When I ask folks if they would allow me the honor of interviewing them, the response sometimes shows surprising reluctance. Today’s guest, Debi Swim, is one of the hesitant ones. It took a bit of coaxing to talk her into the fact that our Creative Bloomings community would be ever-so-pleased to get to know the talented lady behind the poetry.
Debi’s ability to write engaging poetry no matter the subject or mood is quite impressive to me. For instance, this untitled piece in response to one of Margo Roby’s Wordgathering prompts:Thick, pellucid, amber sweetness drips from your honeyed tongue in sticky streams of golden viscous lies suspending me in butterscotch memories of cruel, hazel eyes.
In only five lines, Debi manages to conjure sight, sound, taste, color, feel, tone, and storyline. Amazing. Now let’s finally get to know the woman behind the words.
MARIE ELENA: Welcome, Debi! It’s about time we got to your interview! One of the things I enjoy most about these chats is finding out what drew our guests to poetry to begin with. How old were you when your interest was sparked, and who or what ignited that spark?
DEBI: I think it was Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver) and his beatnik bongos and poetry that captured my attention. I thought poetry either had to rhyme or be so deep as to make no sense at all to be “real” poetry. I think I was around fourteen when I wrote something along the lines of “Life is Death” and I thought it was the most profound statement ever. Nearly everything I wrote was dark and overly emotional. Thankfully, I found other interests and gave up poetry for many years.
It wasn’t until my thirties that I began to write again and it was predominately spiritual. I asked a friend, a retired English teacher, if she would look at some of my work and critique it. She very graciously did and left some really helpful comments. Even though those first poems were rough, she did encourage me to learn more about the mechanics of poetry and to keep writing. Of course, life intervened, children were born and I put the writing aside until about three years ago.
MARIE ELENA: “Life is Death” amuses me to no end! That truly is such a fourteen-year-old light bulb moment. Thanks for the chuckles, Debi!
I’m intrigued with the fact that Salvatore Buttaci has been tutoring you. Please tell me all you can about this. First, how did the two of you meet?
DEBI: I found out through our local library that a writing group, Appalachian Pen Works Writers, met once a month there. I finally got up the courage to go, by myself, without even knowing who or what was involved. I took the few poems I had written and just went. It was a wonderful experience. That is where I met Sal and his sweet wife, Sharon, along with about five other writers.
Each month Sal, (and occasionally Stephen or Raymond) would present a short lesson and a poetry form for us to do at home, then bring in and read at the next meeting. The first meeting I was at he asked us to write a poem about Mona Lisa. This was my very first prompt poem.Enchanted by your smile, I wonder at the thoughts that tugged your lips just so. Thoughts of God, or mother, recalling a lover, might set that look in place, but, probably it was nothing more than a tummy twinge of hunger.
The group also scheduled poetry readings that I participated in. Mostly the audience was made up of friends and family of the readers, but occasionally someone from outside this community of regulars would come and read also. I was so scared the first time I read, but now I look forward to it.
MARIE ELENA: I’ve never read, and never even attended a reading. Someday soon I’ve got to look into it.
Who approached whom regarding personal tutoring?
DEBI: Our writing group began to dwindle. Stephen and his wife moved to North Carolina, another was a busy college student nearing graduation and life intruded to cull our numbers. Sal had often talked about his teaching days. It was obvious that teaching was his passion so I sent him a face book message asking if he would consider tutoring me. I wasn’t really hopeful because, as he says of himself, he is an obsessive compulsive writer of poetry, flash fiction, short stories, and articles. He is also a faithful member and supporter of his church and that always comes first. I wasn’t sure he could wrangle another minute out of his busy life. But, he found the time, and Sharon tells me he enjoys teaching again.
MARIE ELENA: I bet if you were to ask anyone here, we’d all have to admit we are jealous. I want to eavesdrop. How often do you meet, and what does a typical lesson “look like?”
DEBI: We meet for an hour once a week at the library, usually from February through May. We are in our second session now. He always has a four- or five- page handout to study and work from. The first session covered “the language of poetry” diction, rhetorical devices, sound values, rhythm and meter, etc. There is always homework … new forms to write and a list of three or four poets to research and become familiar with their work. We go over the poets in class and talk about them in more depth.
