Monday, January 2, 2017

LIFE OF A POET ~ HEATHER SAWAYA

This week, my friends, we are zipping across to Ohio to visit Heather Sawaya who posts at Heather Sawaya Writing. Heather has a most interesting background, is a prolific writer, and has a passion for assisting women victims of violence. I think you will find what she has to say very relevant, and of great interest.






Sherry: Heather, I am so happy we are doing this. Let’s jump in. Would you give us a snapshot of your life?  Anything you’d like us to know about you.

Heather:  I currently live in Toledo, Ohio, with my husband and five year old son.  I work part time at a golf course.  I almost have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and plan to attend classes next Fall to complete it.  I want to use my education to work with victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Sherry: A meaningful field of work. I have noticed this theme in your writing. We will talk more about this in a moment. Where did you grow up, Heather?




Heather: I grew up in Toledo, the town of Point Place.  We had the Ottawa River and Lake Erie less than five minutes from our home.  My younger brother and I were in martial arts for most of our childhood.  My youngest sister participated in other sports.  My parents have been married for thirty-seven years.  My mom stayed home with us and then started a full time job when we got older.  My dad was a union steward at Chrysler.

I came from a charitable home.  My parents regularly donated money, clothing, and food to local organizations.  We were taught that kindness to others and compassion were the most important things in life, to work hard, help people in whatever way you can, and judge no one.  ‘There, but by the grace of God, go I,’ was the gist of it.  Everyone in my family feels that humanitarian ‘pull’ in their own way, that life is about helping those who are weak and suffering, that is why we are here.  This has influenced both the subject matter of my writing as well as why I give all of my profits from my books to charity. 

Sherry: I can see that influence being a factor in your choice of employment, to serve and help others. What wonderful family values you grew up with. When did you begin writing, Heather? 

Heather: Except for my family and few friends, I am a pretty solitary person.  That being said, I am extremely affected by other people and use others as inspiration constantly, probably much to their dismay.  I have carried a notebook, and loose papers and pens as long as I can remember.  I wrote mainly short stories and journal entries when very young.  I wrote scripts for skits, newscasts, and scary movies with my younger brother and cousins.  Our parents let us use the family video cameras and we still have some of our childhood creations.  I wrote my first poem in eighth grade and never stopped from then on.

All throughout high school I wrote as an emotional outlet.  My ninth grade English teacher gave me For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow is Enuf  by Ntozake Shange and it changed my life. It heavily influenced my writing style, subject matter, and emotional impact I want to have on people.  I wrote a one-act play in that style and it was performed when I was sixteen.  Kate Chopin, Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Cormac McCarthy, Even Ensler, and Adrian Rich have also moved me.  I did well in college writing courses and continued to write poems and short stories.  I self-published my first book in 2012, and four more since then.

Sherry: Well done! That is an impressive body of work, at such a young age, and still going strong. Way to go!



















Kids, these books are available at Amazon here.

What do you love about poetry, Heather? What makes it sing for you?

Heather: What I love about poetry is that there are no limits with the amount of emotion you can express.  Poetry is the place, as it has been my entire life, where I can go to be my deepest, most raw, and truest self. 

Both of the poems I have featured are not my best writing, but the ones which convey my mission and worldview.   


Pull Me Down

Pull me down
to that place
you don’t allow words.

                               I have never been
                               afraid of the dark.

Scatter the fragments, I will
speak on your behalf
against the tidal pain
of your past, I will
fight for the remnants of
who you once were.

You will be heard like the
thunderclap of retribution
and they will all know

                               what cannot be undone.

Pull me down
to that place
that made you
who you are. 

I will channel your truth
as if it were my own,
harness it during your departure
to calmer waters where
exile moons
will both grieve and heal the
loss upon loss upon loss
that sent you fleeing
to that place
you don’t allow light.

Pull me down
and I will fly you out
on the wings
of your suffering,
waiting to be told.


