POET INTERVIEW – ERIN KAY HOPE

Erin Kay Hope

Today it is my pleasure to sit down and catch up with Erin Kay Hope!  Erin used to frequent Bloomings years ago (as a young teen), and has recently returned to us.  This gives Walt and I great pleasure!  Although the young poetic voice back then blew us all away, maturity and life experience have brought forth an even greater depth of beauty and heart in the words presented to us by this still-young writer. 

Okay, Erin, let’s get started!

May I begin by asking what drew you back to our Poetic Boomings site after all these years?

Erin: I actually didn’t realize that y’all had started it up again until very recently. In an insomnia-fueled rummage through old emails (literally going back several years and just reading and re-reading old emails and documents), I ran across an email exchange between myself and Hannah Gosselin discussing a poem that I had posted here. It made me very nostalgic, and I found myself missing the friends I had made here and the sense of community. I had been processing and writing a lot around then and didn’t really have a platform or outlet, other than making my dear patient wife read through pages and long notes on my phone of just any ramblings or poems that found their way out of my head, haha. So I went to find the website again so I could look back on old posts and prompts, and that’s when I discovered that you and Walt had revived PB a couple years back. I think I almost cried I was so excited, my heart was literally tap dancing around in my chest. It’s been really really good to be here and be able to share with and read from other poets again. And I especially missed the care and mentorship that I felt from yourself and Walt when I was a funny little 15-year-old trying to pass myself off as a real poet. It’s very good for my heart and soul to be back here.

Marie Elena:  Aww!  I love that you mentioned our Sweet Hannah! Hers is another voice we miss!

Well, it is certainly good to have you back. Your presence and talent are such a blessing, Erin. I must say, you have been every bit a “real poet” since your earliest days with us. Back then, one of the life events that often prompted heartfelt, real poems was the tragic early passing of your dear brother, Cameron.  Your return here has shown us that he continues to inspire raw, moving poems.  The one below, written in March, is one of the most moving poems I’ve ever read. 

Visiting the Cemetery at Springtime (or alternately, Garden of Decay)

I laid down next to you in the sunshine
Feeling the heaving of the earth
And wishing I could sink down under the grass and soil
Into the cold ground to sleep with you
Rotting bones and sinew
While insects devour my flesh and brain
At peace and happy in our decay
Underneath the yellow flower halo crown
I brought as some kind of apology for
The years I spent avoiding this place
I found your tombstone overgrown and abandoned
Neglected like the childhood we shared
Or like the emptiness in my chest that I’ve never been able to fill without you
Guilt feels like bile retched from deep inside of me
Caught and burning in the back of my throat
The utter loneliness and despair of this place consumes me
Encircled in a sea of broken dreams
And dried up flowers and haunted longing
I dream of leaving it all behind to follow you.

© Erin Kay Hope, March 2021

Would you mind telling us a bit about this enormous event in your life?

Erin:  Losing Cameron has been the biggest heartache of my life. He was my best friend and constant ally. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2006. To this day, I am unsure what type exactly it was (and I have been unable to discuss with my mom for various reasons). I only know that it involved his lungs and chest and that it was ruthless. We had caught it very, very late, and he was initially given about two months to live. He ended up fighting it for about two years instead, going through intense chemo and radiation treatments, surgery where they actually removed part of one of his lungs, and countless hospital/clinic visits. I went with him to almost every appointment, and I caused a scene the few times I wasn’t allowed/able to go with. He was my buddy, and I needed to be there. I was very little, and I knew he was having a hard time, but there was no way for nine-year-old me to possibly fathom the horrific pain and misery he was in for those two longest of long years. Sometimes when I look back on that time, I can’t help but wish he had died quickly and as painlessly as possible, without having to endure the chemo that literally broke him apart and made him quiet, exhausted,  unrecognizable. It is hard to cherish the time spent with him during those two years, knowing that he suffered through every minute. Some nights, I woke up to hear him screaming and my dad trying to comfort him. Those nights I prayed and prayed my little heart out, not exactly knowing if I was praying for him to magically get better or to just be able to stop struggling and be done. He died on April 20, 2008. Complex emotions and feelings followed, of course. It was two weeks before my birthday, and I was initially filled with a lot of resentment and anger for that reason. I was 11, after all. That quickly gave way to a wave of guilt that still hasn’t entirely diminished. It comes and goes, sometimes a very strong surge and sometimes a barely noticeable salty taste. I felt guilty for any time I had ever been upset or angry with him; any time I had been annoyed by the “special treatment” he received from my parents during his illness; and most especially for the fact that I woke up several times the night he died, heard my dad frantic on the phone, heard the loud knock on the front door when EMTs arrived, stayed in bed and somehow fell back asleep, missing entirely the last chance I had to see and hold and say goodbye to him. That’s a lot of weight for an 11-year-old to carry. Probably also the main reason that I have almost no memory of the year that followed his death, other than a few moments of his funeral/memorial service.