The lesson we just finished was on Old English – Beowulf, Japanese – The Manyoshu, Chinese- Wang Wei, Li Bai (Po), and Du Fu, Arabic – Muhammed, Al-Khansa. The poetic forms for homework are the Zeugma and Kyrielle.
MARIE ELENA: Having had no formal poetry education, you just managed to make me even more jealous. What would you say is the most important or most effective lesson you have learned from Sal?
DEBI: Oh, my. That is a hard call. I needed so badly the mechanical knowledge. I didn’t know anything about how to write poetry. I have loved learning about poets and their works and discovering newer poets, like Billy Collins, sigh. But, I guess the best thing I’ve learned from Sal is to enjoy the process, not take it or myself so seriously and to trust that I do have something to say.
MARIE ELENA: Debi, it sounds to me like you are learning well.
Please tell me about “Hyacinths and Biscuits.” I’m intrigued with your blog title. What does it say to you?
DEBI: “Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.” ~ Carl Sandburg
Hyacinths speak to me of the extraordinary, the sublime and biscuits the ordinary, a staple of life. Poetry is a blend of all the common, ordinary events and feelings of life we all experience and can relate to but said in a novel, often breathtaking way. I like the quote because it takes poetry out of that rarified air of “for the chosen few” to the kitchen table where everyone is welcome.
MARIE ELENA: Wow. I’m utterly awed by your response. Debi, I’m so glad I asked you this question, because your answer is one of my favorite responses in all the interviews I’ve had the honor of conducting.
You once said, “After stifling my desire to write for many years, I finally took a deep breath and plunged into the deep end of the pool. Sink or swim is my motto; so far I’m treading water and staying afloat.”
Debi, why did you stifle your desire to write? What (or who) caused you to take that deep breath and plunge in?
DEBI: I never applied myself in school. I could have done so much better, and wish I had. I didn’t go to college and that has made me feel unfinished. I let a voice inside tell me I wasn’t smart enough, good enough. I thought writing was a selfish luxury. So, it was really me that stifled me.
When that last child left home, I felt a bit useless and aimless. I got more involved in my church, and before long there were grandchildren to busy myself with. My oldest and her family moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Snowqualmie, Washington when the boys were two and six. That was hard. Of course we stayed in touch by phone, video, cards, Facebook, email and plane, but it wasn’t quite enough. I decided to write again by sending stories chapter by chapter to the boys through email. The first one was about our dog and his pretend adventures, and the second story was about the boys themselves. They were so excited and couldn’t wait for the next chapter to arrive. That gave me an interest to start back with poetry for myself.
MARIE ELENA: Such a delightful ending to a gloomy beginning. I’m sure the boys will remember that fondly forever, and share it with their own kids and grandkids.
Personally, I’m glad you decided to explore writing again. What is your goal, Debi? Do you plan to someday be published? Or are you in it simply for the pleasure and education?
DEBI: I write because I love the challenge. I don’t care to be published. I have found a new life and friends through Creative Bloomings and the other sites where I write from prompts. It is rewarding to see improvement in my writing and to read comments others write telling me something I have written has touched them or encouraged them in some way.
Mostly, I hope my poetry will be a kind of legacy to my family and friends – something to remember me by.
MARIE ELENA: That’s a respectable and loving goal. You’ve already got a head start with the story you sent your grandsons.
And speaking of family, now you get to brag on them. 😉
DEBI: My favorite part! My first husband and I were married the summer before our senior year of high school! We were 16 and 17, so had to elope to South Carolina to get married. The embarrassing thing was that even in SC we had to call home and have his mom and dad come sign for him. Amazingly, they did, with gritted teeth and misgivings. It lasted for six years. Angel, our daughter, was a year and a half when he died.
Kyle and I will have been married 36 years this August. We have two children together. Erin and her husband have four boys and live in Ohio. Tommy, and his wife Ashley, live in Dothan, AL. He is ex-Army and trains Apache pilots at Fort Rucker.
