Poets of SMITTEN Interview Series: Hoda Essa

Hoda Abdulqadir Essa is a New Orleans native with roots hailing from East Africa. Hoda is a maker, writer, lover, shapeshifter and soul traveler, searching for heaven or hoping to construct it with her own bare hands.

How does being a poet inform your views on expressing emotions through writing? 

As a poet, I’m consistently working from a place that many people call “emotional intelligence” – in other words, I am dreaming out loud when I open my mouth or put pen to paper. So, for me, being a poet comes with a subtle responsibility to always tell the truth. Poetry is not a soundbite nor is it a news-clip. To me, poetry is the rhythm that lives in each person individually. It’s important to express that and writing is a powerful medium to do so.

When you found out SMITTEN was about women who loved women, without the emphasis on erotica that is usually the case – could you immediately think of ways to express that love through writing? 

Absolutely! My friend and I talk about bringing intimacy to life and to me that is what art is. No one has ever written ballads about an intellectual conversation they’ve had but we pause to capture the gentleness of a lover’s brush against your own skin – to me writing is a way at grasping moments that we ultimately have no language for. The erotic, especially, can be more greatly understood as we wrestle with it on the page.

What does it mean to you to be part of something like SMITTEN and have your work alongside other women who love women? 

To me, this is a declaration of the time’s we are in. Standing together in creativity unity is the most empowered place for many women, myself included. It means to me that I have graduated into a time space reality that is being carved out by the very people writing and experiencing love for and from a woman.

Why is love a worthier subject than erotica to write on? 

To me they’re intermingled. You have to love a moment to be inspired enough to write about it. Erotic writing is being so in love with an intimate moment that you want to recreate it for others. The two are closely related as far as I am concerned.

Have you ever been SMITTEN and if so, do you feel it’s possible to summarize those feelings in poetry? 

I am smitten and often. As often as possible. And I love this word as the title for the anthology (kudos to you all) because that word encompasses how wistful it is allowing oneself to be overtaken by simply being fond of another. I’ve tried my entire life to bottle this feeling and give it to the world so yes! It is absolutely possible to summarize these feels in poetry, until we can market the sensation of course!

Your poem in SMITTEN was excellent, why did you choose this particular poem and what did you hope it would convey to readers?

I chose this poem because I was inspired by a woman who took my breath away. She was beautiful, inspiring, deliciously sad in all the right places and talking to her moved me. We never formally met but my hope in writing “WOMAN” was to zoom in on how explosive this connection was without any physical intimacy. I am not even sure if I felt romantic ideations towards this person up until this day – I just knew that I wanted her inner-flame to be safe. I wrote this poem to honor her fire; to protect it.

SMITTEN is available by ordering it in your Barnes & Noble, purchasing it online at Barnes & Noble or Amazon or asking your independent bookstore to order it via Ingram. SMITTEN is available on Kindle and in print form.

For updates on SMITTEN visit the Facebook SMITTEN page.

This is a huge project of 120 female authors – an anthology that is testimony to the power of love and connection between women. Support SMITTEN by purchasing a copy for someone who supports LGBTQ equality, women or poetry.

 

 

Goodbye for now

In the New Year I am going to do something drastic. I’m going to close all my social media down and take the majority of my books/work offline/out of bookstores. The work that will remain is what I’m most proud of; SMITTEN This Is What Love Looks Like (an anthology, 2019), We Will Not Be Silenced (one of 4 editors/contributors, 2018) and Pinch the Lock (Finishing Line Press, 2016).

When I began, I really believed I could contribute something valuable to the world through the medium of writing. I saw many other people trying but I did not know how many and since 2015 I have seen that there is a glut of people all self-publishing, indie publishing, small press publishing, all with the same ‘dream’ of being a legit writer. Mostly wasting hours on social media futilely. I realize 99.9 percent will never be. The only ones who can do it are those on disability, who get a cheque without needing to work, or supported by husband/wife/family or you’re a retiree. If you DO have to work for a living then it’s rare you can put in enough work to even get to the indie publishing stage.

