Finding Healing through Writing

Welcome Readers!

For this blog post, we are honored to have poet, and multi-talented artist, Elizabeth Kirschner with us.

Elizabeth Kirschner has published three volumes of poetry with Carnegie-Mellon University Press, Twenty Colors, Postal Routes and Slow Risen Among the Smoke Trees. She has also published a chapbook, The Red Dragon, with Permafrost and her fourth book of poetry, My Life as a Doll, which is a memoir in verse, was published by Autumn House Press. Her fifth volume, Surrender to Light, is due out from Cherry Grove Collections this August.

In addition, she has collaborated with many composers and has two CDs that feature her work as lyricist from Albaby Records. In the first one, The Dichterliebe in Four Seasons, she has set her own poetry, not a translation to Robert Schumann's gorgeous love poem cycle and in the second one, New Dawn; eight of her poems have been set to music by Carson Cooman. She studies ballet and lives on the water at Sea Cabins Retreat, Kittery Point, ME.

Elizabeth has offered a small sample of her work for this post. Here is an excerpt from My Life as a Doll:

I was a cuckoo girl who lived
in a cuckoo house whose walls
trembled and cracked.
I wore a poisonous bee dress
to ward off my mother.
If she touched me,
she would be stung by
one hundred thousand bees.
Buzz, buzz
went the spring air.
Ding, dong
went the bell in my hell.
At night I heard the stars'
roaring voices
go forward in your netherland...


The following is an interview with Elizabeth.

Please be sure to leave a comment after you have read it. Elizabeth has graciously offered an autographed copy of her book for one of our readers. The names of all those who comment will be put in a drawing. I will announce the winner next Monday, July 6, 2009. Good Luck!

So, without further ado, lets here from Elizabeth.

Greetings, Elizabeth! Congratulations on both your book, My Life as a Doll, and the nomination for the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. How exciting!

I read on the WOW blog that you are a multi-talented artist – poet, ballet dancer, and educator, as well as a collaborator with composers. How do you integrate all these very different venues? Which of these is the most challenging?

I consider it a blessing to be able to write, dance, teach and collaborate with composers of classical music. They are my four graces and my dog is my muse who inspires me twice daily during long walks by the sea. Each discipline feeds the others and discipline, lots of it, is my spirit guide. I love these complex manifestations of who I am as an artist and the work involved is essential to my well-being. I would grieve, profoundly so, if I were denied entry to being creative in one form or another every day, especially the writing, as that is my quickened wick.

First and foremost, I am a poet as it is my deepest passion even though it is highly demanding. The concentration required is very intense and each book is an epic journey. Writing My Life as a Doll meant living at the breaking point. I felt I would get the book or die. I am certainly glad I was able to tell my tale of travail and live beyond it.

Abuse is a multi-faceted evil that too many of us have suffered through, be it physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. Would you talk about how writing in general has helped you find peace and healing?

For me every act of writing involves the soul. In the end, we are the only ones who can save our souls and writing has been and always will be my salvation. I did not remember the violence my parents perpetrated upon me until I was nearly fifty years old. That which I remembered to forget came roiling to the surface and out of that hot lava came My Life as a Doll.

Healing comes from sharing my story, of letting the poetry be a mouthpiece in a Shakespearean way. When I read from this book, people share their own histories with abuse and it is a very deep and profound exchange. This lets things come full circle. For me, it is where the deepest healing takes place. The sharing and partaking, the bearing and being witness is very moving.

The intro of this blog states that, “Words are power...when connected to Spirit; words heal, bring hope, connect us to the world and nurture dreams into reality. Words, when spoken from the Heart, bring Peace.” My Life as a Doll is certainly a fine example of this statement. When did you know that you would be sharing this memoir with the world?

I certainly did not know while writing My Life as a Doll that it would make its way into the universe. I sent it to Autumn House Press in April 2007 and believed my chances were slim that it would ever reach the light of publication because the only way to become a member of the Autumn House family is through their annual contest. They receive up to 750 poetry submissions each year. I did not expect to hear from the publisher, Michael Simms, until August, which is when they announce their finalists.

Two weeks after I let go of the manuscript, an email from Michael Simms came in. He asked one question: “Were the events in the book true?” Sadly I answered yes and soon after came his second message, “I’m in tears now.” We agreed to talk on the phone and that is when the book was formally accepted.

You have published five books with three different publishers. What advice would you give new writers about the difference in publishers? How do you discern which publishers are best for your work?

Actually, I have another book due out in August; Surrender to Light, from yet another publisher - Cherry Grove Collections. I have been blessed, but also know, intimately so, the pain of rejection.

My first book, Twenty Colors, was not published until I was thirty-seven. That meant I wrote for close to two decades before I received that acceptance. One must have faith that a manuscript will find its proper home in the fullness of time and the apprenticeship is long, or so it was with me.

I have learned that a book will go through several incarnations before it reaches its apex. It is important not to send out work prematurely, an error I have made countless times. The longer the gestation, the richer the fruition so my advice is to let it grow, let it grow, let it grow.

Poets find inspiration in the works of other poets. Who has influenced your writing? What is it that you find inspiring?

I have read widely, deeply, passionately over many years. I love to keep falling in love with other poets. That is what I strive for, so in a very real sense, every poem I have ever read has influenced me.

It is as elemental as breathing—I inhale the poems of others, exhale my own. I also keep what I call “Nickel Notebooks.” They are the old-fashioned composition books and in them, I record poems by poets I love most, as well as words about the art of writing poetry. They are a deep, rich repository. I often read and write simultaneously—great lines spur my own. It is a very invigorating way to work.

You have begun a mentoring program - Wise Eye: Creating Poetry that Soars. Could you explain what a writer would expect to find in the program, as well as why it is important for you to mentor? Who was your mentor?

