I, Margaret Bednar, feel honored to be a toad here in this magnificent garden. I bet I could sit down for a cup of coffee with any one of you & we'd get to talking so much our coffee would grow cold! I know it is the case with Susie Clevenger as we certainly had so much fun. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. I’m going to start brewing a new pot of coffee … does anyone take cream?
I remember reading you for the first time - it was the title of your blog that drew me in “Confessions of a Laundry Goddess”. I thought to myself, this lady has a great sense of humor. Yet, I noticed right away you have a dark side, one that holds nothing back. Your “Woman Up” poem on your new blog “Blank Ink Howl” certainly is a banner of strength and wisdom. I am a poet that draws from my experiences as a mother - and my poems are usually light and happy. We often respond in opposite ways to poetic challenges and yet I am always thrilled and intrigued with your voice and artistry. From your poetry, I conclude you had an abusive childhood in some way, also you were involved in a life-altering accident a few years ago, not to mention a daughter who has been facing a few life challenges of her own. You seem like a ROCK. All of these situations could shut a person down, but you seem to have risen and are stronger for it. Would you say your poetic artistry has healed you, or at least been part of the healing process? And how much does humor (your smiling face and wit tell me you must have a great appetite for laughter) play a part in your strength?
A rusted padlock hangs
between my breast and ribs.
I lost the key a hundred
heartbreaks a go when
the tear swamp grew teeth
and tore a hole
in my starry eyes.
It wasn’t bitter that lost the key
or the clinging ribbons of lost love.
Reality stormed in like a bitch
who knows her truth and tore
the pink curtain from my daydreams.
She taught me to woman up,
a few bruises on my spirit wouldn’t kill,
and building a wall around my heart
only makes me the prisoner.
The rusty open lock and I are friends.
When I struggle about letting
someone in, it reminds me
empty feeds too many ghosts.
Black Ink Howl
A song sings erased notes
until memory forgives
what it can no longer feel.
She sang of soldiers with open heart,
but damned the head who rattled a battle cry.
A stream of prophetic is never welcome
unless it is filtered through an approved tongue.
Not ready to make nice is a black ink howl
that can never be silenced while living in an open wound.
Before I get to my answers I wanted you to know I am thinking about you and your family and speaking prayers as I watch Florence head your direction.
I am definitely light and dark as a writer. Writing has been therapeutic in so many ways and a huge part of my healing. I was sexually abused by a family member from age five until age ten. It is a long, difficult story of secrets and suicide attempts, but oddly enough it was also where humor became part of my coping mechanism. With all I was hiding I was never a shy, quiet child. In fact I was the talkative, inquisitive comedian of the family. Even with my daughter’s recent illness when we didn’t know if she would survive heart failure, kidney failure, extreme weight loss, and on and on we would rattle the room with jokes. Laughter is healing. It helps to give our family a little more strength to stand up, hold up beneath the weight of unanswerable.
I started Black Ink Howl in 2017 because I wanted to have a place where I could express my dark side. As you stated, Confessions of a Laundry Goddess, is a quirky title. It comes from my self proclaimed goddess-hood when my oldest daughter came home from school with a drawing that was supposed to represent mommy’s career. Well, as you’ve probably guessed, I was doing laundry. I had been posting all my poetry on the blog since I began it in 2009, but in 2017 not everything I was writing seemed to fit there so I started another blog. Black Ink Howl actually came from the title of a poem I wrote about the Dixie Chicks song, Not Ready to Make Nice. There are times when you take a stand not everyone will like it. Not every poem I write is my experience even though I write it in first person. I am an observer and an empath so I see and feel emotions from those around me, all of it translates into poetry. I am a talker. It is easy for me to start and carry on conversations, but when I write poetry I tend to condense it all into just a few words.
Now my turn to ask you a few questions, Margaret. “Palm a poem as if fragile even if the words are bold. Let them sink into your skin as if moonlight, let them flow through your veins until they become ordinary - for only then will we know they nourished.”
