Monday, November 26, 2012

Life of a Poet ~ Serena Helriot

Kids, I'm sure you have come across Serena Helriot in your junkets 'round the 'sphere.  You'll find this wonderfully quirky and effervescent poet at Pliabilities, "the Intersection Between Lies and Possibilities", where she writes "I desire to articulate the view from the heights of wonder". Within this interview, Serena gives me one of the best answers to a question that I have ever received. Hop aboard! We are going down Highway One, along the coast once again, this time to a suburb of  Los Angeles. 

Poets United: Serena, I am stoked to be sitting down with you at last. Tell us about life at your house.

Serena: I live with my husband in Glendora, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.  It has a small town feel, yet we’re only 30 miles from L.A and all that entails, so there are plenty of things to do.  

We are also positioned close enough to the mountains and the beach for easy daytrips and the weather is fantastic.  I have seen it snow once… for about five minutes.  But we made snow balls the best we could until it turned into slush.  My husband and I have been blessed with three wonderful children who are out living their adventures, so we are currently empty nesters. 

Poets United: Looks like another Happy Family! Lots of humor! Awesome! Do you have a day job? And do you enjoy it?

Serena: I work for a small hardware distributor as an estimator, pricing up bids for construction jobs.  I used to do some light programming, just simple stuff but I enjoyed it.  I went to college for three years, majoring in biology, but didn’t complete the degree.  I’ve worked in diverse fields including a toxicology lab for a pharmaceutical company, doing Research & Development testing, as well as in a hospital as a medical transcriptionist.  My goal was to work around our kids’ schedules so we didn’t need to leave them with sitters, and jobs were partially chosen around unconventional work hours.

At Work

Poets United: Unconventional staff, too, from the look of it. (Smiles.) I love it! When did you first begin writing? Did it come early, or did it develop  slowly over time?

Serena: The invitation to write didn’t occur until my thirties. I woke up one morning with a story dancing in my head that wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down.  I wrote more short stories and soon pursued the Great American Novel.  I have a few first drafts tucked away, but the experience proved frustrating.  After beginning a project I’d soon run into a wall I called “my work sucks.”  But later, upon re-reading, I’d be confused to see the writing was fine.  

Poets United: We are our own worst critics! This is when we need a friend or mentor to encourage our efforts.


Serena: I didn’t know what to think, so I fell into a funky cycle of believing I was whacked.  I built an intricate story of being a wanna-be writer who couldn’t write, except I wrote constantly.  I finally realized that my deficiency lay in the actual storytelling aspect, the ability to weave scenes into an interesting piece, not the writing itself.

Then I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and developed a daily writing practice.  When I’d peruse my rambling words I was surprised to find pearls of clever witticisms and insightful nuggets hidden among the flotsam and jetsam.  I didn’t know what to do with them so I collected them in journals until I had 500 of them.  

Then I thought, well, I need to learn more about poetry.  Some of these are what I call “bursts” or “tiny bubbles” on my site, simply snippets that delight me but aren’t fully formed poems.  I didn’t know much about the technical aspects of poem-writing, still don’t, but I’ve been learning and practicing ever since. 

Poets United: And we have been enjoying! I love Natalie! No rules other than: just write! What do you love about poetry? What makes a poem sing for you?


Serena: Poetry is my life blood, it’s the undercurrent that adds the sparkle, sizzle and dance to my life.  I love how it opens the sealed off places in my psyche, how alive it makes me feel, as well as its influence on how I think and look at the world.  Also, poem-making helps me make sense of the things that happen in my life.  Sometimes I don’t know what I think or feel until I’ve written about it. 

I’d say what makes a poem sing for me is its connectivity.  If I’m drawn into another world, large or small, rendered almost tangible through images and symbols and words that gleam and jiggle, I’m a goner.  Also, raw honesty gets me, every time.  I’m blown away when a poet leaves their guts on the page with no apologies, taking me on a ride wilder than Mr. Toad’s.
connectivity makes a poem sing

Poets United: I love that: connectivity! What do you draw from for inspiration?

