Monday, June 9, 2014

LIFE OF A POET - PAULA WANKEN

This week, my friends, we are traveling to the great open spaces of Texas: big sky, big hearts, cattle country....and the home of poet, Paula Wanken, who writes so beautifully at Echoes From the Silence. I promise you some spectacular scenery, some adorable critters, and an interesting conversation,  so do hop in my little blue beater for a road trip south, to Big Sky Country!


Sherry: Paula, set the scene for us: what part of the country do you live in, do you live an urban or rural existence? Do you have any critters?  What does the life of this poet look like on any given day?




Paula: I am an Iowa farm girl who came to live in San Antonio by way of 14 years in the Chicago area.  My hometown had a population of about 500 people, and of course Chicago is a large metropolis. I’ve found that San Antonio has been a good blend of country and city. 


Texas Longhorns, taken during the Western Heritage Parade

I’ve lived here since July 2003, and while it has taken a while to acclimate to the long summers, it has begun to feel like home. It helps that I moved here to live closer to my only sister and my three beautiful nieces.  


My nieces

I share an apartment with two rescued kitties (Tigger and Lucy, brother and sister, born 8 years ago in a wood pile next to my sister’s house), who compete for space on my lap when my laptop isn’t perched there. (Sometimes Lucy tries to finagle her way onto my lap anyway!)


Lucy on my lap

Sherry: Your nieces are beautiful, and bless you for rescuing the beautiful kitties. What is your field of employment?

Paula: My field of study was Business Education. While I never ended up in the classroom, I have put my business skills to use in an office—mostly as an administrative assistant. I love being “the right hand” to my boss. I’ve always believed my greatest successes are the successes of those I serve.

To keep my toes in the education world, however, I’ve worked off and on for the past 14 years in a tutoring center…both as a tutor as well as providing administrative and diagnostic support. Seeing the successes of our students is also very rewarding.

Tigger - helping with the laundry

Sherry: It must be very rewarding work. Is there anything in your childhood that you can see now, looking back, may have predicted your becoming a writer?  Were you a little girl who loved reading books?

Paula: Having grown up on a farm, playdates with friends were not as easy as walking down the street and knocking on a door. The nearest neighbors were a mile away—and they didn’t have any kids my age. My sister, who is four years older, was always “on to the next thing” in her interests. So I turned to books to keep me company. I loved the Laura Ingalls books—I remember reading the whole set more than once! One of my favorite memories was taking my book out to the pasture, calling for Dotty (a spotted pig) who would trot over and plop herself along the fence line, becoming my back rest. I would be lost “on the prairie” until I was called in for supper.



My love of reading also led to being a prolific story writer and illustrator at that young age. I sure wish I had kept some of those stories…because, unfortunately, “life happened” and my move from the farm just before my teen years shifted my focus away from any form of creative writing for many years (decades, in fact).

Sherry: I love that mental snapshot of you leaning against Dotty, reading Laura Ingalls! Happiness! Tell us about when and how you came to the writing of poetry, and what that journey has meant to you.

Paula: Writing for school and work was never in short demand. And while I was encouraged by teachers and colleagues that I was good and should “write more”, I never felt like I had anything to say beyond the assignments given.

It wasn’t until the advent of blogging that I realized the possibilities were endless. I decided after reading a friend’s blog (that had a random mix of thoughts, stories and poetry), that I could do that—I could be random (even without the poetry). What surprised me was that one of the first entries I wrote was a poem. Other than for a few assignments in school, I had never written poetry. I had little exposure to poetry  – and when I did attempt to understand it, I was always being told by the teacher that I was wrong, so I had given up.

Cornfield back home in Iowa
photo credit Lisa Rasmussen

Sherry: Yay for blogging! How has it impacted your writing journey?

Paula: Blogging offered me a platform to write in a way that I never had before. The connectivity through the poetry blogging sphere has been an incredible encouragement to me. I was new to writing (“for myself”). I was new to poetry. And I was new to blogging (writing what might eventually be read by others!) In the beginning, while sometimes overwhelmed by what felt like “drinking from the fire hose” from the newness of it all, I forged some very lasting relationships…with mentors/teachers…who have become my friends. And blogging has become a regular part of my life.


Sherry: I love your poem about writing (that begins “for years thoughts have gone unspoken” and ends with "they are found in echoes from the silence.") Did the last line of that poem give you the name of your blog? Was it one of your early poems?

