Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Life of a Poet - Elizabeth Crawford

Written by Sherry Blue Sky

Well, kids, get comfy and pour yourself a cuppa, because you are in for a very interesting read. After clinging to the sides of your blogs like a bat, I zoomed down, right in the middle of Christmas week, and asked Elizabeth Crawford, of Soul’s Music, if she would grant us an interview. And, right in the middle of a million things to do, Elizabeth graciously agreed. I have long admired her writing. And now that I know more about her, I find her even more interesting. I just know you’ll enjoy what she has shared with us here. Pretty amazing stuff!

PU: Is there a story behind the name of your blog?

Elizabeth: Yes, but I keep four blogs:

Soul's Music - poetry and a bit of music

1 sojournal - original blog about personal writing

Intuitive Paths - mostly prose about honing intuitive skills through creative endeavor.

Unraveling - Poetry site for overflow since joining the poetry and writing prompt circuit.

Soul’s Music is my main poetry blog. When I started blogging in 2008, it was not my intent to do poetry online. I wanted to extend my experience as a free-lance writing instructor and do personal essays about my own endeavors in that arena. However, I found that the poetry kept creeping into the prose, so in January of 2009, I created Soul’s Music.

Music has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember, it has been a means of expressing my emotional journey. Poetry, when it came much later, seemed, in many ways, to be an extension of the same. I began writing poetry because it was damned good therapy, and I saw the two as part and parcel of what I call Soul Work: the feeding and nurturing of one’s soul toward individuation and wholeness. Poetry is the music of my soul, and I think of my poems as soul songs. You can find the story about how I eventually stumbled into the land of distilled moments on the About page of Soul’s Music, as well as the Title Poem I wrote for the blog itself:

PU: It is beautiful! Tell us a little about yourself. What is your life like and how many people and/or critters do you share your home with? And are you living where you belong?

Elizabeth: I am 64, soon to be 65 years old. Was married and had four children, but have been single for 23 years. I currently live alone in an apartment complex, but my oldest daughter visits and stays over often. Would love a huge shaggy dog to share my environment with, but no pets allowed. My life is quiet, for the most part, and much of it is spent on the computer. I was put on disability in 2004 for a severe back condition. Was born and raised in the football city of Wisconsin fame, Green Bay, and the game itself was often seen as another minor form of religion. “Praise the Lord” was for Sunday mornings, but “Go, Pack, Go” was almost a devotional for Sunday afternoons. The city rests on the shore of a huge bay and is a port for the large Great Lakes traffic, with a river running through its very heart. It isn’t a large city so natural settings are close at hand and I use them often.

I spent almost forty years in another Southern Wisconsin city, before moving back to help care for my mother in her declining years. Mom passed away last spring, and I suddenly had an inordinate amount of time on my hands and turned to my computer, where I found the online poetry prompt circuit, and have obviously never left it. It feels a lot like home.

My spiritual home is right here inside my own skin. And although I desire the physical surroundings that define comfort for me, that means the trappings are not my top or first priority. And although I live in a small city, I love to drive and do spend time finding back country roads to roam on. My heart breathes best in the worlds of words and nature, so as long as I can read, speak, write, and drive, I am definitely living right where I belong.

PU: Have you always written? Do you remember writing your first poem?

Elizabeth: Actually, I started writing when I was four years old. My name in black ink and block letters on a professional photographer’s portrait my parents had taken. I wanted everyone to know who that pretty little girl was, in the light blue dress with creamed coffee curls. I did well in grade school and high school, because the writing came easily and I seemed to have a natural understanding about words and language. Was told I had an “ear” for it.

But, life, marriage, and raising kids became major factors. I did keep numerous notebooks at hand, and as the children got older, spent a lot of time writing about things that interested me. I wrote my first poem while pregnant with my third child. Let my brother-in-law read it, he was a journalist. The expression on his face, and his difficulty in finding something ‘nice’ to say, meant it was also my last attempt for many years to come.

