Monday, September 26, 2016

Nikki Anne Schmutz responds

I live in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains near Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. Having lived a life touched by trauma and knowing wordless pain, I dedicated myself to transforming darkness into light-filled beauty. I wish to share my journey with others through my poetry, in the hope I can help them on their own voyage of self-discovery, sharing with the world the same glimpses into the divinity of the soul that I have found. I am the author of a novel, "Found," as well as various screenplays and poems. A freelance poetry editor, advocate against sexual violence, editor-in-chief of a magazine, and poetry editor for a literary website, I have recited poetry for a podcast and currently read poetry on my own YouTube Channel, Perfectly Written Pictures. You can follow my poetry on her website

DV: You keep extremely busy in the poetry reading/writing/publishing world. How did you ever get started as a writer -- and in particular as a poet?  

NAS: I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was ten years old. When I was eleven my Dad bought a bookstore. I spent many afternoons there for the next decade, surrounded by thousands of amazing books, and was able to see how the publishing industry worked. I started writing poetry as a teenager but went into screenwriting and prose in my early 20's. I had some success (being produced as well as published by a small local press) and didn't write much poetry for many years; what I did write I didn't often share. I was published in a few small journals over the years but really didn't do much with it until 2013 when I compiled and released my first poetry collection, "In Speaking Of... a Poetic Journey from Darkness to Light." I began being very active on Facebook, even being admin for a large poetry critique group there. I found that I absolutely love teaching and helping others improve their poetic muscles. I was able to connect with thousands of amazing people on very real and personal levels. I found my niche! I went on to form my own Facebook poetry groups and pages and have been thriving. In December 2015 I released my second poetry collection, entitled, "Open Soul Window." I write poetry daily and have three more poetry books in the wings to be published.

DV: Whew! When I said "keeping busy" with poetry, I seriously understated the case! In order to maintain that schedule you must be free of any other obligations. 

NAS: Oh heavens, no! I am the mother of four children (one of which is autistic)! I usually write late at night after the house has quieted down. Now that I don't have any toddlers around anymore (my youngest is in first grade), I have more time to myself in the daylight hours. I am able to put more time into publishing and editing other people's work.

DV: I guess some people just have enough candle between both ends that the fire can't consume them. I admire your prolific output. How do you get inspired to write a particular piece?

NAS: I find that inspiration makes its own way into my brain. Sometimes it's small things - like broken glass on the ground or a simple phrase I hear or read that echoes so loudly in my head I can't help but write about it. Other times I am faced with overwhelming emotions that threaten to drown me and the only way I can deal with them is to write my way through. Writing really is my own version of therapy. I've been through some horribly hard things in my life, things I wouldn't wish on another human being. Poetry gives all those things a voice, a way to escape the recesses in my soul, a way to learn and grow, and a way to share my pain and joy with all who read my words. This is healing for me. And I hope it is healing for others.I've never actually stepped back and considered that I have a prolific output. I only write to free all that I feel inside and more often than not - that means a poem a day.

DV: Can you give us an example of some traumatic event and a specific therapeutic poem that helped you to cope?

NAS: When I was ten I was the victim of ritualistic abuse and rape. And at age eleven I was in a major car accident that left me with life-long issues. Because of these events I felt very much like a puzzle, tossed in the air, then left to pick up the pieces and place them together again. Writing became my therapy. Verbalizing my feelings has always been hard, but writing them down helps me untangle the mess of thoughts in my head. Through my thoughts I find healing, and I wish to help others do the same. I've written many dark poems filled with hopelessness. as well as poems about finding strength. It is my intention to inspire others and help them heal. Two poems I especially loved writing were "Fractured" and "Butterfly Stroke." Both are written about finally finding understanding and being able to use it to better my life.

DV: Ritualistic abuse and rape? What specifically does that mean? I'm horrified at the hint of what it entails, and I certainly don't want to cause you any further pain by reopening old wounds, but I think we need to confront something as evil in our world as that. Would you mind going into detail?

NAS: Without going into too much detail - I was lured in and held for many, many hours. I was raped repeatedly after a ceremony of blood. I was sent home knowing they would kill my entire family if I told anyone. I kept silent for many years, in fact I pushed all of the memories away. They started coming out in my late teens. I was diagnosed with PTSD, depression, panic and anxiety issues, and dissociative problems. By my mid 20's I had tried to kill myself three times. I knew my soul needed an outlet. So I found peace in my writing.

DV: I know quite a few people who write therapeutically, but mainly their results are morbidly obsessive and self-referential, good for the soul (their soul) and sometimes fascinating to read, in the way that people are drawn to accidents and other tragedies, but not generally good poetry in an inclusive, empathetic sense. I never get a hint of that in your poetry. It is almost always graceful, erudite, and outer (rather than inner) directed. How do you achieve that sort of balance in your work, particularly given your background?

