POET INTERVIEW – PEARL KETOVER PRILIK
PROLOGUE (Walt’s Notes): Our intention here at Creative Bloomings (Poetic Blooming) has always been the support and propagation of the poetic process. The intent was to fete all the poets with whom we had become acquainted though our various poetic sites and blogs. Plenty of opportunities are offered here to encourage and support all who write poetry: the Recollection Pages, the chapbook adventures, the Brilliant (Beautiful) Blooms, the Inform Poets feature, our “anthology” and no less important, the poet interviews. Since its inception, Marie and I had shared the process of presenting queries to our guests. I found that Marie had this certain gift as an interviewer, and handing the feature fully to her was a great decision I’ve never regretted. We have covered the majority of our contributing poets, and will delve further as they frequent our blog. As in the past, we have reached beyond our garden to celebrate “fellow travelers” on this journey (Robert Lee Brewer and Margo Roby, to name two). So it was with that in mind that I had personally requested Marie to consider interviewing Dr. Pearl Ketover-Prilik. You know her name and her work. And Marie does her usual stellar job in bringing Pearl to our readers. Thanks to Marie for this consideration, and to Pearl for her friendship and willingness to open the Book of Pearl for us to know her better! Enough blather from the old guy… take it, Marie!
It isn’t often we interview “writerly” guests who do not (or seldom) plant seeds here in our garden. However, this week’s interview takes us through the garden gate, and off the beaten path. Don’t think for one moment though that “off the beaten path” equals “unfamiliar territory.” I believe all of our Bloomers recognize the face and voice of the talented Dr. Pearl Ketover Prilik.
PEARL: Thank you for the invitation and I am looking forward to seeing what it is that you want to know about me.
MARIE ELENA: Well then I won’t keep you waiting any longer. Let the interrogation begin!
Let’s begin with this quote from you: “Have always wanted to dedicate the bulk of my time to writing…” I find that so interesting, coming from a professional woman who is a psychoanalyst and is surely VERY busy. How do you manage to squeeze time in for writing?
PEARL: Yes, I would want to dedicate the bulk of my time to writing: The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, I have considered myself a would-be writer since the third grade, simply waiting for the inspiration to write that first novel or short story that would spur me on to a career as a well-known writer. While I was waiting, I became a teacher of English as a first career, and then went on to my original parallel love (with writing), which was being a psychoanalyst. Several years ago I gave up a large office I had in a nearby town (where for a host of complicated reasons I had to take a large space and become “landlord,” subletting three other offices). Now at this stage of my life and career my practice is very small, and moved completely to the first level of my house. There is now not much of a ‘squeeze’ during these past three years, when I made a conscious choice to not replace patients that “found themselves” with new patients. I am now down to a very manageable group, a few of which are phone sessions to patients out of state.
MARIE ELENA: Even so, it seems to me that you must be extremely efficient in both your work and your writing. Do you see any connection at all between your professional career choice, and poetry? Is poetry an outlet (release) from stress? Or do the two somehow go hand-in-hand?
PEARL: I have written poetry since I was a very young child. Interestingly enough, in my search to “be a writer,” I had a few non-fiction books published, finally finished a few badly written (but not rehashed memoir ) novels and a fistful of short-stories, but I never considered myself a poet. Nor did I consider poetry – dare I say it – “real writing.” Poetry for me was almost a second language – a way of communicating usually personal feelings or commemorating major occasions accompanying tangible gifts to people in my life. In terms of the “second language” poetry is a way, I believe, of speaking on multiple levels simultaneously, whereas common communication requires one to limit thought processes to one idea at a time in a linear fashion. In this way, poetry is directly related to psychoanalysis. The notion of “free association” (where thinking is not constrained, but simply flows and moves as it will) more closely approximates poetry than let us say an essay about the self. Moreover, I have used poetry often with the people who come to see me. I often write poems for those who work together with me, especially to capture a special moment of insight, or to motivate and/or support without becoming either an “advice-giver,” or simply a cheerleader.
Since 2008 when I began writing poetry online – and then later submitting my poetry to print literary journals – I have found that the writing of poetry is very cathartic for me. I do not have to lay claim to any modesty because, frankly, unlike my nonfiction or my struggling attempts to shine up novels, poetry simply flows through me – almost always appearing as a chunk of work that needs at the most some tweaking here and there. I often think of myself as simply transcribing poetry, so either the poems are coming “through” me from some other source or more likely they are the flotsam that is floating around in my subconscious – similar to dreams that just spill out at will.