Serena: My greatest inspiration for poetry comes from my feelings.  It’s like I first experience a poem as a constellation of sensations, which I then translate into words.  It is viscerally a very satisfying experience.  I also draw on my very vivid imagination.  I have memories from childhood of watching a fence turn to gold when I tapped it with a “magic” wand.  I saw a thunderbird fly out of the sky while I played after a rainstorm.  I can still remember a particular moment when I was about nine when I realized these things I “saw” couldn’t possibly be real.  I didn’t know what to make of it, but my imagination remained confined to the inside of my head ever after.   

Poets United: Wow! It would be great to tap back into that. Kids are intuitively connected to the All That Is. I have little doubt the fence turned gold. Is there someone in your life you feel has been a significant influence on you in regard to your writing?? A mentor, someone who encouraged and believed in you?

Serena: My family and friends have always been supportive and encouraging of my writing.   All the times I feared I sucked, they were there to tell me otherwise.  I’ll admit I’ve longed for a mentor, but to this date have never been blessed by such an experience.  I have attended workshops with the intention of being validated as a poet, which I now feel is a mistake.  The only thing that can validate an artist’s work is the artist herself.  I remember driving to work one morning and having a type of vision of a dove flying out of heaven (I told you I have a vivid imagination) and a thought presented itself to me which I’ve never forgotten.  “Now it’s time to find your true voice.”  I had no idea what that meant at the time, but I’ve since been engaged in a journey to find it.

"It's time to find your true voice"

Poets United: That was your inner wisdom speaking. You are on a most wonderful journey. I look forward to reading about it in your poems.

Serena: I once attended a workshop with the poet Cecilia Woloch that had a significant influence.  She was so gracious and encouraging and the whole experience seemed magical or other-worldly to me, stirring up a deeper longing for poetry.  I still have a collection of statements she made that I take out and read from time to time.  The one that’s helped me the most is, “You must trust what is given to you, if you are to trust anything.”  I’ve adopted this as my motto. 

"Trust what is given to you"

Poets United: I love it!  I was very moved when you wrote about your mother Ruth’s death, in Deadly Oversight. Would you like to say anything about that time? 

Serena: My mother’s death was extremely overwhelming for me.  She’d spent the last 5-1/2 months of her life in an ICU and I couldn’t get over the fact that it was due to an ulcer that went undetected, especially when she’d been seeking medical help for months. My mother worked at Mattel’s (she loved the idea of being a toymaker), and she managed to save meticulously for her retirement, and then to die like that just as her retirement was getting started broke my heart.  Although I didn’t succumb to guilt, I couldn’t help but wonder what if?  What if I’d done this, that, or the other differently?  I also suffered from anger towards her.  What if she had done this, that, or the other?   A person can torture themselves over such questions, and I discovered this practice wasn’t very helpful.

At the time I couldn’t write about her, and then my writing life itself derailed dramatically.  It took all the energy I could muster just to do the day-to-day things, go to work, take care of the kids, the house.   This was when my inner poet Serena showed up and asked if she could dance.  I’d been disconnected from my soul and there was so much I needed to express, and Poetry was the only medium conducive to this need.  It re-connected me to the strength and riches I’d lost touch with through the trauma.  

My mother’s death was like an explosion in which a mountain crumbled on top of me.  It took me years to dig my way back out and Poetry was my salvation.  It kept me sane, both in the writing and reading of it.  The funny thing is I never considered myself a poet.  Poetry seemed too high and lofty for me, way out of my reach, but I was content to write it.  It was like medicine, that’s all I knew.

Poets United: I am so sorry. I really resonate with writing "was like medicine."  It is wonderful how the poet's soul knows that writing is the way to heal. I see that you write flash fiction also. What do you love about it?

