What is poetry to you? What about prose, journalism, or any other professional writing you have done?
I describe poetry as dignifying the mystery. I’m interested in beauty, bonds we form with the child, the sea, the sinner. Does the story make you cry? The heart chakra interests me. Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.”
I have written for four national daily newspapers and dozens of magazines, covering culture and philanthropy. My interest skews now towards metaphysics, cosmology, and eschatology. I just returned from a six week stay in Italy (visiting my Dad who is 92—and realized there exists a vacuum in the current Italian psycho-social climate. A spiritual vacuum—despite the new Pope Francis whom I respect for his open, vision of inclusion, so I asked my Italian cousin, an MD and a holistic dentist, to join me in publishing the Sedona Journal of Emergence: ITALIA. So maybe I now will be a “professional” publisher.
You are a senior journalist and correspondent at The Epoch Times. How long have you been working there? What are the benefits of working there as a writer?
We are all volunteers at that paper. I have been writing for them a number of years. It is a newspaper with a human rights slant, written by practitioners of the Falun Dafa. The newspaper is published in 25 languages and 35 countries and growing.
I am highly respectful of the people I work with. They are evolved. I studied the Falun Dafa for years—as I did the B’hai faith, I also practiced as a Roman Catholic. I am currently studying Kaballah with a rabbi in Jerusalem (courtesy of skype) and exploring Kaballistic spirituality through galactic venues. Mesmerized by various exponents of religious freedom, I have become an egregious Universalist. For me, there is one Creator God with many names (e.g. Allah, God the Father, Jehovah, YHWH, and so on).
You have also worked to raise funds for the Mercy Center (clinic and school) in Kenya, and your 2007 novel Who’s Afraid of Red took place two years after the Rwandan genocide. Have you always had an interest for the African history and culture? What do you want for people to take away from their learning of the events going on in African countries?
I feel very tuned in to African culture. It is an overwhelming culture in many respects. So rich, so fertile, so ancient, so powerful. What we can take away? Pay attention to a culture whose very roots sustain a deep sense of pride and appreciation for mysterious and sacred tradition, for ritual and ancestral reverence. For knowledge. For Magic.
Not to mention the sheer emotional and spiritual moxy of a people who have survived slavery by whites, dominion by despots who share their own blood, war, famine, poverty, pestilence, and genocide. My God, what haven’t the African people survived? This is no ordinary culture.
The Africans also have a luminous memory. Stories handed down through millennia from tribe to tribe connecting their people to their star origins. The collective African consciousness has a translucency of soul and what I mean by that is, the collective African consciousness (and I have to include indigenous people in general) have a designated window into the Akashic Records which contain precious super-worldly information in the form of light.
I was going to ask if “Haitia,” which appears in The Worcester Review Volume XXXIV, stemmed from a personal experience, but I read on your website that your father is a surgeon, which is interesting considering the mother in the poem is the doctor of the family. Was it a conscious choice to make the mother an obstetrician, who had a more “rewarding” job than the farming father? Not only that, but it appeared to me that the gender roles have been reversed between the parents; usually fathers seem distant from the children, and mothers are emotional and discipline the children. In the poem however, the mother was out doing her job as a doctor who delivers babies (which can still been as a female job, e.g. midwives). Meanwhile, the father was at home tending to his harvesting of fruits and coffee (which can be seen as a male job, e.g. laborers).
I must confess I stole this story. Who said, “Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal”? I’m joking but the truth is my friend, Claudine, recounted this as it actually happened to her. Her father was indeed a coffee plantation owner in Madagascar and her mother an obstetrician. I saw the incident through universal eyes, to relay the notion that we all have been the object of cruelty, at one time or another. It is an aspect of our lives as three-dimensional beings. The point is, if we recognize that the perpetrator is really the one in pain, then that cruelty we experience can be a springboard for compassion. Jesus Christ is a great example.