I started college at age 37 and promptly fell into the habit of taking at least one English or writing course each semester. And again, did well because of my writing skills. However, was originally going to seek a degree in Psychology and certainly didn’t think of myself as a writer, until I realized that I had enough credits to get an English Degree and another in History (another of those core interests). But, one of the first poems I wrote was after reading Sharon Olds in college, and it won first place in the first ever poetry contest held on the campus. That story can be found on the About page of Soul’s Music. It took me a long time to define myself as a writer, and far longer to say without hesitation, or apology, “I am a Poet.”

PU: I love the story about your English professor nearly falling off his chair laughing when you won the prize, because two months earlier you had complained to him you didn’t “get” poetry at all.

Elizabeth: Part of the reason for the huge gap between doing and defining myself as such, has to do with my personality. I don’t particularly care for boundaries, limits, or rules. I want to know because I found out on my own. That doesn’t mean I don’t listen to others. It means that what others have to say is usually the first step in further exploration. I knew I liked and enjoyed writing, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to narrow down my possibilities by giving myself that definition. And there is also the flip side of that reality: what if I accepted the definition, hung it around my neck, and then found out I wasn’t really any good at it? It took a few years and several experiences before I could look and actually see that I really was a writer and nothing else satisfied me as deeply.

The definition of Poet, was a bit more difficult. Even though poetry was really my first love, I come from a background that often sighs and crosses eyes when they hear the word poetry. Even after receiving several awards for my poetry, I most often answered the question of “What do you do?” with, “I’m a writer and I teach.”

PU: What about poetry makes you want to write?

Elizabeth: The challenge? That would have to be one of the biggest things. Starting out with nothing except a blank sheet of paper and watching as that becomes a recognizable structure that has meaning and even value, not only to self, but to others. It is the pull of magic, waving my wand (pen) and watching something appear, that hopefully lives and breathes. I have ever been a seeker, a wanter after understanding, especially of my own person: what and how I think, why I do the things I do. And I found that the straightest path to that was poetry. Because poetry suits me, my love of words, of language, and music. It fulfills my needs as nothing else has ever done. It is soul satisfying.

PU: Sounds like a perfect reason to me.

Elizabeth: Imagination is so very important to me and the ability to go inside and find what I need, have that satisfied, is an incredible feeling and experience. I remember the first time I ever heard that statement that all of the answers were there inside of us, inside of me. I laughed out loud and said, “Oh, sure, like that’s even a possibility.” Then found it happening each time I struggled through the process of producing a poem. Found that each poem was a lot like finding home between the margins of that blank sheet of paper. For someone who was not sure where, or even what home was, it was a constant high that called to be reproduced, done again, over and over. And because the words, their meanings, go on and on without end, it has become the very ground on which I move through this journey I call my life. Each poem is a home for some moment of my existence. A home only I can give shape and form to, decorate in whatever fashion I choose, and I hold the key to each and every one of them. Again, that is magic. Each poem has a story behind it, my story, some piece of where I have been, what I was thinking, feeling, and how I saw and interpreted that experience. Each poem is another breath. An exhalation of what was inspired while breathing in. And what I have learned is that, as long as I breathe, the poems will keep coming, in small tantalizing fragments: words read, overheard, surprises that fall from my own lips, or those of others. They are there, all around me in what I see, hear, feel, and think. And they are new each day, with each moment. They make life worth living. They seek to live, as do I.

PU: I love that, Elizabeth. I love “each poem was a lot like finding home”. I think this is one of the best descriptions of why poets write that I have ever heard. What style of poem do you write the most? Are there any forms or styles of poetry you find unreadable or difficult?

Elizabeth: Very interesting question. I write personal poetry, sometimes called confessional poetry (although that definition sort of rankles). My poems are usually some form of free verse with internal rhyme that hopefully makes music. However, that can and does change. When I was in college and taking all those formal classes, I loved the poetry of Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. But, really disliked end rhyme because, for me, unless you are one of those two gentlemen, it often comes out sounding sing-songy, or similar to children’s nursery rhymes. I was fascinated by Walt Whitman and the idea of breath-lines, rather than iambic pentameter. But was heavily influenced by Anne Sexton, and especially Lucille Clifton. I am a bit of a rebel, and I much admired how she often broke the rules, and grinned sweetly while doing so.