Serena: Flash Fiction is fiction of extreme brevity.  There is no widely accepted definition of the length, but most agree it should be no longer than 1000 words.  It comprises a story, complete with beginning, middle and ending, which is one thing that separates it from prose poetry.  A friend of mine discovered the form and challenged me to enter a contest.  I'd never heard of flash fiction, but I accepted the dare and my piece earned an honorable mention.  My confidence buoyed, I wrote another called “Pink Lipsticked Lips", and was rewarded with publication and an interview.  This helped to convince me that I could indeed write.  It also led to my blog, since the interviewer suggested I needed one, and my son agreed and designed one for me. Otherwise, I’d most likely still be pasting poems into journals I never showed anyone. 

Poets United: And we're so happy that you did! Do you have a process you use for writing your poems, or do you just sit down and start tapping the keys? Is there a favorite poetry format you prefer, or will you try anything?

Serena: I have two basic processes.  The first I use when I have no ideas in mind.   I sit and let my hand move.  Once I’ve loosened up and have arrived in that sweet space from which the words flow, I may see a poem taking shape.  If so, I’ll type it up and revise as I do so.  After that I basically let it sit and keep returning to it, shaping and reworking.  The other method is starting on the computer. This I use when I have a particular idea in mind.  I find I write very different poems this way and they seem to need less revision, don’t ask me why. 

Poets United: I know. I find that, too. Do you do much revising?

Serena: I have to revise, definitely.  One exception occurred over a period of about two weeks when I’d sit and poems just flowed through me.  It was the most sublime experience I’ve had as a writer and is something that has never repeated, much to my chagrin.  I have had a few come through me like this, just one at a time, and usually in response to a prompt, but for the most part I have to sweat and rework.

Poets United: I have had times like that, notably one entire month, where it felt like I was simply taking dictation. It's a wonderful feeling. 

Serena: I’m lucky in that I’ve kept all the poems written when I didn’t know how to revise, so I literally have hundreds of first drafts in reserve, waiting for the life to be blown into them.  That is the bulk of what I’ve posted on my blog, although not all.  The work about my mother is recent.  I wasn’t able to write much about her until I hooked up with the on-line community.  I think the support and encouragement is a large boost that I needed to work these through and it has been very cathartic for me.

Poets United: I totally hear you. The online community rocks. Do you have a favorite spot where you like to write, or a favorite time of day for writing? Do you have as much time as you wish for writing?

"Sacred Writing Space"

Serena: I now have a room dedicated to my writing, complete with the name of my blog on the wall.  I love this space.  Now the muse knows where to show up and it helps to focus.  It is the space where all of my journals and drafts and finished pieces and writing books and poetry books surround me like spirits and writing fairies.  I believe the poems and stories don’t necessarily come from me, just through me, and having a sacred space where they can concentrate and roam is an added plus.

I technically have more than enough time for writing but the problem is I can be so drained from working all day I don’t feel my energy or the flow is at its best.  Cecilia Woloch also said the good thing about a poet is she can do her life’s work in 30 minutes a day, so I try to focus on having at least one good 30-minute period of writing each day.

Poets United: Yes, work can be draining. Especially given all of the leaping, hee hee! I am so happy that you persevere. What other activities do you enjoy?


Serena: I enjoy channeling the disembodied voices of the disenfranchised, cracking karaoke jokes, drumming with the shamans in the Amazon forest.  I like to tiptoe through the tundra and jive with the jet set, then dance the Flamenco with Forrest Gump when he stops running.  I taught John Hancock how to sign his name and Rumi how to whirl.  I went to school with angel fish and mastered the backstroke with a pod of defiant dolphins. I whispered plots into Shakespeare’s ear and convinced Vincent Van Gogh to rethink the preacher gig.  I was the inspiration for impressionism and the one who pointed out to Pollock that his drips were memorable. Andy Warhol had an epiphany when I made him toasted cheese and tomato soup.  I was the first to photograph the snow leopard in Afghanistan but kept the pictures to myself.  I travel around the moon without a lunar module and use sarcasm to grow bigger zucchinis.

Okay, that’s my inner life.   

Poets United: WOW! You have just written the most amazing poem EVER! (Kids, isn't this the best answer you've ever read, to that question?)

