Thursday, May 8, 2014

An interview with Fireblossom

Morning Toads!

This week I talked to Shay Simmons, known among us as Fireblossom/Coal black, a devoted follower of Saint Creola, owner of a great mind and an incredible storyteller-poet. 

“Hates Haiku. Flies solo” - is it the shortest poem you have ever written? (smiles)

LOL yes!

How long have you been writing? Have you always written the same style? Do you have any formal education in poetry? 

My style has evolved, to say the least. I began writing poetry when I was a teenager, and had my first publication at age 18. I had about three dozen publications in small press magazines by the time I was 26, then stopped writing for twenty years before taking it up again in 2006. Even though a lot of those older poems got published, only about three of them are anything I would ever let see the light of day today. The thing that really helped me - besides writing writing writing - was losing my fear of taking on any subject, and learning to just be honest about how I feel about a thing, without worrying about reaction. I learned that the more honest I could be, the more people would identify with what I write. In other words, if I feel a thing, so do a lot of other people.

Writing is like anything else. If you have a little talent, that’s fine, but it is the constant working at it to get better, the constant working to improve, that pays off.  

Tell me a little about your family. Are you the fourth child of a hippie family? 

You almost guessed! I am the third child of a very conventional conservative family, and the youngest by nine years. My parents were the age of my friends’ grandparents. My father was a newspaper editor and I grew up in a house full of books. He used to read to me, and instilled in me a love of words, and of American history. He always wanted to write novels, and completed three, but they were never published. He once said to me, “If there is a writer in the family, it is probably you.” 

My mother always acted like my writing was a foolish waste of time. She is a very practical woman, not warm and fuzzy by any stretch of the imagination. She basically has always tried to get me to be like her, and I’m just not.

I have two brothers, both children of the 50s and early 60s, both successful, both much older than me. I’m a child of the 70s, and a creative type to the core. 

I’ve been married twice, the first time for just a few months. I have a son who is 28 and the apple of my eye. Really, if I have done one lasting thing right, it is whatever I may have done to have such a fine son. I have been single now since 2001.  

I have a dog, an Australian Shepherd named Bosco. He is the star, around here!

I read many stories told by Fireblossom. How much of Shay is there in these stories?

In my story collection “Night Blooms”, there are really only two that contain a lot of things that actually happened in my life: “Emeraude” and “Blood & Promises”. However, there is something of me in most of my stories and story poems. The “soul” of it, you might say. “All stories are true” is one of my favorite quotes, attributed to many.

You spread science fiction in your poems whenever you have the chance to. How much do you like Science Fiction? 

I love science fiction, as distinct from science fantasy, which I don’t care for at all. To me, the best science fiction relies on character, on human complexity, not mechanical complexity. When I write science fiction, I am really just writing about people, but sci-fi allows me to isolate them, stress them, and expose them to extraordinary situations. I love science fiction that includes important female characters. My sci-fi stories are never shoot ‘em ups. I think the most interesting conflicts happen within.

Which three poets, dead or living would you like to have over for coffee and conversation?

Emily Dickinson, of course. I feel a personal connection with her ever since visiting her home in Amherst, where I felt her strongly. She wrote her own way, ignoring contemporary “rules”. She listened to, and honored her own voice. And she was in love with a woman she couldn’t have, but who lived right next door. I feel like we would have lots to talk about!

Edgar Allan Poe, because he had such an amazing imagination, and was aware of his own genius, which I find interesting. He invented whole genres of writing, and had such an eye for the bizarre and strange, not to mention the sheer beauty of his poetry. He always seemed to need a muse, a woman to appreciate his creations, and his life was never easy. I don’t see how he could be anything other than fascinating.

And Stephen Crane, because his poetry is so ahead of its time, so blunt and visceral and thought-provoking. I am including him for his poetry, but I think it is interesting to note that, at the time he wrote “The Red Badge of Courage”, he had never witnessed a battle. He had the big imagination, the courage to say what he thought and to write what he felt in the way he wanted to write it. 

I’ve always been REALLY curious about the hands in your banner. Are they your hands?

No, that’s just a picture I found on, that I felt expressed me. Until pretty recently, I wrote all my poetry longhand, in notebooks, as she is doing, and I like what she’s wearing, including all the rings and what-have-you. I am basically just an old after-the-fact hippie chick. 

I love reading your poems because you’re among the best storytellers I’ve ever read. Is there a story you’d like to tell and still haven’t found the best words to?

