Monday, January 19, 2015

A CHAT BETWEEN TWO POETS ~ WRITING THROUGH DIFFICULT TIMES

Some weeks ago, in one of her emails, Susie Clevenger, who writes so brilliantly at Confessions of a Laundry Goddess, joked wryly, "How does one write, when your brain is scrambled egg, and life keeps hitting your family with a hammer?" My antenna perked up, at a potential Chat, since we all go through hard patches in life and, somehow, write our way through. 

I thought this was a topic worth exploring, that many poets will relate to. Susie graciously agreed to go under the microscope. She said she didn't mind sharing her family's story, because it might help someone else. So pour yourself a tall mug of tea, and join us by the fire, as together we try to figure out how and why we continue to write, through the most difficult of times.






Sherry: Susie, I so appreciate your willingness to tackle this topic. Do we write to know we're not alone? To pour our pain out onto the page? Or because we are poets and writing is what we do, how we figure out how we really feel?

I have so admired your ability to write your way through the hard stuff. Would you like to start off by giving us a  snapshot of the biggest things your family went through this past year? 

Susie: It seems just when you are breathing air, circumstances cut off your oxygen. Our family had high hopes for 2014, having endured Charlie’s knee surgery, my broken foot and our daughter’s numerous emergency procedures to replace kidney stents, in 2013. Then February opened the door to unwelcome health guests.

Because cancer had robbed Dawn of her left kidney in 2008, the health of her remaining kidney hit critical mass. On a sunny February day she had an eight hour Robotic Ureterolysis with Omental Wrap. What that means is the doctors had to free her ureter from scar tissue and then take the fat that covers the bowel and wrap it so it could function properly and be protected. It was a delicate, dangerous procedure that needed to be successful because a kidney transplant was looming. As if that wasn’t enough Dawn got shingles, numerous infections, and lost her hair in the months to follow.

Sherry: Oh, Susie. It was even more harrowing than I knew. Poor Dawn! Some people, when they are overwhelmed with crises, are unable to write, and set aside their pens until the crisis is over. Did it help you to write your way through? 

Susie: From years of internalizing pain, with its side effects of anger and depression, I knew I needed to use the release valve of poetry to keep from sliding down into a dark rabbit hole. Knowing it was necessary didn’t always translate into words. Part of the time it felt like trying to write through bricks. 

Oddly enough when I look back at what I wrote, I feel it was some of my best work. If you look at numbers, I had written 235 poems the year before, and it fell to 159 in 2014. It was a bit like having laryngitis. My psyche was infected by the drama of life circumstances, leaving my poetic voice struggling to be heard.

Therefore what I could say meant so much more to me.

Sherry: It is often that way. Maybe our emotions are at their deepest and most undefended, when we are suffering. As writers, we are fortunate to have an outlet, a way to release some of the pent-up pain.  How are things with your family now? Are you anticipating a better year in 2015?





Susie: My husband, daughters, and I are incredibly bonded with love. We are doing well and don’t dwell on what could happen. Life never follows the easy path, it seems, yet we have more laughter than tears. We are believing 2015 will be a good year, a blessed year. After all, a walk through the valley brings a deeper appreciation for the moments spent on the mountaintop.

Sherry: This is true, Susie. You have a Mama Lion heart, where your cubs are concerned. This is what I know about you. Let's look at  three of your poems, written through this time. Maybe you can tell us a bit about each.  This first one really spoke to me.


I slept a faux death
on pristine grass
void of the claws
of spade or tears.

A mere three feet
from your marbled name
I lay comforted by the moon
in its cradle of night.

Taken to a place where
dreams are forbidden
I was free from last words,
sunburned wishes, lips
that teased with promises unkept.

For a few hours I didn’t mourn
you had wings; that gravity
had tied me with ropes of pain.

Now without my shield of sleep
I see wildflowers rioting in purple
across your grave; hear sparrows
sing of angels; breathe spring air
free of the scent of dying roses.

Encircled in living watercolor
I wonder if it is your brush
painting life across my irises.

My heart feels less a stone
and more like life drumming
inside my chest.

Can this be hope?

Sherry: This poem went straight to my heart, my friend. I love the painting of life across your irises, and the note of hope at the end.