All poets need good readers throughout their writing careers. I have a highly trained eye, an extremely sensitive ear and yes, wisdom to give about writing poetry.

Mentoring is like mothering—you have to nourish the entire being—and there is gestation before fruition. I seek to nurture poets and their poems at all stages and ages. It takes a very long time to produce a book and the journey is a solitary one, even lonely.

My hope is to bring hope, bring them all that I have learned and return the gift that was given to me by my mentors—Ruth Doty, former wife of Mark Doty, Hilary Masters and Charles Simic. These great mentors were generous givers and influenced me hugely so. Without them, I never would have become the poet I am.

As an educator, what advice would you give to other teachers concerning inspiring students to write? How do you keep students from turning a deaf ear to poetry?

I think it is critical to be passionate about both the writing and the teaching. For me, teaching has always been a natural extension of my writing life. I always need to be writing while I am teaching, reading as well—it is what keeps the teaching fresh. I must nourish myself while nourishing students. It is like mining many gold mines at once and teaching a whole lot of canaries to sing.

Elizabeth, it has been wonderful talking with you here. Are there any final words you would like to share with the readers, especially about being an abuse survivor?

I have learned that it is possible to survive the unbearable and not just survive, but also thrive. It just takes a lot of work. I still feel the damage done to me as I suffer from a major mental illness that directly rose out of the trauma. What feels so very urgent to me is that survivors, at least in my case, need to share their stories, let someone, even if it is just one person, bear witness. Far too many people keep the evil secret and take their ungodly tales to the grave. Abuse is still taboo, but if I broke it by writing and sharing My Life as a Doll then anyone can. My question to other survivors is - what has helped them the most.

Thank you, Elizabeth! It has been wonderful getting to know more about you and your writing.

For more information on Elizabeth Kirschner visit:


Mich said…
Excellent interview! It was heartening to see that even while absorbed in writing something so personal, Elizabeth could still give to others in her teaching. And I found her comments about letting poems age and percolate very interesting. Thanks Elizabeth and thanks Linda for asking questions that let us understand more about this author.
Krysten said…
What a heartfelt interview! I love how Elizabeth said one must have faith about her manuscript finding the right home after several years.
Patty Kempton said…
Great interview Linda. I'm very proud of you. It sounds like Elizabeth has quite a story to tell. I would love to read her book. About the poisonous bee dress..........hmmm....something we all could use at one time or another in our lives!!!
Cathy C. Hall said…
When Elizabeth visited my blog, she shared her eloquent yet powerful thoughts on another writing topic, so I had to drop in and see what she shared about her poetry. And I'm so glad I did! My son (the pre-published poet :-) is a fan of Charles Simic; I think he'd benefit from a mentor (and kudos on your mentoring, Elizabeth!)and the words of wisdom shared here about the journey to publication.

Your poem moved me, Elizabeth. Thanks for letting us in. Great interview, Linda!
Thank you all for your powerful and empowering comments. It has been raining weeks on end here in Kittery Point, ME and all of you have sent a sunbeam my way. Thank you and special thanks to Linda for hosting me. Keep writing, above all, keep writing in it, on it and through it all--trust me you will be justly rewarded.
Linda said…
Dear Mich,

Thanks for your kind words. Elizabeth's writing is so wonderful! I also liked the idea of percolating our poems. I think I do this, also, just never thought of it that way. Very insightful!
Linda said…
Dear Krysten,

Thanks for visiting...yes, having faith in our manuscripts is so essential. We are our own best much of life!

Peace, Linda
Linda said…
Hi, Patty!

I am so glad you visited. Thanks for your love and support.

Ya, the poisonous bee dress got my attention, too. It would have been nice to have every so often.

Love you, sister!
Peg said…
Thank you, Elizabeth and Linda, for sharing in a venue that would allow me access to your world... I am not a writer but I AM a reader and look forward to exploring more of Elizabeth's work. Thank you Linda for making sure I was invited here and for conducting such a thoughtful interview.
Kathleen said…
Wow Ma your really on a role with these interviews huh? Good Job!

I would never have worn a bee dress... mostly because I hated dresses when I was little... hehe Just kidding, great poem!

Deborah said…
a thoughtful interview of a complex writer. Well done.
Stephanie said…
Great work on this interview Linda! It seems as though Elizabeth has quite a breadth of knowledge and light to share. It makes me want to write more poetry! Thank you!
Claire said…
Awesome Interview!!! Thank you Linda for bringing Elizabeth and her amazing talents to my attention. Art has always been the vehicle to bare our deepest emotions. I thank God that Elizabeth was given the grace to heal through her poetry. As one of the bajillion women out there who survived childhood sexual abuse I applaud her voice for all of us.
This interview was a pleasant surprise!!!
With love and gratitude,
Linda said…
Dear Peg,

Thank you for your kind words...I delight in our friendship.

Dear Kathleen,

I am so proud of the woman you are becoming. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Dear Deborah,

I am so glad you visited. Thanks!

Dear Stephanie,

Thank you for your comments. You are also an amazingly multi-talented artist. I would love to read your poetry.

Dear Claire,

I am so happy you visited this tour. We have so much in common, don't we? Love you more and more.
You are a dear sister-in-love.
I love that above the box for comments are the words "Traces of Grace" because that's what each of your thoughtful, moving messages feel like for me. I walk by the sea with my dog every morning and evening and the tides leave these delicate markings in the sand. They often look like trees to me, trees of life. That is what each of us are--trees of life and our writings are those delicate traces in the sand the tide may very well wash away. Still if our words are read, even briefly, we have created great work in the world.

Linda's questions were so rich, I had to think very deeply about each one. Kathleen you're right--you have an amazing Mom.

Sending reams of peace, of dreams and much gratitude!

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