I steered clear of most classic forms, simply because they sometimes felt forced or artificial. However, since coming to the poetry circuit online, I’ve had a lot of fun just trying on and playing with different poetic forms. At the moment, am somewhat enamored of Marvin Bell’s Dead Man poetry, and am finding myself far more open to all sorts of things than I was in my younger, more Puritan existence, and sense of all of it.

PU: One thing I have enjoyed on-line is discovering all of the new and interesting poem-forms I had never heard of before. Some of you are brave enough to try them all.

Elizabeth: I don’t like a lot of hip-hop music, but do like hip-hop poetry and what fuels the concept of Poetry Jams. I’m open, and the only thing that deters me from exploring is a lack of desire in the moment. But, even if that occurs, I will go back and give whatever it is a second chance. I’m big on second chances and have had several of them to celebrate.

PU: What do you think about the internet and poetry? Better exposure for poets? Flooded the world with too much poetry?

Elizabeth: I think the internet, the accessibility and openness it provides, is probably one of the best things that has happened to poetry since Walt Whitman opened his mouth and began bellowing in his ‘barbaric’ howl. Can there ever be too much poetry? Seriously, because poetry is sense imagery and music, therefore more apt to stay with the individual, our ancestors used it as a teaching tool. Can we ever really learn too much? And yes, there will always be those who think it is easy, who are poorly skilled when it comes to words and language, yet write it anyway. Good for them. They are putting themselves in the way of learning. And because I was a teacher, when I find an honest effort being made, I will work hard to find some kind of positive statement to encourage more of the same. We all have to begin somewhere, and that isn’t at the top of the heap, no matter how much we wish it.

And silence is a powerful teacher. I do a lot of surfing and reading. If I don’t like what is there in front of me, I simply move on to another possibility. I’ve had both good and bad teachers. I’ve been a teacher. I work hard at trying to say something positive when I leave a comment. And although our lives are busier than ever, I choose to not engage in formula type communication. I know there is a lot of that on the net, but that is a matter of choice that the individual makes. If one wants to be heard, then one must first learn to listen, and then learn to speak with some meaning.

PU: So well said! When did you first start sharing your work on-line? Are you happy with the result?

Elizabeth: I started blogging just over three years ago. Soul’s Music was created in January of 2009. And that first year was difficult. I had no idea there was a poetry circuit, or prompts, out there. I was on my own, but willing to learn, which means I was willing to look and even be foolish. I love poetry. So I stayed with it. It wasn’t easy because of the other obligations in my life. But, when I couldn’t come up with a new piece of writing, I did have an incredible backlog of poems that had never seen daylight, and many were simple drafts that needed a lot of work. Remember, I’ve been writing poems for over twenty-five years. That’s a lot of poetry.

Although I had a few faithful followers, there were stretches of time when I wondered if I should even bother to continue. But, again, I love poetry and love writing poetry. And when that reality is a deep, deep drive within you, you don’t give up easily. When my mother passed away and I stumbled onto the poetry prompt circuit, I thought I might have found a very real taste of heaven. My blog is flourishing, but more importantly, I am flourishing. At the present moment, although all four of my blogs are doing well, the two poetry blogs are out in front as far as readers, comments, and subscriptions go. What’s not to like?

PU: I so relate, Elizabeth. I wrote into a void before I found Poets United, and all of you.

When do you write the most? When you are happy, sad, lonely, day or night?

Elizabeth: Anytime. In any kind of weather, be that physical or emotional. Writing is learning, to me. I even dream about writing, see my hands with a pen scratching out lines, or see words magically appearing across a line of white paper as my fingers move across the keyboard. I started writing because I wanted to know how my mind worked. There was some doubt that it worked well, or shall I say, “correctly.” I grew up knowing that I saw things differently from those around me and I wanted to know why. Writing allowed me to write down my thoughts, then go back and read them to see if they actually made sense. Poetry only enhanced that aspect, because each poem narrows down to one major premise, and I can often find solutions, or some form of resolution within the structure and words. So writing when I’m down makes sense, as does writing when I’m up.

