Hi Nic, what are you up to lately?
Hi! Right now I’m coming back to myself from a six month depression that’s still got a bit of claws in me. I had started a new fiction-in-verse manuscript based loosely around my Aunt Ann (who I’ve never met) and the content was really exciting but intense, so intense that I ended up needing to put it down because it was activating a lot of compartmentalized emotions in me. On a less mental health charged note, I’ve just moved to Melbourne, Australia to be with my partner of five years. It’s winter and it’s so cold! I’m really glad to be here right now.
What is moving you at this moment?
Birth stories. I’m really interested in birth stories and birth trauma and how those experiences shape the ways we relate in the world. I’m really interested in astrology (which informs much of my poetry as well as my tarot practice) and the connection between the birth process and the outer planets. I’ll quickly say that Pluto is a driving force behind a lot of my life and creativity. Pluto is the archetype of birth and death cycles; the gestation and death that comes from any sort of pregnancy whether it be animal, creative, business, etc. Fermentation that allows us to ‘brew’, become, and then pass on. I have always been extremely attracted to death in all its forms and as of late I’ve been so compelled by the intensity of birthing. I’m not personally interested in carrying a human child of my own, but god, isn’t the timeline from the first contraction to the first breath such a deeply terrifying and magical process? How poetic is that?
What is your relationship to poetry?
My relationship with poetry is like a transpersonal relationship with a human; steady growth with plenty of ups and downs, learning through different perspectives, falling behind and catching up. I sometimes have a tumultuous relationship with poems and it’s taken me a long while to be ok with the fact that not everything can be consistently good and flowing all the time. Most of the time, poetry is really easy for me, it almost just falls out. At the same time, writing can be really hard, it’s extremely emotionally charged. I used to say things like “poetry saved my life”, but I don’t really feel that way anymore. I feel more like I saved my own life after I found poetry. It feels more empowering. Poetry is such an ancient craft that one can really feel the ancestral weight of it. I relate to my poetry in a very visual way. Once, I spoke to a psychic who said that my poetry was so visual that it should be considered a visual art. I think that notion can be applied to so many poets; we’re crafting this language in order to pull at the far corners of the mind, we want you to see into the folds and see into the dreamscape. It also feels like this underground network of secret language that is fully open to the public. There are so many people doing extremely important work with poetry that it’s created this new way of sharing information. I guess I’m also thinking about how social media is the information center of our political and cultural climate, we know way more about way more because of the accessibility and instant communication; I see poetry as part of this information highway. If we look and read the work of contemporary poets, we’re going to see a lot about struggles of marginalized people, immigration stories, fear and loss and grief creating a new canon of poetry.
Can you remember the first words (ie. poem, story, lyric) you fell in love with?
I had been reading and writing poetry for a long time and, of course, there are poems that made my heart shatter (in the best ways) but the poem that really swam through me in a full body jolt was Aracelis Girmay’s “Portrait of the Woman as a Skein” from her book “Kingdom Animalia” (BOA Editions, 2011). The poem is long and haunting, pouring out the depths of mental illness and the questions of why behavior becomes what it becomes (my interpretation). Girmay wants to know what we do with our hands, the bold moves that hands make, when trauma and pain take over. From the poem:
“Last night, the dream of you standing in the doorway like a foghorn calling for your hands to come back home, & from a great distance, them running towards you, two children or two dogs. What scared you then, you also called it beautiful— the way their breath flew out of them like clouds, the way they reached the dark yard panting & stood deciding between the body & the woods.”
Also, Saul Williams’ “Release Part II” from Blackalicious’ “Release”, oh my god, that changed my life. I heard it for the first time in 2008 and suddenly poetry began to make sense to me. Saul Williams led me to watch Def Poetry Jam on YouTube thus catapulting my obsession with poetry. It was hard for me to focus on the poems my professors in my creative writing program were teaching because I wanted to hear things like what Saul Williams was doing.
What is your earliest memory of writing poetry?
It’s so funny because as I was preparing to move back to Australia I was going through boxes and boxes (I’m serious, boxes upon boxes upon boxes) of notebooks and journals over the last 20 years and I’ve found some pretty interesting stuff.
I’m going to out myself here, some of the first poems/lyrics I wrote were “punk songs” based off my love for Blink 182! My first deep depression when I was 13 led me to writing all these lyrics about skater boys and “politics”. I found the lyrics shoved in some journal and I cringed while reading. I love my teen self and do a lot of ‘inner teen’ work to move through trauma, but damn! How embarrassing.
My first actual poems were crafted senior year of high school while in computer animation class. I hated doing animation so I wrote poems instead. Everything was well received in my creative writing class and I actually got my first ever publication in our high school’s literary magazine, that was awesome for my 18 year old self.
Can you describe your current writing process?
Most, if not all the time, I find writing to be really difficult. I have wished over the last decade that I could focus and produce work on a consistent basis, but as I continue to explore more parts of myself, I realize that the push to be productive isn’t compassionate to myself.