MARIE ELENA: Oh, how I admire those who feel poetry just comes naturally to them. I often describe mine as “painstaking,” and rightfully so. Enjoy this gift you have, Pearl. (I know you do.)
When did you realize you would like to become a psychoanalyst, and how did your feet get placed on that career path?
PEARL: The short jokester answer is that my mother spent a good part of my life from childhood on, asking me, “Why do you have to analyze everything?” and so in order to forestall this oft-repeated query, I became an analyst.
MARIE ELENA: This makes me grin.
PEARL: Here is the longer and more complete response: As mentioned earlier, this is a second career after teaching elementary school in the Virgin Islands before I even completed college (that is a story for another time), and junior and senior high school English back in NY. I wanted to be a psychoanalyst since I was about five (I hinted at some precocity as a very young child.)
MARIE ELENA: Gee … ya think? 😉
PEARL: I often say I peaked in third grade! At any rate I adored staying at my grandmother’s house, which was to me a magical place of dark green velvet carpeting and perfect order. I still remember her linen closet with the first full-length mirror I had ever seen with all linens, all white, stacked in such blindingly perfect order that it took my breath. But, I digress. My grandparents did not have many books around their house, and I was already an avid reader (again remember that early peaking). My uncle was away at college and had some of his textbooks left in his former room. During one of my visits, craving something to read other than LIFE magazine, I found a psychology textbook on Freud. I read it, and was fascinated with how it resonated with things in my own life. (Again subjects for another time, suffice it to say my parents were very very young and my father was not expected to live to see his mid-twenties). I applied and was scheduled for interviews at NYU School of Psychology at seventeen – however my parents felt that I was too sensitive and would “take on everyone’s problems.”
They advised me to follow a major in English and perhaps to teach (I thought I would be a journalist and live out of a suitcase in various hotels around the world). At any rate, I did follow their advice (I was also a fairly thoughtful and “good girl,” even though this was the Age of Aquarius). Nevertheless, I always yearned to continue studying. When I returned from the US Virgin Islands, taught here for a few years and was excessed (and disenchanted in the extreme with NY Public School politics and disparity between appropriations in school districts), I decided to return to school. I flew through a Masters in Clinical Social Work in an 18-month program, went straight on for my doctorate in clinical social work, and felt that I had made a grievous error by not taking some needed math pre-requisites and getting a doctorate in psychology. So with doctorate in hand and several years in private practice (which I began as soon as the ink was dry on my Masters degree), I entered a four-year post-doc program in psychoanalysis. This had me facing my own inadequacies, as all the other students held PhD’s or other Doctoral level degrees in psychology. I finished the program, and found that at the end of the coursework, an oral presentation, and more than the requisite 800 hours of personal analysis and supervision, I was finally (after having been in school basically since kindergarten) ready to ‘graduate.” Whew… long answer to that one.
MARIE ELENA: What was the question? (Sorry. Couldn’t resist, Pearl! 😉 )
I can completely understand your parents’ concern about “taking on everyone’s problems.” I believe I would not make a very good psychoanalyst, because I don’t think I would have the ability to “leave work at work.” Do you find this difficult to do?
PEARL: Frankly, I don’t think that good analysts do “leave work at work,” but over time one learns that the role of an analyst is not to “give advice,” but to help guide a person to optimize their life and their own narrative of their life story in ways that make the most sense and bring them the most fulfillment.
MARIE ELENA: Such wisdom. I just needed to pause on that one and reflect for a moment.
PEARL: On difficult cases where there is a danger of suicide or substance abuse, I always involve a psychiatrist, and therefore work in a “team” approach so that the responsibility of an individual in jeopardy is not solely in my hands.
MARIE ELENA: And again, such wisdom.
Pearl, do you ever find yourself haunted by the wish that you could take back advice you gave a patient, or perhaps felt completely unable to help them? If so, how do you handle it?