Paula: That poem was definitely one of my first, written only about a month into my blogging journey. I had actually started on another platform, which I decided to scrap when I found a more user-friendly “home” at WordPress. When making the switch, and contemplating my new blog name, I wrote this poem which became the theme of blog, and I posted it as my “about me” page.

Sherry: What do you love about poetry? What does it do for you that prose doesn’t do?

Paula: In writing for my blog, I found that I especially enjoy the “poetic license” I can take in writing poetry. You can find pieces of me in all my poems, but not all poems are 100% “me”. They’re my words, for sure, but having room to bend the truth to fit the poem is very freeing. Writing poetry is definitely cathartic—but not having to stick to truth is priceless.

I have a short attention span, and haven’t strengthened my brain muscles to carry a thought longer than some attempts at flash fiction.

Sherry: Is there a style of poetry you prefer, or do you attempt to write in many forms? Which comes most easily to you?

Paula: As a reminder, I’ve only been exploring poetry for the past three and a half years. While I have written many poems in this short time, I still have much to learn about style and form.

Because I didn’t know any better, I started out mostly writing free verse…and making up my own forms. As time has passed, I seem to have gravitated to shorter forms (remember—short attention span? J). One form in particular that I’ve latched onto is the shadorma. As for style, I wouldn’t describe my writing as particularly flowery or full of metaphors – I tend toward word play. But “simple” says it best.


Rural Iowa road 
photo credit Lisa Rasmussen

Sherry: I am so enjoying the color in those Iowa skies! Do you have a poem of yours you are especially pleased with, or that you feel expresses who you are, that you would like to include here?

Paula: This is another of my early poems. It’s not the style of writing I choose most often, and it is way longer than the many (many!) shadormas I’ve written, but it’s definitely a picture of my journey.

A LOSS OF KNOWING

she rides
with cards in the spokes
and colorful strips of plastic fluttering from the handlebars
tangles of long, brown hair flying freely and wildly behind her
for the moment
all is right with the world


she reads
sitting carefree in the pasture
resting comfortably against Dotty, the spotted pig
lost in a world of Ma & Pa on the prairie
for the moment
all is right with the world


she writes
in the corner of the classroom
using her best handwriting to tell the story
even drawing pictures to match
for the moment
all is right with the world


she hides
in silence she protects herself from being known
feelings are pushed aside
passions have died
for too long
all is not right with the world


when did it occur?
this loss of play
this loss of passion
this loss of knowing
when did she forget who God made her to be?


she writes
in the quiet apartment
her cats curled up, sleeping soundly next to her
she listens to the heart of God
while tapping out her words on her computer she remembers
and once again, for the moment,
all is right with the world


Riverwalk, San Antonio
photo credit: Linda Hofke

Sherry: Such a poignant poem. Are you happy with how your poetry, and your blog, have developed? What is your hope for your blog and your writing? 

Paula: Little did I know, when I started blogging in December 2010, that I would still be at it 3+ years later! I have written “ponderings”, poetry, and prose…and in the process have gained insights into myself, developed my love of words, and made lifelong friends (most of whom I’ve not yet met in person).  In the process, my hope is that readers might find something that echoes a bit in their own lives, resonating with them in a way that encourages them. We’re all in this world together. No one is truly alone. That people follow me still blows me away! J


Riverwalk, San Antonio
photo credit: Linda Hofke

Sherry: Me, too, Paula! In Poetic Blooming’s interview of you in 2011, the interviewer noted that a strain of melancholy often runs through your work, and you replied then that your writing reflected what was going on in your life at the time, and that you hoped one day to discover whether you could write from a similar depth of Joy.  Has that happened in the years since then? 

Paula: Because writing is cathartic for me, it is during the rough patches when my words flow more freely, which results in pieces that tend toward the melancholy.  Joy does find me from time to time— I should be better about letting her having a say, too!

CATHARSIS
(a shadorma)



Her words flow,
like tears down her cheeks,
spilling on
-to the page.
Poems, the silent echoes
of her poet’s heart.


SOUL’S SOLSTICE
(a shadorma)



Longest night
of the year has come.
Evening star
reminds me
that I am never alone.
You’re my guiding light.

Sherry: SO beautiful! And comforting: "You're my guiding light." Which leads me to my next question: what fact about you is central to your being? 


photo credit Lisa Rasmussen

Paula: If you’ve read enough of my work or wandered through some of the non-poetry postings on my blog, it should be no surprise that my faith plays an important part in the foundation of who I am. Faith is a very personal thing, so it is a different experience for each person.  However, there are enough commonalities that I enjoy being able to incorporate parts of that life into my writing from time to time, and connecting with my readers on that level, and enjoying the conversations that stem from those pieces.

