Kristiana Reed Interview / her second book / Flowers on the Wall

Recently I had the great fortune to interview one of my all-time favorite modern poets Kristiana Reed and here, alongside her interview, is a short of her reading one of her poems from her second collection of poetry, Flowers on the Wall. This collection came out yesterday and can be purchased here.

Candice: You have a background in Classics and you write a lot of very high-quality poetry that pays homage to your learning. Do you feel that helps you as a writer? And if so, how?

Kristiana: Thank you. The fact my degree is in Classics has afforded me a knowledge of mythology, of empire, of how history repeats itself, of the beginnings of poetry in the oral tradition, and of some of our earliest poets (Sappho, Theognis and Hesiod). Consequently, I find myself alluding to the past, our legacy and ideas which perhaps enrich the poetry I write. I think I’m very influenced by Homer’s descriptions of nature, Ovid’s darkness in Metamorphosis and Virgil’s idyllic landscapes in his Eclogues and The Georgics. This said, the study of Classics is very Westernised and Eurocentric and is therefore limited in this sense; I would love to learn more about the ancient empires in the East such as the Abyssinian and Persian empires and explore the literary tradition which was born there.

Candice: What inspired you to write poetry over say, prose or some other art form? Was there a specific genesis or was it almost an outpouring that became something more formal?

Kristiana: I still write lots of prose but I am more confident with poetry. I have a love for the brevity in poetic storytelling and I am insecure in regards to prose and the development of plot, characters and action. Poetry was my way to write about my Nanny’s (Grandmother’s) garden (which I still refer to as a fairy garden) and my way to express moments of fear, indecision and love as a teenager. I was told I was good at writing poetry from a young age so I guess I stuck with it and I remember my A-Level English Literature teacher telling me even my essay writing was poetic. It was never a conscious decision but I’m happy with my choice.

Candice: Who influences you as a writer/poet and why? This can include any type of artist or non-artist – explain what about their output influences you.

Kristiana: Again, I have no specifics here as such. I am an avid reader and I absorb storytelling. I remember images or phrases for years so sometimes these become a starting point for me when writing. Musicians are an influence – I have vivid memories of sitting cross-legged in my bedroom, aged twelve, reading the lyric book inside the CD case for Avril Lavigne and Evanescence. Even now, I often judge a song based on lyrics because for me they are just like poetry. Lyrical poetry was poetry set to a lyre; nothing much has changed apart from whether we pair our words with music or not.

Kristiana Reed reads one of her incredible poems “Tattoos for the Living” from her collection Flowers on the Wall

Candice: Your work is very pastoral in some respects, something I deeply appreciate as modern poets often stay in the navel-gazing pews and you are unafraid to really stretch outward into any genre. But your appreciation of the pastoral stays with me because you really know how to bring to life your surroundings. Do you feel where you live has influenced how you write?

Kristiana: I have always got lost in my surroundings and this stems from childhood. Already I have mentioned my Nanny’s garden which was a constant and burgeoning with blooms (I could easily watch the seasons from my slide on the lawn). My favourite memories are often associated with places and so I felt such freedom when I moved to where I live now which is an area between the town and country. There is a wheat-field at the end of my garden, woods a short walk away and the quay. To me, the natural world is magical. I always thought I was magical in these places and I guess I still hope to harness this feeling of hope, space and joy. I would also argue the cycle of nature is the best metaphor for life.

Candice: I noticed how prodigious you have been since Covid 19 and your wonderful movement of writing a poem in response to a poem that inspired you – almost daily. Do you find moods change your writing or are you able to work through any mood and produce solid work despite how you feel? Was it always this way? Is discipline in writing something you learn or something you are born with?

Kristiana: As a teacher, from the moment lockdown occurred in the UK, I was secure in my job. This meant I could work from home safely and found I had more time in my day. No longer standing in a classroom for 4 – 5 hours a day, I began to write more often and then the ‘on Reading’ prompts were created. The process of sourcing these poems and then sharing my responses with people and reading their pieces has been wonderful. I’ve had to teach myself the discipline of writing every day or every few days and I am aware that come September, this discipline will give way to full-time teaching again. So, in short, discipline is taught. I do not believe any one is born disciplined. In regards to different moods, I’ll often try to harness it where I can and let it fuel the work. If not, I’ll cheat and post a poem from my first collection and unashamedly plug it that way…

Candice: Do you see a future for poetry once we get over our immediate love affair with online memes? What does poetry bring to 2020 and going forward that prose does not?