I saw this on your Of Verse, Poesy & Odes - My Poetic Journey blog. It is such a beautiful statement and one that will stay with me for a long time. Your writing always lifts my spirit. It often feels like I’ve been immersed in a painting or photograph. Your work invites me to see, hear, and feel the images you so creatively brush stroke into words. How do your other art forms affect your writing? Do you approach writing as you would a canvas? Your poem “Languid” is such a beautiful expression of serenity, the power of summer to take you into dreams and wish to never see it leave. There’s a strong feeling also of being connected to nature. I notice it appears often in your poetry. When did the nature poet in you begin?
Thank you, Susie.
I live northwest in the mountains (near App State University) and we missed most Hurricane Florence other than a day or two of rain and some light flooding from mountain run-off.
It always thrills me when I receive compliments for my writing - I’m always surprised and feel like “really?”. I am a member of a local poetry group and we select a poem each month to read out loud. Really, I think “perform” is a better word - voice inflection and subtle nuances of body language are a joy to see when others read and I’m trying to pick up on that. The “Palm a Poem” is a response to an Imaginary Garden of Real Toads prompt - I “condensed a poem” by Pablo Neruda’s “Sweetness, always” - retained the essence but breathed my own self into the meaning of his words. This is an example of a poem I would NEVER have written if not for the inspiration our Garden gives.
I’ve been writing poetry for several years now. My first poem was written in September of 2010. I’ve often thought of deleting all my old poems - they are rough and so… well, just hard for me to read. But I have kept them, as I pair them with photographs I’ve taken and well, it is a journey and one I treasure. My daughter told me the other day that as a little girl I inspired her with my drawings and paintings. (she is studying to be an actor but she keeps a sketchbook). I was shocked as I have a few sketch books and paintings and that I don’t have out on display. I started my blog as a place to post my photographs - to learn composition and perspective and find settings that I had an emotional attachment to so I could then use them for inspiration (plagiarism is a no-no). Instead of drawing from these images, I expressed myself with poetry. And this from someone who had never read poetry in her life other than Robert Louis Stevenson.
I love metaphor, assonance, alliteration, personification, internal rhyme, and point of view (narration)… and what I call “story telling” non-fiction and fiction. Meter and rhythm I do consider and try my best. I accept the challenge of form poetry, but it isn’t something I gravitate towards. I TRY to describe rather than to explicitly say something. When I sketch, I try to narrow it down to the important lines and then build my drawing; when painting I am impressionistic - and often allow myself to create my own colors and not be limited to what I see. I guess it’s more about feeling. Some of my favorite poems I’ve written are not based on my actual experience. They are completely fictional characters that I have massaged into existence. Recently I wrote “The Fisherman” (which isn’t my favorite example, just the most recent one) and many commented thinking it was about me. I LOVE to “step into” a painting or photograph and write a “story poem”. (Is there a better name for this?) I took a photo as I walked my favorite walking path around Bass Lake. A young lady was fly fishing and an older gentleman was nearby beside a huge tree. As I walked around the trail (a stop along the Blue Ridge Parkway) I was already creating this story-poem.
I also love to stir memories and resurrect days from my childhood…”Sisterhood of 1976” This one I approached I suppose as an artist would with a sketch - I wrote down key words and then, like with watercolor, I allowed the paint (words) to spread out on the paper of their own free will. I remember this particular poem flowed out from my “brush" as if it was just waiting for a bit of water.
Sisterhood of 1976
"Growing apart doesn't change the fact
that for a long time we grew side by side;
our roots will always be tangled. I'm glad of that."
-Ally Condie, "Matched"
The only thing that disturbed
unending summer days
was Father's whistle come dusk.
Betwixt cereal spoon
rattling in the empty dish
and his sharp twill,
we urchins ran wild,
or as wild as we could imagine.
I remember getting lost
in cornfields, kicking pebbles
into the quarry, heads a bit dizzy
from the sheer drop.
Slyly pocketing change from places
off limits - gorging on forbidden
amounts of candy. Experimenting
with matches, watching leaves,
twigs go up in smoke,
found cigarette butts, resurrected.