PEARL: The short answer is “No.” There is no sense of being “haunted” because if I do feel that need to revisit something that I may have said or done or not said or done, I revisit this at our next meeting. I believe that disclosure and honesty when an analyst feels that something felt “wrong” is very important to discuss as part of the work of analysis. I have no psychic turban and sometimes the most important insights come from an exploration of what went wrong, and the patient feeling comfortable with being able to discuss feeling slighted or annoyed without fear of retribution. Having said that, I have in over twenty years of practice been very very fortunate not to have had the awful experience of having a patient commit suicide on my so-called “watch.” I have assisted colleagues through this extremely difficult situation. Again, I claim no particular prowess, other than the fact that I err on the side of what some have found to be extreme caution. If a person speaks about suicide, I take these conversations very seriously and involve other professionals as well. I am not sure if this, or simply luck has kept me from suffering through the loss of a patient. If I cannot “help” (and by that I mean “work” with a patient), it is usually apparent very very early on in treatment, and I don’t take it personally. The relationship between patient and analyst is a relationship different from all others. It is at once probably one of the most intimate relationships while not being a “real” relationship that is taken out of the office. (Hmmm something akin to our very close “virtual” relationships, perhaps).
MARIE ELENA: Again, I find much wisdom in your words. Moving on from our look at the possible hazards of your career path, I can only imagine the blessings of being able to truly help someone who desperately needs it. Would you be able to share (no names, of course) a situation in which you were the most pleased with the outcome, and how you felt about it?
PEARL: My patients always seem to optimize their lives in ways that supersede my own. So many people are troubled and even tortured because they feel that there are obstacles blocking their own actualization of their own genuine selves – like so many analysts, I do see the comparison to gardening and providing an environment where more often than not it is a common joy to see exquisite blossoms flower as someone takes charge of their own life – be it something major like a career change or move – or something as small as overcoming a fear of getting behind the wheel of a car. It is a joy to watch joy blossom in the face of another human being, and being part of that leg of the journey in any way shape or form.
MARIE ELENA: So fulfilling. Good for you, Pearl!
I’d like to delve into your time spent in the Virgin Islands for a moment, as I discovered a fascinating quote regarding how you perceive it: “… an experience which transformed the way I look at life – then, now and in between.” Would you please elaborate? This sounds fascinating, and is obviously essential to who you are.
PEARL: At seventeen I had written (I found this journal years later) that I wanted to experience living on an island. Through let us call it a trip with a person involving a shiny gold ring, but not a shining forever future (a story for another time), I came to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands as a special sort of vacation at twenty years old. From the moment the plane doors opened and the fragrant air hit me – I was wrapped in a sense of “home-coming,” and knew that I needed to stay there. I spent the vacation looking for “something to do” and found that I could teach there without my college degree (I was just about to begin my senior year in college). I remember calling my parents to tell them of my decision. I was very close to my family, especially my father, and he asked me an odd question in answer to my question of “what do you think?” (about my staying on): He asked if there was a cemetery in the town. I said that there was. He suggested that I get off the phone, go into town, and walk around the perimeter of the cemetery because “it comes awfully fast – do what your heart tells you to do.”
MARIE ELENA: *sigh* Speaking of wisdom …
PEARL: On the other hand, when he made his phone call home, the bearer of that matching gold ring was greeted by his mother dropping the phone and shrieking “my son is dead to me.”
MARIE ELENA: Wow. Unimaginable.
PEARL: Might be one of the myriad reasons those shiny gold bands didn’t stay together more than a few years until I freed myself up to later meet and marry a true kindred spirit.
At any rate, my stay in the Virgin Islands transformed the then, now and in between years of my life, (well that could be a novel — maybe the novel). The very notion that one “could” act upon an overwhelming desire was transformative. I could see the rest of my life spread out before me like a ribbon — well more like a still treadmill — if I returned home: running from graduating college, to working, to moving from an apartment to a home in one of two suburbs popular at the time, to children, to ultimate retirement, maybe to visit a place like the islands or to stay and feel awe, wonder and absolute unmitigated joyfulness, mindfulness and mind-blowing beauty at some point each day for almost six years. Moreover, the idea that one is ‘trapped’ in life and cannot do what they might want to do holds no credibility for me in my work with others. I “know” this is simply a falsehood that people tell themselves, and often at such stuck points of people’s lives I disclose my story, simply to demonstrate that movement “is” possible and that I am not simply spouting empty motivation. Finally, the years in the islands (to which my husband of now almost 32 years and I have made “our” own and return often) have given me an alternate and actual ‘other’ way of living that is always accessible. Therefore, I tend not to take annoyances catastrophically and, again, am not plagued by the sense that I am truly unable to escape the vicissitudes of daily life. Being where I am always feels like a choice – not a predestined life-sentence.
