A few months ago we were delighted to receive letters from two of our poetry prize winners. Julie L. Moore won our 2008 Janet B. McCabe poetry prize; Melissa Reeser Poulin is the 2016 winner. They wrote to us, independently, about the role Ruminate played in affirming their journeys as a creative people.
We wanted to extend that conversation beyond the thank you note, and so we introduced these two poets and they started a wonderful conversation around life, faith, creating, and calling. I'm thrilled that they've allowed us to share their conversation with you in this series titled "Creative Lives." You can read part 1, part 2, and part 3 here. Part 4 begins in November of 2016, after a sobering election day. Julie and Melissa ask the question: what does it mean to create in the midst of a broken world?
MP: I'm responding to your election-day email over a week later, and it has been a heavy, difficult week for me—as it likely has been for over half the country. In trying to write, I have found my heart and hands weighed down. I'm going to be really honest here about my political views, but in so doing I am not trying to be divisive but just to share openly where I am emotionally right now.
Earlier this summer I made plans with three poets from my MFA program to meet on the coast for a few days and write together, share poems and do some workshopping. We planned it for Veterans Day weekend when two of us who are teachers would have time off, and I think we anticipated a much different tenor—to be celebrating rather than sharing our fears for the future of the country. Still, It was good to be together, and to write and share poetry.
Coming back from that weekend, I am facing a new world and a big wound in my heart. The wound is old, old, old, but that I don't think I allowed to take up residence in me in quite this way. If I can be grateful for anything right now, it's that. I think it was easy for me to believe (pretend?) we were making progress as a nation away from a history and inheritance of greed, violence, hatred, ignorance, racial injustice. And now it seems we are going backward, have, in many hearts and many parts of the country, not made much progress at all. It's no longer possible for me to believe that there isn't a place for me in the struggle for justice. I am ashamed I ever thought so. So I am looking for ways to listen, to do, to give, and to use my voice differently than I have in the past.
JM: A former student of mine, the son of African-American minister Chris Williamson of Strong Tower Bible Church, posted on Facebook right after the election his father's poignant reminder to read Acts 1:6-8, then to get busy: "Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Visit the sick. Remember the imprisoned. Take in the stranger. Give water to the thirsty. Love your neighbors. Pray for your enemies. Pray for your leaders. Speak up for the voiceless. Serve the underserved. Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Hold each other accountable. Cover your children. Be reconcilers. Be peacemakers. Speak the truth. Stand in the gap. Care for the poor. Confront racism. Rebuke sexism. Worship God. Repent. Be a witness. Preach the gospel." I keep reading that post over and over again. I mean, that's it, that's my life's to-do list as a Christian. And it's expansive! It also includes—always—my need to repent over my own sins.
MP: Thank you for the passage from your former student's post. In some ways, nothing has changed—we are still charged with loving and loving well in the world as it is, and that is a beautiful and heavy thing. I have tacked those words up on my wall so I can remember that.
I suppose this was what I meant in speaking of the broken world. I agree that it is the only one that could show up in our notebooks—and yet I question now more than ever my ability to meet that responsibility. I question how my particular privileges, struggles, joys, and dreams shape the lens through which I see the world. I question my choices in what I write about and where I share my writing. I question the need for my voice as a straight, white, middle class woman in a literary landscape that needs to hear many other kinds of voices at greater volume, in greater volume. I find my thoughts don't stray very far from the political these days, but I can't say the same for my poetry. Maybe that is about to change, I'm not sure.
JM: I must mourn with those who mourn, yes, absolutely, but for me, personally, I do not mourn for myself for, as you noted, I, too, am the beneficiary of more privileges than I can name.
I find this to be a time of clarity for various reasons: When things done in secret come to light, as the Scriptures tell us they always will, then that's a good thing. Let's not pretend or hide any more. Let's have it out. But let's tell the truth in love; as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." (I love that quotation so much, I use it as a post-script below my signature in my usual emails!).