Running barefoot, forging trails,
putting ears to railroad tracks,
listening. Counting time by the sun.
Each night we'd wash off
the day's adventures, secure
in our sisterhood of secrets.
I look back at our freedom, our rascality -
compare it to today's overprotected kids
and wonder which is better.
Margaret Bednar, May 20, 2014
I’m not sure why I write about nature, often fear I use it too much as a backdrop. I just love being out of doors - as a child I was forced outside and traversed the 1970’s countryside basically from morning until sundown… upon bike or pony. Such freedom. Today I take many walks - not sure they qualify as exercise as I’m always stopping and taking photographs, looking for minute details, pondering poetry as I snap photos. My family has learned to just walk ahead - I always catch up sooner or later.
Margaret, I love this.
It is always great to get into the mind of a creative person.You have so many avenues of artistic expression. I am an amateur photographer. It is hard to explain to someone that when I look at a leaf I also can hear its poetry.
The power of “Woman Up” takes my breath away and “Black Ink Howl” sends shivers through me. I am curious, what are your favorite “top five” poems you have written?
One of my favorites of yours is “A Kiss, A Charm”.
A Kiss, A Charm
I’m part Irish.
The drinking sid
in on a stereotype with
my maternal grandfather.
I never met the man,
just heard him filtered
through his bottle and fists.
There was plenty of family tree
son of a bitchin’ mixed with
a switch to keep me from
drinking my way out on that limb.
A kiss, a charm, I escaped the harm,
but hard headed took root.
I’m fourth leaf, chance brushed lucky.
Blarney’s a gift, a jigger’s a rift.
I drank my share, but always with care
that I didn’t dive deeper than no.
©Susie Clevenger 2018
Thank you so much Margaret.
The poem A Kiss, A Charm is a reflection on my Irish ancestry. I never met my maternal grandfather, but from everything I’ve been told I doubt I would have liked him much. He was an abusive alcoholic. I do seem to have inherited his propensity for stubbornness though. Goodness, my favorite top five poems is a tough one, but here are my favorites at the moment, Until the Hummingbird, Where Butterflies Pray, Another Needle Into the Unknown, , Welcome to My Birdcage, and Feral Ink ).
I think a reader of these five poems would wonder about the diverse voices in them, but I think my muse delights in sending such mixed inspiration and tone. It makes me giggle to think of someone trying to maneuver through the maze of my thoughts or wonder how the moon showed up on my grocery list.
Until the Hummingbird speaks to the organized disorder of my writing space. My husband won’t even touch anything because he is afraid if it is neat I won’t be able to find a thing.
Where Butterflies Pray speaks of my connection to nature as a sanctuary. The place I can go to renew and feed my spirit.
Another Needle into the Unknown was inspired by a biopsy Dawn had in April of 2017. It is a poem expressing how we use humor to cope in the constant land of question marks we find ourselves in with Dawn’s health issues.
Welcome to My Birdcage frankly is just a celebration of my crazy.
Feral Ink was inspired by a word list and the photo I used of Marlene Dietrich. Her attitude in the photo brought out the words I used. She has the look of this is who I am. Frankly I love the line, “in her chorus of hims”.
I must go and purchase all of your poetry (chap?) books. I know I have Dirt Roads which I highly recommend. That is something I have been meaning to gift myself with - books from all of our Garden Toads - I believe they are listed somewhere on our blog site and can be purchased on Amazon? (Kerry - maybe inform us in the comment section?)
I am also curious what poet you read when you settle down with a book? When I started reading poetry, I went to the “classics”, the oldies, and I must confess I was hard pressed to enjoy (most of) them.
I often read Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson, but currently I’m reading Nathan Brown’s book, Karma Crisis. He was the main speaker at a poetry retreat I attended in April and I became fascinated with his work. He is the son of a Baptist preacher and I am the wife of a former Baptist deacon. I so understand his skepticism and part of his life’s journey.
