The last poet in my poetry spotlight is Carlene Gist or “T.C.” Not to make Carlene self-conscious, but she is the oldest poet I interviewed in this series and has a broad range of experience. Named after her father, Carlene is the first born of seven children and was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. In her own words, this poet says, “Poetry is a genre of writing that I’ve always admired. While in the first grade, I committed to memory and recited “The Night Before Christmas”, for the Christmas play. I’ve been writing but mostly reading poetry since then. Acting, singing and dancing are a few of my favorite things. I went from beating on tabletops to beating on the djembe, which is something I do to center myself. I hope one day to be a published poet.”
You have witnessed several historical events throughout your years as both a person and a poet. Do you find that current events shape your writing, and if so, how? What kind of events propel you to write poetry?
Being born in the late ’40s, I’ve seen a lot. Current events most definitely influence my sentiments when expressing myself through the written word. Poetry, to me, is one way of expressing one’s feelings and perspectives. I can find poetry in almost anything if I but just be still and observe. I find myself stirred by events that display man’s inhumanity to man on any level.
How has your writing changed over the years?
I used to write only poems that rhymed and a lot of love poems. I now write in free verse and about a variety of subjects. I also like writing haiku.
What influence does being a spoken-word poet play on the way you craft your poems?
I know that poetry, as all forms of art, is subjective. I do give effort in trying to find the most effective words and weave them in a manner that might help the audience receive the sentiment I am aiming to convey.
What poet, living or dead, would you like to meet and have dinner with? What would you serve your special guest?
Edgar A. Poe; Kahlil Gibran; Henry W. Longfellow; Paul L. Dunbar; Langston Hughes; Maya Angelou, to name a few. I would have said my peer, Nikki Giovanni. After hearing Amanda Gorman recite her poem “The Hill We Climb”, I would love to sit, chat, and break bread with her. I’m interested in what the younger generation has to say. I believe pizza might work.
What are your favorite aspects of your own poetry?
I like the way I’ve been able to provoke one to think about what I’m trying to convey.
When do you usually write your poetry?
Usually at the midnight hours-between midnight and three a.m.
What do you do when you experience writer’s block?
It’s really tough for me to start a flow when I’m experiencing writer’s block. Prompts, music, or just write what flows through me and edit later.
Written before the new time of 9 min. and 29 sec.
"It" looks into the camera. I watch Knee on neck, hands tucked comfortably in pockets Some might say cavalier, I say eviler A cold and icy stare. My eyes feel frostbitten, they hurt. I sense danger. Like an ostrich who buries their eggs in the sand Like an ostrich who senses danger and can’t run. I bury my head in my hands. I feel not better but safer Can I fear what I can’t see? Under the covers a child will hide for fear of the boogeyman Two minutes pass, spread my fingers and peek. My heart races, as pressure rises. “It” is still there, knee on neck hands comfortably in pockets. Under my covers I retreat. Bury my head in my hands a little longer this time. Hoping this time “it” will surely be gone. Three more minutes pass and “it’s” not gone yet. Still there, icy stare, knee on neck, hands tucked comfortably in pockets. Hugging my pillow tight, I start sweating and crying. A fearful child becomes so scared it will call for their mother. They trust and believe Mother, the person who witnessed them take their first breath is able, and will save them from taking their last if she can. Sounds of voices unfamiliar to me, I decide to peek and see. I’m petrified I can’t breath, “it” won’t leave. Why must “it” torture me so long? Three minutes seems like three hours I’ve waited for “it” to cease. Eight minutes now, seems like eight days of holding my breath , suffocating under my covers. They say fear leads to hate and hate to destruction Forty-six seconds later “it” is still there but George Floyd is not. Mother came to get him. I slowly lift my head out of my hands and start to breathe again. -Carlene Gist
My poet today is FH Denny. For the month of April, I have found a diverse group of poets willing to bare their souls to me and share both their poetry and answer my questions. Global Poetry Month is a great time to learn about poets across the world, and the people I have chosen to interview are a diverse group with a wide variety of identities, ages, and cultural backgrounds.