Serena: Out here, in the actual World, I’m addicted to reading, and greedily devour several books at a time. I always have a book or my Kindle with me just in case I get some golden time to dive in.  I enjoy pasting my poems with pictures into journals.  I also am addicted to journaling, although that practice is shape-shifting into more of a regular poetry party.  I enjoy outings in beautiful settings.  

Bryce Canyon

Last year my husband, daughter and I made our way to Zion and Bryce Canyon, which is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been.   I enjoy camping with my family.  I love chocolate and wine.  I enjoy indulging in good food and keep trying to develop more joy in moving my body to complement. 

Poets United: Sounds wonderful. Bryce Canyon is amazing. Favorite book ever?

Serena: My favorite book much of the time is the one I’m currently reading.  Yet the first book that popped into my head was White Oleander by Janet Fitch.  She writes like a poet and I loved her descriptive detail.  For me, the way a book or story is written is just as important as the story itself, and sometimes more so.  Beautifully written words can give me a thrill like nothing else.

Poets United: How has blogging been helpful to your writing?

Serena: Blogging has helped legitimize my work for myself.  I know how that must sound but I had some strange ideas floating around in my inner-sphere that were suffocating and useless.  When I began posting I felt like a fraud and for the first year had very few visitors, just family and friends.  But I didn’t care, that was the thing.  I did it just for the joy of it and this grew into an inner acceptance for my work which was sorely needed.   When my son suggested I look for poet blogs, every site I found was defunct, so I’d give up, not knowing what was out there.  

Then in July, I stumbled upon Poets United and had an out-of-body experience.  I heard a hallelujah chorus, while the violet clouds parted and I was transported and enthralled.  I visited the poets’ blogs and what a revelation, what joy, what stimulation!  Is this heaven, I wondered?  Here was the manna, these fresh and innovative poems, here was openness and confidence and I felt the dam inside separating my mind from my soul burst, and the rivers of poetry rushed and swirled, and I haven’t been the same since.

Poets United: Yay! I'm right there with you! That's exactly how it was for me when I found Poets United!

Serena: When I first linked to my blog, it was with fear and trepidation but the people in this community are so encouraging and uplifting, it took my breath as well as my fear away.  I have never received or seen a negative comment, so I assume if someone doesn’t care for a poem they quietly leave with their opinions.  I don’t mind critiquing.  I have much to learn and I’ve received positive suggestions, but I’ve never felt degraded.  Poets United made me feel so ecstatic I was inspired to post an I-love-poet-bloggers poem but didn’t want to come across as some sappy teenager.  That didn’t mean I couldn’t feel like one! 

Poets United: Oh please lay it on us, kiddo. We love that stuff! Cant get enough of it:) ( Serena here was heard to mutter, "It feels like blackmail to me", but she did send along the poem. Hee hee.)

I love you people!
Sacred word weavers
keepers of the poems
mystery whisperers
the clandestine visitors
leaving behind your soft-footed prints
magical gold flakes and fairy dust
melted into blessings and incantations
encouragement for this doubting solitary

You extend generous invitations
delectable word feasts
ground shaking innovations
peeks into your psyches
initiation into glory
electric catalysts
sparking inspiration
an invisible thread of connection
stitching this solitary into the whole

To the souls that lift my spirit
the talented visitors traveling
through the portal called Mr. Linky
on the skies of welcoming grace
known as Poets United
I offer my sincere and heartfelt thanks.
I love you people!

-Serena Helriot

Poets United:
 This is simply wonderful! We love you back! I especially love "sacred word weavers". 
Do you have some writing goals for the coming year?

Serena:  As I mentioned, I’ve discovered my talent lies in shorter pieces.  I’ve recently discovered the “vignette” and find myself once again in heaven.  I have several ideas that have been nagging me to bring to life and I feel the vignette will be the perfect fit, so one of my goals is to practice this form. 