MARIE ELENA: And again, I just pause here and contemplate the life lesson.
Pearl, your story about the “shiny gold ring, but not a shining forever future” gave me a vague memory of a poem that I thought was yours, but couldn’t remember for sure. I remembered it was about a bride, and that there was a line in it that I loved. So I went searching. Low and behold, it was yours! Here it is, from back during Robert Lee Brewer’s 2009 April Poem-a-Day Challenge:
WAITING TO NOT WALK (by Pearl Ketover Prilik)Standing in an alcove waiting on thick carpet constricted by gold flocked walls, gilt mirrors her eyes reflected her complete confidence that this was all wrong Waiting in that alcove lace dress sticking to each tender crease of flesh listening for the reprieve she was sure would come Her raven-haired father beside her redolent of starch and cologne and knowledge of her every thought Standing in that alcove she strains toward him waiting patiently for the words she repeats as a mantra again and again echoing in her mind Waiting, willing them into the voice Any moment now He will softly say … “You don’t have to…” “No, I don’t!” she’ll smile, and laugh into his loving eyes and Won’t. Any moment now Waiting in the alcove music swells from beyond a curtain Her father’s eyes sparkle with sudden inexplicable tears of inevitability and … finally he speaks lifting her heart He speaks, eyes glistening and smiles – finally He says wiping a misunderstood tear from her cheek “Baby. Let’s get this show on the road” and the curtain opens exposing her to the waiting watching All as she and he begin the walk down the aisle littered with broken roses ribboning to a future already written in disappearing ink…
There is much to love about this poem, but I am especially enthralled with “… the aisle littered with broken roses ribboning to a future already written in disappearing ink.” *sigh* A “wish I’d written that.”
I’m getting the sense that your upbringing was quite extraordinary. What about it are you most thankful for?
PEARL: From my father, who was something of an artist as a young man: the ability to see, feel and be encouraged to articulate the beauty in this world – of the natural/spiritual world which he found as linked, and in the world of art and music. My father also encouraged a respect for my thinking from a very very young age, defending me once as a very small child when my mother sighed “I wish I had your problems.” I will never forget his stating (not unkindly to my mother) that my problems were as big to me as her problems were to her. He taught me beauty and proportionality, empathy and respect for myself – and in so doing, for others.
On the other hand, my mother, much more of a pragmatist, believed in carrying on and being strong. She plastered a smile on her face, was a fatalist in the extreme, and had a sense of ‘can-do’ that I have never seen equaled. For example, her own bout in her early forties with breast cancer when she stated that she “would not lose her hair to chemo” – and did not. She maintains this was because she stared at herself in the mirror every morning (before going to work in the family restaurant business), and admonished herself “don’t you dare.” She is the type of person, resilient of spirit, that others have written about – and few can imitate.
MARIE ELENA: You are so blessed. And I simply adore that you see how blessed you are to have been raised by them. It literally made my eyes mist over.
PEARL: Yes, I do and always had a sense of how lucky I was to have these two kids who could have made a real botch of things, but instead did the very best they could under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
MARIE ELENA: What one (and only one) physical trait inherited from these lovely people are you most thankful for, and why?
PEARL: Although I had laser surgery (for some ridiculous reason) to correct my extremely severe myopia about ten years ago, I cherish the years of the very extreme near-sightedness I inherited from my father. It gave me the ability to have eyes that functioned like a cat: I could read in almost darkness. I could read the tiniest print without my glasses (albeit with the book pushed under my nose), and write in letters now so tiny to my “normal” eyes that they are illegible. This was a gift beyond compare, and I think it had a great deal to do with my ability to read and write quickly and easily. Additionally, my virtually legal blindness afforded me the ability to have two versions of the world in which I could function. Perfectly clear sight with my glasses and then, with my glasses off, an impressionist blue of light and color with only those and that nearest to me highlighted. Although, I seem and can be very gregarious, I also very much enjoy being a very private person, and this alternate version of the world was very important to me. It also allowed me to speak in front of crowds and minimize my fear, as without my glasses I could see no one in the audience! I mourned this loss for years after my vision was corrected.
