[SWP: Behind the Book] How Poetry Found Me

It's interesting to me that I have a book of poems out this June. I've always been in love with writing, but I never set out to be a poet. I began writing seriously again after a self-induced hiatus that lasted about a decade. I had three children and little time. We had a horse farm and a big, big life. But my marriage eventually unraveled. I moved with my three middle-school-aged kids to a small island off the Texas coast, where I rather quickly awoke to the dramatic and irrevocable understanding that I was an alcoholic, got sober, and eventually returned to writing. It was like reawakening to this incredible, beautiful life, and the sensual world I had allowed to turn into an alcoholic grey haze.  One of my lovable, wilder friends in recovery suggested I join her at the writing group in our small town. And that's where poetry eventually found me.

My prose was a poor imitation of Ellen Gilchrist. Overly southern, which I am not. I used excessive metaphor, gathered too many flowers, and had a deadly inability to actually create a storyline. My writing was often beautiful and compelling, but I lacked the gift of plot. In a murderous way. We were given writing prompts each week, and one of them was to write a poem using the word “elliptical.” I managed to give birth to something interesting.  This poem, “a too cold june day in montana,” is included in my upcoming collection.

I found I loved writing poems. I loved the brevity, the desire to be expansive and encapsulate at the same time. I loved moving people with words and images and rhythm. I loved editing out the superfluous and finding tight, concise language. I loved expression, creation, the sensuality of words. I loved making stanza’s tight, and slant. I love inducing shiver.  

The strangest revelation, once I found my voice, is how much I relished the challenge of being succinct. And in an odd way, I learned how to tell a story without having to write thousands of words—I especially love that. Writing poems is intriguing, and a process I delight in. It’s a place of discovering the unknown, often revelatory or cathartic, and there is such expansion in truth-telling while still being able to infuse magic and insight and edge. I’ve also realized how much better writing works out for me when I don’t take myself too seriously.

There are more than a few poems in this collection that I secretly find very amusing—like “cherries,” a conversation between lovers about where exactly, our souls reside. In “benediction, mark morris,” I finally make peace with the very famous and genius choreographer Mark Morris, and of course, get the last word. “Allowing” is a feel-good poem about floating naked in a pool—“I imagine signing autographs, indigo ink on beetle wings”—immersed in particle and light.

One of my favorite poems is “give me a dark room and I will give you an adulteress.” This poem also came from a writing prompt, born from a conversation where one of our members, a proper, violet scented, eighty-something-year-old woman, grabbed my attention by saying, “Oh good, it’s about an adulteress. I adore a story about an adulteress.” I was surprised and intrigued. I reveled in the idea. Suddenly, she was more dimensional than I realized. Ironically, the writing prompt that week was, “you are in a dark room.” So, with this delicate but tough church lady in mind, I wrote the poem “give me a dark room and I'll give you an adulteress.” She hated it. No matter. She didn’t much love poetry, or perhaps not mine. A little too dark at times. A little too sexy. She often said, after reading my work, “Things aren’t going to go so well for them, seriously.” The poem went on to become a finalist in the Mudfish Poetry Prize in 2014.

I write about childhood, children, marriage, divorce and alcoholism.  My poems have been called edgy, seductive, ethereal, and irreverent. “Infused with magical realism, Zollars turns the ordinary into the extraordinary.”  Very cool.

When I make final edits, I imagine the scene in Franny and Zooey where Franny is agonizing to her brother about one of her professors and says, “If you’re a poet you do something beautiful. I mean you’re supposed to leave something beautiful after you get off the page . . .”  That works brilliantly for me.

benediction for a black swan is Mimi Zollars' first book of poetry

Available June 2, 2015,  published by She Writers Press

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  • Michelle Cox

    Thanks for sharing your story, Mimi!  Your book sounds wonderful.  Can't wait to read it!

  • Lene Fogelberg Writing

    What a beautiful journey in finding poetry and your voice. Can't wait to read the poetry! Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Kelley Clink

    Oh Mimi, I love this. So looking forward to your book. I think you are exactly right: a poem is a story without thousands of words. Wish I could do it!

  • Cate Warren! Of course you can share this. Anytime. Anywhere. Thanks for the interest. This is my debut blog...appreciate the positive feedback. For real.

  • Ms. Passion

    absolutely loved it cant wait for the book.