Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Ann Christine Tabaka responds

ANN CHRISTINE TABAKA: I am a conflicted person. I never learned to be comfortable in my own skin. I was very much the loner growing up. We were very poor, and I had an abusive alcoholic father. In a way, that shaped who I am. I write about life from an internal viewpoint. Even my poems about nature project myself and my feelings into them. I still do not believe that I have come as far as I have with my poetry. I never considered my work as something with any real worth, and am still shocked when I receive acceptances instead of rejections (although I do still get my share of rejections). I cannot allow myself to feel "proud" of any of my work. I still do not believe in myself. I am grateful for "falling upon" the inspirations for many of my poems, and for the voice that I find within myself. I have accumulated a long list of publications in just 12 months since I started submitting my work. I was an Art Major in High School and in the first year of college. I always thought that I would be an artist, but worked "too hard" at it and burned out. I went at it with the wrong mindset - I wanted to be a rich and famous artist. Oh, I sold my work, but not for the prices I was dreaming of. Strangely enough, my career was as an organic chemist/staff scientist for most of my life. After retiring from that I became a certified Personal Trainer for the next 15 years. And now, well now I just take it one day at a time and hope that I can keep on writing until my time is done on this earth!

DV: Do you recall the moment you decided you wanted to be a Poet?

ACT: I don't remember ever thinking "I want to be a poet," but when I was 14, the high school I attended had an annual magazine that included art, stories, and poems from any student that wished to contribute. It was 1965 and Vietnam and the Draft was the big concern. I wrote my first poem "The Young Soldier" and it was published in that magazine. It was a new experience for me. 


The days are growing colder
Winter is coming near
Think of the young soldier
He fights and waits in fear
For the ruthless enemy to strike out in the night
He wonders “does anyone think of me?”
So that we might live he’ll fight
For him there is no tomorrow
He lives but for today
He thinks of home in sorrow
And his family so far away
He counts the very seconds
And prays that he might live
He is just one out of thousands
His only thought is to give
Christmas is a time of joy
A time of giving and of love
At eighteen he is just a boy
For him give thanks to the Lord above

I was already interested in the visual arts, and taking many art classes. After that I wrote like many teenage girls do, about my crushes, loves, life, and loses. Luckily, I always kept a hand written journal. I wrote sporadically until around 2004, it was after my mother died that I started writing poems on a more regular basis. I posted many of my poems on a Facebook page, and some of my friends kept begging me to publish a book. Soon it was like a dam had burst, I wrote constantly. I didn't start to submit to any publications until March of 2017. The rest is history.

DV: All things considered, you've certainly been a very productive poet over the last couple of years! How do you think being such a late bloomer has affected the style/"spirit' of your poetry?

ACT:  I started out writing mostly rhymes and musings at an early age, and throughout most of my adult life, although I did write a few very serious pieces and quite a few free verse poems during the first 60 years of my life. It has only been in the past year, since I started to seriously submit poetry to journals and magazines, that I have started to emerge into a more experimental style, and some dark poetry. I now try to push myself to try new things - some work, others do not, but I continue to try.  Just within the past week I have started to play with micro-poetry, and have already had some accepted into publications. I did a Haiku workshop about 9 months ago, and have since written 2 Haiku & Senryu books, and been published in a fair number of Haiku journals. So, I started to combine the short form of Haiku with some of my best lines from my longer poems and have been having a lot fun with the micro-poetry.

DV: What is micro-poetry? How is it different from haiku, for example? Can you give us a few examples?

ACT: Haiku is a Japanese style of three line poem based in nature. Senryu is a Japanese style of 3 line poem based in the human experience. With both, the object is to SHOW not to TELL nor explain.  You paint a picture with words.  In the Traditional Japanese Haiku there are standard rules such as a 5-7-5 syllable count (5-line one, 7-line two, 5-line three). You almost never capitalize the beginning of the line unless it is a formal noun. You do not use punctuation marks. There are no titles. Here are two examples (both traditional Haiku) from my second Haiku book The Sound of Dragonfly Wings:

a summer meadow
stained glass windows catch the sun
on dragonfly wings


windy autumn day
swirling colors fill the world
with kaleidoscopes

With Modern Haiku (or American Haiku), many rules change. You still always SHOW and never TELL the story, there are still no tiles nor punctuation, but the poem can be anywhere from one to three lines, and there is no rule for syllable count (many journals now reject the 5-7-5 Haiku). Here two examples (both modern Senryu), again from my second Haiku book The Sound of Dragonfly Wings:

my surrender flags
crisp white sheets
bleached by the sun


wind in trees
leaves dance to
a grand ballet

With micro-poetry, there are no rules other than it has to be a complete poem within the short length, not just a stanza from a longer poem. Most micro-poems are anywhere from one to six lines long. They can show, tell, explain, preach, in other words, you can put yourself into a micro-poem. It can have punctuation, and if there is more than one sentence in it, you can capitalize the beginning of that sentence. You can have a title for them if needed or required. Here are two examples from a book that I am still working on, to be titled Breathe Already!:

there are times in our lives
that will remain with us forever
even when the mind no longer remembers
they have become part of us
woven into our very being
you are one of those times


one word
something so simple
it shakes the world
             -  love

DV: What is it about these short forms that you find so appealing?

ACT: They are fresh and spontaneous, well thought out, but not overworked. Sometimes longer poems start to feel stressed or stale when they drag on for too long. You have to stop and try to remember what the point was when you started the poem. The short form poems are like a breath of fresh air - an entire story in a few lines. Although they can be unforgiving if you aren't able to paint a complete picture in only a few words. 

