Today it is my great pleasure to present to you a poet you have all been waiting to get to know better: our own PAT ANTHONY, whose work has been astounding us all for a while now.
Though we call these interviews, I think of them more as chats. In my mind’s eye, Pat is sitting with me in a gazebo here in our garden, enjoying tea and conversation. So, pull up a comfortable chair, pour yourself your drink of choice, and come join us at your leisure!
MARIE ELENA: Welcome, Pat! Let’s start by getting our bearings and a bit of background. Where are you from, and where are you now?
PAT: I was born in Kansas City, Missouri and lived with my two brothers on a two-lot tract alongside a road that bordered open fields. We were outside of the city limits, so we had no sewers, but did have an outhouse in the chicken yard. There was a definite “side of the street” dividing line. To this day, our road is barely paved, and has no curbs. Before I left, the fields would be developed into two-story housing, while our shotgun hunkered in their shadows. I transplanted to Kansas as a single mom, to the same city where my dad had made his home (a corner studio in a motel in exchange for some handyman work?). Bought a junker — all the windows out, toilet falling through the bathroom floor, and leaking like a sieve, but all I could afford. We patched and retrofitted to livable, and I cashed out savings bonds when they wouldn’t certify the furnace. I learned everyone has a different standard for ‘honesty.’
Somehow I found myself with a second family, meeting my now-husband while moonlighting at a truck stop. He was the brother-in-law of the owner: a farmboy-turned-Vietnam-vet-turned-IT guy from another small town. We raised two more kids in another burgeoning suburb of Kansas City, and finally bought 80 acres miles away, where land was still affordable.
Eight years later, we bought a modest home and continued to commute to work, dawn to dark. Now retired, we reside at the home. The land is about five miles away on the county line. It is tenant-farmed, but we have access to the big creek that splits the 80 with bordering woods. It’s a mecca, a haven. Not the Kaw woods, but awesome.
MARIE ELENA: It sounds like life has made a hard worker out of you. Tell me a bit about your career.
PAT: As a single mom at 19, I worked in Kansas City as what is now called an Administrative Assistant to the Head of Purchasing in an industrial firm that manufactured cooling towers. I approach all work with the attitude of “show me, and I can do anything.” I had taken business courses in my three semesters at university, so set about to be the best at what I did, working my way up to Buyer in the 15 years I was there. I would take the giant Sears Catalog home to memorize all the pipe fittings and hardware types to be able to “compete” in a man’s world. Paying for one course at a time, I took Purchasing Classes — the only woman in them.
MARIE ELENA: Wow, Pat! I told my husband about memorizing the pipe fittings and such. He got as big a kick out of it as I do. What came next?
PAT: After my second family began and after the birth of my second baby, I returned to work at the request of a Pastor who wanted me to create a library for his K-8 school, my undergrads having been teaching degrees in English and Journalism. Soooo, I got an MLS in Library and Information Management so I would know how to be the best — paying my way as I had for my previous MA in Humanities with an emphasis in Literature. I enlisted area public librarians, and created a wonderful place for kids that also served later as a computer lab and working classroom.
To condense the saga, I ended up teaching there, and later served several years as principal before I retired the first time. I was promptly recruited to be a fulltime Spanish teacher by another school, since I was also K-12 certified in Spanish. I taught for two years and was then asked to head the equivalent of their Special Education programs/Resource for K-8 students, also having a Special Ed degree K-12 by this time, simply because I was “passionate” about being able to deliver best practices for students. If it was out there, I wanted to be able to bring it to the kid who couldn’t read, to the dyslexic student, to the student with cerebral palsy, to the deaf student with such a speech impairment as to almost preclude intelligibility, never mind all the ADHD students who needed innovative and creative teaching methods. Another 10 years passed, then I finally retired for good, as age and fatigue and the drive became signals for change. Unlike my own unfond memories of the schools I had attended, I wanted kids to believe they were treasured, even though I was also a kid-savvy, tough-love teacher when called for.
MARIE ELENA: Oh, Pat, I love that generous heart of yours. So much passion for children, and those in need.
PAT: Oh, I am passionate about so much, but divide it into two strands:
1. Social Justice in all of its manifestations (underdog students, students with challenges [disabilities], disenfranchised adults, etc.), and,
2. the Nature part of it in all of its natural rawness (land, wildflowers, wild animals, birds, turtles, artifacts like teeth & feathers, etc.).
