Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Chat - Shay and Toni

Hello dear friends.  Shay and Toni here, having a chat!

Toni:  an aside, Shay was surprised by my slow southern drawl!

Shay:  I was! Happy to be here with the only person whose haiku I like. Your writing is as unique as you are. You're clearly drawn to Asian (or strictly Japanese?)styles and customs. it adds such a richness to what you write. What sparked your interest in these things?

Toni:  When I was a wee lass our next door neighbor Jamie, was Professor of Eastern Studies, specifically Japanese. I was in and out of his house exploring all the incredible things he brought back,including a full Samurai armor. I began writing Japanese forms that summer.  We would sit on his front porch at times while he basically taught me his classes. His house man and valet would bring us glasses of lemonade while we talked and often joined us. He was actually Jamie's life partner but in those days, he posed as servant. Jamie taught me Japanese culture. Then later I began to explore and learn on my own.  Also when I was 11, I was bored and went to the kitchen where my grandmother and started whining. She told me to look after dinner (I started cooking with my father when I was 5) and she went to our library and came back with books:  Whitman, Dickinson, T.S. Eliot and said here, this will keep you busy for awhile. It kept me busy for two weeks and then I read them again. I also used the ladder in the library to get to the good stuff after that.  I started writing that summer.  Long, sad ponderous stuff!  What got you started writing, Shay?

Shay: My father was a newspaperman and I grew up in a house full of books, mostly my father's, but also those my two much older brothers had left around. Later, at about 16 or 17, I bought a book of poetry by a man named Grover Lewis, called "I'll Be There In The Morning If I Live." I still have it, though it has to be handled carefully after all these years. I bought it at the Little Professor Book Store, and carried it to the lawn of the public library--it was summer--and read it cover to cover. The rest, followed from that; I've been writing ever since.

My inspirations: Lewis, as I said (though no one knows him), Poe, Dickinson, Rossetti, Whitman, Ferlinghetti, Corso, Russell Edson, Tennyson, Longfellow, the last two for the sheer loveliness of how they make words sound. "The Lady Of Shallot" just blows me away, and I have the famous painting of her on my living room wall, forever in her boat among the lily pads. And of course, Lorca is a huge influence.

I actually had a 20 year gap in my poetry writing. I wrote and got published maybe 3 dozen times between the ages of 18 and 26, wrote a dribbling of poems for a couple of years, then stopped entirely while I was married, raising a child, and working full time. Then in 2006 I saw an on line forum that had a poetry section and I got started again. Two years later I started Word Garden. The funny thing about being published is that it's a huge kick the first few times, then starts getting routine. My interest in getting published in 'zines is pretty much nil, though i have sent off a couple of things at the urging of friends. No response. I guess they don't like symbolist war haiku.

Enough about me, girl.  Nature is a constant theme of yours which you portray vividly. What first drew you to the natural world? Does it have a healing property for you? What animals/birds do you love best?

Toni:  Wow. Your father was a newspaper man.   I'll bet you truly enjoyed being raised by him.

Shay: I did. He was a huge influence on me, and I was definitely a daddy's girl. 

Toni:  Nature and mujo (change) is part of the Japanese culture. The seasons and changes are celebrated, observed. I learned as a child the nuances of these changes : the summer nights, soup in the winter, the bare trees against the sky. Jamie taught me a lot. I had a Japanese lover for several years who taught me a lot. He taught me kendo,  Japanese martial arts and how to use a katana. I keep up with the forms and exercises to this day.  I was drawn by Issa and Basho, their haiku and haibun.  I have had a few haiku published in such journals and an anthology but being published isn't the end-all be-all for me. I just write because I must.

Shay: I will make it my business not to cross you! Please talk some more about nature's influence on you and your writing.

Toni: We had a huge garden when I was growing up. I loved being in the garden and was often there, sitting in the dirt between rows of corn, reading. I loved dealing with the produce when it was mature - canning, pickling, freezing. Cooking family meals. I loved walking past the tomatoes and touching the plants and then smelling my hands. I was also an avid tree climber and still am. I have an oak tree I climb a couple of times a week and sit and be quiet, observing. Sometimes I read, sometimes I play my violin for the trees.  I was heavily influenced also by Whitman, Dickinson, Tennyson, Bukowski, T.S. Eliot, Basho, Issa. 

Shay: Question 2 for you--where have you traveled and lived? 

Toni: I have traveled to Japan several times and have stayed there for a few months at the time, England, Scotland, Ireland, most of the states in the US.  I even planted rice in Japan on one trip.  One of the most poignant trips I ever took was following the footsteps of Basho. That is the day I spent planting rice in a field with local women ( . I have lived and worked in Philadelphia, Southampton, NYC, DC. New Orleans, Tampa.