MARIE ELENA: You always manage to present such a positive public face. We all have struggles, and I think it is a gift to have a joyful heart in spite of the struggles. This question is two-fold: a) What would you say is the worst ongoing hardship in your life? b) Where does your joy come from in spite of it?
PEARL: My ongoing hardship isn’t really all that hard. I would still very much enjoy “reaching” that “potential” that teachers and so forth spoke about so very very early in my life, and live the life of a “real” writer. Yet as I mentioned earlier, just recently with publications in print journals and so forth, I have come to accept that perhaps I am a real writer after all – perhaps I have been, as the ‘ugly duckling,’ dismissing my nonfiction book publications, and trying to be something I was not (a novelist) while overlooking my own true identity as a poet.
Of course, one doesn’t get to pass the half century mark without a share of hardship, but nothing that is ongoing – as life shifts and changes continuously, so does the impact of the hardships I’ve endured and the struggles and challenges that have come my way. I would say that the joy that I have comes from being made aware of the presence of the end of the life at a very early age – my father did not speak directly of his own thought-to-be-imminent death, but he did speak about enjoying each day and not ever taking life for granted, or foregoing today’s joy until a later date. I am often a fairly melancholy person, and I think that melancholia and an early knowledge of the finiteness of life go hand-in-hand with joyfulness… The whole yin and yang, light and dark, concept. So, you might say that I am joyful in the face of certain death.
MARIE ELENA: “Joyful in the face of certain death.” Yes, that we could all have and hold exactly this.
And now, Pearl, one last question that I ask of each and every one of my guests: If there was only one thing about yourself that you could share with us, what would you want us to know?
PEARL: I would like this audience to know that the virtual community in which we meet is profoundly important to me. Marie Elena will always hold a special place in my heart as she does in so many others. During one of my first posts over at what I like to call “The Street” at Poetic Asides – she responded favorably to a poem about being a kindergarten child hiding from nuclear holocaust under my desk. I was so green to the internet and poetry posting that I didn’t even know that one could receive a comment on one’s poetry. I was both startled and thrilled – it was as though someone had stepped through the fourth wall of TV or stage, and I had immediate reader feedback and gratification. I was hooked from that moment on.
With Walt I found a kindred spirit in writing; another who wrote fast and on an uncanny number of occasions with a synchronicity in terms of how we approached a given prompt. So many others have formed a circle of support, applause, feedback and a very special kind of love and community that is simply perfect for the mostly solitary work of both writing and being a psychoanalyst. I cherish both the intimacy, the forthrightness, and yes the space and distance of these wonderful relationships.
Many of us here in our virtual writing community have “known” each other now for years, and some have expressed an interest in meeting in person. I have not had this desire at all, because I consider these ‘virtual relationships’ to be special in their own right – we share each other’s thoughts and deepest feelings without the trappings of physicality. There is something profoundly, dare I say, spiritual about all these relationships to me, and they are precious.
And now being the intellectually competitive person that I am – you mentioned that no one had ever added a question – which of course got me thinking, and so I’d like to ask:
Do you think that knowing about a writer’s private life enhances or constrains your reading of their work?
I personally think that for me it constrains me – to thinking that there is some “correct” way that I should be reading the presented material. I am curious as to what others might think.
MARIE ELENA: Very interesting question and viewpoint, Pearl. What do you think, Walt?
WALT: Knowing the private backgrounds of writers after reading their work will add their perspective to what the reader experiences. Beforehand, I think it would steer the reader in a direction they wouldn’t have usually gone on their own.
MARIE ELENA: So you both see it in a rather similar way, and I suppose you are right. However, I would add that knowing the poet (whether intimately or distantly) generally increases my enjoyment of the poetry. Thank you for asking, Pearl. It added an interesting twist to our interview!
And now, speaking of interesting twists, we are going to wrap up this interview in a way very different from our “norm.”
Walt had requested that Pearl write something about the Kaitlin poems so many of us are very familiar with.
Take it away, Pearl …
PEARL: I often get the impression that some still think Kaitlin was an actual murdered little girl (oooh chills), so perhaps it might be of interest for some to read a little about her.
