The Phoenix Rising Collective

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Shades of Deeper Meaning: Thoughts on Love, Loss, Resilience, and Poetry

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For National Poetry Month I have chosen to interview three poets whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know. I want to showcase the spirit of this art form through their life experiences. What I hope you will notice is the very unique voices that shape these women. I asked all three the same questions, but the way they chose to answer reinforces the power of how humans identify themselves as individuals, social beings, and collective forces. I also observed that the women, as unique and individually powerful as they are, spoke of similar experiences: pain, resilience, change, and appreciation.

Andrea Daniel

Andrea_quote

Who are you?

I am a totally creative person – all arts, culture and entertainment, with a splash of communications. My dreams/vision for my life have never changed since I was a little girl, which means I’ve always been into poetry, singing, dance, theater, writing, video production and voice over work, but my left-brain and right-brain work in tandem, because I’m also a business owner. I have to split my time and mind between the creative and the business side. I am a woman who thrives on positivity, putting it out there and getting it back. I’m a mother of a wonderful 22-year old son who is also a creative type; I am a sister, a daughter, friend to a close circle of like-minded people; a woman who loves to laugh, and a pet owner of a sweet little 13-year old terrier mixed with poodle.

Primarily I’m a writer, as most things I do stem from the realm of writing.

Please share significant moments in your life that really defined your poetic artistry.

LikeGwendolynCover_cmyk

Click photo for more info about
Andrea and Like Gwendolyn.

While I’ve always written poetry, I believe my voice was the strongest in my years of recovery from domestic abuse. In 1992, I left my abusive husband of four years, taking my, then, two-year old son with me and moved from Maryland back to my hometown, Detroit, MI. Needless to say, I wrote a lot of poems after I left; poems about abuse and its effects, and poems about my son when he’d have to leave me for long periods of time because a judge ordered that his father have visitation rights. This was a very painful time for me. My only response was to write about it. Those poems are published in my first poetry book, Like Gwendolyn, and while the entire book is not about abuse, it’s those poems and the poems about my son that tend to resonate most with people.

One of the greatest experiences I’ve had was after graduation from Oakland University in 1985. I worked on a cruise ship, the S.S. Emerald Seas, which was part of the eastern cruise line (I don’t think it still exists). I was part of the five-member song and dance act, TiChand, performing as the floor show on the cruise ship, five nights a week, two shows a night. I was the only American along with four Canadians, and the only Black person in the group. We sailed from Miami, Florida to the Bahamian Islands. I felt like it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing at that time in my life; there was nothing about it that felt foreign to me. Our contract was for six months, but because I have a minor heart condition, which flared up during my solo performance one night, my stay was only for one month. I will never forget it.

Another highlight of my life was after I left my marriage back in 1992. In addition to writing poetry, one of the things that was a great distraction from the upheaval of my life, was the opportunity to write and be the lead vocalist on a House music track called Stars, which was produced by the internationally known House music DJ/producer Carl Craig. My cousin was dating Carl at the time, and she recommended me to work with him when he needed a songwriter and a singer on his newest project. We recorded two tracks, which both became very popular in the House music scene here in the U.S. as well as in Europe. A surreal thing about that experience is, today my son is a House music DJ, and people he knows in the industry still have high regard for the music I did 21 years ago.

Do you have a favorite poet, writer, and/or artist?

(Andrea extensively spoke of many poets, writers, and artists.) Here are two:

Gwendolyn Brooks. She was one of the first African American poets I was introduced to as a child. The clarity, rawness and lyrical nature of her writing had a big impact on me. I’d met her twice in my life, once when I was 10. She autographed a copy of the book The Black Poets for my father, which I still have. And again I met her while I was in college when I attended a Master Class she conducted at Oakland University. She was a very direct and thoughtful woman.

Nikki Giovanni. One of my favorite books of hers is Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day. From Nikki I learned that poetry can be fun, serious, and well, Nikki Giovanni is just an awesome poet and woman. I’ve heard her speak twice, and it was from her that I also learned to cure writer’s block: learn more about [your] subject, read something, study something, then the words will come.

Shilpa Venkatachalam

Shilpa_Quote

Who are you?

I am from, Bombay, India. I left India when I was 20 years old. I completed my Masters in English Literature at the University of Durham, U.K. and followed it with a Ph.D. in literature and critical theory at the University of Nottingham, U.K. where I also taught briefly. I currently teach literature and philosophy at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad. Suffice to say, I am, however, at a crossroads in my life and am soon to make a switch into the area of public health and policy fueled by a desire to make a difference in the area following the experiences that resulted from my father’s diagnosis and recent battle with cancer, which came to a close a few months ago.

