Artwork: Mme Matisse: Madras Rouge (The Red Madras Headress) by Henri Matisse (393K)
I began writing poetry in high school. That was a long time ago, but I recall that several issues raised my curiosity. I wondered why all we read were dead poets, often speaking in obscure or archaic language. I wondered how a modern poet would write and what sort of language she or he would use. Then I discovered haiku. That poetic form fascinated me because you could look at the basic picture and get meaning. But you could also read deeper and multiple meanings in those small poems. I wanted to write like that.
The challenge for me was to take a simple image of pain or happiness and give it deeper and deeper meaning without being sentimental. I started with those basic emotions, and I think many writers begin there. We start from what we feel acutely. When we truly become writers, we can convey a deeper image, feeling, idea to readers. We can even prompt them to seek meanings. Like many beginning writers, I shared my work with my teachers. I'm grateful they did not discourage my efforts and essentially said "Keep writing." That was enough to keep me going.
As a registered nurse taking care of oncology patients, I was convinced that our society (myself included) did not understand the process of dying. We can approach the meaning of death and death itself from different viewpoints. The process of dying can be made easier. So I began writing poems that explored several sorts of deaths--animals, people, and transformation of the self. In fact, I've been working on a manuscript that deals with these issues since 1976. That's a long time to devote to one topic but it's a hard one to deal with. Some of these poems were successful and some were not, but they all served a purpose in helping me transform myself.
I truly feel that it all comes down to the transformation of self, my own as well as that of my readers. I believe that's why we're here: to be transformed. And I'm still working on it. As a recent breast cancer survivor, I've found that I had a lot of work to do even on the issues I thought I'd resolved. When I first began working on my manuscript, From The Belly of Jonah's Whale, I intended to deal with the pain of death for those left behind.
Early on in my Jonah manuscript, I read Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and was enthralled with her world of wonder. She takes the reader on a journey through nature and in that book she talks of how all life rushes forward to the fertilization of birth, yet most do not succeed. I came away with the feeling of great tragedy for those who didn't succeed. So then was death a failure? Somehow, this idea merged with the image of cancer patients dying alone, surrounded by strangers in sterile hospitals.
During that time, I was also reading D. H. Lawrence and felt that transformation was surely a key. So my focus became one of depicting transformations--the core of most of my work revolves around this subject. To observe rather than participate gave me a way of transforming myself and a way to show this observation/transformation to readers.
Since haiku appeals most to me, I write poems that often mix the images of nature and people and the unfolding of life and death. I am creating a mythology without relying too much on previous stories, but which build on the world I see around me. Jonah is the symbol of transformation for me--the coming from death, the letting go, and the reaching for nirvana/God/peace. There is betrayal and loss (in the belly of the whale) but beyond that, there is something larger if we just join with it, rather than fighting it or giving up before we get there. Betrayals keep hitting us, but if we look beyond them, through them, there is something else. There are moments where we connect with each other that bring us to the other dimension.
All the time I've been writing I've also been submitting and publishing. Many good writers do not pursue the publishing aspect of being a writer. However, it's a way to share what we've crafted and a way of validating the profession of being a poet. It's also a way of being in a circle of kindred spirits.
Because I chose not to be part of the university life, I think getting my work published became even more important to me. Connecting with an audience, whether through publishing or public readings, is a gratifying experience. I actively seek it out.
Publication on the Internet is a relatively new experience for me. But I realize that Internet publication can give writers an even greater audience than poets have been able to amass before. I think net publishing is here to stay. I also think it will also promote a new type of poetry. Much like poetry slams have created a particular style, the Internet too will create its own style. Since most people have limited time on their world wide web access, I think the poems will tend to be short, concise, and easier to understand. Long and/or complicated poems will probably continue to work best on the printed page.
In the future, I'd like to publish my two finished manuscripts. The latest one deals with who we are in our environment. How are we connected to what is around us? How are relationships formed? Like my Jonah manuscript, this one too deals with forms of transformation. But now there is more reflection than action.
Being a poet has given me immeasurable rewards, friends, and journeys of mind, body, and spirit. It has given me a way to work at understanding and meaning. In many other careers we can skim over life without really touching it. I want to touch it deeply through living, transforming, and writing more poetry.
Christina-Marie's work in this issue of Moondance:
Christina-Marie has been published in several journals including:
She has also been published in several chapbooks and anthologies including:
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