Cameron does factor into a lot of my writing. Last year, I did some very good work in actually feeling and processing my grief over losing him, grief that I wasn’t really able or allowed to feel at 11. I had been essentially forced into this place of acceptance where I was never really allowed to properly grieve. Childhood grief that goes untended can absolutely mess with development of good emotion regulation.

I visited his grave for the first time since the day he was buried, and I go back often to bring flowers and talk to him. I wrote some dark dark heartbroken poetry, spent a lot of days and nights unable to move or take care of myself much for the crippling heartache and tears. But what a relief to let out the agony I had been carrying around in my gut for almost 12 years. Poetry has been such a good outlet for me, in so many ways, both writing and reading. Grief still catches me unaware at times, but I am better equipped to deal with it. At this point in my adult life, I believe I have allowed myself the space to work through some of that grief, but I think I will feel the effects forever. I miss him every day.

Erin and Cameron


Marie Elena:  The mix of heartache and growth is palpable, Erin.  Bless your heart. 

Your return to us has also made plainly evident another life event that draws out heartfelt, real poems as well … but on the lighter side of life.  These are the tender poems you write about Mia.


DOMESTIC

There’s a soft and quiet hiding place
In the little hollow between
Your earlobe and the jut of your shoulder
Where all my anxieties go to rest.
I bring them to you, trickling
One by one eased out by careful flowering
Language, or sometimes overflowing from
My cupped hands like a child carrying too many
Marbles: some of them have to find the floor
.

Something about the little furrow in
Your brows when you’re thinking (caring) hard
Makes vulnerability easier.
Did you picture us here now with this tenderness
Growing up through bones and skin that first night
In June, in the summer heat and your parents’ house,
When I still kept my jeans on to get in bed with you?

The way your hair smells familiar and
Homey, or how I anticipate the rhythm of your breaths
Before they even move to expand and
Deflate: your lungs and I are old friends.
Our living room is the scene of relearning
Language, and sometimes breaking down
In front of and all over each other like marbles
Spilling out of too-small hands … we’ve become
Very good at picking them all back up again


© Erin Kay Hope, February 2021

This poem overflows with original thoughts and superb phrasing that I can only dream of writing.  *sigh*   These two poems I’ve shared are examples of what draws me to poetry.  Honestly though, I’m not sure I can fully describe what, for me, makes an excellent poem. What do you think makes good poetry? 

Erin: This is a great (and difficult!) question.  I’ve discussed a little about the difficulties I have with understanding and perceiving emotions, my own or others. I think that poetry is honestly one of the only ways I have found where I can really dissect and name and examine complex feelings. When writing, I can often come to realizations about why I was upset about something before or why someone said/did something the way that they did that I wasn’t able to understand before. When reading, I get a semblance of what it is like to feel things as another person, and that is invaluable to me since I can’t always understand it at other times. It’s like the part of my brain where emotions are processed is typically locked, and poetry is something of a key to get in and do some cleaning and organizing. Poetry that stays with me is poetry that has made me FEEL, in a very literal sense of the word. It’s hard to describe exactly what elements are needed for that to happen, it’s all very relative. But I know it when I see (feel) it. One of my favorite pieces of all time is “Box” by Ebony Stewart. She does spoken word performance. She is entertaining and raw and real, and this piece is an example of something that caught me by the heart and forced me to listen/feel/understand.

Marie Elena:  Great response. And I, like you, “know it when I see (feel) it.”    

Your poems fascinated me from the time you were in your mid-teens, through present.  Yet, as I indicated above, I see an evolution.  Was that intentional?  Or did it just happen naturally?  If intentional, how did you go about it?