Kristiana: I think the argument ‘online poetry is nothing but memes’ has been raging for so long I’m not sure it is even valid anymore… It is a very cynical view of a community which thrives. Through my use of social media platforms, I have met talented, fascinating and brilliant people. I’ve had the pleasure of reading collections I would never have discovered if I had stuck exclusively to my local bookshop. I think we are too quick to belittle online communities for what they are, communities.

Mainstream media will tell you the boom has come from Kaur’s Instagram poetry and for some reason we should be ashamed of this. In fact, whether you agree with the accounts boasting thousands of followers for two-line statements, who are we to judge what is art for some people? The fact an audience exists suggests people enjoy it and I’m not prepared to sit on a high horse and extoll what we should and shouldn’t be seeing from poetry. Poetry is an artform and thus subjective. It is a different entity to prose and so again, I do not think it will be anything more than prose will. I often read several books at one time – novels, poetry collections and non-fiction. All genres have their merits and reasons for why we should get lost in them. Life is far too short to get caught up being critical about how others consume art.

“I have learned so much about editing, designing and formatting through the process of creating and releasing two collections. It means I am perhaps prouder of them because I know how much of myself I have put into them beyond the written words.”

Candice: Bravo. well said. I completely agree with you! How has teaching influenced your writing if at all and what would you eventually like to do with your writing if you had the chance?

Kristiana: Directly, some of my poems are inspired by interactions in the classroom and what I endeavour to achieve as an educator. Teaching English also exposes me to a lot of poetry from the poets we may consider the ‘greats’ which has helped me construct the ‘On Reading’ prompts each month since June. Eventually, I’d love to have a series of collections which very much chart the passing of time and how I will no doubt change and, hopefully, publish the novel I’ve had in the works for almost two years now…

Candice: What is the most important thing you have been told about your writing that stayed with you and helped engender your next step in being a writer of poetry?

Kristiana: Nothing necessarily springs to mind here… when I wrote poetry as a teenager I shared it with very few people. The moment I realised I wanted to be a writer of poetry and to share my work with others was in the early hours of a morning in 2016. I couldn’t sleep so I wrote. Then suddenly I had an urge to let what I wrote out into the aether, if you will. Thus, my blog My Screaming Twenties was born. I wanted to document my twenties (kicking and screaming). And actually, I’m glad it was an inner voice which drove me to take this step because I haven’t regretted it once.

Candice: How does building a community of writers versus FVR and other mediums, help you personally as a writer and what are your goals in doing so?

Kristiana: Taking over FVR from the wonderful Nicholas Gagnier has been so incredibly rewarding and that certainly translates into building up a community around myself. I know we often look at creating a platform and audience in the frame of ‘How can I market myself?’ when FVR and spending the last few months working hard to establish and maintain the platforms I have, has taught me the value of genuine connections with like-minded people. Sharing the work of others not only makes you feel good but it draws connections between yourself and others. I’ve found through putting the work of others forward, I’ve benefitted in a way which feels organic and true. In regards to this community, I may or may not be considering an FVR anthology on the suggestion of a regular contributor.

Candice: What inspires you the most in this life and why? Do you find more in darker emotions or lighter or is there some other force that lights your pen?

Kristiana: Inspiration definitely tumbles, falls and surges like waves. Sometimes darker emotions fuel my words and sometimes it’s a love for my partner or simply the slow movement of the Earth. It truly varies. I very much tap into myself as a source whenever I sit down to write. I think this is why I struggle with set metre and form. My work is more often than not an outpouring of a feeling or a moment or memory and thus I write freely rather than write to a pre-defined structure. I suppose in this sense I lack a certain discipline. Poetry is something I seek in order to not feel tied down.

Candice: I agree and feel similarly about meter and form for exactly the same reason(s) although I think it’s good to understand how to do it, then you have a choice, much like Picasso did when he decided to do less realistic (cubist) work, he knew all the forms and chose what worked for him. Would you consider Flowers on the Wall similar to your first collection, Between the Trees, or would you consider it a departure? Why?