MY SAVIOR
(a shadorma)



Like a child
at the beach, I have
rules to keep;
yet: free will.
My Lifeguard watches, having
already saved me.


TRUE BLUE
(a shadorma)


If the eyes
are windows to souls,
gaze deeply
into mine
to see where hope finds me and
love never ceases.


Sherry: Your shadormas are incredibly  beautiful. And they say so much in those few lines. I can see why you like the form. Also, Iowa seems to get some incredibly beautiful sunsets!

What other interests do you pursue?


Arneson River Theater
photo credit: Linda Hofke

Paula: Good question – there’s a major difference between “things that interest me” and  “interests that I pursue.” If I had more time and resources on my hands, I would pursue travel. While there are many sights I would like to see, there are a lot of people I would like to see/meet that I have met only in cyberspace. I have had the great fortune of meeting seven such people already, and would like to add to that list!

Until time and money are equally available, I have begun to feel the aches and pains of midlife…and have resigned myself to the fact that I must make time for the gym. It hasn’t been horrible, but it’s not my favorite thing to do. One positive aspect of the alone time there—time to think. I just need something to capture my flashes of brilliance…because, after all, my memory isn’t what it used to be either!

Sherry: It gets worse, trust me, I know these things! Paula, is there anything you would like to say to Poets United?

Paula: Poets United was among the first sites where I connected to other poets. The poetic community has been an incredible encouragement to me! And, while I started off with a bang and was spending all my free time writing, reading and commenting on poems, I’ve allowed the pendulum to swing a little too far the other direction and haven’t been making the rounds as much as I’d like. I’m seeking to find the balance in that. Thank you for the opportunity to “re-enter” here through this interview, Sherry. I was really quite honored at your invitation.

Sherry: It is my pleasure, Paula. I have so enjoyed our visit. And we are looking forward to reading many more of your wonderful poems about life, and joy, and faith.

Sigh. Beautiful country, beautiful poetry and a heartwarming, inspiring faith. Wasn't this a lovely visit, kids? Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

52 comments:

  1. Hi Paula
    So nice to read about you. I love that spotted pig . . . I can just see a little girl and big spotted pig curled up reading a book. Did you read out loud to you pig?

    I liked "My Savior" a lot and would like to read it to the congregation at my church.

    I enjoyed this very much Sherry! Thanks for introducing us to Paula . . .

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    1. My pleasure, Stormcat! Nice to see you in here.

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    2. Thanks, Stormcat! I do believe I did read aloud at times. :) I know I talked to her...because when I called her name she would always come. And..."My Savior" - wow. I would be honored to know you read it to your congregation. Thanks!! :)

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  2. Nice to learn more about you, Paula, and such wonderful photos! Lovely interview, Sherry!

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    1. The photos are beautiful, arent they? Those sunsets!!!!

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    2. Pamela - thank you!! :) And yes, the shots that Lisa took are just down the road from where I grew up. She still lives there and I asked if I could "borrow" them for this interview. The shots Linda took when she was here in San Antonio turned out much nicer than anything I've taken with my "little" camera or my phone. She has a nice camera that captured her visit really well. :)

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  3. I loved this - great getting to know you. Great pics too.

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    1. Buddah, nice to see you, buddy - havent seen you for a while! Thanks for stopping by.

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    2. Thank you, Mosk!! So glad you stopped by! Love ya!

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  4. Wonderful interview again, Sherry. Paula, good to learn more about you. I always enjoy your poetry.

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    1. Thank you, Mary. I appreciate that. :)
      And yes...Sherry does a great job with the interview, doesn't she!? :)

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  5. Thank you for the great interview, Sherry...it was truly an honor to "chat" with you! :)

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    1. You are most welcome, Paula. It was truly a pleasure! The photos are spectacular, both the Iowa ones and the ones showcasing your beautiful San Antonio. My fave part of the entire interview is the image of that little girl, leaning on her spotted pig, reading aloud. I wish we had a photo of THAT!!!! Didnt anyone ever take one?

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  6. I love your poems, Paula! What a lovely interview-I want a pig with polka dots! It was fun to learn more about you! Wonderful, interview ladies!!

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    1. Thank you - so glad you enjoyed them, Ella. :)

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  7. Nice to know about you:) best wishes.