PU: Do you need certain conditions in which to write, such as a quiet place? Where do you write the most?

Elizabeth: I write mostly here at my computer. I used to write everything out long hand, but stopped doing that about five years ago, when I realized I could compose on the keyboard. Don’t laugh, that was a really big step for me! I try to carry a notebook and pen with me for those wonderful insights that happen anywhere. I do occasionally seek out a picnic table at a wonderful park near here, but am often distracted by the birds and other wild creatures that inhabit that space, and seem equally drawn to my person.

PU: Composing at the keyboard was a big step for me, too! What poem, written by you, do you like the most and why?

Elizabeth: There are many, depending on my mood and frame of mind. However, my very favourite of my poems, written since joining the poetry circuit online, was my first one written to a poetry prompt. I like it, because it came about in a strange manner, and it says a great deal about what I believe about writing, especially poetry. It includes the Poet, the Prophet, and the Hermit, three essential elements necessary to anyone who would engage in this endeavor. You can read it here: The Call

PU: Have you ever been published? Do you dream of books with your name on them?

Elizabeth: Yes! I have been published in small presses, like The Wisconsin Poets Calendar, as well as larger presses. One of my poems was used as the anchor piece in an anthology about men and women growing old together, Grow Old With Me, The Best Is Yet to Be, put out by Paper Mache Press. It was later turned into a two cassette tape set, and the poetry was read by actors and actresses. My piece, again the anchor, was read by Ed Asner. That set of tapes was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Spoken Word Category. The prize went to Hilary Clinton that year, but the media response led to my teaching my first class at the University from which I graduated.

PU: Wowzers, Elizabeth. That is really huge!

Elizabeth: I have also self-published five small chapbooks of my poetry. When I say self-published, I mean I wrote them, typed them, and bound them. I was working as the General Manager of a new/used bookstore at the time and often organized book signing parties. I decided why not do it for myself, so did. But, I have also published prose as well as poetry, writing a column about writing for a local magazine for several years. I also published a small writer’s zine as well, that allowed me to write both prose and poetry about the wide variety of things I am interested in.

PU: It appears I am interviewing a professional writer here. This is so interesting!

Elizabeth: I also moderated the longest established poetry group in South Eastern Wisconsin for almost ten years. Which meant that I set up reading dates for the group, and moderated our meetings, which were critique oriented. With the director of one of the Fine Arts Schools, where I taught, I helped create an annual reception and reading that was a cooperative venture of the visual artists at the school and the poetry group. And published the chapbook of poems that was sold at the event.

As far as the poets of the blogosphere are concerned, I consider them my life line at the moment. Having moved back to the city of my birth, after being away for almost forty years, I have no one physically close to me with whom I can share my deeply embedded writing drive. The poets’ thoughtful comments and often helpful hints are gifts I prize, and the support and encouragement are priceless to someone who has not received it for several years.

PU: I so know what you mean. I, too, lack a creative community where I live. Poets United has become that for me, as for a lot of us.
Elizabeth: And yes, I dearly want a book with my name on the title page. Especially one I didn’t have to fold and staple myself, lol.

PU: Do you have a secret – or not-so-secret – dream you hope comes true? Or that has come true, that you’d like to share with us?

Elizabeth: The nomination for a Grammy went way past my dream content, but as I said, the media blitz resulted in television and radio interviews that resulted in the fulfillment of my dream to teach where I could write and create the actual curriculum for the classes. They were defined as Personal Growth Writing Based experiences, and allowed me to discuss and further explore my own various interests, which are wide and varied, to say the least. I find that each turning in my journey has been a dream fulfilled, even when I didn’t actually know what the dream was, but could only sense it somewhere out there on the horizon.

PU: So well said! Have you lived a great adventure you’d like to share with us?

Elizabeth: My spontaneous creation of a Personal Mythology, long before that became a topic of some research and even debate. It was a spontaneous adventure that took place in my own bedroom as I tried to explore the realm of meditation. The story behind it can be found on my sojournal site: 1 sojournal and can be found under the category title of A Tiger Named Pain. That adventure has much to do with why I began writing and continue to do so today.