Pinterest is an interesting site to find out more about a person. I got lost in yours. The beauty of jewelry, paintings, birdcages, porch swings, “abandoned”, rust fascination, quilts, antiques, cemetery, old homes…beauty of strings, shoe art, wineries! You have opened up new avenues for me to explore - you have so many boards! Each one of these could be a stepping stone into poetry. You have many sides and avenues of interest. Of all your interests outside of poetry, what is your favorite?
Oh goodness, I do have a lot of Pinterest boards. There are so many things that fascinate me and there I can explore and build collections to return to for inspiration. Outside of poetry my second love is photography. I am strictly an amateur, but my love of lens and capture has a definite hold on me. I can get caught up in the intricacy of a flower petal, or the beautiful patina of a rusted nail. One of my favorite locations is old cemeteries. I have found the most amazing angel statuary on graves. Several have been life sized. It is a place where the past and present are joined by heavenly guardians who urge my spirit to embrace my history as well as consider the legacy I am creating as I walk through my own life.
I just found (how can this be?) your “Susie’s Sentences” and I am so mesmerized by your post of July 27, 2018 “I Rose Where I Fell”. I see you dabbled in short stories - 150 words - from photos. What an interesting exercise and one that you are good at. Would you ever consider writing a book or do you have trouble sticking with something that would require so much time. I don’t think I have the capability of sustaining that kind of creativity - I only seem to be able to do it in short bursts.
The poem came from my experience of over committing myself to do work that was often unappreciated and physically exhausting. For so many years I would never say no to whatever was asked of me and it became so detrimental to my emotional and physical health I had to basically relearn and allow myself without guilt to put myself first.
Actually I have given a lot of thought to writing a novel at some point or a mixture of short stories and poetry. In fact I’ve written a short story titled, Lady Scarlet, that is going through its first edit for a book anthology titled, It’s Not All Rockets and Ray Guns. My story is a paranormal mystery set in the fictional town of St. Belviu, Louisiana. It is my first attempt at a story of any length so I have no delusions I’m the next Stephen King, but it feels good to put my toes in the water. I have been blessed to be a remote member of a writer’s group called, Authors Round Table. The anthology is a collection of stories written by members of the group. Here’s a small sampling of my story. “No one really knows who she is. People call her Lady Scarlet because of the faded red dress she wears. It’s rumored pieces of it are found in the ferns just above the water line. Tom Wilson claims he has a cigar box full of satin scraps he’s collected over the years. The stingy old gator man won’t let anyone get a peek inside to see if he’s tellin’ the truth.”
Seriously, I can’t wait to read Lady Scarlet and I think you are so lucky to be part of a thriving writer’s group.
You have a page titled, Simply Poetic Impressions, where you pair your photographs with poetry of those you admire. Your images and the poetry work so beautifully together. Does your photo draw you to the poetry or do you read a poem and it takes you to one of your photographs?
I haven’t given my “Simply Poetic Impressions” as much attention as I’d like. I am often crunched for time, with three children still at home and three others I love to visit when I can. But the idea started when I read a poem of Pablo Neruda's and I remembered a photo I had taken and I thought “what fun” to share favorite poems and match them with photography. I only have over 120,000 photos on my iCloud. I also know that certain poems are copy written so I am always unsure of what I can put up without getting into trouble. I have “saved" a number of poems I LOVE to Pinterest - but many of these poems' blogs have been deleted or “hidden” from public view (a few from our own Garden) and I had wanted to ask to pair those with some of my photos. I still might contact each individual and ask if I can have permission to do so. It’s a way of having (some unpublished) favorite poems (and inspiration) at my fingertips.
I am fascinated by your varied expressions of art. On your page, Art Happens, you share a few of your paintings and drawings. In my mind I see an art studio for painting, a library for writing, a wall (or walls) dedicated as a gallery for your photography. Do you have designated space/spaces for creating?