Also, I’d like to put together a collection of my work into an e-book.  But most importantly, I want to become better at opening completely and embracing the honesty dying to get out.  Although I’ve been writing for years, it is just recently I’ve given myself full permission to boldly go wherever I need to and I’m excited and interested to see where my imagination and heart can take me.
Poets United: Awesome, kiddo! We are, too. We will follow, with interest.  Kids, I came across this recent poem of Serena's, and wanted to share it with you here. It is called Inspiration, and I believe the poem says it as well as it can be stated.

I am a barren tree in the deepest winter, unfinished, barely breathing, yet pregnant with spring’s anticipation. I am the word on the tip of your tongue that you can’t remember. I am the walk to the open refrigerator door when you meant to search for your ruler. I am the whisper wandering in the middle of midnight teasing you awake. I am the desire of dreaming, I am the embodiment of joy. I am the meaning of life as well as its mystery. I am the questions that can never be answered, only followed, propelling into the lair of love’s incubation. I am the soaring wind in the sacred skies of volatile vibrations. I am the relief for parched lips on a very hot, dry day. I am the the tickle that suggests there’s more to life, I am the one to point out the marvelous in the mundane. I am the one who cries in the wilderness, “make room for the divine, clear out the ego stuff that partitions spirit from soul.” I am.

Poets United: This is just so beautiful - and inspiring! Is there anything else you’d like to say to Poets United?

Serena: I would like to say how happy I am to have discovered this community.  You have been instrumental in the transformation and fruition of my writing experience and I will be forever grateful for the connection, the support, and the discovery of so many talented and creative people, riches beyond my imagination.  I’m learning at an exponential rate and am enjoying my writing experience so much more.  I look forward to a deepening relationship and who knows? Perhaps I’ll get to meet some of you in person someday.  That would be a definite thrill.  Thank you for including me in this series.

Poets United: It is our pleasure, Serena. Thanks for sharing.

Well, kids? Wasn't that a wonderful visit? Isn't it true that the people behind the pens are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. Hi Sherry and Serena,
    That was a really wonderful interview..
    Glad to meet you.Loved the way you see life and all your answers are energy packed.The poem 'Inspiration' is really inspiring...

    Sherry so thanks to you for showcasing this wonderful poet .

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words... it's nice to meet you too.

  2. Sherry, what a wonderful interview of Serena. I just love Serena's poetry, and it is so nice now to know a little bit more about her as a person. Serena, I remember that poem about your mother. It awed me really, that you wrote it. I was so sad for you and for your mother....for all you went through, and she might not have had to die. But yes, writing IS like medicine. It is through poetry sometimes that we make some kind of sense of things like you went through, or if not sense, at least we can express our feeings.

    Ah, I like White Oleander by Janet Fitch too! -- Just have to say.

    What I like about your poetry, Serena, is the realness about it and the honesty and the humility. In your poetry you share your self and your experiences. I know everyone looks for different things as they read poetry, but this is what I look for most of all.

    Sherry, you always find questions that draw people out. This interview was no exception. Serena, thank yo for sharing with Sherry and with us!

    1. Thank you Mary... Yes, writing that poem was very difficult for me and yet since I've written it I feel like a door has been closed, as well as a new door opening. It's very exciting and peaceful at the same time. You have been so encouraging to me on my blog and I want you to know your comments go straight to my heart, where the seeds are taking root as we speak...

  3. Awesome. I look forward to Serena's work every Sunday.

    1. Thank you Jack. I appreciate your comments as well as your visits. I always look forward to your work as well...

  4. There is such depth, as well as such levity here, and all packed into one intriguing and talented poet named Serena--who cracks me up when she mugs for the camera that way...Serena seems to have discovered the secret to life--which is to not take ourselves too seriously!

    Great job with the interview, Sherry.

  5. Ah Timo... you have such a way with words. Thank you very much.

  6. You, your interview is marvelous! I feel you when I read not only this awesome interview but to read your heart and soul. This is incredible and wish for more of Serena. You are a true inspiration. The interview capture you entirely. Continue to write, let nothing get in Serena way to write, write & write some more.

    Splendid interview!