Susie: A Faux Death is part factual, part metaphor.  One of my darkest hours found me lying face down on my parents’ graves. I poured out the agony of grief-filled questions that would never bring answers. My husband was so frightened I was slipping into an emotional chasm where he couldn’t reach me. I think the poem’s timing wasn’t an accident. Metaphorically, I was in a place where normal everyday had died.

I was grieving and angry my child had her world turned upside down again. Being who I am, I couldn’t camp out in pity, so I looked with Dawn’s courage at the world around me. The color, vibrancy of life was my medicine for shadows.


Dawn


Sherry: Oh, Susie, that image of you crying on your parents' graves. I am so sorry for all you are going through. But I so admire how your family is going through it!

Dawn is a remarkably courageous and positive girl. I loved the piece she wrote recently, shared on facebook, Losing My Hair, Finding My Faith. And that leads us to your next poem, my friend.


You don’t know how much
you can take until too much
puts steel in your spine.

There wasn’t much brand new
on the apple drop before one
child faced a knife and the other
channeled Woody Guthrie.

Putting miles on wings
my youngest brought
dust bowl determination
to see her sister safe
on the other side of the fog.

Planted in a garden of leather and clocks
prayers watched hours spin while faith
didn’t surrender a thought to negative.

When doctors’ hands had finished
chipping through stone to bring freedom
two sisters curled into giggles of healing.


Sherry: Oh, how I love the image of those two sisters, who have both been through so much, collapsing into giggles together. So loving, so close. And I can see that strong maternal spine stiffening to meet any threat to her chicks.

Susie: The beginning of this poem speaks to what we all experience. You don’t know what kind of steel you have to cope, until you are put in the position to need it. Barely into a brand new year, Dawn was going under the knife and my youngest, Carrie, needed grit to be there for her sister. 



Carrie


Carrie works at The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Each work day she is surrounded by his story, and those who survived the dust bowl, so I feel it gave her already tiger spirit some added strength when she headed to Texas for her sister’s surgery. The two of them will never grow up, so giggles will always be their go-to for healing.

Sherry: Laughter heals, and thank God for a sense of humor! I love the strength and determination - and grit! - in this final poem, as you bade farewell to 2014 and turned to face this brand new year.



“For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

I have torn the last page
from the damnable year
that brought lessons I am
not sure I learned.

A vocabulary of pain will not
be my companion as I cross the
threshold of a new calendar.

Why would I wish to greet January
with sooted lashes crying
of spilt milk and yesterday’s words?

The path before me has no footprints,
no can’t, no rewinding, no history.

My journey waits for me to take
that first step with the boldness of hope,
and the wisdom to know joy will not
abandon me if happy finds it
has mountains to climb.

©Susie Clevenger 2015 

Sherry: I adore those closing lines: that "joy will not abandon me if happy finds it has mountains to climb." Bravo, Susie! 

Susie: This poem is closure for a difficult year and hope for a new one. Of course I can share about the difficulties in 2014, but I don’t have to live there. We survived the storm as a family. I can’t know what this year will bring. I may have struggles with happy, but joy has deep roots in me. 

Sherry: I know it does, Susie. Over the years I have known you, I have so admired the courage and spirit with which you see your family through whatever comes. With the four of you so close, I know there will be no shortage of love and support, for whichever family member needs it. You are blessed that way.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. May 2015 be everything 2014 was not. May all good things unfold for the four of you, and may Dawn come through to healing and health once again. 

Susie: Sherry, thanks so much for asking me to take part in the chat.  I hope it helps someone to write through whatever shades of gray they find themselves in.

Dawn got good news at her oncologist recently. Her blood work looked great. Her white blood cell count was in normal range! That rarely happens. She is stepping down on her steroid dose and her hair is growing back. We are calling what she has and is going through, rebirth. 

Sherry: That is good news indeed and it is so heartening to hear it. Susie, we thank you for sharing your family's experience. Blessings to the four of you.