My dad from Oklahoma could trace back to Mandan Sioux, and my brother used to tell me I got all of it … and perhaps that’s true, since being one with Nature feels very necessary and fundamental to who I am. I’m not talking about getting crazy about domestic pets, but about the need to stop and talk to deer in fields, realize the messages from a circling heron (the totem animal of my brother, deceased, and totem animal of my oldest brother, deceased a year ago); the history of the Bald Eagle between us; my father as the Owl in all of its manifestation; my knowing intrinsically when the Canadas begin their migrations; and the primal call to my very soul by coyote song. Perhaps this is uber weird, but it shapes my life. It always has. There are no accidents or coincidences — only Connection and Message.
MARIE ELENA: Something we can all see is that another of your passions is poetry. Who or what sparked your interest, and when did you begin writing and sharing your poems?
PAT: It all started formally in sixth grade when we were required to write a poem each week. Back in the day, it was all metered and rhymed and copied onto notebook paper in ink and flawless Palmer Method. The nun, who probably didn’t have any say in teaching middle schoolers, invariably and without fail, left the room to fill her water glass at the triple fountain in the hall when it came my turn to recite. We were all required to stand by our desks and read our poems aloud. I could see her linger, out the open door, until I finished. She only did it when it came my turn, and I still don’t know why.
MARIE ELENA: Oh, for cryin’ out loud. That’s ridiculous. How did you handle it?
PAT: Little by little, I got irritated, then mad and it goaded me to write even tighter yet more imaginative pieces. Sometimes she assigned a theme, but mostly they were of our own creation.
During high school I devoured books and learned to analyze literature, discovering at the same time how much I loved the dissection, if you will, and the studying of form and content, idea and inspiration. I was wretched at most of the math, so I discovered I could manipulate letters and words with better success. Come college, I wanted both the challenge and release that writing gave … that sense of control over something … and language was like a comforting blanket where I could burrow and be myself without apology. My life was already spiraling in so many directions, manic-depression having set in for real after the death of my brother, and the realization that my family unit was deeply flawed.
Language, literature, and writing provided such a haven that I gravitated to the lit-mag at the college, submitted a short poem, and enjoyed my first acceptance. My sense of accomplishment was bittersweet however, when I shared it proudly with my mother who rounded on me railing that I was never to write about such things as love again unless my words were directed to the deity. Devastated by her reaction and now feeling both shame and guilt, I felt I had nothing to write about if I couldn’t share my feelings on paper. I learned a couple tough lessons: Not everyone would like what I wrote, and, in the face of it, I would persevere by being true to myself and keep on writing. To that end, I wrote whenever I could, safely hid the journal, and tucked poems and ideas written on scraps of paper into a small pink stationery box I have to this day!
MARIE ELENA: Oh my. Between the nun and your mother, it’s a wonder you ever wrote again. I don’t think I would have found that kind of strength in me.
PAT: In the ensuing years as time permitted and life unraveled, I wrote more and more, with an urge to publish, guided by some wonderful professors. This included the poet laureate of Kansas, Jonathan Holden, who invited me to sit in on his poetry courses. At the time, I was taking Field Biology, and devised a year-long writing cycle spanning multiple genres. It’s amazing how little you know sometimes, and Jonathan was swift to point out that I needed to be far more generous and inclusive in learning to respect the often diverse and even dissonant voices of others. Although it stung a bit, his words were both prophetic and eye opening in that I realized I’d been far too intent on listening to my own voice, and in that was a self-fulfilling death. Creativity is achieved only through expansion and growth. A wider embrace, if you will. In my home, bookcases and baskets bend beneath those larger, enriching voices.
MARIE ELENA: What a great experience to study under Professor Holden. He gave excellent advice, in my opinion. And may I just say I love the image of bookcases and baskets bending beneath those larger enriching voices. *sigh* Lovely poetic image, built of wisdom.
Now, let’s talk detail. How much time do you typically spend writing poetry? Are you the type of poet who writes bits and pieces as they come to mind throughout the day, or do you sit down and write start-to-finish?