Sherry: Heather, you express so well the depth of the pain that abuse victims endure, and your passion for helping them heal, for wanting to "channel your truth as if it were my own.....to calmer waters where exile moons will both grieve and heal" their losses. That is so meaningful, as a life's work, and so laudable,  your wanting to help them heal. Bravo!



Light in Transition
                                                                
I am not
my physical attributes.
I am not
a sexual orientation,
a political party,
a religion.
I am not my accomplishments,
nor my demons.

Do not reduce me
to the worst thing that has
ever happened to me,
nor to the most horrible thing I have
ever done.

Do not simplify,
nor classify,
nor brand me.
Do not boil me down
to a weight,
to a class,
to a job.

I am you
at your best and
at your worst.

I am you
in life and
in death,
and if we carry over,
then we are that frequency,
that pulse that connects us
to the rest of humanity.
We are that energy that cannot be
created nor destroyed,
like gossamer stardust imprints
of what it means to be
human.

The groups we belong to,
the choices we make,
the morals we do or do not adhere to
are transient,
therefore, unable to account for
the wonder of lived experience,
and that,
despite our separateness,
we are all just
light
in transition.


Sherry: Oh, wow. I wish I had written  "We are that pulse....that connects us to the rest of humanity. We are all just light in transition."  Wonderful!

When did you start blogging? What impact has it had on your work?

Heather: I began blogging in 2012.  I remember feeling that I found my people among the poets.  I have always felt out of place, but interacting with other poets made me feel ecstatic.  There was no such thing as being too emotional.  It is the life I want to live, the life of a writer, artist.  These are the people I want in my life.

Sherry: I feel the same way - these are my peeps!  What other interests do you enjoy when you aren't writing?

Heather: I am very close to my younger sister and spend time with her as much as possible.  She is a survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and a nursing student.  She is  one of the smartest, bravest people I know.

Sherry: She sounds very brave and inspiring, Heather.

Heather: Everyone in my family is exceptional, really, because they have all overcome a lot of adversity and still manage to be caring and giving people.  My family is everything to me.  I also like spending time outdoors, kayaking, running, sight-seeing.

Sherry: You have a wonderful family. I note you are also an artist, as well as a writer.



Heather: It is another creative medium for me.  I have recently had some writer’s block with my poetry, but still  felt the need to create.  The material focuses on fighting violence against women. I also paint occasionally, not very well, but I enjoy it.

Sherry: Would you like to talk about your interest in violence against women, Heather?

Heather: The subject of violence against women is a very personal one to me.  My mother came from an alcoholic, abusive home where her step-father was the abuser.  I grew up asking questions about her life, hearing the stories and knowing that my path would be to help abuse victims.  I have also experienced violence at various points of my life and have known so many others who have.  I feel like we live in a society where women are expected to be submissive, that any expression of rage or retaliation from a woman is considered dangerous rather than holding  perpetrator, as well as the bystanders who enable violent and oppressive individuals, responsible.




People are much more likely to protect and defend, to make excuses for those who are violent than they are to come to the rescue of victims of violence, almost as if the victims brought it upon themselves or deserve it in some way.  I have even seen it alluded to that abuse victims are masochistic.  This is what I am battling.  Violence is never the victim’s fault.  No means no.  The absence of choice is slavery.  Failure to get consent is a crime.  Anything else only perpetuates rape culture and violence.



Sherry: I completely agree. I have witnessed violence against women all my life, have experienced it, and am watching people close to me experiencing it now. It is horrifying, and the victims are so terrorized, they need people to step in and assist them. And especially to believe them.  I so admire your passion to work in this field.

Is there anything else you would like us to know?

Heather:  I am currently working on my sixth book of poetry, The Escapist, as well as, a novel I have been working on since high school titled, Arliay.  I am one-quarter Syrian, the rest German, Dutch, Native American, I think, but throughout my life, the Syrian part was emphasized.  

