It’s an awesome resource, too. That’s where I’ll be finding homes for individual poems.
At the end of the day, I just want it out in the world. I want the experience of the traditional route, but I’ll tuck away a little money a month while I wait to self-publish it properly if I need to.
Joy: So, is your writing process different for writing prose?
Mea: It is soooo different for me. I plan a lot more for prose. I don’t know those characters like I know me! I don’t have to figure out my motivations and long-standing agenda and backstory because it is ingrained in everything I am. For fiction, I have to know that stuff and what story I’m telling and why. I also have to engage a reader for hundreds of pages with prose versus a page or two with poetry. My prose does bend toward the lyrical, though.
Joy: Speaking of prose, inquiring minds want to know all about the novel you’ve got baking!
Mea: I’m revising a new adult genre, slow-burn, romance novel. The working title is All the Words, about an emotionally repressed assistant whose way of life gets upturned by a lie and a boy during a song writing competition. Here is a link to the blurb.
I don’t forsake poetry in the book because songs (poems set to music, am I right?) are inserted between chapters and some will be recorded with real musicians and everything. I have one song recorded already and I’m over the moon at how it’s all turning out, the book and the soundtrack. I have this grand dream of people who love the book covering the songs as, like, fanart.
Joy: I’ve heard one of her songs, folks, and it is gorgeous! Also, because she won’t tell you, I will—Mea’s got a beautiful voice. (I may be a little jealous.)
Since we’ve brought it back to poetry—what do you love about poetry and why do you like writing it? Do you remember the first poem you wrote?
Mea: I love how poetry can encapsulate a feeling and preserve it in a handful of words. When I read a good poem, it’s like emotion punches me in the face, and I don’t know why until I mull over it and finally decide, yeah, I deserved it. Does that make sense?
I can’t remember the first poem I wrote but I remember the first poem that got noticed. My high school English teacher, Ms. Whiting, submitted a morose poem of mine about how good things are like heavenly clouds and when things go wrong as they do, these precious clouds sink to earth, become fog, and get dirty. It was chosen to be a part of the anthology. I couldn’t buy a copy of the book, but I remember my teacher telling me about it and feeling on top of the freaking world.
Joy: That sounds like a lovely poem, and how cool would it be if you could find a copy of that anthology today!?!
Who are your favorite poets and poems?
Mea: Poets I admire: Sarah Kay, Taylor Mali, Rainer Maria Rilke, Walt Whitman … J.R. Rogue and Amanda Linsmeier have gotten on my radar recently, too.
Particular Poems? Um…
- Sarah Kay “If I Should have a Daughter”
- Taylor Mali “What Teachers Make”
- Rainer Maria Rilke—Most everything but especially “Again and Again,” “I am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone,” “Ignorant Before the Heavens of My Life”
- Walt Whitman “A Noiseless Patient Spider” and “A Child Said What is the Grass”
- J.R. Rogue “Oh, Esther”
- Amanda Linsmeier “Baby Dolls”
Joy: That’s an eclectic selection. I love it! And, Amanda Linsmeier is a fellow writer mom!
What’s your favorite poetry style to read? Write? I vaguely remember us talking about this before—but you know my sad little memory! I’m more of a traditional, rhyming, sonnet kind of gal; you tend to dig the more modern styles a bit more, right?
Mea: I adore slam poetry because it’s more than just the words. It’s the cadence of the lines, the orator’s blocking and gestures, the enunciation of words that give the whole poem another meaning than if you were to just read it. You’ll understand, I think, it you watch the YouTube links for Sarah Kay and Taylor Mali. Or Google a def jam competition. So yeah, slam poetry is my jam—maybe because they throw me back to my Speech and Debate days.
Joy: Mea totally rocked Speech and Debate! Ah, the good ol’ days!
Let’s get a bit more serious here. Like I wrote last time and you mentioned earlier, poetry is really the most personal form of shared writing. And, you should know! Share a little about poetry as an outlet for grief.
You and I have discussed this personally, and I think this is something many of our readers can really relate to as well. How does this work for you? Is it a healing balm as you write? Is it more like the burn of peroxide with healing coming after completion? Or, is it both?
Poetry is the lens in which I prefer to examine my grief.
My brain has a hard time dealing with things, so my first instinct is denial. If I sit down to write a poem about something that has been fluid in my mind’s eye, the work of a poem helps me focus on it and make clear lines of it.
It depends on the situation surrounding the grief if it’s like a healing balm or if it’s like cauterizing a wound. Sometimes it’s both. What I’m looking for, though, isn’t a solution; I’m looking for clarity. How do I really feel about something or someone? I have to own that, right or wrong. From there, I can decide to keep it in my life or change it.
Joy: Can you give an example of your grief working out through a poem you’ve written?
Mea: I wish I had an example that was only a little dark, but I don’t so, here we go …
My dad committed suicide while dealing with a horrible circumstance. I wasn’t ready to address the Thing with him yet, and I was about 30 weeks pregnant with my second kid. I was angry, Joy. I have never in my life been so angry and sad, and I didn’t know why until I sat down and wrote a poem about it.
It helped me put words to the shame, betrayal, and grief. I was surprised to figure out that I felt a bit responsible for his death since I had not told him that I was hurt but I didn’t hate him. I was even more surprised to discover I was egregiously angry about my own inaction just as much as his action.
This small poem came after the big one that fleshed this all out, and (I hope) it shows a step toward healing.
Joy: Because your poetry comes from the depths of your soul, how hard is it to share?
Mea: It’s the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever had to share! It’s worse than sharing your toothbrush or your mascara or your deodorant OR YOUR CHEWED UP GUM. Bleeding in public gets easier the more you do it, though.
So, what poem might we find tucked inside your pocket Mea?
Mea: Here you go!
Fukao Sumako (1893-1974)
Translated by Kenneth Rexroth
It is a bright house;
not a single room is dim.
It is a house which rises high
on the cliffs, open
as a lookout tower.
When the night comes
I put a light in it,
a light larger than the sun and the moon.
how my heart leaps
when my trembling fingers
strike a match in the evening.
I lift my breasts
and inhale and exhale the sound of love
like the passionate daughter of a lighthouse keeper.
It is a bright house.
I will create in it
a world no man can ever build.
Joy: Thank you so much for sharing the heart and soul of your poetry with us, Mea! We’ve been up, down and all around here, so I want to end on a light note with two fun questions.
Do you have any pets? Give us all the details!
Mea: I have 8 cats (not a numeric typo) and 1 fish. I loved all the cats too much, and I have a very accommodating husband who hates tears of toddlers and wives, so that’s how THAT happened.
Joy: What is your favorite book or what are you currently reading (or BOTH)?
Mea: I’m totally having a Rory-Gilmore-when-she-gets-her-college-acceptance-letter moment, but I will not lie! Right now I’m reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. My favorite book of late is The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, which is fitting because her books feel like poetry. Also, The Hating Game by Sally Thorne because it’s everything a romance should be.
Joy: Thank you again, my sweet friend. Now, let’s share with everyone where they can find you and hang out more!
Facebook: facebook.com/meathewriter (new!)
Have you ever wanted to ask a poet a question? Now’s your chance! Ask away, and Mea will answer you!