PAT: I most often write in bits and pieces. In my phone notes at night, on envelopes, a tiny spiral notebook tucked into the car. So often a phrase comes fully formed that needs to be captured (or it will be lost forever) so I’ve learned to try and jot them down, then go back later to develop them. Once I get deep into the writing, I lose all track of time, the need to eat … everything fades away, until I push back and find I am as exhausted as if I had ridden a horse on a long gallop across the prairie, holding on bareback for dear life. I am driven to finish works and think about them, often re-writing them in my head, even as I commit them to paper. I work at what I write, but don’t do the office thing (beginning at a certain hour and forcing work until some artificial end). I am far more spontaneous, although I do try and stick to my belief that if I get a “didn’t fit” notice from a submission, that it gets re-visioned that same day, if possible, and goes back out the same day (frequently bundled with other pieces), and researched for a better fit. Re-Visioned is a real word for me, meaning to re-see with new eyes, open eyes, for word, language, nuance, title, and then a more welcoming home, receptive to what I’m trying to shape and share.
I do love writing to prompts, by the way. Not only Poetic Bloomings (which are excellent) but others. It’s part challenge, part inspiration which keeps the writing juices flowing.
MARIE ELENA: “So often a phrase comes fully formed that needs to be captured (or it will be lost forever).” Boy-oh-boy, can I relate to that! I have to think we aren’t alone in this, Pat.
Do you have a writing space? If so, what does it look like?
PAT: I have an office, and have learned I must be in front of a window with a wide span of the outside if I am behind a desk. I prepare manuscripts there, and do editing and finishing, filing, spreadsheets, etc. It’s a simple space with a second-hand desk that once belonged to a mentor-friend, a file cabinet, a couple salvaged bookshelves, and a couple more milk crates on their sides, where I file work that is currently open. A slim ladder-like bookshelf made by my father is tucked on the windowsills to hold turtle shells, the odd snail, a perfect acorn from a massive burr oak. Objects rotate in and out as I find them when I’m hiking.
MARIE ELENA: Your big window and little collections in your writing space make me smile. Writing requires more than books, paper, and pen.
Do you spend time in market research?
PAT: If you mean do I try and adapt my style to the various “schools of poetry” that are out there, I can honestly say hardly ever. I do try and examine forms and what types are preferred by magazines before submitting. If, however, you mean do I try and match publications to my poems? Then yes, absolutely. Lit-mags and journals certainly have a need to develop their themes and voice, and I have found the most success when I take the time to read back-issues carefully and find the best “home” for my work before submitting. I have also schooled myself to use the idea of my work “not being a good fit” or “declined,” rather than “rejected,” which is too fraught with negativity and can work against self-confidence, at least in my case.
I do try and read, now and then, what is a “voice” I admire and do some careful observations. However, most of my research is for nuance and accuracy. I believe you owe that to yourself and readers, and there’s no room for sloppy. For example, in Native American writer Linda Hogan’s A History of Kindness, I have discovered someone who echoes some of my constructions. There is a comfort there. Sometimes there are writers whose Social Justice voices call strongly to me, so I try and analyze how you can be passionate about an issue, and yet write it in a way that it communicates effectively without being condescending or didactic.
MARIE ELENA: Excellent points, and great advice. Thank you!
Besides poetry, do you have other interests and talents?
PAT: I’ve played piano and organ for three churches over the past decade, although I’m pulling back from that, as it exacerbates the high anxiety/bi-polar, especially after such a long hiatus. Panic attacks are a very real part of my life, and hard to manage until I can establish patterns and get the meds aligned. I’ve been in therapy for years, and it’s a lot like wearing glasses. If you want to see clearly, you do what’s necessary.
MARIE ELENA: A hardy AMEN, Pat. Good for you, for recognizing that.
PAT: Yes, although, it’s often hard to listen to that message.
MARIE ELENA: Indeed. What else do you enjoy, and perhaps find helpful?
PAT: Hiking is a very important part of my down-time, in that I have to get out and walk the land. I make the most of what I have on hand at the moment, and challenge myself to find and identify everything in my path, such as plants, trees, birds, insects, moths and butterflies. I have several bookshelves full of field guides relative to all those things. I continue to be hungry for knowledge about this tremendously amazing planet, and feel that in the knowing, there can be more caring. I enjoy taking pictures of various creeks, especially when in flood, as well as other bodies of water that speak to me, and that I share on my blog (middlecreek currents at middlecreek currents – Like silt in stream, words are, then forever lost).