I have created about five iBooks (Apple) with my photos and poems but a wall dedicated to or for my work - no. I have my quilts on the beds and furniture, and one I will hang on the wall soon. I have a desk set up by two big book cases in my living room and I work from that desk on my huge (beloved) Apple desktop computer (I DO long for an iPad as I could take my poetry "to go”.) I also have a desk in my bedroom set up for sewing. Sometimes my dining room table becomes a workplace for my quilts and then I am happy to order food from restaurants. We rent a very small house for our family of five and I have to be very neat and organized - which means putting things away and everything having its own place. Relocating from a huge home with a designated “creative” space has been challenging.
I see you have a blog titled, My Quilting Journey. Quilts are fascinating. Each one has a story in its pattern. Your poem, Heatwave, is captivating. I love this visual “enjoy the ballet of grandmother's quilt as it lifts a corner, flutters gracefully as fever exhales”. I have never thought of a heatwave as beautiful, but your poem certainly puts me in that frame of mind. How long have you been quilting and who first taught you to quilt?
A fever oscillates across my skin
swigs stamina and strength from my bones,
yet offers no toast to acknowledge my hospitality.
I'm just "southern" enough
to graciously welcome unwanted guests,
find beauty in wilting leaves
bowing temporarily to a stronger force;
enjoy the ballet of grandmother's quilt
as it lifts a corner,
flutters gracefully as fever exhales;
imagine I'm a bartender
serving shots during happy hour,
carefully pour each living thing a drink -
join the hens in a silent brooding,
thankful the border collie
rallies strength to scan for the devil;
look forward to the lick of night
when the visitor rests
and the yellow haze behind my eyelids
finally fades to black.
by Margaret Bednar
Thank you. For me there is something very poetic about quilts. “Heatwave" is a poem I wrote from a video prompt. I put away my old singer sewing machine about 20 years ago. Two years ago I joined a local group of creative women who call themselves “The Stitching Sisters”. We meet once a month for about three hours and knit and talk and share our projects. I brought along my knitting at first, of which I have really progressed and am currently learning how to brioche knit. Watching these women do their crafts, I was really drawn to the quilts. I confess, I am now a hoarder and may be slightly obsessed with fabric. I am making quilts for all my children and the first quilt I made I claimed as mine. Sewing I can date back to 4-H and making skirts and such - my Mother helped guide me and probably had to finish a project or two. I really was NOT inspired. However, quilting is all together different. The patterns, picking out the color combinations just fascinates me.
I also adore a magazine “Quiltfolk” It is pricey, but the magazine is touring every state at least once if not more and the history and stories inside are to die for. I think one of their motives is “Discover the stories behind the stitches”. It is published four times a year and I think the next magazine will cover part of Michigan - which is a state close to my heart. This magazine has already inspired numerous quilt ideas I want to try.
I still use my over 26 year old sewing machine but I have given my husband numerous hints that I am looking around for a replacement… I think the first time I said that he thought I was referring to him!
I loved every one of your poems you mention above. I find them to be a deep breath in of “letting go”, facing fears, acknowledging the darkness but turning yourself at the end of each day towards the light. They speak of strength from family, from nature, from humor and toughness. Embracing a bit of disorder, not knowing all the answers; these are things many try and control. I find your voice refreshing and inspirational - the line in “Feral Ink” … from every mistake she claimed as freedom. is SO cool and true.
I was wondering how much you share with your family. Most of mine do not read my poetry. Do you share with your daughters and husband or is it primarily your own thing?
My poetry is there for all my family to read if they choose, but I doubt many of it read it. My husband has an aunt who is one of my biggest readers, and supporters. She doesn’t own a computer, but she has all three of the books I’ve written. She is always asking me when the next book will be out. I do have one poetry collection that is in the works. I co-wrote it with Ben Ditmars. The title is Splinters. I share my work with my daughters, but there is much of it they haven’t read. Charlie reads every poem I write, and often I read them to him. He is so supportive of my work.
I grew up Catholic and I think it finds its way into my poems at times mostly in a positive light. I”d like to think my adult view is not so simple as my belief as a child - but I think we can all say that. Do you find your Baptist past reflective in your poetic voice or are your beliefs now quite divergent - and if so are they appreciative of the foundation or cyclical because of it.