I enjoyed the movie Arrival because it explores how necessary and valuable language is, something we've lost sight of in the wake of our country's decades-long emphasis on STEM subjects. At one point, the character who's a linguist (Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams) posits the argument that linguistics is more important than science because language is at the foundation of everything. I got chills as "In the beginning was the Word" immediately came to mind—and then: "The Word became flesh." The movie echoes John 1, albeit perhaps unintentionally. And as it moves forward it echoes other provocative parts of the Scriptures. To wit: Would you create, even love, mankind again if you knew ahead of time what would happen, what losses would be involved? Ah, but he did know. And he loved us anyway—created us, in fact, knowing he would die for us to redeem us. Crazy, stupid love.
MP: Some friends and I have been talking about "100 days of beauty" during Trump's first 100 days, committing to creating beauty every single day. We are artists, mostly women, and we are all searching for ways to sustain ourselves through fear and hopelessness so that we can be constructive, engaged, helpful to our communities and families. I think it will be difficult not to give into despair and anger. We want to find out how to both wage art, and stand up with people and places that will experience (and have already experienced) violence and hate. I don't want it to be just about making pretty things and forgetting about suffering. I know so much of art IS pain. So much of the beauty of art comes from being run through the forge of suffering.
JM: I love your celebration of beauty for 100 days. Indeed, beauty does coexist with struggle and suffering. "Full Thunder Moon" also captures that fact, I hope. And Toni Morrison has also reminded us our work as writers is writing—language—that's what we do. This is honorable, necessary work. And language is asserting its importance now more than ever.
MP: I sometimes write short introductions for Image Journal's "Poetry Friday" column, and today I am sitting down to do that. It's Friday, so I started by checking out today's poem—and it's one of yours!
Full Thunder Moon: https://imagejournal.org/2016/11/18/poetry-friday-full-thunder-moon/
It is a beautiful poem.
I found myself especially compelled by these lines: "At compline, their prayers prepared them for the keening/ that comes with loss, whether of light or life."
And these, about a storm "driving a woman to seek refuge/ in a place so vulnerable & open/ a bird, say a sparrow or finch, might glide in/ & roost right there, within an inch of her care."
What an image, to seek refuge in a place that is vulnerable and open. And yet Jesus on the cross is vulnerability and openness writ large, beautiful, painful. He is my refuge, his love and forgiveness, his goodness, his surrender to God.
Your lines seem like the perfect image of what I think we are facing now-- to choose to find our refuge in the storm, on an exposed ledge, not hiding from it but instead opening our hearts even further.
I'm so thankful for that poem today!
JM: Thank you for your kind words. Yes, refuge in openness, in transparency, rather than in hiding, in secrecy. I am grateful to you for pointing out some of the key images and themes in "Full Thunder Moon", and to the wonderful poet Tania Runyan for her write-up about it on Image's blog—and her wise words about the election's aftermath. She's so right: We have much work to focus on.
Thank you for the opportunity to have this discussion. What a joy it's been to participate.
Thank you to Julie and Melissa for allowing us into their conversation and their creative lives!
Julie L. Moore is the author of Particular Scandals, published in The Poiema Poetry Series by Cascade Books. Her other books include Slipping Out of Bloom and Election Day. Moore’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Christian Century, Image, New Ohio Review, Paterson Literary Review, Poetry Daily, Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review, and Verse Daily. Her work also has appeared in several anthologies, including Becoming: What Makes a Woman, published by University of Nebraska Gender Programs, and Every River On Earth: Writing from Appalachian Ohio,published by Ohio University Press. You can learn more about her work at julielmoore.com.
Melissa Reeser Poulin is a poet and essayist who lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and daughter. Her most recent work appears or is forthcoming in Coffee + Crumbs, Hip Mama, In Good Tilth, Mothers Always Write, and Relief Journal.You can purchase Julie Moore’s poetry at www.julielmoore.com and experience Melissa Reeser Poulin’s writing at https://melissareeserpoulin.com/writing. We’d love to keep in touch with you—sign up here for our newsletter.
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