Yes. Yes. I’m sure there are dozens, hundreds, but there is one particular one that I want to tell, that I just haven’t found the perfect words for, yet. As the song says, sometimes I feel like a motherless child, and I’d like to express that mother-hunger in poetry, but it’s very tricky to express exactly what it is, and to do it unguardedly.  I haven’t managed it, yet. When I was a child, I got this National Geographic magazine for kids, and one issue was about these monkeys that some idiot scientist studied to determine if they needed mothers. The cover picture was this little monkey holding onto a wire mesh “monkey” with cloth wrapped around it, and the little monkey looked so destroyed. I stared and stared at it, thinking wow, it’s me. I may never find the words for that.

Do you follow any writing ritual?

Yes! I have to slowly get into the zone. I use prompts, pictures, music, a hot bath, anything that will allow me to let my mind wander over a particular situation or emotion until a line or a phrase comes to me. Once I have that, I’m on my way. Also, I need quiet, to write. I can’t write if there is noise. My street is as quiet as the library, fortunately!

Do you write every day?

Pretty much. There are days when I am simply too tired, or something, but generally speaking I do write every day. And I READ every day, too.

What would your friends tell me about you if they could say anything?

Oh goodness, probably that I owe them ten dollars or something! I guess I would hope they might say that I have a good heart, that I’m loyal, funny, hard-working, and stuff like that. They might also say that there is a little of the drama queen in me sometimes. I’m always wanting things to be stories, and also, I don’t keep my emotions inside. It’s a difficult question to answer! Someone said that each person is really three people: who they are to themselves, who they are to others, and who they really are. You should ask Mama Zen and Hedgewitch, my talented co-authors. They know me as well as anyone.

Is there a poem you wrote you’d have liked more people had read? 

I adore your poem "For young poets":

First, stop banging away at silence 
like you would with a snow shovel against the ice.
A poem is not a dancing dog,
summoned to perform on its tiptoes at parties.

Put away all spirituous beverages.
Those who write while pitching in a sea of booze
do so in spite of such idiocy, not because of it.
If you haven't the imagination to see things differently without such props,
then become a mail carrier or a bus driver. (continue reading)

There are a few other quite famous poems written on advice to writers/poets like Bukowski's 'so you want to be a writer'. Has there ever been a piece of advice on writing you received/read about and it proved to be totally bullshit?

Oh gosh yes, where do I start? One is "write every day". Yes, if a person wants to be a writer then they obviously need to write, but I find that the Poetry-Making Machine needs breaks, at times. The PMM is a racehorse, not a plough horse, and some days there is a big race, and other days just a walk around the track, which might be reading other people's poems, or spending time outdoors, or just recharging by plopping on the couch and watching a movie. One must write regularly, but not daily. Trying to write daily is abusing the gift, in my opinion.

Another is the old chestnut "write what you know." While it's true that a person can't write about a subject they are ignorant about, let's leave room for imagination and for research! Maybe you don't know your subject YET, but there have been countless, countless times when I have wanted to write about something I didn't know much about, and so I researched it first, until I DID know about it. Some things don't even need that... imagination alone is enough, when combined with basic life experience. I've never been on a space ship or visited another planet, but I can imagine it.

One bit of advice that I DO agree with is "read,read,read." I can't tell you how many blogger poets I run into who say they don't read. It shows. To learn any craft, study those who have mastered it. Read the best poetry you can find, and by that I mean, the poetry that moves you, astonishes you, makes you wish you had written it. There are plenty of famous names who don't move me, and plenty of unknowns who do. I read what moves me, inspires me, and challenges me to be better.

Thank you very much for your time, Shay, it was really delightful to talk to you. 


Susan said...

Neat interview, Kenia. Happy to hear you talk in your own voice and about yourself, Shay. Lovely to know you have a son who is wonderful as you.

Anonymous said...

Glad to get to know you better, Shay.

Kenia, you're an artist at drawing people out.

I need to read more, too - sound counsel. ~

Sumana Roy said...

Thanks Kenia and Shay for the interesting conversation...and I am eagerly waiting to read the mother-hunger poem someday Shay... :)

Karen said...

Thanks for allowing us to see the gal behind the pen!

Grandmother Mary said...

I loved the poem which I missed first time around. I'm glad you brought it out again, Shay. The mother hunger poem struck a chord with me. I read the opening line of a book once: " When I was born my mother died" and an electric shock shot through me. But my mother didn't die during childbirth so there's something important to explore which evades words thus far. Shay, you have enormous talent and I'm grateful to know more about you. Thanks to you both.

Fireblossom said...

Thank you, Kenia, for doing such a great job and making me feel so comfortable being interviewed. I'm a big fan of yours, too!

Kenia Santos said...

Shay, I adore you girl, it was awesome to get to know more about you, I'm a big fan of yours! <3

Kathryn Dyche said...

Always great getting to know more about the poets who inspire me. I love Shay's work, she has a true gift and I love where her imagination takes her. :)

Maude Lynn said...