Kristiana: The treatment of nature in Flowers on the Wall definitely echoes pieces in Between the Trees. Certain images reappear like a wheat field, meadows, the sky and the ocean. Yet, I would consider Flowers on the Wall a departure too. Between the Trees was the documentation of a journey from depression to acceptance. Although, I still very much experience bouts of depression and healing, Flowers on the Wall is what I would consider a poetry collection. This collection says more about me as a poet rather than a person. It has a maturity I was only just beginning to grasp with Between the Trees.

Candice: Both of your collections are self-published, can you describe this experience and share any advice you might have with those who are considering the self-publishing route?

Kristiana: Self-publishing can feel like quite a lonely journey. Unless you have the pennies to spare, you’re often your own formatter, cover designer, editor, agent, and, of course, publisher. Not forgetting the marketing which follows. But, this also means it can be incredibly rewarding. I have learned so much about editing, designing and formatting through the process of creating and releasing two collections. It means I am perhaps prouder of them because I know how much of myself I have put into them beyond the written words. My advice would be to research every element of the process, speak to as many people as you can who have experience, map out exactly what you wish to achieve and steps one and two should help you achieve this. Stay open-minded and be realistic; you will be constrained by how well you are able to do something so plans will change.

Flowers on the wall – is available NOW via Amazon. (click link) Kristianas first book Between the Trees is for sale on Amazon now.

For the foreword written by Candice Daquin for this gorgeous book please go to Kristiana’s brilliant page on WordPress My Screaming Twenties

https://linktr.ee/KristianaReed

My Screaming Twenties

Blossom and Bone – an Advanced Review by Candice Louisa Daquin

Blossom and Bone / by Nicole Lyons
Reviewed by Candice Louisa Daquin

Blossom and Bone (Sudden Denouement Press, 2018) is Lyons’ third collection of poetry and even with the title Lyons has already said a myriad of things which is one of her signature qualities as an author, she can truly ‘say it’ often using very few words thus having a greater impact. By the juxtaposition of blossom (something soft, vulnerable, beautiful, fleeting, fragile) with bone (something more permanent, harder, stronger) as well as the concept of regrowth (bone continues to grow but can be broken, blossoms that die, can return) the title speaks to the endurance and transformation of this author and her understanding of those who experience similar emotions/experiences.
I dislike encapsulating the tenor of an author as most shift in their address to the author but Lyons has an incredible energy in her salutation; she gets to the point, with each and every poem. I would imagine it’s the difference between someone who beats around the bush and someone who is a straight shooter. That lends her work this hypnotic immediacy, you almost feel she is in the room with you, standing there, saying; “I am standing here screaming / I live, I live, I love.” It’s the way she gets to the point immediately, she doesn’t preamble or slowly ease you in, she’s not afraid in other words to just SAY IT and that’s definitely one of her strengths and the reason you will immediately pick out her work from others and know it.

Another quality, Lyons makes me laugh, as much as she makes me cry as much as she hurts she brings humor. The reason for this is her subjects are often hard, she doesn’t shy away from that, and perhaps as solace, she blends a really good balance of beautifully written poetry with the occasional curse word and I love the balance she uses intuitively because it wakes you up and reminds you of the gravity of the subject whilst allowing you to smile at her brazen unapologetic femininity and continue reading. “It never heard the way I hated myself / when dawn hit my window and sliced / its way through the mountains of maybe” (It Never Heard That)

Some poets are scared to write truth, they stick to affirmations, positive vibes, they don’t ‘go there’ and talk about the ugly underbelly of existence and the undeniable pain of existence. Whilst there is far more to Lyons work than sadness, she’s again unafraid to bear her soul and paint universal truths about how we really feel. I find that honesty compelling and addictive in that so often you sense a writer can only be putting their best foot forward, whilst a truly gut-wrenching author will go much, much further and tattoo those truths onto your skin. “This place that once / felt the fire of falling stars / is now cold in my fading light. / So I shall invite you in / and ask you to bring your wishes,” (Bring Your Wishes)