How do you identify yourself in terms of your artistic craft?

As a writer, writing is simultaneously one of the most difficult things to me and the most ‘natural’ because it is through writing that life unfolds itself; it is through writing that moments of clarity, epiphany, whatever one chooses to call them present themselves to you in order for you to chase them through dark alleys, winding roads, and serpent like pathways.

It is always a hard thing to say what one’s poetry is about: life, love, disappointment, betrayal, faith, regret, pleasure, pain, ecstasy – all of these and yet none of these. For if I could capture what it is all about, I would perhaps not write at all. Writing is the very quest; it entails a process of searching and chasing, a curious struggle to articulate the unsaid, incomprehensible. And in that attempt, a hope to find at least a glimmer of understanding and of capturing. That, at least, has been my hope.

Please share significant moments in your life that really defined your poetic artistry.

Life, for me has been full of surprises and unexpected twists and turns. There comes a point in your life when everything comes to a head, when one difficult situation is relieved by another one. The past three years for me have been a testimony to this; from my own serious illness, to my fathers battle with advanced cancer and his subsequent loss, weeks on end spent in the critical care unit, and the loss of a close friend, and then my own crisis as a result of these events – a crisis of the self, a crisis of what life really means, a crisis of relationships and people. It seemed nothing would give.

But through all this, one begins to understand oneself; one begins to realize the dignity and strength of people who suffer and see the suffering their loved ones are going through; one sees a remarkable humanity and empathy that ironically shines through when people are going through the most testing times of their lives. This fantastic ability of people to pierce through, beyond their own pain and reach out to the other has been most inspiring to me. The renewal of faith in life and in people is unrivaled, stunning, magnificent and nothing short of remarkable. There is also the transience of all things in life, something I continue to battle with to understand, an urge to grasp it, to embrace it, to resist it, all at the same time.

Do you have a favorite poet, writer, and/or artist?

As far as favorite writers or books are concerned, I find myself gravitating toward them depending on where I am in life at that particular point: what experiences I am going through or have gone through, what my philosophy at that moment is. Everything is a process of metamorphosis, so it could be mountaineering books, it could be Borges, it could be Graham Greene, it could be Em and the Big Hoom. Different writers, different books touch and impact me at different points in my life.

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A Poem by Shilpa Venkatachalam:

Here and There

You want guarantees,

I can offer you none.

Like a subatomic particle I exist in two different states simultaneously

I am wave

And I am particle

And come into being only for an instant that disappears before it has decided to stay.

I’m already planning to leave you before I have even met you.

I’m already preparing to destroy before I have even created.

This is my tragedy and this is my bliss

I am clothed in contradictions

Like matter and anti-matter

I am immersed in inconsistency

Before I have committed

I know I will deceive

I cannot offer you what I do not possess

I cannot possess that which you want me to offer to you.

To sustain anything is a challenge I am unable to meet

Every second explodes with a million alterations

That invade my being

And that make it quiver.

How can I offer you a guarantee

When I have never known what it means.

___________________________________________ 

 Jan Worth

Jan_Quote

Who are you?

I was born in Canton, Ohio to a preacher and his wife in 1949. My mother was 39 when she had me.  I have a sister who is ten years older than me, and I have a brother who is seven years older than me.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the endurance of one’s very first impressions of the world.  My world was full of people who were bigger than me.  They were imposing figures but nobody was quite happy.  I was surrounded by people who were fairly ill at ease and who made a lot of decisions about me. I didn’t really experience the world as a place that I had control over.  My job, it seemed, was to bring slivers of joy into this rather depressive unit.  Apparently I used to hold my breath until I blacked out to get their attention.  I remember only one of these episodes.  On the other hand, I somehow felt like I wasn’t really “one of them” and so I always assumed whatever was going to happen to me would have no connection to them. I was surrounded by religion, scripture, religious music, words – and my poems have a lot of the iambic pentameter of the King James Version in them.

My family always expected catastrophe:  my father’s father was killed during the Depression and his family lost their farm.  My mother’s father was a traveling evangelist who was always leaving, leaving, leaving, and her mother lost her mind.  I’ve gradually learned that the worst doesn’t always happen.  That’s been a great relief.

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To learn more about
Jan and her novel, Night Blind,
click the photo.