I do a lot of handwork, such as crocheting winter scarves for the homeless for a number of years and donating them to various organizations with access points. Like Yoga, hand work is very Zen, so I knit, crochet, embroider, etc. Gardening is huge here at the homestead, and although my husband does the greatest part of it, we grow for and take produce to two food pantries all season, with a very wide range of products: Okra, beans, potatoes, onions, peppers, corn, beets and more. The gardens were literally hacked from very neglected pastures, and every spring we haul truckloads of compost from three counties over to try and replenish the soil. I grow flowers as well, as I’ve learned I literally need them for healing; their colors, their scents. I tend to grow native plants as much as possible, especially those for butterflies, and we leave all plants in their natural states to feed the birds over winter. From the field studies I did when at University, I have life lists of birds and giant silk moths that I’ve been privileged to find and identify over the years. I was a charter member of Kansas Wildflowers when I had time to hike on weekends.
Right now, inside, I have blooming orchids, a poinsettia that turns red annually now without any special efforts, bamboo on the ecumenical prayer table [the Buddha, Native American sculptures, Christian saints and icons, candles, the hand carved sea turtle from my father]. Tending to plants helps me move outside of myself, and reduces depressive cycles which are such a large part of my life. This fall I also brought inside blooming begonias and an olla full of lavender.
MARIE ELENA: You sound like a spiritual person. Yes?
PAT: I am a person of Faith, with a strong, strong belief in the power of the Spirit as a living, moving force for inspiration and assistance. I talk to the deity often and prefer informal to formal prayer. I belong to a church, but my beliefs are a matter of following my conscience and not perhaps the ‘party line.’ I hold to the primary tenet that God is Love above all things. Two scriptures drive/guide me: Matthew 7: 1-3 Judge not, and Micah 6: This is what Yahweh asks of you, to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God. I find there is absolutely no need to excoriate what we may fail to comprehend or even be comfortable with … Love all and give thanks.
MARIE ELENA: The scripture verses you chose to share speak much about you. Thank you.
This interview being conducted during the Covid-19 pandemic, may I ask if it has added to your anxiety and panic attacks? Have they become harder to manage? Or is it possible that being forced into a quieter life has been beneficial? Perhaps even afforded you with more writing time?
PAT: Well, to be brutally honest it was a dysfunctional blend of both quiet realizations and affirmations, and cataclysmic crashes that required upping medications. From being with the grandbaby twice a week and holding him while his mother worked from home from birth to nine months of age, to suddenly being completely cut off was horrific. But keeping everyone safe was a higher priority. Losing nine months since then has seemed like a lifetime. I wrote then and now from a driving sense of need and survival, mining, searching, honing. I edit pretty furiously, trying to be sure every line moves the poem forward, so undoubtedly there was more opportunity for that and some much-needed organizational tweaking.
MARIE ELENA: Thank you for your transparency, Pat. Such drastically life-changing circumstances can induce anxiety and depression in even the most “healthy” among us, let alone those already prone to them.
Speaking of transparency, will you please share with us a poem you have written that you feel tells us a bit about yourself (however you may interpret that).
PAT: The below was published/award-winning in the early ‘80s, and was what I would call a “break-out” poem. I was doing my Masters in Humanities with Cal-State in their very innovative non-traditional studies program that I was lucky enough to be accepted into. I was working with Professor Michael Mahon who found good things to say about this, and coached my creative writing/poetry efforts.
Before Ansel Adams
Beatified Black and White
On day brother took a picture
of laundry hanging on the line
and Daddy called it wasting film.
Brother called it art and told me
about Momma’s backside framed
in her black skirt. How broad
her shoulders seemed in striped
blouse, arms raised almost to
the line, fingers sprouting
clothespins the way she always
wove them in and out to save
bending up and down to the basket.
How the big bows of white apron
almost pinched her waist. Brother said
as how you could see the clothes, and
seeing, smell freshness on the wind.
Feel sundown’s cool on your cheek
the way the towels felt gathered in
of an evening, or the spot of warmth
caught on an overall’s button. There
were lines and shapes drawn forever
on the sky, he said, and pointed out
the squares of washrags, long runners
from the dressing tables, all embroidery
and lace; triangles hung by points—
Lizzy’s from her waitressing—the maze
of lines dangling from Momma’s corsets,
and her scolding really bad for that,
but yet keeping the picture tucked away,
never sure about the black and white
of art and brother being dead
before he’d made his mark.