DV: This is a far cry from when Edgar Allan Poe favored short poems -- not longer than 100 lines! He thought that was about the limit of a reader's attention span in terms of the poet achieving a single, unified effect. It's hard to imagine many people today getting through a 100-liner! The pace of speaking in pre-WWII movies seems excessively slow nowadays, and scenes and shots are very quick. Are we almost at the point where WORDS themselves are too cumbersome?

ACT: I hope that we never come to a point where words are too cumbersome. But, I will admit that when I am reading poetry books and magazines, I have a hard time reading the ones that run several pages long. I start to lose track of what I am reading. Sometimes I find myself skipping over the really long poems and turning to the ones that are less than two pages long. I don't even care to read fiction pieces in the journals because of that. Although, I do love mystery novels and can read those without being about to put them down. Just my personal preference for literature. I have a very short attention span. Maybe that is why I am so drawn to the short form verse that I am playing with now.

DV: As an artist/poet, do you feel any interconnection between the two modes of expression?

ACT: I feel that all the arts are a result of "the creative mind," so yes. I know many creative people that are accomplished in several of the art disciplines. Visual art, photography, poetry, writing, music, acting, they are all part of a creative nature expressed in different media.

DV: Have any of your paintings contributed directly to a poem (or vice versa)?

ACT:  No, I cannot say that any have. When I was immersed in painting and illustrating I did write, but mostly about relationships and feelings.   

DV: Poets may be inspired by many kinds of things ["so much depends / upon / a red wheel /barrow /glazed with rain / water / beside the white /chickens" -- William Carlos Williams]. Relationships and feelings are certainly among the most common sources. But why, in your case, do you find them such protean muses? Why do you think these are the wellsprings of your poetic art?
ACT: I am not sure that I can answer the WHY. I write about whatever pops into my mind, whether it was something that I personally observed, or something that I dreamt of. Many of my ideas come to me in the middle of the night. I always keep a notebook and pen on my nightstand, and carry one around with me everywhere. I think that most poets are multifaceted. We are always on the lookout for new material, and our style of poem depends on how we can best use that information. Sometimes it can be as simple as a single word I hear on the radio that triggers an idea. In order to write, or create any art, you always have to be open to whatever inspiration is out there in the universe, and even beyond. 

DV: Now that you are such a prolific poet, have you abandoned the other other arts?

ACT: I "abandoned" my painting and illustrating over 30 years ago, long before I became serious about writing poetry. It was more like I burned out. I put too much pressure on myself. I gave away a small fortune in equipment, furniture, and supplies about 15 year ago. I no longer live where I have the room for a studio. I have done some crude sketches to add to my last poetry book, but to tell the truth I panic when I even think of trying to draw again. It is as if I am so afraid that I will not be able to do it that I don't even try. I have lost faith in myself. Maybe someday, but I need to lower my own expectations before I attempt it. Unlike riding a bicycle, it is not as easy to pick up art after leaving it for so long.

DV: I write in spurts, as the spirit moves me (overwhelms me, actually), and long periods of lapse don't seem to affect the process (always painful) or result (often dissatisfaction). Musicians may be affected by time, as a matter of physical dexterity, but I always supposed that the situation for painters and poets was roughly similar: when the muse knocks you try to answer (or, very businesslike, you schedule some work every day). I often wondered how youngish writers at the height of their powers, like Dashiell Hammett, could just suddenly go dry, but you have given me some insight into the painter's dilemma. Poets just need a pencil and some paper (and oral poets don't need anything) but painters need art materials of various sorts. However, when Henri Matisse became too infirm to hold a brush, he began cutting colored paper into shapes; and singers adjust to their loss of range by singing in a different key or at a slower pace. I wonder if you can't combine your visual and verbal abilities somehow, perhaps by illustrating your poems or by writing poems (like e. e. cummings) that look like paintings?

ACT: I have tried to add sketches to some of my poems, but I am unhappy with the results. Some of my problem is that I need to purchase some good drawing paper and art pens. For me, drawing with a felt tip just doesn't seem to work. Maybe someday I will try again.

DV: As Ralph Waldo Emerson asserted, "Every word was once a poem." Robert Hooke called the building blocks of life "cells" because they resembled the "small rooms" where monks lived.... Has organic chemistry or personal trainerdom ever sparked a poem or a striking metaphor? Or a bit of vocabulary? 

ACT: Actually, funny that you asked. Not many of my poems have stemmed from science or personal training, but just this winter, while trying to scrape the hard frost off my car windshield I wrote a poem about physics and torque, and how it is involved in the leverage needed to do the deed. Other aspects of my life certainly have influenced my work, like love, loss, and nature. I live in the woods and love the woods at night. I love my gardens and the creatures that visit them, like hummingbirds, foxes, and squirrels. I tend to write mostly about the natural world and emotions. 

DV: One of my poet acquaintance wrote a whole book on foods....  Your homestead sounds idyllic. Have you always lived in a similar setting?

ACT:  No, we moved here about 20 years ago. 

DV: Your "new" place seems to have been part of your impulse to write, though not immediately? What do you think inhibited you from writing in your other environments?

ACT: As I have mentioned, I have been writing off and on for over 53 years now. I actually wrote a lot during the 1980's as well. I seemed to really take off about one year ago (2017), even though I have lived in this house for 20 years. Between retirement, and encouragement from my friends. Nature has always been important to me, and I love living right in the middle of it, so it does help to inspire me.

DV: As a "new" poet, what are your plans or ambitions for the future?

ACT: Just to keep writing for as long as I can. I always panic when I hit a dry spell - deja vu of my visual arts stint. I have another book in the making, and hope to put together a book of micro-poems within the next few months. I will keep submitting to publications, and keeping my fingers crossed. 

DV: What more can anyone do? Meanwhile, I want to thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to respond to me so patiently. And I look forward to reading more of your work.

ACT: Thank you so much Duane. It has been an honor, and fun too!

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