PU: I love the title A Tiger Named Pain. I think we have all met that tiger.

Elizabeth: While in college, I met and made friends with a young woman. Eventually invited her to live in my home because she needed a safe place. Only later did I discover that she suffered from Multiple Personality Disorder. She lived with me for almost ten years, and I will always be grateful for the wealth of knowledge that accompanied those years, as I learned about genuine loving and living. I credit her with teaching me how to be a good human being.

PU: I so understand that, given my own journeys close to people with mental illness. It teaches one a lot about compassion and unconditional love.

Elizabeth: It was because of my Personal Mythology that I was able to so easily accept my MPD friend, her alters, and her view of life. There is another piece on the same site, entitled The Wild Child, which also speaks of my Multiple friends, and what they came to teach me about myself and life and loving. We had several adventures, including three or four cross country road trips where we encountered wild life, saw and experienced things we had only talked about, and one night drove into a wonderful, never to be forgotten, display of the Northern Lights.

PU: It sounds wonderful, Elizabeth. What are you passionate about? Do you have some causes dear to your heart?

Elizabeth: Life and living it as fully as possible. Being present to each moment and its possibilities. Championing the Underdog. Knowing oneself is the only person we can truly know. The deeply embedded desire to learn, to grow, to be more today than I was yesterday. To give carelessly because I have been given so much. To work at remembering that each person I meet owns something I need to learn, to grow, to become.

PU: You are preaching to the choir here, Elizabeth! Wonderful words! Poets are often creative on many different levels. What other talents or interests do you have?

Elizabeth: Music, I love to sing, although my voice has dimmed as I grow older. I used to play guitar and paid for my lessons with home cooked meals. My daughters sing and we do sing harmony, and I do that with my younger sister as well. I love color and the active meditation that Mandalas provide. I have two Mandala galleries on my Soul’s Music site and am working on a third. I also do sketching and doodling, a form of what is called Zentangle Art. I like working with polymer clay and often used that in my creativity classes. There is much more, and that is detailed on the About page of my site.

PU: Wow, you sound very productive! Is there anything else you would like to share with Poets United that we haven’t covered?

Elizabeth: Yes, when I earlier remarked about my mind being a questionable factor, that comes from being in a car accident when I was four and slipped beneath the rear tire of my father’s car as he reversed out of the driveway. A piece of skull bone was shattered and protruding inward toward my brain. The doctors said I needed surgery and my parents were told that I had only a 50% chance of survival. And that survival would most likely be with some form of Cerebral Palsy. I have a steel pin in my head, and although I came through it with flying colors, there was always some doubt about just how ‘okay’ I really was. I firmly believe that individuals who come close to death, many times bring back ‘gifts’ from that journey. Gifts that are not often seen as such, and create more questions than answers. I truly do see differently and hear differently than many do. That long ago “accident” has shaped and formed me as nothing else could.

PU: I can see that it would, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing the story. It sounds as if you did bring back many gifts from that journey. They are very evident in your poetry. Thanks so much for speaking with us and letting us know more about your extremely interesting life.

See, kids? I told you you were in for an interesting read! There is so much more to a poet than their poetry – the folks who live behind the pen can be some of the most interesting people around. We look forward to giving our readers an intimate and personal look at some of the other poets found here at Poets United, so be sure to return to see who we chat with next. Who knows? It might be you!

(Yet again we are treated to another wonderful interview conducted by Sherry Blue Sky. If you would like to learn more about Sherry or read some her poetry you can do so by visiting her blog "Stardreaming With Sherry Blue Sky" you can also read other articles and posts by Sherry found here at Poets United by just simply searching Sherry Blue Sky.  Sherry is a regular contributor to Poets United and we would like to thank her for all of her hard work and look forward to future posts)


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  2. FABULOUS interview! Having read the work of both women, I feel honored and treated to read more about Elizabeth, and to get to know Sherry more deeply by virtue of the questions she asked. I learn so much from both of these amazing, highly-evolved women. Thank you!