Erin: Another fantastic question. This is somewhat reminiscent of the “nature vs. nurture” debate in psychology: You can’t discuss one without the other, it is the interaction of the two that is important. The evolution of my writing was a necessary chain reaction that began with me truly beginning to look inside and understand and accept myself for who I am. My writing from my first stint at Poetic Bloomings was a very very small rebellion, a piece of myself that I refused to allow to be swallowed by the dogma I was surrounded with, but that I had to camouflage to keep safe. I wrote like someone who has a manacle on their wrist with a very short chain that jerked me to a stop if I tried to go too far. I couldn’t quite put all of what I felt into words because I had to show everything I wrote to my mom and my dad, and sometimes their pastor, to make sure nothing too freethinking was slipping in before I could share it to PB or be allowed to keep it. A child security lock of sorts. I snuck a few more real pieces past them every now and then, but I was too scared to do it often.  Once I left and began to evolve as a person, my writing necessarily evolved with me. It was both natural and intentional, I think.

Marie Elena:  That makes perfect sense to me. 

Switching gears a bit, what plans do you have for your future that might take us by surprise?

Erin: My wife and I have big dreams of moving to Germany someday.

Marie Elena:  Oh, cool!  What attracts you and Mia to Germany?

Erin:  Initially, the attraction for me lay very much in the fact that Germany is essentially the birthplace of modern psychological theory, and I am a huge nerd lol. But we are also excited about living in the country, near the Alps, in a quiet cottage or farm. We want to raise a family there, and the country’s policies on universal healthcare, sustainability, and equality are very much in line with our own beliefs and values.

Marie Elena:  A quiet cottage near the Alps sounds idyllic to me.  May I also ask, what are some of your own beliefs and values?

Erin: Human rights and mental health advocacy absolutely. I have struggled with a variety of diagnoses and mental health issues, and I know what it’s like to not be believed or valued or adequately cared for, so I am very big on doing what I can to help people, especially LGBTQ+ kids/youth, to not have to go through similar experiences. My goal for a long time has been to one day create an organization for free housing/rehabilitating/medical care for LGBTQ+ youth.

Marie Elena: What a kind, soft heart you have.

Erin: Thank you! I do my best. I struggle with empathy and understanding other people’s feelings/intentions/what have you, so I try to push myself to be proactive in seeking out ways to actually show compassion and understanding with my actions and words. I am working on getting an autism diagnosis (health insurance and psychiatrist services are expensive and oftentimes very wary in diagnosing neurodivergence in women, so that journey will be a long struggle), as a way to help me understand my own brain a little better. It definitely makes me want to be able to provide accessible support for other people who may be struggling.

Marie Elena:  This also seems in line with your career path.

Erin: My career is still very much in the works. I’ve been working full time to put myself through school, and I just finished up my bachelor’s degree in psychology in March and will be starting my master’s program in July. After that, I plan on obtaining licensure as a marriage and family therapist or a certified behavior analyst. I really just want to get out there and start working in the psychological field and see what I can do. Eventually, I want to do some research and get my PhD, but that is a long way down the line.

Marie Elena:  Following the “beliefs and values” question, do you consider yourself a person of faith?  If so, is it something you hold as very private, or are you open about it?

Erin: I consider myself, when I really consider it, an agnostic. I think there probably is a higher power out there, but I don’t necessarily conform to any religion’s idea of a god. I tend to believe a lot more in science and the physical world around me, but I also don’t want to close myself off to the spiritual. It’s a tricky balance that I haven’t quite got right and might never fully understand. It’s taken me a while to get to the place where I can even acknowledge the possibility of spiritual or divine existence, as there is a lot of religious abuse and trauma from my childhood that have made me a bit of a skeptic.

Marie Elena
: Erin, this breaks my heart.  I think it is far too often the case … the religious abuse and trauma, I mean … and it turns people away from the One I believe with everything in me created all, is the author of science and holds it in His hand, and loves us more than we could ever imagine.  I’ve often said that if I wasn’t a Christian, I wouldn’t see much in Christian people that would make me want to turn to Christ.  How sad is that.  I’m so very sorry for these horrible experiences, and I just pray Jesus will re-introduce Himself to you and you won’t be able to resist His true love.