Most of us have mood swings, but how often can we capture that fleeting or mercurial shift in temperament? I for one have never achieved it, whilst Lyons work seems to naturally describe emotions many of us can relate to throughout our lives. And despite her proclaiming that; “I have always loved the cold / dark places where feelings go / to hide, as I have loved something / about the easy way my heart / shatters the second it rubs / up against something warm” (My Easy Heart) there is a genuine awareness that she needs to push past that tendency to hide and not admit how she is feeling and offer it up to the reader as realistically as possible. She does this far more than she may even realize she’s doing it, through sheer guts. But unlike other confessional poets, she doesn’t lament or labor the point, she’s very succinct and sharp in her use of words, she knows exactly how many she needs to make a point and doesn’t use a single unnecessary word, that in of itself is a rare ability as a writer.

I get a sense when I read Nicole Lyons that she inhabits a secret world. I know she is married with children but there’s an entire other universe to her writing, it is surely her very essence and all the history and scars that brought her to this point, and she opens the gates and lets us in, enough that we can hear her thoughts but not fathom all that creates them. This leaves a wonderful teasing, the mystery behind the author, the unknown mind, the commonalities we can relate to, and those things we shall never know. “but the ones who never loved me / have made their home inside my veins.” (Lifetime Lease) Again, it takes a master of words to know how to wield and parlay so deftly with your use of language that you can tempt the reader and draw them in, only to give them what you decide to offer, and absolutely no more. With confessional style poets, the temptation is to say too much, Lyons is a very unique voice in that she has absolute control over what is and is not revealed. It only leaves you wanting more which is surely the greatest lure an author can possess.

I find it hard to explain just how she does this. I imagine it is her ability to self-edit and write as one would speak, with control over the impact that has on the reader. She is clearly aware of her readership, her words are speaking to us, they are definitely not words put underneath a bed and hidden away, they are not shyly proffered, they are bold, unafraid, certain words; “but each time I twist / I come up empty-handed, / and wiping your light / from the corners of my mouth. “ (Wiping Your Light) Something about Lyons endings leaves me breathless, it seems she has just abruptly finished half-way through, you have questions, and yet it’s the perfect closure. I think of Film Noir and how what is not said, and goes unfinished, often leaves the greater impact. In that sense, Lyons work echoes the apparently sparse but really specific dialogue you may think of in classic movies, and it’s that edgy level of suspense and almost quick-tongued drama that I find so compelling, think Barbara Stanwick as a poet.

I mentioned once to Lyon that until I’d read her work I hadn’t been a fan of shorter poetry, the first book I read of Lyons was HUSH which blew me away, for its fierceness and femininity and unapologizing riot of emotion and control, it was like taking a drug and entering another universe, no wonder her books become Amazon Best Sellers she has that draw, it’s the magnetism only truly memorable writers with true craft possess, which is that wonder you find so rarely. “You with the goddess heart / and that cemetery soul, / of course, you are a dragon now.” (Mostly Dead Ones) Not everyone can pull it off, writing with brief intensity the way she does, in some ways she’s capable of creating symbols with her words, slogans, sayings, they’re more than poems, they’re things to live by, to follow, to adhere to, to consider when you can’t sleep at night. They are at the same time blunt and gorgeous, which I find an oxymoron that I cannot readily explain.

In I Won’t Always Be Me, Lyons writes; “I won’t always speak kindly. / Sometimes I will spit, / and I will scream, / and the venom from my tongue / will poison the oceans of love” She possesses an immediacy of intoxicate boldness and it is this I believe is the core reason she has such a following because it’s at once incredibly feminine but also quite unlike what you think of when you consider what is traditionally feminine. She is a writer of the now. She is a woman of the now. Her pulse can be heard in every syllable. In Chicken Dinner Lyons captures the muted grief of childhood so precisely it made the hair on my neck stand up; “next to an alcoholic / control freak who called me stepdaughter / and walked upon me to seal it / like the gummy flap of an envelope / stuffed with unloved letters, / and a mother who wore exhaustion / hidden inside her navy pumps.” There is a kindling rage in her words, a don’t-you-dare-turn-away quality to the exorcism of her truths, she stares into places others skip over, she disgorges the dirt like an excavator of pain, and presents it as you would a film, blinking in front of you, refusing to let you ignore it.

