Welcome to our Q & A feature article, Poet Chat. In each issue of the KotaPress Poetry Journal, we talk with one of the poets whose work is currently being featured. Submit your poems for the next issue, and we could be chatting with you next time.
This issue we are talking to Elizabeth Gray, also featured in this issue with her poems "A Seattle Woman Looks at the Desert and Fills In Rain," "Voices," "The Rest Between Two Notes," and "Amber." Elizabeth's answers below are just the doorway into her soul and mind-- you'll get a tour of the rest of her house when you read her poetry!
Chatting with Elizabeth Gray
Q. What does poetry mean to you?
A. I'm not sure I can answers what poetry means to me as much as how it plays a part in my life. Poetry is one of my main ways of searching for the divine. It seems to nurture a deep solitary part of me--I generally have at least one poetry book with me at all times, and reading poetry, any kind of poetry that I like, really, is as natural to me for inspiration, comment on life, and companionship in solitude as opening and reading a Bible verse might be for someone else. Even poems that do not profess to be about anything faith- or spirit-related to me offer a glimpse of something true and individual: that moment when someone else has pulled something glittering from the fire and handed it to me--both of us, the poet and I, holding naked fire and realizing that that is a natural state. A sound therapist I have studied says that studies have shown that when choosing music to listen to, people prefer most music that is slightly different than how they are feeling in that moment. Poetry is like that to me: I read poetry because the poet asks not only "meet me here" but "let me take you someplace"--and it's a place I would not quite be able to get on my own, because the doorway is through the soul, mind, and words of another human being.
Q. Why did you start writing poetry?
A. Well, my answer is pretty prosaic. I started writing poetry "way back when" as an adolescent to individuate myself, to do or express something uniquely mine. I did it both because I was trying to find out who I was and because I got feedback for doing it fairly well. Poetry is still a growth process for me. i think one reason most poets and artists create is to urge forward their spiritual individuation process--to recognize their true nature and bring that into the world; writing poetry allows me to find both the heart and the sharp edges of who I am, and through that, allows me to be in authentic relationship with others. Poetry is a unique way of being both truly who one is and held within a community of readers, writers, nature, and anything else that grows in the world. A friend of mine who is an art therapist believes when we create, we go into a creative place of dissociation that allows the inner unconscious, the essence of the divine, to work through us. Our identity is lost during the creative process in something bigger. And when it is done, we find we have expressed ourselves, and learned more truly who we are from what we have created. Even when I write persona poems, or "I don't know where that came from, that's certainly not what I believe" poems, we are exploring the nature of the world through allowing its possibility in us. Writing poetry is both a bardo and a guide through a bardo for me.
Q. Where are you today in your poetry career?
A. I have to laugh. I don't have a clue. Recently, as part of my graduate work, I have had the wonderful experience of editing an anthology and being in touch with poets across the country, and working with local poets as readers to create an audio recorded anthology. The work to get there was long and hard; the audio recording piece with the other poets was a high point of my life. It was so alive, so joyous! Also as part of my work in grad school and as a therapist, I have explored the use of poetry in a therapeutic context with people who are dying or grieving. I'm currently putting together a benefit reading for Hospice of Seattle to take place in March--seeing the possibilities of poetry as community action is also exciting to me. But what I want most right now is to get back to my writing. For the past half year, I've been doing work as an editor and sometimes an academic. A half year can bring a lot of changes, and right now I'm not quite sure who I am inside, and I want to write again to find out.