Shay: I have lived almost all my life here in the Detroit area, but in my 20's I lived 6 years in San Antonio, Texas, and also for more than a year on the island of Luzon, Philippines. I lived in Denver for several weeks during that time, and have traveled all over the USA. Of course, Canada is right across the river from here and I love it there. I've also been to London, England. I've been to Mexico a couple of times. The places I loved best--however briefly or not--were Manila, Portland (Oregon), San Antonio, Austin, Montana (just gorgeous), and Vancouver Canada. I also like little old Windsor, Ontario. My unfavorite places were London (UK), Houston, and L.A. Too big, too sprawly, too busy. And yes, I loved the Filpino food. Sisig and pandesal! But balut is evil. Ugh!

Toni, you and I are the long and short of it, I'm afraid, with me being 5-11 and you having told me you are under 5 feet tall (4'10"). Being tall has helped shape who I am; how has your stature affected your life or your writing?  

Toni:  I never realized I was short until some of the kids began picking on me. My father taught me how to box, my grandfather taught me how to fight dirty. Another writer said he would never consider me small because of the force of my poetry and personality. Ha!  I climb shelves in the grocery to get what I need. Like a racoon or a squirrel.  

Shay: I wouldn't disagree with him! And hey, you could always yell for me, if you'll get the bottom shelf for me. ;-)

Toni:  Sounds like a plan to me!

Toni: What makes you laugh?

Shay: Well, as a good Gemini, I am of two minds about this. I love very low humor, like pratfalls and stuff, and that is part of my love of silent comedy. (I love silent films of all kinds, btw.) My father loved W C Fields and passed that on to me. "It's A Gift" just demolishes me into a giggling lump of mush. I also love dry humor, bon mots, zingers and the like.

The Producers
Toni: Being a Scorpio I  too love low humor, the Three Stooges for example. I also enjoy sly acerbic wit and love the Producers. I love winter and fall. I am a night person in the hot summer.  I love England and London, some of the friendliest folk in the world. I am particularly smitten with London 1870 - 1900. I love Tennyson. Dickinson and the other poets you mentioned. In our bedroom I have a picture of Ophelia floating among the lilies by Waterhouse!  Amazing.  We both are drawn to this character.

Shay: I love that Ophelia painting and pretty much anything by Waterhouse. We'll have to disagree about London. (Toni smiles and thinks she could change Shay's mind - wink!)

Toni:   I love traveling and finding out about what people eat.  That's how you get to know about people - what they eat! I also love wandering around their markets. You share their food and their culture.  When they cook you something, they tell you something about themselves.  Tell me about living in Luzon. Why did you live there?

Shay: I was in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed there. Manila surprised me--it is in many ways just like any large city anywhere, but in other ways distinctly Asian. One thing I will never forget is that Marcos had had the ghettos painted pastel yellow. I mean, every stick, pastel yellow. It was bizarre. Other things I recall are how surprised I was to find a baseball stadium in Manila. They told me Babe Ruth once played there. I also saw the Manila American Cemetery. That's a serious, sobering place, much like the Alamo in my old adopted home town of San Antonio. In the Philippines  also visited a beach resort and was out in the water when I noticed I was surrounded by jellyfish. Oops. My friend and I were standing waiting for a boat with a bunch of locals, and when it came up to the dock, WHOOSH! everybody leaped on at once and my friend and I were left standing there with our mouths open. e could only look at each other and laugh. After that, we learned to be quick. I also recall the autobuses. People brought chickens and stuff on the bus. The windows were open and every time the bus would stop, kids would come up and they'd sell you sodas or whatever. These old buses would careen around the mountain roads, with no guard rails, and it was a little bit hair-raising. 

Toni:  I'll bet!  Scary stuff but, broadening.  Travel is broadening and enriching.  Like that day I spent planting rice with women in Japan.  That changed my life.  Truly.  And you were in the Air Force!  What an adventure.  You know, I feel I need to talk about this for a minute because it has affected both of us deeply for different reasons - Tony Bourdain's suicide.  He and I are of an age and we both had similar experiences cooking the 70 and early 80's.  It was nothing but drugs and drinking in those days.  One day I burned out on cooking.  I had had it with the snooty jockeying around for position and the elitism that is so often found among chefs.  I walked out.  I got my knives together and walked.  I almost suicided that day, almost went home and hung myself.  Now all these years later, Tony Bourdain, for whatever reasons, hung himself.  I met him a couple of times and he was a true delight.  I almost suicided the day I walked away from professional cooking but I didn't. I burned out, he didn't and went on to become an icon. But I lived and he didn't. So I want to say to you all out there, if you are considering suiciding or harming yourself, please talk to someone, please call.  Suicide is never the answer.  800-273-TALK

Toni: We have chatted so much.  I love your poetry.  It is so sharp and yet, at times it makes me weep with the emotion in it.  Not fakey lovey-dovey emotion but pure, real, raw emotion.  And at times it makes me nod to myself or laugh out loud.  Your poetry is as unique as you (as someone said about me, recently! grin).

