“It takes a village to raise a poem” with Nicelle Davis

Currently live at The Fertile Source, the poem “Bought a Pack of Cigarettes” by Nicelle Davis provides a brave, searching look at some of the conflicting realities of motherhood vs. selfhood (read it here at: http://fertilesource.com/?p=717).

An active member of the She Writes community, Davis lives in Southern California with her son J.J. She also runs a free online poetry workshop at: http://nicelledavis.wordpress.com/.

How did you decide to run an on-line a poetry workshop? What has that experience been like for you? Any words of advice for others thinking to do the same?

The Bees’ Knees was an invention of necessity for me. Massive cutbacks to the California budget led to many teachers, include myself, losing their jobs. A large part of my identity is tied to being a teacher, so the idea of not being in a classroom was devastating for me. After shuffling around in my bunny-slippers for a week, my son’s Dad suggested I start an online poetry workshop.

The experience has been fantastic. Just as with teaching in a classroom, I seem to learn far more from the Bees’ Knees participants than I could ever hope to teach them. I would warn others that this is a time consuming venture. Every month I’m left wishing that I could have given more energy and attention to the posts and workshops presented on the Bees’ Knees. That said, community is always a treasure; it is well worth the effort to foster poetic friendships.

How do your poems come to you? Can you talk about your process of writing poetry? Do you consider poetry your primary form? What other forms do you enjoy?

I consider everything poetry—that is I find all forms of art to be imagistic and crafted in ways similar to poetry. I don’t preference poetry to other art forms, but I do personally gravitate towards the medium. Ironically, I think this is because I’m dyslexic—words literally have a life of their own for me. They do what they want—when they want—with no mind for how I feel about it. In this way, words have always been magical entities for me.

What role does collaboration play in your work?

Oh how I love collaborations, let me count the ways:
1. Poems talk to poems. In this way collaboration for poets is inevitable.
2. Poems are kleptomaniacs; if they like what’s written on a cereal box, they’ll use it to describe the death of teacup poodle.
3. The poem “I Bought a Pack of Cigarettes Today,” which The Fertile Source so graciously gave a home to, was written because of a collaboration put together by the amazing poet Ching-In Chen. (If you haven’t read Ching-In Chen’s work, please do. She is a gift to the poetry community.)
4. I’m in the process of poetically resurrecting the ghost town of Bodie with the help of twenty other amazing poets. You are invited to read more about this project here: http://bodiepoetryproject.wordpress.com/
5. I’ve been working on a manuscript entitled In the Circus of You with the very talented visual artist Cheryl Gross. I can not tell you how her work and person have supported and motivated me in the process of writing this book. I am a braver and better poet because of her. You can check out some of her illustration work here: http://www.cmgross.com/
6. I can write a poem, but it takes something marvelous like The Fertile Source to give it a place to live.
7. What isn’t a collaboration? Really? You can’t write without reading. The idea of the lone artist to me seems bunk.

Has your relationship to your writing changed since becoming a mother? How does motherhood play into your writing?

I have more to write about and I’m more emotionally connected to the writing because of my son. (But since becoming a mother, I can say the same about my life in general—there just is more life in my life because of him.)

Any words of advice for other mothers trying to write while mothering?

Be mindful that everyone requires time away from their children to rejuvenate and center themselves; try to let go of guilt. If writing is how you renew, you must create time and space for your words. This sometimes requires that you fight, and fight hard, for your time.

Being a mother/writer requires a different level of commitment. In order to provide myself with daily writing time, I usually stay up until midnight and get up at 4 am. I feel that it is important to write daily.

Finally, believe in the power of community. There are infinite benefits to forming a band of mother/writers—emotional support, editorial help, collaboration, even childcare swapping. It takes a village to raise a poem.

Can you talk about writing “Bought a Pack of Cigarettes Today?”

When I bought the pack of cigarettes that inspired this poem, I felt so nervous and guilty that I asked the tobacco-shop owner for a book of stamps instead of matches. I didn’t dare smoke anywhere near my home/child, so I parked in a vacant lot and listened to Ryan Adam’s song “Sylvia Plath” on repeat. I remember thinking, damn, even Sylvia Plath was loved--is loved. I love Sylvia. Life is difficult in as many ways as it is beautiful. Art is able to highlight what is beautiful about difficult situations.

I recently read this poem to an audience and felt absolutely naked. This is both a good and terrible sensation. But the good always seems to win out in my case. It feels good to be known—warts and all.

Poem Picture is the first in a series of four titled, "Gifts from My Two-year Old Son" originally hosted at The Mom Egg; view the rest of the series here: http://www.themomegg.com/themomegg/Blog/Entries/2010/4/25_Guest_Blo...

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Tags: Davis, cancer, childrearing, cigarettes, dyslexia, poetry

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Comment by Edith O Nuallain on October 12, 2013 at 8:16am

A very interesting and inspiring interview. Good luck with your new book of poetry 'becoming Judas'.

Comment by Tania Pryputniewicz on August 28, 2010 at 9:05am
Thanks for your kind support, Kamy. A blessing to work with all of you.
Comment by Kamy Wicoff on August 27, 2010 at 7:33pm
What an amazing post! I just found it by digging in deeper to Tania's SW page (and Feral Mom, what a gorgeous blog: that footprint! the awesome anime artist!), after seeing her comment on Debbie's post today and feeling that Tania is someone who so truly gets what She Writes is all about. This post only confirms it, as I know Nicelle and her wonderful contribution to Poetry Social, and have always wanted to know more about her. Thanks, Tania, for making that possible. I am going to feature this on the main page of SW over the weekend.
Comment by Lisa Rivero on June 30, 2010 at 5:52pm
Tania, this is a terrific interview (as usual), and Nicelle, like, Victoria, I simply love your answers and your poem at The Fertile Source. Thank you both!
Comment by E Victoria Flynn on June 30, 2010 at 11:22am
I just love this, Nicelle. I just do.

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