Erin: That is an interesting statement to hear from someone who is a Christian, but definitely one that I agree with. I have met very few followers of Christianity that seem to actually follow Jesus’ doctrine of loving your neighbor, feeding the hungry, sheltering the poor and the refugee, just overall being a good person without the performativeness and exclusion. My own parents are part of a “Christian” group that is essentially a cult. People in that community have little to no access to the outside world, and once you express disagreement or leave, you are essentially excommunicated. I rarely see or hear from my parents or siblings. They hold the belief that they are the only people who are truly following god and teaching his correct word.  Even other Christians are wrong in their book. All the children are homeschooled (I had never set foot in a real classroom until my first class at community college in 2016), higher education is seen as sinful (especially for women), and secular media of any kind is prohibited. To this day, I feel like somewhat of an alien who doesn’t ever fully understand pop culture references or recognize a lot of well-known songs/movies/stories. I didn’t have access to the internet or my own cell phone until I was almost 18. People also never really seem to fully believe or understand when I talk about having a cultic background either. I think people tend to view cults as things of the past, or believe that they have to involve some major tragic event like a mass suicide/murder to really cause an impact. I feel the impact every day, though. In that group, they practice arranged marriages, exclusively among members of the cult and as something of a “reward” for submission and total loyalty to the group. Women are expected to move straight from their dad’s house to their husband’s and immediately start trying for children, as many as possible. Contraceptives are not used or allowed. My own mom gave birth to nine children, a feat that ripped apart her reproductive system and has led to numerous health problems. This was seen as her duty, though, and was basically unavoidable given the circumstances. I wanted none of that, and from the time that I lost my brother, I knew there was something wrong with the doctrine that they were selling. To add to that, I’m gay, something that I started to realize at around 13 or 14 and that nearly killed me. They are fanatically opposed in that community to people being gay, and I was terrified about what would happen if they ever somehow found out.  I felt so much shame and disgust and fear and had no one to speak to about it. I spent my teen years miserable, harming myself, wishing I could just die rather than grow up to be forced into a marriage with some man I hardly knew to be his housewife and have his children. It poisoned me against the very idea of being a mother someday, and it poisoned me against being able to believe in the Christian god. I spent a long time telling myself that I didn’t want kids because I didn’t want to fulfill that role they had assigned to me with my name and gender at birth. Eventually, though, I found self acceptance and peace and the knowledge that I really do love children and want some of my own, and that I can have all of those things as my own choice and in my own time. Mia and I have plans and dreams for our future children and are excited to raise compassionate and caring little humans someday.

That was quite the monologue there, but I do feel that a glimpse into that background is essential for an understanding of my hesitancy to be part of a religious organization and for really getting a lot of what I write. My poems are very often fueled by the anger that I sometimes can’t help feeling about it all, or by the sense of loss I feel for a warped childhood and a neglected adolescence. Once again, I think poetry is a powerful weapon and outlet for me.

Marie Elena: If it is a weapon, it is one you expertly wield. 

As our time comes to a close:  If we could know only one thing about you, what would you want it to be?

Erin: I am someone who works extremely hard in everything that I do. I’ve put myself through college, working full time the entire time, and will be paying my way through graduate school soon. I am determined, and I am proud of where I am now, especially given the very rough start I had. I value hard work and perseverance, but I also would love to see more value placed on asking for/receiving help, on making things easier for future generations than they have been in the past or present, on creating a world where everyone has access to food, shelter, choice, medical care, good education, etc. (coinciding pretty heavily with life, liberty, pursuit of happiness). My career choice and future plans are all about trying to create those kinds of opportunities, and I love to have conversations about it.

Marie Elena:
Well, I sure have loved having this conversation with you, Erin.  Thank you for being open, and for touching on hard topics.  Walt and I will look forward to walks along our Garden path with you for many years to come.  Welcome “home.”

POET INTERVIEW – PAT ANTHONY

PAT ANTHONY

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.’

Pat with her brothers

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. 


Billboard


You put me on notice
that morning
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
waiting only
 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
certain reluctance

acid seeping into my fingers shriveling
my heart
even as I scavenge clothes

count pesos and flee
a battered future for
the unknown.

© 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:

Blog:  https://middlecreekcurrent.com

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