There are exceptions. One of my real friends whom I did meet on social media works full time and is one of the hardest workers I know. She will succeed I have no doubt about it. She goes home from a hard days work and produces consistently some of the best work I’ve read online. People like her are rare. They are one in a million. Others have the talent to do it but it will depend upon if they have the time to make it happen (you know who you are) but the vast majority have neither the talent, nor the ability to make it happen.

When I began writing I thought I was a pretty good writer. When you read some of the stuff online it’s easy to see why I thought that, a lot of it is really poor quality. On the other hand you need to be either absolutely brilliant or someone who is in the know, to get a really big publisher. I am neither absolutely brilliant nor ever going to be someone who is in the know/networked up to the hilt. Even those who everyone talks about as having a ‘good publisher’ actually don’t. They just secretly vanity press pay or exaggerate how much they actually earn. To earn a living wage as a writer unless you are an editor, it’s the 1 percent of the 1 percent.

I don’t want to be an editor. It’s a thankless job and underpaid. I have qualifications and I am going to use those and return to my previous career, hard as it is, it can earn me what I will need to take care of myself in the future. Maybe no job will be different, maybe I will always be taken for granted and used but I want to do it on my own terms. I have always supported myself from the age of 18 and I always will until I cannot any longer. I have never had any help.

Lastly, most of you don’t know but I was recently diagnosed with a very serious eye-condition that means I am losing my sight. I realize I have to adjust NOW rather than when it is completely gone. I doubt I will still want to live if I go completely blind and I have decided if that day comes I will elect for euthanasia as I am not someone who wishes to live as a completely blind person. Especially as I have no family who will care for me. However, if that day doesn’t come or it gives me 20 more years, (which is unlikely) I still need to change my life to ensure my eyes do not worsen.

As some of you know I had battled a serious illness in 2017 which radically changed my life. It was caused by a virus and I am still sick with it but I have learned to live with it and am high functioning despite it not having completely gone. I believe it will one day completely go but it is a long painful battle. I thought that was enough to deal with but in addition to this my mother told me she no longer wanted me in her life ever again. She and I have had our ups and downs but naively I thought as she aged we would get closer. I have always loved her very much even though she was not in my life that much. When she told me this during my illness, effectively kicking me when I was down, it was the last straw. She knew she’d hurt me as badly as she could ever hope for. She succeeded. To protect myself I accepted what she said and have tried to get on with my life knowing she will not be part of it. It has hardened me and I am bitter about it but I will never be as cruel to someone else as that. I will never succumb to cruelty to deal with my own pain.

On a positive note, I am stronger for all of this. But having the eye sight issue on TOP of all of the above, was just too much. I do have it in me to change my life. I have decided to once more change my life. I am not going to carry around the rejection, fear and grief of her hate of me or anything else, anymore. When I began my blog/writing in 2015 I felt it was a chance to try my hand at writing. I don’t regret doing that but I see now realistically I have to move on.

If you know me, truly know me, and have my number and my address and we talk, then I am bound to call you real friend and will keep in touch. When you get sick you realize who your friends are and it is a good clarity. For those of you I call friends thank you for your friendship and I hope we keep in touch. We may not as we may no longer have anything in common but I wish you all much success.

SMITTEN will be my last personal project in the publishing world for the foreseeable future, although I have also been involved in YOU DON’T LOOK SICK and hope Indie Blu(e) recognizes me for that when it is published next year. SMITTEN is a wonderful ending to this chapter in my life. It is a testimony to the talent of women when they come together. Just because we are minorities doesn’t mean we support each other and lift each other up. I hope projects like SMITTEN help future women do JUST THAT because THAT is what is needed. We need to be good to one another! To support one another!