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  8. Thank you, Sherry, for bringing us more of Paula than we read in her poems. Thank you, Paula for "putting us in the picture" and for writing such beautiful short poetry. (I'm a fan of yours)

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    1. And I, ViV, want to be you when I grow up!! Love you!!

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  9. Thank you sherry for the wonderful interview with Paula.
    Paula nice to meet you..loved your poem true blue..Good luck to you.
    San Antonio is a wonderful place to live..have been there many times. I just love that river walk..keep writing wonderful poems :)

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    1. Yes, San Antonio is a great place. I never thought I'd live here, but here I am after 11 years! Glad you enjoyed "True Blue", Arathi! :)

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  10. So wonderful to know more about you Paula...really enjoyed your shadormas..thanks
    Sherry for the lovely interview :)

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed them, Sumana -- I sometimes find it difficult to write anything longer than a shadorma! That form seems to have "adopted" me. :)

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  11. Wonderful interview Sherry, you always bring out the best :-) Paula, really enjoyed getting to know you better, have always been a fan! :-) Loved meeting your kitties and your town. Hugs <3

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    1. Yes, Sherry is a great interviewer!! Hugs to you, Sara, from me AND my kitties!! :)

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    1. (YES! Her pictures and my friend Lisa's pictures are better than I could have captured myself!)

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  13. Dear Sherry an amazing enlightening journey ~ one of the best interviews I have ever read. It is indeed an honor to know Poetess Paula, the beautiful home town and state and above all poetry expressions specially combined with 'Faith' True touching expressions ~ loved the line 'my life guard watches having already saved me' Thank you.Best wishes to both highly talented personalities.

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    1. Anjum, you are so kind! Thank you. My pleasure, as always.

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    2. Thank you, Anjum! I'm glad you enjoyed the line you quoted...it's a favorite of mine, as well. I remember the feeling I had when I wrote that line...it just "fit" so well for what I was feeling at the time. :)

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  14. I have read Paula's work from the beginning of her blogging journey. She is a precious soul! Thanks for this enlightening interview, gals!

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    1. Ah, Kim...yes, you were an early encourager in my journey...thank you!! <3

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  15. OHMIGOSH, how I love this heart-as-big-as-Texas poet, and how honored I am to call her friend. "Precious soul" indeed, and talent eons beyond what she recognizes in herself. Thank you so very much for this interview, Sherry!

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    1. Thanks, Marie, for the important role you've played in my life these past 3+ years...such an encouragement, you are!

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  16. Paula! My poetical friend, and favorite shadorma shaman.
    I loved reading this! Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart with us.

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    1. De, I do believe it was you that introduced me first to the shadorma. Since then, it's kind of latched onto me! :)

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    2. That would be Robert, then, who we all often thank for any beloved new form. ;)

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  17. Great interview. Just when I think I know so much about you I find out about your spotted pig. I can see a younger you, book in hand, Dotty next to you.

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    1. Yes, I sure wish I'd gotten a picture of me back then. I'm really not sure anyone actually knew where I disappeared to when I went to read. :) Thanks again for the use of your pictures from your visit to San Antonio!

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  18. Thanks for sharing this Paula. Enjoyed the reading and the pictures.

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  19. Thank you, Paula, for the openness and the spotted pig, for "echoes from the silence" and especially for "A Loss of Knowing" and "True Blue" which make me feel like a teenager again. Thank you Sherry, for opening the door.

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    1. So glad you enjoyed it - that spotted pig has been a hit. :)

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  20. So good to see Paula in prose and poetry. Loved the interview and the critters that people 'home'.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Jane! Always a pleasure to "see" you. :)

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  21. This was an interview full of smiles and delight at learning such amazing things about your journey, Paula. Thank you Sherry for opening this window on Paula and the origins of her writing. Who knew there was a spotted pig in her literary history?

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    1. Thanks, Damon - glad to provide some smiles to your day. :) I think everyone should have a spotted pig in their literary history. :)

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  22. Lovely interview...Paula, your poetry is beautiful. And that spotted pig is adorable! My blog/writing experience began in a way very similar to yours. Thank you for sharing a little part of yourself.

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    1. Thank you, Sherri - I'm glad you enjoyed my poetry and for taking a moment to comment. :)

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  23. Paula, your writing is exquisite, as is your melancholy soul...I've enjoyed reading you for a long time now and I hope I'll get to continue the pleasure. As with many others, I too love the spotted pig, your affinity for animals shines through everywhere. Another stellar interview Sherry - why am I not surprised? Thank you both for sharing such wonder.

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    1. Thank you, Sharon - that means a lot. Truly. <3

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