A) As soon as I learned to read, I began to write. It seemed to me the world was an interesting place, and when it wasn't, I could always make things up to rid myself of boredom. I pretended I was Harriet the Spy, hiding under a pine tree, recording the meanderings of children and adults walking up and down our little street. I wrote about singing birds, wandering dogs and bugs.
I started writing poetry probably around age 7 when rhyming seemed like a fun thing to do. Poetry hitched a ride in my mind and never let go. In my teens, poetry helped cleanse me of angst, sadness and anger.
Poetry has always served to synthesize my perceptions, feelings and thoughts, especially when I cannot make sense of the world.
In addition to poetry, I write for a newspaper, author a blog and dabble in fiction.
Q) Poems from the Battlefield is a collection of poems about the Civil War. Tell us about why you chose to write about this, and what historical investigation you had to do.
Let me start by saying, I am not a historian. In school, I found history difficult. I was never good at memorizing names and dates, and most of the time, I couldn't make connections between historic events. I had no idea how the past affected the present. History just seemed so remote to me that whenever my parents talked about their childhood or I listened to a history teacher, I visualized the events in black and white, as if the world then was stuck in pre-color television or photography.
I moved to Prince William County, VA, in 1999. Having lived most of my life in MA, an area immersed in the Revolutionary War, Virginia's focus on and connection with the Civil War interested me.
Previously, I hadn't considered where the Civil War began. Now, I was living literally on the battlefields, a stone's throw from First Manassas, The Battle of Bull Run, that kicked off the Civil War.
I never realized the full significance of my new home until I started hiking the Manassas battlefields. At first, I was merely thrilled to find a local sanctuary that provided access to nature and solitude. But as I began to read the placards, I thought more and more about the people of the time and who had walked these lands before me.
From there, I explored other historic sites such as Bristoe Station Battlefield and Brentsville Courthouse Historic Center. Manassas Museum provided me with important lessons in history and insight.
Poetry came to me as I explored. The poems were my attempts to understand the people of the time, who lived there, what they were thinking. I couldn't fathom young boys joining a regiment when in fact, most of them didn't think they would be fighting in a real war. Most, at least at the start, thought the war would be a show of bravado or perhaps a skirmish. The general public didn't believe the slaughter would carry on so long.
The events of the Civil War emerged to me as metaphors for our contemporary society and divisive politics. The suffering of the wounded, widows and orphans also became metaphors for my personal struggles and the struggles of all people.
The more I wrote, the more I read. But five years later, by the time the book was completed, I still didn't know enough. I continue my exploration on my website.
Q) You say, in your bio on your site, "In some poems, you might recognize relationships between past and present historic struggles with our current domestic climate of fear that prevents us from being our very best selves.” What do you think are some of the things people can do to avoid historical repetition. How can writing help, if it does?
One of the reasons we repeat history is that we don't truly understand it. I am a prime example of that, as I noted in question #2.
Part of the problem is the way history is presented. Children, because they do not have the cognitive development that allows for more abstract thinking, don't connect with the past easily. This is why things like re-enactments, life-like movies and hands-on activities are essential in the classroom.
That said, because most children have difficulty comprehending history, many of us as adults kind of give up on it, especially if we have had to endure classes that focused on names, dates and maps. While these elements are important, they do not communicate the true significance of history, and that is the people.
We can't completely understand the people of the Civil War period or any period, and because of this, it is difficult to empathize. Yet empathy is the only way we will avoid repeating the past, because if we cannot empathize, we can easily ignore history and past suffering. We don't think of our actions as having an impact on the world, even though the actions of those who came before us created what we know of as "today."
So, I think first and foremost, we must teach children empathy. Then, we must bring our dead back to life, make those people of the past real. And then, we must teach children to be able to read, write and think not only critically but creatively.
These efforts must not stop in childhood. We must continue to grow through adulthood, throughout the lifespan.
Writing is one way to connect the dots of the world, to merge our perceptions and experiences with a larger whole. It is a tool for self expression, for emotions, beliefs and thoughts.