What’s the meaning of titling the poem, “Haitia” besides it being named after a nanny in the poem? Was there a “Haitia” in your life? If so, what impact did this person make in your life?
Haitia was actually Claudine’s nanny’s name. It is a biblical name and coincidentally, I saw Haitia as a character of biblical proportions (in nomen veritas!) in the sense that she was a highly-conscious, awakened woman with this acute sense of empathy. People like Haitia impact me on a daily basis. I call them “lightworkers.” They are illumining the way. Where they travel they share light.
I am not sure if you have read this article, which was published early September 2013: “The One Thing White Writers Get Away With, But Authors of Color Don't.” I thought it was interesting of how important perspective is, but the identity of the writer also plays a role in how the general public criticizes the writing. What do you think about this “issue” we have in the literary world? I mean, everyone will always be criticized (whether they like it or not), but for non-white writers it can be discouraging that the quality of their writing is overlooked by their non-white identities.
Most of the writers of color whom I read and know want to be recognized as good writers first. What I understand from them is they don’t want their skin color defining their virtuosity. The root of virtuosity is “virtue”—I’m reminded of Robert Pirsig who wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. His thesis was: you can’t be a good writer without being a good person.
I do have friends who are “poet-activists” but they don’t refer to themselves as “black” “poet activists” or “Chinese” “poet activists” or “marginalized/disenfranchised” “poet- activists.” These writers want equality for all. Not selective equality. We all are part of the fabric of One. Our true desire ultimately is not to separate ourselves from each other, but to merge so that “the other” and “I” are a unified energy field connected to Source. On the earth plane, eventually I hope all geo-political boundaries disappear.
You have taught creative writing at Boston University, which means you have many students each semester to teach. I am not sure how big the class size usually is, but BU is a large campus, so it’s hard to interact with the students one by one, which can be disappointing to a teacher’s point of view of reaching out to help when they need it. How did you encourage them to be creative and write what feels true to them? (Because perhaps a few are majoring in creative writing, and the rest are taking the class as an elective.)
My classes were small—15 students. Everyone received personal attention. Everyone was free to explore what she chose. Any material that buttressed discussion of what it means to be a human being in the highest sense of the word was evaluated. These were not creative writing majors, so it was not a place of chastisement. And even if they had been creative writing majors, that is not my mode of teaching. Who gains by quenching the fire of creative inquiry with dogmatic, critical constriction? Is that the nature of art? The nature of art is personal expression. A teacher has the responsibility to encourage young poets to expand even if they are not the next Wallace Stevens. Why? Because their art is who they are, cell and marrow. And that needs to be respected. One can always learn the form of a sestina or a rondeau.
What advice do you have for writers out there who want to get a foot in the door?
I would say when you read, read writers better than you. This sounds low-bandwidth and I don’t mean to come from a competitive place here. But, as in tennis, if you want to improve, play with someone you can learn from. Nowadays everyone thinks she’s a writer, has a blog, followers, etc. which is a beautifully democratic idea. But the reality is some “writers” have had more practice/experience/training and have been given a special gift/talent, and can thus inspire you to spiral up to your highest potential. Now that syllabi are online, you can download the reading lists from many successful creative writing programs. These are vetted suggested readings which you can explore and decide for yourself if they merit your attention. Also read current literary magazines, like this one [TWR].
When you’re ready, submit, submit, submit. I think these days multiple submissions are fine if you let all parties know what you are doing. One of the first non- fiction articles I published was a Q. and A. interview with novelist Quentin Crisp which appeared in a gay men’s magazine. I was pretty shocked when my contributor’s copy wrapped in brown paper arrived in the mail. I mean pretty shocked when I opened the magazine. But, I am glad I published it. It was a good interview with a good writer.
For more information, visit her main website, where you can find her biography, works, events, and blog.
The Worcester Review wants to thank Alessandra Gelmi for her participation in the interview and her contribution to the publication.