  7. Loved Loved Loved the interview! You always put so much energy and devotion into the things you love and it truly shows. You have always encouraged and inspired me to work hard to achieve my dreams and it's such an amazing experience to be able to encourage you to experience yours. I am honored to have such a darling and brave mother and as you once said that I have grown into the woman you have always wanted to be, I hope you can see that you are one of the main contributors to my shaping. As the saying goes, "like mother, like daughter." Bravo!

    1. Thank you my dear... your words touch me deeply, they go straight to my heart... I love you.

  8. Lovely to get an insight into and behind another poet!

  9. One of your best, Sherry. And Serena, your ode to other poets is nothing less than stellar. Wonderful first morning read, this.

    1. I'm glad you liked it... I was a bit nervous about it.

  10. Sherry, absolutely one of the best. Serena you are amazing! Really enjoyed this-your poems and especially that magnificent answer to your other activities!! Bryce is one of the most magical places I know. Keep leaping, imagining, and writing :-)

    1. Thank you so much, really... your words mean so much... see what I mean about the poets on this site!

  11. lovely to come in here this morning and read all of these warm and supportive words. What a lovely bunch of human beings! Serena, I so enjoyed working with you. I LOVE your spunk and humor and playfulness. And your daughter's message is just the best - it doesnt get any better than words like that from a daughter. Lovely.

    1. Thank you Sherry. You made this a fun and memorable experience.

  12. This has to be one of the finest interviews - ever! I didn't know you, Serena, before today. I cannot wait to dive in to more of your poetry.

    1. What a lovely compliment Helen. I appreciate it very much.

  13. I'm so glad I didn't miss this interview. As always, you've done a masterful job Sherry.

    Serena, I haven't read you enough. But what I have has gone to my heart and pleased me tremendously. So nice to know you. I feel I have much in common with you. Definitely, keep writing. That's a selfish encouragement. But the more you write, the more I can enjoy.

    1. Thank you so much Myrna. I feel the same way about you. I remember yours was the first interview I saw on this site and I remember feeling like you could be a friend. I haven't read you enough either. I'll have to remedy that.

  14. Serena thank you for doing this interview. Reading it was a journey through agreement, it's so lovely to hear others live such a similar creative life around the world. Keep writing, we love it

    1. I like how you put that...a journey through agreement. Thank you so much for your lovely comment and encouragement.

  15. Nice to meet you Serena, really enjoy your writing

    1. Thank you so much. I really enjoy your writing also.

  16. Serena, you are so joyful and fun! I love your insight and answers! Your poems are stunning~ I look forward to your voice! I love all that you do, when time allows~ It was a pleasure to learn more
    about you!
    Wonderful interview ladies :D

  17. Thank you Ella. This is a wonderful compliment and I appreciate it.

  18. 500 journals? I love your poetry is "outbursts" ha ha. What a great sense of humor. I love the statement "embracing honesty" ; it isn't easy to do! Good luck with writing and I'm sure we will cross paths here in the future. :)

  19. No, no... 500 poems! And they're mostly these short little poems, nothing that couldn't fit on one page. But I did think of 500 titles! A lot of the poems no longer exist, but I still have the pages with the titles. Ouch, I didn't mean to make it sound like that!

  20. I loved your interview. The pictures were great! Your a beautiful woman and wonderful friend! I'm so glad you found this site! I have always believed in you!

    Love ya,

    1. Thank you for visiting and taking the time to read this. You have been one of my greatest supporters as well as best of friends and you are very much appreciated. Love you too.

  21. Thanks so much Sherry for once again introducing me to a wonderful poet whose work I've not yet had the pleasure of indulging in... Serena's interview was truly fine and her poems and insights are beyond the pale, especially (as you so accurately pointed out, her answer to the "big" question; I doubt you will ever get one much more intriguing than this one!)Now I will add "Pliabilities" to my list of regular visits, and Serena Helriot as one of the poets to watch and read from here on out. Thanks again to you both.

    1. What a nice compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed the interview and I look forward to seeing your work as well. As I've said, this is such a great site with very talented and warm people. You guys keep proving it over and over...


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