Shay: Really? Who? ;-) 
Toni:  Well (she drawls slowly) somebody we both know and respect.


Marian said...

Ah, such an enjoyable read this morning! Thank you both for sharing. And now Shay, I feel inspired to look up Grover Lewis.

Kerry O'Connor said...

Yes, I agree with Marian. This has been a truly delightful read. I learnt a lot about your influences, Toni, which as given me a new perspective on your poetry. And I also learnt more about Shay, thanks to your insightful questions. I am especially interested in your travel stories. I was a great traveller in my youth and intend to do a lot more of it in the near future, as I feel the world calling me.

PS. I am back from recent travels to Cape Town and went ahead to post your chat a little earlier than was scheduled (in my managerial way) to give it a bit more time at the top spot on the blog.


annell4 said...

What a lovely conversation!! I felt as if I was overhearing the conversation, it seemed to be just between the participants. So good to learn more about these poets!! I wonder will I read Shay's poetry differently now that I know she dwells with the clouds, or will I read Toni's poetry differently, now that I know she is really small and down to earth? Love each one, and always look forward to reading what they write.

Herotomost said...

I knew next to nothing about Toni, so this was really amazing. I have been stalking Shay for a few years because she is one of my very favorite writers, and I mean of all writers. Its always great to learn a little more and place faces with places, influences and intentions. Thanks so much for this peek. Loved it a lot!!

Imelda said...

This was a delightful read. :-) Among the many others that impressed me about you, Toni, e.g., violin -playing, professional cooking, being a kick-ass martial arts girl, the most that resonated with me - i hope you don't get offended - is about being petite. Though I love the violin, and cooking, and writing, my skills (if any, more like non-skills :-) ) would only be a teeny weeny fraction of yours. But I can certainly empathize about being small. Often, I missed items in the grocery store because they were above my head. During flights, I had to rely on taller people to get my luggage from the overhead compartment.

Shay - I also read with interest your story here. The most that resonated with me was that you have been to Manila - where I came from. Your memories brought to mind Manila when I was a much younger person. I remember the noise inside the buses during stops, the taste of food sold by the vendors. I remembered the Marcos years. He had places painted yellow as part of his 'beautification' campaign although most of us thought that it was a shallow effort to make Manila pretty. When Ronald Reagan made a state visit in the Philippines, Marcos had a fancy facade erected in front of the slum area to hide the eye sore away from the dignitaries' eyes and to make it appear that Manila was truly a beautiful city.

~ Imelda

Sherry Blue Sky said...

What a fabulously enjoyable conversation. I have interviewed you both, and learned so much more about you through this chat. SO interesting! Thanks so much for a wonderful read!

tonispencer said...

Thank you Sherry! It is always a joy talking to you.

tonispencer said...

I admire your taste in poets and totally agree. Shay is one of the best poets around.

tonispencer said...

Thank you Kerry for coming up with this idea and for pairing me up with Shay. She is quite the talent and truly humbled me. If you follow the link in the Chat, you will discover one of my most favorite travel times, the time I was allowed to plant rice with a group of women in Japan. It did a lot towards healing me and renewed my love of food.

tonispencer said...

I did. A fine poet and was led to him by Shay.

Vivian Zems said...

It’s so cool to get to know our poets this way. I enjoyed the conversation and I’m struck by how the world has become so small. You both have and have had interesting lives. Thank you for sharing!

Vivian Zems said...

Oh and by the way, another thing I’ve gleaned from these 2 amazing people: Toni can usually be spotted practicing with her Samurai sword and Shay absolutely hates prose chopped up as poetry. Let’s hope Shay never reaches for the sword- especially if you send her a haiku or chopped prose! Great job 😀

Fireblossom said...

Laffin hard @ VZ.

tonispencer said...

Thank you Annell!

tonispencer said...

Lol...i am the dangerous one! I only hate fauxku!

tonispencer said...

Lol. I am not a kickass martial artist...i just look fierce!

Anonymous said...

Thank you both - Toni and Shay - for sharing so much about yourselves - definitely a wonderful way to get a chance to "meet" our fellow toads and friends, in a different way! It's always great to have a chance to know some background and enjoy someone else's journey in life - such great stories you both have shared!

And thanks to Kerry for suggesting the idea (behind the scenes at Toads) ... looking forward to the chats as they come in :)

Brendan said...

Great job, guys.

Fireblossom said...

Thank you, everyone.

Helen said...

A delightful read ~~~ looking forward to more 'chats.'

Margaret said...

I read this days ago... I thought I left a comment. hmm. I SO enjoyed the interview and thank you for the awesome back and forth. I apologize for cutting the time short with posting at midnight - that's the time I thought we always posted... Sorry! I would have happily waited until noon the next day.