Poet on Poetry's Poet of the Week-Shaindel Beers
Shaindel Beers’ poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College and serves as Poetry Editor of Contrary (http://contrarymagazine.com). A Brief History of Time, her first full-length poetry collection, was released by Salt Publishing in 2009. She lives in Pendleton, Oregon, with the musician, Jared Pennington, and their son Liam. Find her online at http://shaindelbeers.com.
(Shaindel Beers comes to us recommended by Robert Brewer of Writer's Digest. If you know of anyone who would make a good Poet of the Week please let me know!)
Poet on Poetry's Questions for Shaindel Beers
1. What inspires you as a poet?
I’m really one of those writers where it could be anything. I’d say, first, personal experience. Something happens, and I feel like I should explore it in a poem. But my second book (which I’m still working on) is ekphrastic poetry—poetry based on artwork. And I recently wrote a poem borrowing a line from another poem, so it really could be anything.
The important thing is to always stay inspired to write. If you don’t feel driven to write, you have to make yourself do it. Give yourself assignments. Go to an art exhibit (or even look at art online) and write a poem about it. Choose random words and write a poem which uses those words. Look at a newspaper and write as if you’re the reporter covering the story, or as if you’re a person in the story. The important thing is to keep doing it. Keep showing up for work.
2. What advice do you have for other poets?
Read all of the poetry you can. It boggles my mind when students tell me that they want to be a writer, and I ask who their favorite authors are, and they can’t name anyone. You can’t be a writer without being part of the tradition and knowing what’s gone on in the literary world before you and what’s going on in the literary world now. It would be like going to the DMV to get your driver’s license if you’d never been in a car before. You should at least be a passenger before you take the wheel yourself.
Also, write what you feel, not what you think you’re supposed to feel. Life is a mixed bag. Write about the good, the bad, the unexpected—in the same poem, about the same subject. That’s what makes poetry—and life—interesting. Everything is multi-dimensional.
3. What prompted you to start writing poetry?
When I was in elementary school, I would read anything and everything. One of my favorite things to do was to get my mom’s literature textbooks from when she was in college off the shelf and read them. I think I liked it on one hand because it made me feel smart and grown up to be maybe eight-years-old and reading college books. Because poems were shorter, I had the attention span to understand them, whereas I don’t think I could have absorbed an adult novel at that point.
The first poem I wrote, I wrote when my cousin shot my dog. I was heartbroken, and poetry seemed the natural medium for me to turn to.
4. Where do you see yourself going in the future as a poet?
I’m working on my second book for Salt Publishing, which is going to be called The Children’s War. I look at drawings done by children during war-time from the 1930s to present day and write a poem about each drawing that I feel I’m supposed to write about. From the second I got the idea to do this book, I’ve just been letting the project lead me, and that feels right. I think the only thing the poet can do is keep writing and keep sending out to journals.
5. What are your favorite poetry journals?
I’m the Poetry Editor of Contrary, http://contrarymagazine.com, so, obviously, that’s my baby. There are so many great journals out there. Poetry, Ploughshares, The Gettysburg Review, Crazyhorse, The Los Angeles Review, etc. But there are a lot of great lesser known journals both online and in print, too. Some of my friends recently started Corium, http://coriummagazine.com, and they’ve been doing a great job with that. Artistically Declined Press recently started putting out a print journal called Sententia. You really just have to look and see who’s publishing what, then decide where you think your work will fit. Nearly every college and university has a journal, and there are just as many independent journals out there. It’s a big world—explore! Discover!
Shaindel Beers' Poetry
Meditation on Life and Death, August 10, 2008
That day the boundary between life and death was present
but not clear. My cats had brought a mouse
onto the porch. Its tiny grey body grizzled, its paws clenched
into tight little fists. I knew it was dead.
But more than once, looking out onto the deck
I thought I saw it move, until I recognized its twitching
as the landing and taking off of flies from its body.
Their abandonment and return. That same day you
decided to keep your wife from leaving you ever again.
You called her to the house one last time, maybe
to pick up something she’d left behind, to sort out arrangements
for the children. And then, you shot her and then yourself.
That night, I shouldn’t have but listened to the 9-1-1 call.
Her cries to the dispatcher, There’s so much blood everywhere.
I’m so scared. I don’t want to die. At the end, everything
becomes a plea. I recognized the tone in my voice once,
how I was sure, sinking into anesthesia, that I wouldn’t
come out. I panicked and cried the same way, I don’t want
to die over and over again, begging the doctor to hold
my hand until I was gone somewhere inside my own body.
What I am struggling with is this—that you could sing
a love song sweeter than any boy in the choir. You would
lean against the piano and our hearts would fall open. Now,
I know, even then, you understood more than anyone
about leaving—how every journey, no matter how planned,
we each have to go alone.
(first published in Permafrost)
A Prayer for Angel Torres
The day I decided to leave so you couldn't call me
a bitch again or say you'd have to fuck another chick
if I did something that displeased you Angel Torres
was learning to skip. I know because you told me.
You were putting awnings on a school and the preschoolers
were outside, and you told me how most of the kids
were only managing to gallop, "But this kid, this Angel Torres,"
you said, "He's a really good skipper." You tell me these stories
to melt me. You held out your hand and said, "Here--skip
with me," but I wouldn't. Instead, I hoped for Angel Torres
that there are people who love him. I thought about his brown
eyes and his joy, skipping on that playground. I pictured
an orange sweatshirt, tiny jeans, shoes with some cartoon
character, bounding across the pavement. I mourned
for the childhood of our marriage. The skinny yelled at girl,
the beaten little boy we used to be. I thought of my mother
cowered in corners, my father knocking over furniture,
your four year-old arms spotted with cigarette burns,
your hunger locked in rooms, and how we never escape our past.
I don't know how to pray for us, but this is my prayer for Angel Torres.
(first published in Sententia)
Please feel free to leave comments below for Shaindel Beers!
Follow Poet on Poetry's blog at: http://poetonpoetry.blogspot.com
Follow us on Twitter: @poetonpoetry
Like our Facebook Page: http://facebook.com/PoetonPoetry/