Excellent interview. Everyone already knows that Shay is gifted with a unique voice. But, she is also one of the kindest, most generous people I've ever met.

hedgewitch said...

Always good to see my BFF out expanding in the light--you do an excellent job of asking questions whose answers become fascinating, Kenia--I think that is the art of the interview right there.

The thing this interview highlights is how Shay both sees herself as and becomes the essential storyteller, not just someone stitching together pretty words or playing with meter and sound. Shay's poems are always *about* someone, about what that person is feeling or has had happen to her,even when they are also in the most lyrical and singing of language, and as she says, they are honest and real, always. I think that explains why she is so rewarding and mind-blowing to read, and in my humble opinion, one of the best living poets we have. Great interview! Thank you, ladies, for making my morning.

Kerry O'Connor said...

There is so much that resonates with me in this interview and (of course) I am very partial to our Fireblossom, and find her views on writing and reading to be very wise. What strikes me the most is the paragraph under writing rituals because it sounds very much like my approach to writing.

Many thanks for bringing this interview to us. Many may have read Mama Zen's interview with "Coal Black" but we've not had a chance to hear from Shay Caroline.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Oh goody, an interview with Shay. Really interesting, Kenia! And Shay, you know I am such a big fan. From the first poem of yours I read - my jaw dropping onto my desk - with someone on a front porch tossing a dead chipmunk through the window of a passing pickup, I was hooked. You taught me there are no boundaries in writing poetry. Your imagination always blows me away. And it is apparently inexhaustible! Fortunately for us.

Marian said...

ooh, very cool interview! and love that photo, too, Shay. rawr ;)

Susie Clevenger said...

Shay, I have long admired your work, and your poem, For Young Poets, speaks to me also. It is great to know more about you. Kenia, fantastic interview!

Jim said...

Thank you, Kenia. I enjoyed reading about Fireblossom and feel I know her better now. I believe she has never left a comment on any of my senryu poems. I write them when my time is scarce but I feel I need to leave a message.

Shay, I read your Poem On January 1st just after you pushed it a bit. Nice tribute to St Creola. And I am an old hippy tamed. In '64 I spent a month in Los Angels. When Mrs Jim and I married I had hair over my collar and rode a motorcycle. Most Sundays found me on my bike (near it, really) in the parks of Houston where a rock band was playing under nearly tree. Z.Z. Top was my favorite then and now still high on my list.

Unknown said...

I've often wondered about Shay, the woman behind the fire; so I relished this interview and insight into her brilliance, her panache. One of the best I've read. Thanks to both of you.

Margaret said...

I remember the poem "On January 1st" and the advice at the end is perfect. This summer is about reading the many (many) poetry books I have purchased over the past few years. and "There are plenty of famous names who don't move me, and plenty of unknowns who do" is great as I often feel guilty not liking someone I'm supposed to :) Lovely interview - it is always a thrill getting to know the Toads better.

I did the poem a day in April this year but probably won't again - I loved the challenges, but I found myself rushing too much (which is never good).

I have learned from so many people here at the Garden, and your story-telling ability is something I would like to do more of. So keep writing, I'm reading and trying to learn :)

Helen said...

Shay has to be one of the most intriguing poets I've read ... she never fails to inspire, entertain, educate, make me laugh, move me to tears ... thank you so much, Kenia for the interview! Great job.

Hannah said...

Excellent you two!!! Thank you both so much for this interview...much enjoyed. :)

Grace said...

Thanks for the interview Kenia ~ A pleasure to know more about Shay & I am envious that she can write almost everyday :-)

Outlawyer said...

Wonderful interview of both interviewer and interviewee. Insoiring and interesting. K. Manicddaily

Gail said...

Very interesting interview. We have many thoughts in common.

Write on.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Fabulous interview, Kenia, and thanks for opening up so much, Shay ~ I learned a lot about you that I didn't know.

Though I had read it when originally posted, rereading "Poem On January 1st" now still gave me chills! If I could ever write just one poem on the level of your writing, I would be fulfilled as a poet... a term I hesitate to use about myself whenever I read your amazing words.

Really loved this!

Carrie Van Horn said...

I am so happy to have gotten on line this morning to read about Shay here. Wonderful interview Kenia. Shay I think you have an amazing talent and I value your advice. Thanks for sharing with us! :-)

Lolamouse said...

Great interview! Shay's poems are consistently intelligent, beautiful, sensual, and sometimes, laugh out loud funny. I rarely envy someone's talent, but, wow, do I envy this chick's writing chops! I've joined the cult of St. Creola proudly! Write on, Shay!

cosmos cami said...

This was great! Great!
Poetry is definitely not a plow horse.