If the stars fade and the ink from my hipbone vanishes, will I still see you home? You’re no stranger to constellations, and just when I thought moods were mercurial, you shock me with your steadfastness.
Every breath began with you, I wonder if they will terminate with you as well.
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
In her own words, the poet LowKey says this: “I go by the name LowKey. I write about anything and everything that stirs me enough to want to pick up the pen. Blessed with an attention span of a goldfish, the brevity of my literary work comes as a given. Simple yet effective is my writing mantra.”
LowKey writes poetry that hearkens back to more traditional poets, yet has a distinct style all its own. Whether it is one of her short pieces or a longer work, she stops to make readers of her poetry think and contemplate the content of her works. They are a reflection of the world we live in, both our interior realms and the external.
When did you first discover that you were a poet? What was that experience like?
When I was around 18. It was more of a “okay, so I think I can write poems” than a “aha! me is a poet!” I remember being pretty nervous when I asked my mum to have a read. She is an amazing writer and poetry is her thing. I saw her eyes welling up as she was reading the piece. I think that was the first time I realized how my words could actually impact people. It was empowering, humbling, liberating, all at once.
What are some of your favorite subjects to write about? What inspires you to write poetry?
I think the darker shades of human emotions is what I like to explore and write about. We as a society present ourselves in a neatly wrapped package with a red bow around it. What goes on underneath that shimmery wrap is something we usually shy away from or deny. So that is what I love to discover through the words I pen. I think pain inspires me to write the most. I know that might sound a bit whack, but some of the best creative pieces I have written have been from when I was in a dark place. Maybe it is because my need to lean on creativity to express myself is the most during those times.
If you could spend the afternoon with another famous author or poet, who would you choose and why?
Has to be Sir Walter de la Mare, although he isn’t amidst us anymore. He is my absolute favorite. The way he built an entire atmosphere around the reader with his words is beyond amazing. From his poems, he seems to have been pretty intense and quiet. It would be fascinating to see what he really was like.
What is your favorite aspect of writing poetry? What is your least favorite?
I think the healing that comes from writing, regardless of the form of writing is my most favorite aspect. The least favorite aspect is someone out there always does it better and you go, “Damn! why didn’t I think of that!!?”
How did you discover your style of poetry? How did you find your voice as a poet?
I feel like every writer has something unique to offer that might be lost if one tries to emulate. I think “inspired” would be the right word for me here. I like subtlety. I always have. So when I began writing, it was something that came naturally to me.
What advice do you have for poets who are just beginning their careers as poets?
Be honest and unfiltered. Creativity is where you can just let go. So, make th most of it. Most importantly, don’t be swayed by the negativity that your readers might hurl at you. As long as you keep your “writer conscience” clear, it’s all good.
Do you think shorter poetry is easier for readers to digest? What influence has social media had on your writing style, if any?
Oh yes! I am not sure about the digest part, but people nowadays definitely prefer brevity. Social media fortunately has not affected the way I choose to express myself through my writing. The reason I said fortunately is because it is so easy to be engulfed and affected by social media in this day and age. From creating pressure to making you doubt yourself to making you lose your originality because you have fallen prey to trends, social media can take away the voice that it so freely provides as well.
Who are your favorite poets to read?
Beside Sir Walter de la Mare and your pieces, I really like reading Edgar Allan Poe and J. Andrew Schrecker.
Poet Brandan T.C. McCarty lives in Washington and in addition to writing poetry, he is interested in music and art. As a member of the Makah tribe, he has been a dancer, singer, and artist in that culture.
Brandan, you have said before music influences your writing. How exactly does music play a role on the poetry you create?
Yes, music is an influence. I listen to a large base of music because of family and friends introducing me to new music. It depends on the music sound being played, and it could just be a lyric(s). Metallica is a huge influence.
Writing is a form of art, but I know you also paint. What does the intersection of art and writing mean to you?
In ’01, I was hurt emotionally by a teacher in art college. I would destroy any art I created, so I switched to writing to deal with traumatic past events. In ’11, I started to work with acrylic paints. By ’18, I became a visual artist as well as a New Age Coastal Artist for my Native art. The past two and half years, I have been using many mediums and platforms to create art pieces. I still wrote, but not as much. I figured why not do both and maybe blend them together in some pieces. ‘The Wanderer’ is close to a visual concept of what I am evolving into as an artist.
Your Makah roots are very important to you, as is family and knowing your history. This is evident in the poetry you write. What would you advise the young poet who is not as well-versed in their past as you?
My roots are important. My dad has said to me all that I do reflects back on your teachers and persons involved with you. My mom said the same thing in her way of communicating to me. I read. I read just about anything. I was told to figure out the style you want to write, and then go find published work similar so your skill can be honest. As for past of culture, read and spend time with families and friends. Listen, take time to actually listen. Even if it is a day spent sitting in a kitchen drinking coffee and watching grandpa carve, or dad paint a mask. Open yourself to learn, to fall and get back up.
How would you describe your being a father as an influence on your poetry?
I used to have some selfish habits, and those habits almost claimed my life. I came to realize, I don’t want this for my eldest son. Nor any other child that looks up to me. So I turned from booze, I went back to arts. Poetry is art, to me just about anything could be considered an art. Now, with my baby I have been relearning to sing my Native Family songs and dancing the dances. I have been away too long from it. I guess I can say, being a father has enriched my poetry with more care and love than I had before.
Who are some of your favorite poets? What aspects of their poetry appeal to you as a reader? As a writer?
Charles Bukowski, as a reader, good comic. Biography spoken in poetry verse. As a writer, someone once said my work reminds him of Bukowski. Raymond Carver, as a reader, his work involving water or daily life. As a writer, I met Tess Gallagher and she said I reminded her of her late Husband Raymond. J. A. Janice has one book of poetry. Read a little a bit of it. A strong woman, and a gentle soul. She writes crime novels. Met her a couple times in person. My mom got me into her works. My late Mama Valerie, because she had a talent of words and wish I recorded some of her work better.
My son's feet, at birth his right foot was clubbed. After NICU we had early mornings in the kitchen sink. Cast removal, a bath, and singing to soothe my baby.
As we grew together, I remember my great grandma teaching me to dance. Flour on the kitchen floor, after dance practice we would practice oral history and storytelling. We would also split cedar bark near wood stove.
Now as I stretch and massage my son's feet, I remember the joy I had as a dancer.
For years I wouldn't dance or sing. I was still, I was silent.
Best as my spent feet can, I dance with baby in my arms. Later I will massage my aching feet. Ease the bone spurs to be calm. As I work my pain out, I think back to his laughter and sparkling brown eyes.
Embracing baby close to my chest. I take a deep breath and sing the first note in years. I sing deep, and low rumbling voice. Soothe his tears, balm my own hurt and begin healing my spirit.
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.