Writing can be a powerful way to process what we see and live, and through reflecting on what we write, we can reach higher planes of consciousness which can positively impact our decisions.
Q) Some of your proceeds go toward parks and wildlife. Do you think writers can make an impact on our environment?
I absolutely think writers can impact the environment, whether it is through donating proceeds or through the writing itself. For example, people like Henry David Thoreau documented his life with nature, exposing a planet worth preserving. Thoreau's message has survived more than a century, and every writer who has an audience can do the same.
Q) What are some points of advice you have for writers?
I can't tell you how many students I have had who are afraid to write. They judge themselves harshly because they have had negative experiences. They have been told they have poor grammar, are bad writers or are just not academically up to par.
This is so sad to me because I believe everyone can write, that it's natural to want to document what is happening in our brains. We all want to communicate, but writing provides more than simple means of communication. In a way, we all seek to have our thoughts last longer than our lifetimes, and writing can do this. Writing is proof that we are, and when we die, that we were.
So my advice is, don't judge yourself. Shut off your internal editor and critic, and just write. Free-write. Write anything that comes into your head. Don't worry about punctuation or grammar or correct wording. This is how you get started.
For more advanced writers, I would say, continue to write. This sounds stupid, but you can't write if you don't write! Write as often as you can, even if you are just writing emails or journal entries. Make time to write. For some people, this means setting a specific time of day. For others, it means carrying around a notebook and writing on the subway or in a taxi. (Don't write while driving, please.)
Finally, don't be afraid to revise and edit. These are two painful processes because they demand we be honest with ourselves. Slash and burn unnecessary words. Replace sentences or lines that don't make sense. Get feedback from readers and reflect on their perceptions. Writing is a kind of communication, so think about what you are communicating.
Q) Tell us about your writing influences and inspirations.
I have been powerfully influenced by the Transcendentalists and writers of the mid to late 1800's, especially in the United States.
I mentioned Henry David Thoreau before, and I will mention him again. A Transcendentalist, Thoreau is a curious historic and intellectual figure, both a rebel and conformist at the same time. The Transcendental focus on nature as part of the divine has impacted my writing, and of course, so has the Transcendentalists' thoughts on the Civil War, as communicated by people like Louisa May Alcott.
I also read contemporary poetry whenever I can. I receive poems from The Poetry Foundation and read blogs and e-zines that publish poetry.
Other reading on topics such as philosophy, current events and spirituality keep me in touch with my own poetic side and feed my imagination, providing me with new ideas.
Finally, there is life itself. Raising children, living with the man I love, caring for pets, going to church and reflecting on my past are all things that turn up in my writing.
Q) What's coming up in your literary life?
Fall of 2010, an illustrator friend and I will release Furbily Furld Takes on the World, a children's epic poem of a displaced lizard making peace with a society that needs to learn an important lesson about conservation and responsible development. This all sounds very serious, but it's really lots of fun and we think packs a punch.
And of course, I will continue to write poetry. There is no doubt there will be a second volume of Battlefield poems, but I can't say when, and I wouldn't want to rush the process.
Q) What are some of your favorite literary journals, magazines or literary resources?
As I mentioned before, The Poetry Foundation is one of my favorites. The Foundation's daily poems are accessible, meaningful and artistic.
I also receive Poetry in the journal format which helps me stay up-to-date on what's going on in the larger world of poetry. Honestly, though, I find many of these poems more academic and less accessible.
I also enjoy reading poetry in The New Yorker and in journals I submit my work to. I never submit my work to venues I don't enjoy reading.
Finally, I constantly search for websites and blogs that publish poetry. Many of these sites give voice to new and emerging poets which I always appreciate.
Q) Tell us something you think every writer and reader should know about you.
I want the world to know I am the proud mother of two gorgeous girls and wife to an amazing husband.
I would also mention that my life has not been easy and that my poetry reflects some of my personal challenges which include some minor disabilities and trauma.
Fortunately, I have worked through these challenges and am happy to say I won't write any more in this section because I lead a rather unexciting life. I wouldn't want to bore people : )