From the time I was about nine-years-old and Miss Doyle my third-grade teacher impressed me with the image of picture words, I knew that I would, as soon as I had a character, write a novel. I waited. I studied English, read great writers and not so great writers, and heard them often speak of what I had intuited as a little girl this mystical experience of a character ‘coming’ or speaking to them. None came, no one spoke. While waiting, I filled the time with other things – living life, going on and on and on to school – and in terms of writing, turning to nonfiction, and of course poetry, which was thought of as more personal and less as ‘real writing.’ Still, I waited patiently throughout the various chapters of my own life, in different settings, with different people and circumstances, getting older. No one came and nothing spoke, until sometime in 2005 when the voice of a sassy little girl name Josie and her story about searching for a father that should never be found came to me. I wrote a novel around Josie, showed it to a major house and then just let it and her sit. It was several years later during a PAD Challenge in April when Kaitlin appeared. The prompt had been an inverted poem mimicking a newspaper article. And suddenly there she was. There in the late afternoon, in the same corner of the living room under the skylights with the light spilling over the floors in just the way that pleases me, the same corner where sassy Josie had appeared years earlier, there was Kaitlin – a beautiful little girl in a pale yellow sundress with hair so blonde it was almost white, and though she was so absolutely real that I began to write poems about her – I also knew that though I was seeing her with her cornflower eyes blue and bright – I knew that she was four years old and had been raped and murdered. I began starting off that April Challenge with a Kaitlin poem to warm up and then moving on to my first NaNo Challenge where I attempted to write Kaitlin’s story. I did complete a novel, but that novel was Kaitlin’s mother’s story. Kaitlin still smiles, her eyes still twinkle and to this very day, every day, the responsibility for writing her story hangs over me. Neither she nor I can rest until it is told. So far, I have been distracted, but unlike the Josie character, Kaitlin is very real to me. I know that soon her story must be told.
MARIE ELENA: Thank you for this, Pearl, and for the following Kaitlin poetry you chose to share. As you know, her “story” touches me, and also stabs at my heart as though real. Yes, her story must be told.
FOR FOUR-YEAR-OLD KAITLIN
KAITLIN’S FUNERAL SERVICE (by Pearl Ketover Prilik)There can be no words of comfort for murdered Kaitlin hair washed and lovingly cleaned dressed in crisp white and arranged fetchingly on beloved pink sateen There can be no words of comfort for Kaitlin pretty under that small shining white casket lid No comfort in the heaps of blooms thrown in helpless profusion in the gaping hole of what he did There can be no words of comfort as Kaitlin in cruel irony is returned back to the black earth where she was found Her mother shivers holding air chilled by warm words as the tiny girl is covered by the ground Stone faced at talk of loving arm’s celestial embrace No comfort for the loved ones as they lean one into the other a mass of tangled torment touching among averted eyes not one who can them face Four- year- old Kaitlin found sprawled kill raped still in the damp wood a child who would have her peanut butter sandwich made just the way it should Words of innocence above that now covered casket babble non-sense on a ruffled breeze Kaitlin last looked upon the face of evil incomprehensible etched into her eyes with photographic ease Rest sweet Kaitlin perhaps for you this can be so in the woods of your death sweet jasmine may inexplicably grow Drift sweet Kaitlin tumbling in the sparkled sunlight on the soft wings of white butterflies take flight There sweet Kaitlin one with each petal, dancing dust mote salted sea drop and all known and more Soar sweet Kaitlin embracing the ripped grief-dumbed hearts left forevermore
Girls in Plum Sweaters (by Pearl Ketover Prilik)what can girls in plum sweaters be expected to know of loss as they pass the shovel among friends unorated letters on pretty stationary drift in the wind – as earth hard-hits the coffin inside sweatered pruning friend on white satin outside they, fresh as dropped stitches from a single skein of yarn creating a forever hole in matching plum sweaters, dirt under fingernails cold wind in their fresh washed hair
(This poem was delightfully accepted by more than one journal; it appeared in Burningwood, July 2012)
PEARL: Thank you so very much for this opportunity Marie, and thank you Walt for inquiring about Kaitlin.
MARIE ELENA: Thank you once again for visiting us here, Pearl. I hope you enjoyed this stroll as much as Walt and I. Our very best to you in your endeavors.