© Pat Anthony
At this time, I not only began to try and quantify the traumatic events in my life (no one ever ‘helped’ after my brother died … I just got into the car and went back to boarding school the next Monday), but I began to learn I had a voice that didn’t have to be stifled or made to conform to someone else’s standard.
MARIE ELENA: This poem is tragic, moody, and beautiful at once. Your brother sounds like one who was able to see beauty where others may be blind to it. The fact that no one helped after your brother died was, perhaps in part, a sign of the times. Things were different back then, I think. I can’t imagine losing a brother so young, let alone being immediately sent back to school, away from all who knew him. I’m sorry for this tragedy in your life, Pat.
Now it’s my turn to share one of your poems. It was hard for me to choose just one. Trying to choose a favorite from such a vast array of art was difficult for me. I finally decided on “Billboard,” from your published collection, “Between Two Cities on a Greyhound Bus.” I apologize for the loss of proper formatting.
You put me on notice
in the tiny kitchenette
when we were
married it would be legal
for you to knock me down
for standing up to you
my only answer shaky
laughter but the stronger
part of me knew
there’d be no wedding
no floor beneath my face
in another country
I’ve watched your brother
beat a woman
as we look on helplessly cops
for her partner to storm out
the woman’s shaky laughter then reassuring
us nothing is wrong
our silence complicit
when she puts on extra
makeup to hide her black
eye, wears her long -sleeved uniform
as I scrub lemonade from
dripping walls I sense a
acid seeping into my fingers shriveling
even as I scavenge clothes
count pesos and flee
a battered future for
© Pat Anthony
Between Two Cities On A Greyhound Bus may be purchased from Amazon here: Between Two Cities On A Greyhound Bus: Anthony, Pat: 9798673567159: Amazon.com: Books)
Pat, I assume this collection (and with it, this particular poem) are from your life experiences. The entire collection begged a second read, and, to be honest, the gravity of it all weighed on me a good long while.
PAT: Everything is relative and even the biggest supposed catastrophes can be mitigated. In my own life there have been many, many difficult experiences that then go on to be blessings in disguise.
MARIE ELENA: Your attitude is an inspiration to me. Thank you for that reminder.
On a far lighter note, what might you consider a highlight in your life?
PAT: I’d have to say my kids. Children open your world, and as Kahlil Gibran says so eloquently: Your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of life itself, so each one has been a World opening, and you cherish each for their uniqueness and teach yourself to be willing to let them bloom and behold them with awe and wonder, and so your world is perennially enriched.
MARIE ELENA: Oh my, yes. So beautifully expressed!
Thank you for your willingness to be poked and prodded today, Pat. It has been a joy getting to know you better, and a privilege to “introduce” you to our poet family. With that, I’ll give you the last word, with one final question: If we could know only one thing about you, what would you want it to be?
PAT: I guess it would be that I am, and strive to continue to be, A Survivor. You are more than your history, in that you can gather nuggets from both the success and dross of your life and polish them as you go forward, sometimes struggling, sometimes leaping clear. I am here today enjoying even this interview because of hundreds of people that held out a hand, who cared, even if from afar. I believe in every scenario there can be people who reach out with love to help you dig in and hang on, and often the only way we can thank them is to pay it forward. There’s always something out there beyond yourself. Even though it can be so deceptively alluring, don’t give in to the dark. Find a star. Thanks very much to both you and Walt for hosting this interview. It’s been a delight, and I hope our readers enjoy it. I welcome questions and comments here, including writing-related that I would be willing to explore.
Where to find Pat now, and soon coming:
The Blue Nib Chapbook Four, The Blue Nib, 2019, Ireland. ISBN 9781072089568 (first place micro-chap): The Blue Nib Chapbook Four: Nib, The Blue, Anthony, Pat, Farren, Mike, Flynn, Sharon: 9781072089568: Amazon.com: Books
Between Two Cities on a Greyhound Bus Between Two Cities On A Greyhound Bus: Anthony, Pat: Amazon.sg: Books
Middlecreek: Currents and Undercurrents forthcoming from Orchard Street Press 2021