I wasn’t raised in the church. My early spiritual leanings were rooted in nature. I didn’t become active in a church until I joined a Southern Baptist Church in the late 1970’s. My beliefs are quite different than what they once were. I am an observer, a listener, an empath; so much of what I write comes from that. My poetry that has more of a spiritual feel is a reflection of my connection to nature. I have a prayer space in my bedroom in front of a window that looks out on a small wooded area behind my home.
Now for a “fantasy” question. If you could live anywhere in the world, not having to worry about cost or a making a living (pretend a long lost Uncle left you an endless fortune (sigh) … where would you and your family live?
Oh, I have mulled that question over and over. I think if I had endless money to find that place in the world it would require travel. First, I would travel to Mexico to see where the Monarch butterflies migrate to live out the winter. I would love to spend time among them, to connect with wings and the power of home that spurs the insect to take a trip that is the equivalent to a human space flight that would take them on a journey of 2/3’rds the distance to the moon. From there it might be the English countryside, or Ireland, or Roman ruins where history still vibrates, and well, so many places. I think when I was finally so exhausted I had to stop it would be where I felt most at peace, probably in a small house with trees at my back door, open fields at my front door, and acres where wild things could roam.
I have two questions left for you.
You have six beautiful children who all are gifted in various art forms. Was art expression something you introduced to them or was it a natural reflection of your own art expression?
What suggestions could you give to parents and grandparents who value the importance of art, but don’t know where to begin?
For medical reasons (nothing serious) I homeschooled my son kindergarten through 3rd grade. My daughter was two years behind him and she joined in as well. I taught them according to their interests - meaning William loved to act everything out and reciting (poetry of all things) came naturally to him. Low and behold he is an actor today and a wonderful poet and writer. We are holding our breath as he might be on Broadway soon… an actor’s life is always about securing the next job and we don’t want to jinx anything so I won’t say anything more (as of now)! Chelsea always wanted to draw and did not take to reading (or math) right away. I allowed her to color in the pages and draw while I read to her … and guess what she is today - an artist!
I think spending SO much time creatively with my children for three years started artistic pathways for all of us. We went to museums, historic places, lots of mini-vacations and we would see sights and then do homework in the evenings. We spent a lot of time learning history in chronological order. They created their own journals, drawing pictures, maps, creating stories - all bound in our own huge hand-made books. Truly fun. Fourth grade on up they were in public school, but the impressions, I believe, had been set. And as nature has it, my other four children whom I did not homeschool, seemed to follow in their older siblings footsteps (we also enrolled them in an artistic based charter school).
What suggestions could you give to parents and grandparents who value the importance of art, but don’t know where to begin?
I had 5 children, ten years and under for a short period of time. I had to find something that I could drop them all off AND be free, if possible. That was community theatre for us. They all embraced it and made great friends. I never meant for all of them to somehow make it their careers. My thought process was they would be interacting with people of various ages and one learns to memorize lines and become comfortable in front of an audience. Lawyers need to be good actors (right?), and sales people need to be able to sell a product, and business people give presentations… so theatre, I believed would be a healthy thing.
My advice, for what it’s worth, is to embrace family mini-vacations or day trips to museums, plays, festivals, musicals (dear to our hearts) and read books about the arts (all avenues) and don’t forget documentaries, etc when they are young. Sing Broadway musicals in the car and then GO to a touring show - even if it is one every few years - they are costly but what a memory.
I remember going to a very nice museum in Indianapolis when my children were quite small - and I joked and told the kids we were so important we had an escort when in actuality I think we made them a little nervous as my kids’ noses were quite close to some of the paintings (they didn’t touch… I was right on them, but I can see why the museum was concerned!
Margaret, it was such a joy to chat with you. I wish we could have been in the same room sharing a cup of coffee, but I feel this garden of poets is the next best thing. As toads we come from different states, different countries, different lives, yet find a deep bond through our love of poetry. Thank you so much for taking time to sit down with Margaret and I. We are truly blessed.