NAS: Oh, believe me! I've written plenty of very dark poems. If you comb back through my poetry you'll find them. Many of them were written in my early poetry days, but I worked and reached a point where I found a place of healing within myself. My words had been written for myself for years. Until one day they weren't. One day I realized that while I wrote for me, I also wrote for anyone who read my work looking for healing in their own soul. At that turning point I realized the true value of words, the way I could use them to spur others into their own paths of enlightenment and healing (if they were ready). The balance in my poetry comes from a very conscious effort to find balance in my own self and the world around me. I believe what we feel in the inside shapes how we react to life - therefore molding our lives. This is why it is so very important to think positive thoughts and look for goodness and beauty in everything around us, even things that we don't consider traditionally beautiful or meaningful.

DV: Is this what John Keats meant when he said, "'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,' – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know"? These two lines have generated  a great deal of critical discussion over the decades, with Robert Bridges insisting that they were really the only saving grace in an otherwise dismal ode, and T. S. Eliot saying that they spoiled an otherwise excellent poem. As you interpret it, how does that sentiment comport with your own philosophy of poetry?

NAS: I have always believed beauty can be found even in the darkest of places. Perhaps this is what Keats meant, that truth in its naked state exists as an answer to all we question, therefore also exists as an acknowledgement to all we ever face. We can never truly actualize as all we are meant to be without facing the forge of trials life puts in front of us. Without sadness we would never know joy, this means beauty encompasses darkness as well as light. It is the braiding of the two, the yin/yang of pain and joy that creates what we see as "beauty." In my poetry this manifests as hope seen despite despair.

DV: Let's move out of the darkness, we've been there long enough. A lot of your poetry takes a theme, or an image, and like a jeweler you twist it around to show all its facets. How do you process a poem, typically? Do you plan it out meticulously beforehand? Do you keep notebooks that you constantly return to? Is it more or less spontaneous inspiration?

NAS: I never plan anything out. It is all spontaneous. I see. I question. I mull. And then I write it all out. My poetry takes on a life of its own. Almost as if my subconscious knows, needs to process life differently than most people around me. I find meaning in the meaningless. I find substantial weight in what others would see as lightweight comments. I pride myself in my ability to rise above the mundane and see the extraordinary. In the past I have kept many notebooks. I have a couple boxes of loose papers to be sorted. Nowadays I have my smartphone and laptop. I have a couple hundred notes on each waiting to be finished in the right moment. I write when I feel inspiration. But when I feel like I lack inspiration I return to these notes. I search for entries that inspire me to write again. And I do.

DV: "I see. I question. I mull." --  When Julius Caesar said, "I came, I saw, I conquered," he was referring to a swift, conclusive victory, but your comment sounds much more like a slow, deliberative process. Once you get started on a piece, does it come quickly or laboriously?

NAS: Sometimes an idea lands in my brain and flows out in a continuous thought. At these times when I write I don't even do much editing. Yet, other times I sit and stare at the lines I've written knowing it needs more. Usually when I can't finish a poem in one setting, I let it sit for a day or two - sometimes a week - before I go back to it. I have a file on my computer of unfinished poems, random lines, and thoughts. On days when I want to write but the inspiration is scarce I open this folder and see what piques my interest. Sometimes I won't finish a poem for years after I start it.

DV: Your last statement expresses a common experience among poets that probably baffles most non-poets. Poetry -- certainly the vast majority of contemporary poetry -- is short, from a dozen words to maybe a couple of dozen lines. Even if somebody reads it slowly and carefully, and repeatedly, to absorb and savor its impact, it represents a brief experience. That experience may be profound, and over time the poem may become an important part of one's life, the way songs and movies often do, but the initial exposure is almost instantaneous.  How is it possible for a poet to spend years on it?

NAS: I believe we poets base our words on our ideas and experience. Sometimes we have an idea strike our minds and we start to write it. But we honestly have not had the life experience to adequately complete our writing until we further experience what we need to. It becomes a paradox. We must take the steps forward to provide our writing with the dimensions needed. This process can take anywhere from a few hours up to years! Poets are artists, searching for the perfect words to perfect the picture molded with concepts and thoughts.

DV: According to Paul Valery, a poem is never finished, only abandoned. Do poets ever achieve perfection? Do you have any favorite poems (not necessarily your own) that are perfect in some way?

NAS: I don't believe we ever achieve perfection. It is something we strive for, something we see in the distance, a goal to keep us reaching.

DV: You give a lot of credit to the construction of poems for your reconstruction from trauma. Has that been more important than any other factor, religion for example?