The novel I am working on takes place in the Middle East to begin, and is about a girl who escapes an arranged marriage and is on the run.  On her journey, she comes across many different people and cultures.  Every situation she is in, she witnesses  violence and atrocities.  My point is to bring awareness to different social issues from around the world and how, when we set out to pursue our own self-interests, we find that there are others who are suffering and need our help.  She sets out to save herself but realizes that her path is to help save others.

Sherry: What a wonderful plot! And I admire your rich cultural heritage. You are very fortunate. Is there anything you'd like to say to Poets United?

Heather: A gathering of such brilliant, open-minded people at Poets United.  I feel terrible that I cannot interact more because of my schedule.  Every time I visit though, I am humbled and moved by the talent and generosity of all the poets here.  As I stated before, it is only when I have shared with other poets have I felt a sense of belonging, regardless of our differences, or where in the world we are from.  It is the art, the love of poetry, a sense of meaning which transcends every day life that unifies, and it is an honor to come across others who also find this to be important.  Thank you so much for this opportunity to share, I really appreciate it. 

Sherry: Thank you, Heather, for allowing us to get to know you better. It has been such a pleasure and I can't wait till your novel is finished. When it is, let us know and we can do an update. Smiles.

Another interesting poet, making a difference in her world, my friends. Do come back and see who we speak to next. Who knows? It might be you!




14 comments:

  1. Thank you for providing such an inspiring and lovely start to this year! :)

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  2. Yes, I have to use Samyuktha's word – what an inspiring life! And I was so thrilled at the mention of FOR COLOURED GIRLS. I was adult when it burst on the scene, and fell madly in love with it. Then a theatre group brought the stage show to Australia! I still treasure my copy of the book – but it would never have occurred to me to try and emulate the style, as those magical cadences are quite foreign to Aussies; I could only appreciate and admire. Domestic violence is a very big issue here too, and public awareness is growing, thanks largely to the wonderful work of Rosie Batty ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosie_Batty ). It is indeed important to keep standing – and speaking, and writing – against it. Thank you, Sherry and Heather, for a very enlivening interview.

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  3. Yes, a positive and inspiring start to the new year. Thank you, Heather. This conversation needs to continue through the year, as we remain alert to guard against protections and services to women being reduced or threatened. We have come too far to willingly go back. Here, today, on my beloved beach, the sun is shining, nature is beautiful, and I can only have hope for life unfolding in a good way.

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  4. An absolutely breathtaking read. One could feel immense power in your words whether they are in your poems or in your thoughtful expressions, Heather. A truly inspiring life is yours. So glad to get to know you better. Like Sherry I also want to say I wish I had written ‘Light in Transition’. And thank you Sherry, for such an amazing interview.

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  5. I love how you view poetry - and how noticing people..making notes has been a part of your history I think that will resonate with many of us - a powerful poet and great interview to start the year

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  6. Thank you, friends, for stopping by to read. We appreciate it. Smiles.

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  7. What an amazing interview Sherry...I enjoyed getting to know Heather and her incredible words!

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  8. I enjoyed this interview also.Violence against women is of seismic proportion globally and a very serious problem.Good for you Heather for taking a stand.

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  9. Heather, you're doing magnificent work. Thank you for bringing light into the lives of others.
    Sherry, this is a wonderful interview. So glad to get to know Heather.

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  10. Thank you, Heather, for this interview. always a pleasure to meet a wonderful and amazing person in this community. :)

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  11. Sorry to be so late to the party! I'm happy to be here. The same play changed my life: For Colored Girls! It made me direct theatre and then move into writing. Your point of view on the violence against women should be shouted from the rooftops, which, of course is what your poetry does. I enjoyed this interview immensely.

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  12. Thank you again, Sherry for this opportunity, and thank you to everyone for your kind words that I feel humbled by and undeserving of, especially among such talent. Visit my blog anytime and I hope to get to know some of you better in the future. ☺
    -Heather Sawaya

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  13. Great interview Sherry - and thank you for reminding me about Heather's work... With Best Wishes Scott

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  14. Always so inspiring to meet someone who takes their creative talents to work for others, making a difference. Thanks as always for a lovely, thought provoking interview Sherry.

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