Poet and fiction author FH Denny was born in the U.K. but now lives in New Zealand. He/they write fantasy novels as well as poetry and are a passionate reader, stating his/their favorite book as the novel Watership Down.
In my poetry, I often find a common theme, but your poems seem to run the gamut of different themes. What inspires your writing?
If I were writing a book of poetry, I would try to stick to a theme, but the poems I share on my website are inspired by how I feel at the time. I’m using that space to experiment with different topics and finding new ways to express myself.
What kind of rituals do you have when writing poetry?
I’m not sure I have rituals. I am fairly spontaneous when it comes to poetry. I go through short periods of poetry-inspo where I write whatever comes into my head. Then I go for months without writing a single poem, not even a haiku.
Is there a particular time of day or place you like to write?
I write most of my poetry in my room on my computer. My desk is placed in front of a large window that overlooks the garden and fields that slope down to a small brook fringed with willows and lillies. We rent the fields to a neighbour who keeps the cutest miniature horses. Sometimes you can see the black rabbits that have made a home here and families of pukeko, New Zealand’s raptor-like swamphen. I write best in the mornings. My brain is sharpest then.
When did you first begin writing poetry?
I’ve been writing poetry since I was little. However, those poems consisted of made-up words, a shortcut to ensuring my sentences rhymed. Think of it as a poorly crafted Lewis Caroll attempt.
What transforms a poem from “good” to “spectacular” in your eyes?
The best poems are noticeably authentic. They’re not pretentious, nor do they try too hard with their structure. Even where craft is lacking, true emotion and honest sentiment ensure a profound connection with the reader.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
Emily Dickinson, W.H Auden, Sylvia Plath.
Do you find yourself emulating them when you work on your own poetry?
It’s more succinct and I’m learning how to put complex ideas into simple prose.
Which areas do you think you excel in? Which areas do you think you need improvement in?
I do not think I excel at all when it comes to poetry. I am definitely still a rookie. Therefore, I feel I could improve in every area. If I had to pick a specific weakness it would be a tendency to repeat myself. I like to say things more than once. Even in everyday speech, I have form for echoing what I’ve just said.
What is your favorite part about writing poetry?
It’s a way to put into words your inner fears, desires and hurts. As opposed to prose, you don’t have to worry about context, you can get straight to the heart of the matter. It’s probably one of the most therapeutic forms of writing.
Do you have a favorite word? If so, what is it?
Equivocal. One of my editors uses it a lot. I find the sound rather humorous. It’s such a pompous sounding word, yet it has a pixie-like ring to it.
I don’t think you are in – Heaven – you are much too earthy for – Heaven. I don’t think you are in – Hell – you are much too good for – Hell. I don’t think you are a – spirit – you were not the spiritual type. Although mum told me of fairy blood in you – as runs through the veins of the Manx. Then you must be in your grave, but I don’t know where that is – we could not visit your funeral- See – but you can’t see for your eyes are closed, as is the custom of the dead.
Then you must be sleeping – somewhere where it’s green – or in a chocolate shop – maybe? Where would you have liked to lie – if lying you have been? Pity – I wouldn’t know; I didn’t know you well.
Had I been far, far, away over the seven seas – maybe – but I fear you’d have more to lose. I asked mum one day what you feared the most – she told me losing your mind. I’ll tell you one thing, Grandma, God did not create this world, but perhaps it was Murphy’s law – I may have known you better, but you may have known me worse. The more marbles you have cluttering your mind, the more marbles you’d likely lose. A pity how the mind contradicts the heart – as your heart gets bigger, your mind gets smaller. You had friends in many places, from Nigeria to the Isle of Man and from New Zealand to the Isle of Crete. Grandma, the world is unkind when it steals a nurse’s mind.
It is why you’re not Murphy’s nature – spirit, or a Heavenly – creature But instead a valued memory – that touched those who mattered. Grandma, those memories you lost weren’t really lost. They were just passing through – from your mind to your friend’s minds – to your family and kin. I may not have known you that much then but I can picture you now. Grandma – I know where you are now – you must be in our minds.