NAS: Healing really is the main focus of most of my poetry. However, finding beauty in all that is within us and around us is also another theme that often finds its way in. While I am very spiritual, religion doesn't usually find its way into my poetry as much as one would think. Then again, I tend to separate the idea of God and religion. To me God is everything good, religion is rhetoric. God is something I welcome and contemplate daily. I believe the soul communes with God in its own way, my prayers from themselves as poems and silent connections with the world around me.

DV: As you told us, you're a product of Utah. I suppose like many other people who have not spent much time in the state, I have many misconceptions about life in a region so much under the social/religious/political influence of the Mormons. In what way, if any, do you think the church has shaped your art?

NAS: Growing up in Utah and being raised Mormon definitely shaped my views of the world and therefore, my writing. The culture itself breeds a unique view of the world, a singular view that tends to be narrow. I gained my view of the world through the literature I read. I was, and still am, a voracious reader! Living in Utah is kind of like living in a bubble. While Mormons are kind and generous people in general, they keep to themselves and seek to bring others into their culture. It wasn't until I reached beyond and gained friends worldwide that I truly expanded my outlook. As an adult, I have expanded my thought processes and belief systems beyond the religion I was raised in, but I can attribute my experience as giving me a deep appreciation of God, a love for mankind, and a spiritual intuition I trust beyond my five senses. I no longer participate in the Mormon church, but most of my extended family are all active members - making it very much a part of my life as a cultural element. How does this shape my art? Who I am is an elaborate weaving of everything I have been. Without all of the experiences of my past, including my religious upbringing, I would not have my intense belief in fate, love, God, intuition, and the passionate beauty of the soul.
DV: In addition to the standard Biblical references, the Mormons have developed a whole series of mythological figures (not intended to be used in the disparaging sense of "false," but in the sense of explaining some underlying reality). Do allusions to any of these people or events (the Three Nephites, Moroni, and so forth) ever figure in your own writing?

NAS: There is evidence in almost every culture and religion on this earth of myths and legends perpetuated to aid the theology. I believe these stories are based in some kind of truth, but embellished. These types of stories give hope to the hopeless and faith to those who need faith! The Bible is considered the word of God. Yet it is a manuscript written, then rewritten and rewritten over thousands of years. I believe in the goodness it contains, yet I acknowledge the fact that man is human. We need stories to make sense of the senseless! I have never written about these types of figures. I prefer to dial it down to the soul. I believe we alone are responsible for our destiny. We alone determine the outcome. No mythological man can ever make it right. That's our job. Just do it.

DV: Allusion has become something of a lost art, in that it is a sidelong reference to some cultural figure, action, or expression that the audience will understand immediately, without explication. The problem, of course, is that the shared culture it depends on doesn't really exist any more. So if I make an obscure Biblical reference, for example, or cite some ancient TV series, most readers won't "get it" and it will have served no literary point. So you are probably wise to steer clear. I know you like to take some central image in your poem and keep twisting it around to show the reader all of its facets, like a diamond merchant. Are there any other techniques you employ or would like to employ to sell your message?

NAS: My poetic messages usually center around a single thought I view from many angles, as you have stated. I like to write mini journeys, so my reader will start the poem with one understanding and finish it with a new one, or have a new understanding revealed to them. I believe we must be open to new realizations and thought processes on a daily basis, that our souls exist to grow exponentially. To enable that growth we must let go of all the things that hold us back, whether those things are physical, emotional, or spiritual. I wish to inspire that type of growth through my writing.

DV: In your comments about the soul and poetry, you come across very much as a modern-day Transcendentalist. Do you think you been much influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and his followers, even though they were a product of the mid-nineteenth century?

NAS: I can honestly say my style and thought process has evolved organically. I married young and didn't go to college, but I did read everything I could ever get my hands on. I was very influenced by 19th century writers and am proud to be classified as a modern-day 
Transcendentalist. Writers like Emerson, Lord Byron, Keats, Emily Dickinson, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Henry David Thoreau, and more built my repertoire of intuition-inspired pathways of thought. I stand on these concepts more than I realize. It wasn't until you pointed this out I realized I really am a true Transcendentalist!

DV: Well, I guess that self-discovery can come from simply being open to the moment, which is more or less what Emerson said. So, I hope this interview has had some value to you, as I'm sure it has for its readers. I want to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, especially as I know it was conducted during a particularly difficult time. Best of luck to you, Nikki! May your poetic fountain never run dry.


  1. Thank you so much for choosing me to interview here on your wonderful site, Duane! I enjoyed it very much! You are a wonderful supporter of the poets of the world and I appreciate the work you do.

  2. Thank you for the expression of appreciation. But more importantly, thank you for sharing your creativity with us. I hope to see much more of it.

  3. This is a fascinating interview with one of my favourite poets.Nikki Anne Schmutz writes poems full of humanity,intellect and compassion. This interview left me with even more respect for her healing and transformative poetry


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