So, this avoids the question of who I am now.  I am just letting go of those first impressions of the world.  Not everyone else is bigger than me.  It is not my job to make everybody else happy.  I do not want to continue carrying my mother’s grief – she is dead.  I am profoundly in love with using words – I recently used the phrase “sanctimoniously reasonable” and I love how that sounds, and how perfect it is for what I meant at the time. That kind of thing gives me deep pleasure.

I am a woman who’s learning to breathe.  I’m a woman who’s gradually trusting my rhythms and my deep inclinations towards words, but I know words aren’t enough; sometimes, the body knows things – sometimes silence is best.  I’m a woman trying to be in the moment, as the saying goes. I know I can’t be alone all the time, and one of my greatest pleasures is sleeping with my husband.  I mean actually sleeping – the physical refuge and comfort of our conjugal bodies together.  I’m a woman who doesn’t know much of anything for sure.  I think the earth is spectacularly beautiful and I wish we weren’t ruining it.

How do you identify yourself in terms of your artistic craft?

See above – my ear is pretty closely attuned to the cadences of the old scriptures and hymns, even if my content isn’t always. I love working with sound; I want my poems, even the depressed ones, to be melodious. I love interesting words.  I am continually touched by the “natural world,” by air and fragrance and new growth.  I still generally believe in the individual ‘eye’ and ‘I’ although I know a single voice often isn’t enough.  But it’s what I have to work with.  Protestantism is very centered on the individual – on the individual’s private and rightful relationship to God.  In my case, I’ve taken that to mean I have the right to doubt.  And believe me, I do, and feel no guilt.

Please share significant moments in your life that really defined your artistry.

I was at Kent State University when the shootings happened in 1970; it was a turning point for me, making me believe the world was dangerous and sometimes short. I felt quite reckless for a time after that. Peace Corps in Polynesia shaped me in that I took myself on a giant adventure and survived it – I’ve written so much about that that I don’t have much more to say.  Flint has affected me, too, of course – the continual wrestling with its troubles, my first marriage to a Flint man and poet; the deterioration and collapse of our long marriage, the ruin of the place.   And then, discovering the joy, in my 50s, of a man who loves me – wow.  It’s been the biggest surprise of my life, and I’m profoundly grateful.  I’ve had to learn how to write happy poems.

Do you have a favorite poet, writer, and/or artist?

One of my first literary faves was the South African short story writer Nadine Gordimer.  I remember reading one of her short stories when I was about 14 or 15, working as a library page in Coshocton, Ohio.  I remember just standing in the stacks and reading a story where a lonely woman watched a herd of deer – it touched my heart and I thought, wow, you can write like that?  I also love the poems of James Wright, Theodore Roethke, Robert Hass, Adrienne Rich, Elizabeth Bishop, Heather McHugh, Marianne Boruch – many, many, too many to name. I’ve recently been reading Mary Ruefle’s essay collection Madness, Rack and Honey and I’m crazy in love with it.  I like poets who understand the human condition is totally complicated and exasperating, and who doubt the world and love it simultaneously.

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A Poem by Jan Worth

Missiles, October, 1962

My parents said

we should get new tires

in case rubber got rationed

again.  I caught the scent

of fear. Rubber burned the air,

left dismal grit

on Akron’s windowsills.

My mother went to bed,

middle of the day, sleepless,

sweating there for hours.

Rising, she seemed as tired

as before, blanket dents

on a cheek, hair flat on one side.

She left it like that.

I got my period, red splash.

Crawled into my parents’ bed,

rare day when my mother didn’t

get there first. Nestled

in the pride of new pain,

snuggling it, my own.  Got

my first bra, small poking

breasts tender to the touch.

“Little missile girl,” my father

cracked, looking at me mournfully

as if I was about to disappear

in some uranium half-life.

“Stop it,” my mother said.

I didn’t believe the world

would end.  There was going to be

plenty of time for me, to revel in

my vivid hurts, my lucky changes,

my charmed survival after

my mother and father were history.

 ___________________________________________

tcphoto_cw2Traci Currie is a Communication Studies lecturer at University of Michigan-Flint, as well as a knit-crochet artist, writer, and spoken word performer. She has been a part of the art world for over 15 years as an art gallery board member; spoken word series organizer for 5 years; performer, nationally and internationally; and published poet. She believes the PRC will help young women reach their highest potential.  “This organization is about empowering women to take ownership of their lives, claim their identities and be the positive change they wish to see in the world they live.”

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Author: The Phoenix Rising Collective

The Phoenix Rising Collective provides self-care workshops, heart-centered professional development and authentic leadership training that inspires women to be self-love in action. It is a positive, women-centered, spirit-affirming community where you can grow, share, and learn with others who have the same commitment.

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