We can point to many poets who are courageous and brave to share their suffering with us, bring some wisdom and truth to a sometimes artificial stage but the voice behind the words doesn’t always stay long afterward, it doesn’t infuse us with a disquieting sense of wanting to reveal the spite beneath our veneer, the cruelty humans are capable of, the quixotic humor of childhood that is both tragic and hilarious, Lyons balances that picture in our heads perfectly. “I taste shame when I look / upon this table of cheaters / and whores, no better than me. / But I am the sheep / that wears the dirtiest cloak.” (Twisted Sins)

In Robbing Air Lyons describes dissatisfaction uncannily; “You are deep hues and an ugly reminder / of small towns and smaller minds, / stroked once and cut twice / from a life, we are all running from.” For so many, there will be a nodding even if their experience differed (small town/big city/male/female) she has a universal whisper, a place at the table, where she provides us with knowledge we have turned away from, perhaps thinking ourselves ‘over it’ and at the same time, reenacting our scars. There are gut-punching reminders of this in poems like I Told Him No, which simply take your breath away in their visceral confession and horror. What I adore is how no matter how badly damaged, the female survivor, her voice is never extinguished, if anything after such evil, she comes back stronger, and that is as redemptive and real as it gets.

Lyons work won’t lull you to sleep at night or fill you with peace, it’ll actually do the opposite and that’s no bad thing; “When I told you that / I had been broken / before; it wasn’t / a fucking challenge.” (Misunderstood) Women’s voices are stronger than ever, but we still have a long way to go, the only way to achieve a lasting voice of equality is to force through the barrier both of ourselves and our histories. Lyons voice is especially potent, she literally takes no prisoners, she won’t back down, she can be caustic, in-your-face and aggressive and those aren’t negatives, because she’s pushing back, against the cacophony of violence and oppression committed against herself and women en mass, who inherit the grief of their forbearers. She does so in such a poignant way I feel she has a lot in common with African American authors like Toni Morrison for their uncanny handling of the extreme ugliness of life and what people are capable of, with an undiminished candor and survival instinct. “I have never felt a smooth landing / beneath my feet, nor have I ever / been lucky enough to tuck one under / my wing and breathe great gusts / of relief as if I had been saved.” (Under My Wing)

Nicole Lyons is already an undeniable force, and I predict she will only grow in strength and those who appreciate her increase. In her words, she evokes a woman whom many of us can relate to in one form or another, a woman who we can share parts of, who doesn’t shun us or other women. Surely this is why we read certain types of poetry where the author can reveal to us our own feelings in their reflections and from this, evoke responses we didn’t think we needed to have (but did). Surely such poetry has a lasting place in our lives and for those who have experienced mental illness or abuse, there is an especial value in Lyons willingness to reach out and share her own; “You call me crazy / because I feel everything, / but I feel sorry for you / because you don’t.” (Of Maniacs and Manics) As a voice for those who cannot put words to what they endure, Lyons stands out with compassion and insight and best of all, an awareness you need not be diminished by any label.

To say of another writer, they are almost uncannily clever, may sound overdone or insincere, but it’s absolutely my final word on Nicole Lyons. “Don’t tell them how I lived / between the darkness and the light, / just tell them I lived with poetry / tucked beneath my skin.” (It’s Only Poetry) It’s always those who can state it succinctly with the foresight few of us possess that hold us in their thrall. Nicole Lyons has long enthralled me, both as a lover of poetry, and because I find her achingly necessary in this world, and she never lets me down, she only frustrates me because so often I don’t know how the hell she does it so well. This is an exquisite collection of writings from an indescribably talented woman; the best you can do is buy everything she’s written and turn your phone off.

“She is but once in a lifetime / and far too many times before. / She is something that just happens, / and she is everything worth waiting for.” (Luna’s Daughter)

Visit Nicole at THE LITHIUM CHRONICLES and look for Blossom and Bone on Sept 9th.


Previous book I Am-World-Uncertainties-Disguised-Girl

Facebook Page www.facebook.com/TheLithiumChronicles.

Find more of Candice and her stunning work on The Feathered Sleep and on Indie Blu(e)

Her gorgeous book of poetry, Pinch The Lock is available for purchase here