  3. This was a good one, wasnt it, kids? Elizabeth was so forthcoming, she did all the work for me.......SUCH an interesting writer and human being:)

    Robb, the site looks fantastic, I love the colors. It rocks!!!!!!

    Pamela and Kim: thank you. I dont feel very highly evolved at the moment, but am happy someone thinks so, hee hee!

  4. What a great interview Sherry and what an interesting woman Elizabeth is. I have learned so much here just about the vitality of living - you can feel it in her words...Thank you both of you wonderful woman for taking the time to share the poet behind Soul Music here....bkm

  5. Hey Liz,

    Keep going kid. The best is yet to come. I bet you miss those old Milwaukee Braves. They were my favorite team growing up even though I'm from PA.

    Warm regards,


  6. Sherry thank you so much for a wonderful interview. So good to get to know more about Elizabeth, I loved the poem The Call. I had not read it yet, so it was such a pleasure! Thanks again to both of you for such an in-depth interview. Loved it, loved it!

  7. Elizabeth, I am glad to have gotten a more in-depth look into you as the writer. I admire your honesty and how willing you are to engage with people. I know I feel very privileged to have met you in the blogsphere.
    Sherry, thanks for an outstanding interview.
    (first post had a typo)


  8. First of all, thank you Sherry for being so enthusiastic and interested. You have remarkable skills, you highly evolved woman, you. And thank you Poets United for giving me and my words this honor.

    Kim, I told Sherry that highly evolved is a really nice way of saying two old women, lol. But, thank you much for the compliment. That one definitely goes in the kudo box.

    bkm, I'm blushing at the 'interesting'. Usually get more along the lines of 'different.' Am glad you find my words of value, and thanks for taking the time to comment here.

    Ted, my name is Elizabeth, and I actually prefer it. Thanks for the comments and my best regards to you as well.

    Annell, thank you my friend for all your support. This was fun, nerve-wracking, and amazing.

    Pamela, I feel priveleged to join you in the ranks of those who have been interviewed. And truly do feel I have found some extra wonderful friends here.

    Robb, thank you for providing this space for all of us and for all your efforts. Gotta tell you though that doesn't look at all like my brother-in-law. My sister's husband is far better looking. And no one would ever mistake me for Doris Day, lol.

    Thank you all for this incredible experience,


  9. Elizabeth and Sherry, wonderful interview! I love the magic she shared and you Sherry, brought forth.

    I love your view Elizabeth, I will visit your blogs. I think we all question ourselves, I love your ideas and being so active and open to new ideas~ It was a pleasure to learn more about you~

  10. Great interview Sherry! And Elizabeth, it was really wonderful to learn more about you.

  11. Elizabeth.

    Hey I was looking for the scowl on his face not a likeness I promise lol. As for Doris Day at least you recognized her. I was asked who the lady was and why she looked so familiar. No names will be mentioned to protect the innocent, young and soon to be wife of mine...d'oh.

    I enjoy reading these and and tying them together after Sherry does all the work. I get to see that there is more behind a crafty screenshot than just 0's and 1's. Everyone so far has been so imprresive and I find it an honor and priveledge to be part of such a wonderful place. Your life Elizabeth My Oh My I can only hope mine to be near as intersting!

  12. Ella, I think when we lose the sense of magic afoot in the Universe, we lose contact with the child within. Will look forward to your visits.

    Hi Susannah, and thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Better yet, to know you enjoyed what you found.

    Robert, I figured as much, but just had to tease a bit. Was curious about the tiger photo. There is a very interesting tie in story that I will have to write about soon, as well as a photo, taken by a friend that goes with it.

    I tell people all the time, that their story is unique and must be shared because it is medicine needed by someone else. Your life is as interesting as mine, every bit of it.


  13. I realy enjoyed this interview, Sherry. Elizabeth, I really enjoyed the depthful answers, but am not surprised as you write such depthful poetry. You are a very talented and prolific writer....and teacher (by example and more).

  14. Mary, thank you and for all that you do for this community. I'd like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read and comment, not just here but on my blogs, as well. This has been a rather delightful experience and I want to thank everyone who made it possible and brought it about. Hope to see you "out" there on the circuit, and happy writing,



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