I struggle with a lot of mental health issues, which put a big block on my writing. At the same time, a lot of my mental illness gets explored with poetry, in fact, mental health, psychology, spirituality, and trauma work is what pops up in my writing the most.
I guess my writing process is shifting right now. I took some time off writing poetry to explore fiction, and after my love for Anne Carson, I find that all my fiction is in verse anyways. Form never leaves me.
I’m starting to get more used to what it means to have a traumatized brain and how that doesn’t always leave room for me to be actively writing. My favorite part of my process is the build up, ‘oh my god, I have to write this right now.’ and then writing five poems in one night and then needing a break for a month. I’m slow at getting work together and have had to spend a lot of time coaching myself to understand that a slower pace doesn’t mean my process is bad or ‘not really a writer’, it’s just mine.
Where do your poems come from?
This was actually a challenging question and I had to think on it a lot. I’m not really sure where my poems come from! I could be cliche and say that they come from inside of me, but I feel like it’s not that simple. There’s a complexity to where our need for expression comes from. I think my poems come from the birth trauma of being a posterior baby, I think it comes from grief of being made into an adult at age 8, I think it comes from ancestral grief. I think it comes from outside of myself. I speak on ancestral grief because our historical traumas affect our entire society. We carry the burdens and the shame, the skeletons, the abuse into our personal lives. These core traumas are fitted into our cellular makeup and sits there until the healing begins and unfolds. I think my poems come from a place of undoing the trauma of my family tree. There’s accountability in that, there’s learning and emotions and the absolute necessity to speak.
Can you describe any challenges you have faced as a poet?
Most of my challenges have been myself. That feeling of self sabotage or doubt. I think I’ve had the privilege of access with poetry like finding community and being able to going to college for creative writing, I feel like I’ve had a lot of amazing opportunities with writing. I think my biggest challenge really is mental health and trying to move through the brain fog.
How does poetry connect us as human beings?
I think it gives us a language of no barrier to communicate with. The world is so emotionally blocked that poetry can bring us out of the depths. I think that when we can see ourselves in works of art and see our experiences reflected back to us through the page or through voice, we can find a sense of empowerment. There’s a lot of people who love to claim that poetry is dead or whatever, but the ways that it’s become revolutionized especially by black poets, poets of color, trans/gender non conforming poets, womxn poets, immigrant poets, poets with disabilities, undocumented poets, is creating this incredible string of connection where people who haven’t been represented through poetry are being uplifted. Of course, there’s elders who have been doing this work for decades but I’m talking right here, right now, the work is changing, the voices are changing and being amplified and it’s incredible.
You have been giving Tarot readings, can you tell us about that and how it connects to poetry?
I’ve been reading tarot for about 10 years now and the connection between poetry and tarot is incredible. In tarot, I’m piecing together intuitive information given by the cards and interpreting it to suit the person I’m reading for.
Isn’t that the same with poetry? We find things that resonate within us and our experiences and with that are able to find guidance and understanding. The two forms have so much to do with hidden meanings, digging up subconscious clues to help better express ourselves. I love tarot because it’s a story, it’s a journey through archetypes that mirror our day to day lives.
I think poetry also acts as a space that holds mirrors of archetypes in our daily lives. Going back to Aracelis Girmay’s Portrait of a Woman as a Skein recalls the mood shifts of the Moon, while Cameron Awkward-Rich’s entire collection “Sympathetic Little Monster” tends to the breaking down of concrete structures of academia like the Hierophant in a reversed position (I could go on with different poems and their connections to tarot).
I also see tarot as a guidance for poets and writers to look deeper into their own work. I like reading for creative types especially ones who are in the middle of a project and are hitting a bump or crossroads.
With tarot and poetry, we’re trying to figure out our emotional selves. We’re trying to experience and recognize the things that have been hidden. We’re seekers craving understanding of the incarnate self. We’re seekers craving the understanding of the spiritual world.
What is your biggest question for the world?
What is it going to take for us to listen? To actually hear the voices of the oppressed. What is it going to take?
What is your dream for the world?
That’s hard, I think. I’m going to narrow it down to the United States. My dream for the United States is for us to recognize that we live in the shadows, that most of us don’t want to face the history of violence in this country. My biggest dream would be for us to come out of this emotional dark age and take accountability and make reparations for the horrors that reside in this country.
We built these structures of oppression through colonization and I think a lot of people, specifically my fellow white people, love to forget that. In the short term, my dream is that police violence (including ICE and border control) against black and brown people would be condemned, with action behind it (i.e. reparations, immediately firing, etc) In the long term, social services being fully funded so people could get their needs met by the actual services they need instead of being met with violence. Basically, tear down the police state and prisons and build up the community organizations, social programs, and safe housing.
Where can we find more of your published work?
You can check out my website which has a link to some of my published work as well as check out my tarot services! nicaleawrites.com
Who would you like to see interviewed on We The Tender Hearted?
Zach Ozma, a sweet gay writer who has been working on a poetry manuscript, Black Dog Drinking from an Outdoor Pool, for a while and is one of my favorite writers.
Photographs taken in Melbourne, Australia, by Bras Tree
Find more from Nic at: Nicaleawrites.com