Amazing journeys we make, week by week, visiting each other's lives, are they not, my friends? This has been a special one it was my privilege to bring you. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


51 comments:

  1. Susie, thanks for sharing from the heart in this interview with Sherry. This is a powerful start to Monday of a new week in 2015. So glad to have crossed paths with both of you in the poetry sphere! Best in the new year! :)

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    1. Patricia, thank you. May this be a blessed year for all of us.

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  2. Thank you for this interview.. having seen some of it on facebook and reading the poems this gave the missing pieces of the puzzle.. I love that it goes through all the minor tunes and ends in major... wonderful

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  3. I am so inspired by you, Susie, and your fierce love of your girls. It is wonderful to know such deep bonds of love are there, -and the laughter!- to get you through the hard stuff. I echo your prayer, that 2015 will be a blessed year for us all! And thank you for being willing to share your story. I know it will help others.

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    1. Sherry, thank you. My husband, Charlie, has always believed we should never go to bed angry. Whatever spats any of us had we resolved and said, "I love you" before we went to sleep. I hope the courage of my daughters will inspire others to know they can make it!

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  4. Thanks, Sherry, for inviting Susie to chat with you here. I feel I owe a lot to Susie because I turned to her when faced with a terrible crisis in my own family. She was so supportive, and wise, and so gracious in taking time from her family to buoy me up when I was in the depths.
    I loved this conversation between the two of you, two poets who have become my friends.
    Hugs to both of you,
    — K

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    1. Kay, thank you. I am so grateful I could lift your spirits and blessed to call you my friend.

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  5. Once again Sherry I was transported to a porch and some glasses of iced tea looking in on a lovely chat between two artists and poets. Thank you Susie for sharing your story...I find writing very healing as well although I am not always able to write when the emotions are ensnaring me. I am happy to hear your daughter's great news!

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    1. Donna, thank you. Writing is so healing for me.

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  6. Thanks Susie for sharing your story. Life is full of trials and tribulations, but somehow through the pain we are able to carry on in the journey.Writing is a great outlet for the emotional waves that surge within us..and you write beautifully as you ride the tides.

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  7. Such generosity of spirit on the part of both interviewer and subject. Thank you, ladies, for sharing and caring.

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    1. Kim, thank you. Sherry, did a wonderful job.

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  8. Thank you Sherry and Susie for sharing this. Your story moved my greatly, Susie. I definitely identify with the idea of writing through one's pain. One really IS thankful for poetry at those times of life. I am glad things are looking up for your daughter, Susie.

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    1. Mary, thank you. Dawn has fought serious illness for sixteen years. She is truly amazing.

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  9. smiles. i am happy to hear of your daughters rebirth...and def thank you for sharing your story...it is through our stories that we connect...and yes, they do change lives.....

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  10. Thank you for sharing your story Susie. you are an inspiration to us. I think you are one of the important factors of your daughters rebirth.

    And the A Faux Death left me speechless.

    Thanks Sherry for this interview.

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    1. totomai, thank you. Pain has much to teach. I just hate its classroom.

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  11. this was truly one of my most inspiring conversations of sharing. like Bjorn stated, this put some of the pieces of the puzzle in place for me. i have always enjoyed your poetry but this, this truly enlightens me as to why i so enjoy your words. these two poems featured here are so so strong, giving my heart strength. your story is so human. filled with the pangs of life to the level where it reminds my soul that i, as a human, am not alone. sincerely, i would like to thank you, Sherry, for having this conversation with Susie and Susie, nothing but a soulful reach of joy for your families life now. buena suerte, Dawn !

    muchas gracias for this wonderful rendering of the soul of life

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    1. Marcoantonio, thank you. It means so much to me when others connect with my poetry. If it helps someone, I am truly blessed.

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    2. I love how your own heart shines through your words, Marco, your heart which is so open to the pain and beauty of life. It was my privilege to bring this conversation to you all.

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  12. Very moving and inspiring to read ~ Thank you Sherry and Susie for sharing your heart with us ~ Your family (specially your daughters) are beautiful ~

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  13. Susie, I find myself lost for words. Nobody deserves the pain you and your family have experienced but how you all continue to fight and survive through the dark times is so inspirational. Wishing you all a healthy, happy pain free year filled with lots of laughter. x

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    1. Kathryn, thank you. We call Dawn Superwoman. She is the strongest person I know. She has faced each obstacle with grace, wisdom, and strength.