We have one dog, Rivers, a Yorkshire terrier. He is about 12 years old, has terrible allergies and arthritic hips. He is a sweet companion.
MARIE ELENA: Thank you, Debi. That’s just heartbreaking that Angel’s father died so young. That must have been terribly hard on you.
DEBI: It was an awful shock. My in-laws were so supportive, and still are a big part of my life. They have been so good to me and Kyle and our kids.
MARIE ELENA: That’s wonderful, and says just as much about you and Kyle as it does them, I believe. God was good to bring Kyle into your life. Your love of family shines brightly.
Debi, I know you have struggled with depression. Would you mind talking about it?
DEBI: No. I don’t mind talking about it. It is something that I’ve dealt with on and off for years. As a Christian I felt it was wrong. An admission of not trusting.
MARIE ELENA: That is just so sad, and piles guilt on an already-weary heart. Unfortunately, it seems to be a common misconception.
DEBI: Thankfully I have a good pastor who knows differently. It isn’t a spiritual problem, but a chemical imbalance.
About a year ago it morphed into something a little more serious. I lost interest in the things that had meant the most to me. I didn’t want to go to church or be around people. I couldn’t enjoy reading or writing. I wasn’t sleeping well because my mind just wouldn’t shut down. I couldn’t stop eating and was miserable about my weight gain. I talked to my doctor. We tried a medication I’d never taken and within weeks I was a different person. I am not eating compulsively any longer or having to drive back to the house to make sure I unhooked the coffee pot or curling iron or have to check three times to see if the door was locked. And, I am writing again, but not feeling I have to do every prompt at every site I find. This is a good time in my life.
MARIE ELENA: Thank you for being so open, Debi. Your description gets right to the heart of the matter. I’m thankful you have rediscovered joy in things you once loved, such as your writing. May your future be depression-free … and what plans to you have for this promising future?
DEBI: Kyle will be retiring in a couple of years and we hope to travel around the US. We want to go to Alaska. I’d love to ride a passenger train across Canada (I don’t even know if that is possible). Other than that I just want to enjoy my kids, my grandchildren and my husband.
MARIE ELENA: Though my husband and I are both homebodies, that really does sound like a wonderful time.
Debi, I think you’ve read enough of my interviews to know what’s coming: If you could share only one thing with us, what would it be?
DEBI: I’d love to leave some pithy quote or profound philosophy of life, but you’ll have to settle for knowing how blessed I feel to have found Creative Bloomings and a couple other sites that have helped me stretch and grow. You all have enriched my life with your poetry and encouragement. There really is nothing like www.friends!
MARIE ELENA: That isn’t “settling” at all. That response warms my heart! We feel the same way about you, Debi.
We’ll end our time together with the poem Debi chose to share. She says she likes this one because it reminds her of growing up with TV treasures from the past. I say, “Hear, hear!” This poem is great fun, and gave me a merry trip down memory lane.
A Long Goodbye
So long, farewell, Auf Weidersehen, Adieu,
Au revoir, ta-ta, Goodbye, see you
So many ways to say pip, pip, Cheerio, Old bean
See you in my dreams, Goodnight Irene
Frankly I don’t give a damn, it’s kind of rum
to pull my ear or burst through a bass drum
and say (by the way, that was a genius stroke)
“Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-… That’s all, folks.”
Good Night, Mrs. Calabash Wherever You Are,
I thought raised the bar
of saying bye, though I confess
I liked Good night and God bless.
George to his wife, Say goodnight Gracie
and how could you not fall in love prima facie
with Keep your stick on the ice
a tribute from Red Green to his wife
And that’s the way it was will remain
Walter’s final and familiar refrain,
Though we can’t leave out
what the kids used to shout,
See ya later, Gator!
After while, Crocodile
(Walter Cronkite, The Sound of Music, Porky Pig, Rhett Butler, Jimmy Durante, Carol Burnett, Red Skelton, Red Green, George Allen )
Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-That’s all, folks!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Maynard G. Kregs and Porky Pig photo credit: Photobucket.