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  14. Susie, you are so right to think your story can help others. Thank you so much for sharing. Your story helps put my life and minor troubles into perspective. Your writing is so beautiful and touching. I wish the best for you and your family. May this year bring tons of good health to all of you.

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    1. Myrna, thank you. If we can lift another and help them through their struggles, we feel humbled and blessed.

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    2. I was thinking the same thing, Myrna, how it puts things in perspective when we see the load some people carry with such grace.

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  15. Much Love and Blessings to all your family, Susie! Thanks for sharing this life story of spiritual strength with us! xx

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  16. Laughter is healing ♥ Life can be so bitter-sweet. Thank you for sharing your life with us here, Susie.

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  17. Sherry fantastic conversation, thank for better aquatinting us with Susie!

    Susie your voice is so strong and I absolutely love your poetry and the poetry shared in this interview. You are a true gift. Thank you for sharing your poetry, strength, and passion.

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    1. Thank you. There are days it is hard to pull the words out of me, but I keep on writing.

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  18. Thank you for this. Susie, your story touched me deeply. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us--it does help to know that somehow you, we--can write our way through

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    1. Audrey, thanks so much. Writing is so therapeutic for me. I feel it truly helps to write out your pain.

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  19. Susie, our lives have not crossed often. I am so glad that I read this piece, this biography. It is moving, thoughtful and inspiring. I hope that 2015 continues to bring peace, health and happiness to you and your family. Blessings. Sherry, this was a fabulous interview. Thank you.

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  20. Thank you Sherry and Susie for the courage to tackle this so frankly. I did have some awareness of what was going on, but it is illuminating to read it in detail and fit the poems into the story. Wonderful poems — and wonderful story too, despite the stress and pain. Personally I always find the gift of poetry a great blessing in times of grief or struggle. It definitely helps to express and release the traumas; as well as the crafting of it providing a welcome distraction. I have often asked myself, rhetorically, 'What do people do who are not poets? How on earth can they cope?' I don't have answers, just thankfulness that I am able to find tools that help me. Susie, my overwhelming impression of you is your good cheer. i'm sure it is natural to you, but at the same time — what strength it must take!

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    1. Rosemary, thank you. Sherry did an amazing job in everything from questions to putting the piece together. I have found when darkness hits it will swallow you if you don't become the light. It isn't always easy, but I give it my best effort.

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  21. Susie, this is exquisite:

    "You don’t know how much
    you can take until too much
    puts steel in your spine."

    And, knowing how much you have 'taken' behind the words that we read, knowing how much has put the steel in your spine.....wow, that just makes these words hit with even more depth, even more exquisite potency. Thank you for sharing so honestly and vulnerably, not only here in this chat with Sherry, but also through your poetry. You write feelings I am acquainted with but in words and with imagery that expresses it far more elegantly and profoundly than I could and reading it is healing and affirming. Thank you. May 2015 be a year of healing and much joy for your whole family!!

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    1. Thank you so much. It is so tough to watch your child suffer, but Dawn has taught me so much on how to handle adversity. She and her sister are the stars in my tinfoil crown.

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  22. Susie you are an amazing lady. Blessings and health to you and your family as the light shines on you in 2015!!!

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    1. Thank you so much. Rubbing elbows with my children has given me so much more than I have given them.

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  23. Susie, your story is an inspiration for all those who face great adversity. May 2015 be a much better year for you and your family.
    i can understand why you cried at your parents' graves. this is not a sign of weakness, for one can emerge stronger in will and courage after this.

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    1. Thank you. In life there is a lot of letting go. It can be painful initially, but so healing when it is done.

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  24. I am finally here, finally basking in these three poems and the conversation that you, Shrry and Susie, braved. The poetry is exquisite, much bigger than your own circumstances, and your circumstances, Susie, much harder than I could have ever guessed. When I deal with my own issues, I forget how they might be trippled and quadruppled by being a mother and all of the things you describe living through. Your poetry inspires me to live more fully. Bless you all.

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    1. Susan, thank you. I know there are people who have suffered/are suffering much more than I have, but it does get intensely difficult when you watch your child go through the fire.

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