I want to personally thank the following whom I have met on WP for their loyalty, friendship, goodness and inspiration. I think you are incredible human beings; Mark. Eric. Derrick. Bob. Crystal. Erik. Jane. Karen. Raili, Rita. Susi. Anthony. Laurie, Tony. Nicole. Tara. Helena. Philip. Sarah. Tremaine & Monique. Thank you to Christine and Kindra for letting me work for Indie Blu(e) I really hope all the work I did helped and you succeed. Rita.

RIP Natalie Scarberry you are loved.

Thank you to anyone who read anything of mine. I appreciate you. I wish you only the best.

Candice Louisa Daquin

Growing up I didn’t have a SMITTEN

black lesbianGrowing up in Europe I didn’t have anything like SMITTEN. My ‘sources’ were hard to find and often took me to oblique and obscure bookstores that had tiny ‘feminism/Lesbian’ (as they were once twinned) sections. Within those sections I found little I could personally relate to. I read Radcliffe Hall’s The Well Of Loneliness, now considered the ‘Bible’ of lesbianism and whether right or wrong, it did set a stage for me, and I loved the style and emotions therein, but over all her book is also very sad, it talks of lesbians as ‘inverts’ who are women trapped inside men’s bodies wishing to live the life men live and love women like men do. That was not my feeling. I was a woman happy to be a woman who wanted to love another woman who was most definitely a woman. (It should be noted many lesbians prefer to identify on the masculine end of the scale and yet identify as masculine women and this is a legit form of love too).

Even now, many years hence, there are divides within the LGBTQ and even lesbian/bi worlds. For some, you are just not considered a lesbian unless you subscribe to some of the dress-code/tough-act code and you are objectified for wanting to take on some of the accoutrement considered ‘heterosexual’ by queers. Likewise, you may be typecast as ‘femme’ (or butch) even in today’s society, as much as anything because since legislation has legalized gay marriage and made it easier in some countries for LGBTQ it has been assumed LGBTQ doesn’t need the same resources and so, there are less lesbian clubs/places to meet than ever before, and more is conducted online which as we all know, can be very hit and miss.

I personally knew of four lesbians who were date-raped when they met their ‘lesbian’ date in real life, after meeting online. In all cases, it was a set-up and there were men involved who took advantage of those women and punished them for being lesbians and not attracted to men. You may think that sounds extreme but having worked at two rape crisis centers I can assure you, it’s as common place now as it was in the seventies. The idea that LGBTQ and lesbians don’t need a ‘safe place’ to meet other like minded people, is too optimistic, it assumes it is now ‘safe’ to be a lesbian, but as any lesbian will tell you, we still fear holding a woman’s hand walking down certain streets. That hasn’t and won’t go away.

Let us not forget, in the vast majority of the world it is still illegal, frowned upon, punished or made impossible to be a lesbian and LGBTQ only pertains to a small percentage of this world in terms of population. If you are an African lesbian, good luck, you risk your life admitting that. So our Western ideas do not apply to the majority of lesbians out there.

Little really good literature is lesbian or LGBTQ, indicative of the stereotyping of LGBTQ literature when it is published and the small minority size of each group. You really have to hunt to find excellent, really well written lesbian literature or poetry. It was my dream to put together a group of authors who embodied love between women and showed the variety and depth of that love. SMITTEN accomplished this with over 120 poets and artists contributing some striking, stirring poems, drawings and thoughts of love and attachment.

SMITTEN was created for those people though I am certain we do not reach nearly enough. But it was my dream that even if we reached a few, even if we reached a girl like myself who went in search of ‘real’ lesbian love in a book store, they could find it. Maybe we haven’t done enough but with every act we hope to raise the consciousness of all people not just LGBTQ. People who may assume because gays have the right to vote and marry  and are represented on TV in some countries that they are absolutely free of persecution. This is not the case and while there are many other such minorities who are objectified, ridiculed, stereotyped and minimized, it was my mission to highlight lesbians and women who love women because I am one.

SMITTEN may not have existed when I was really young and had no gay friends, no cohorts who were LGBTQ and no school friends who were even sympathetic or understanding of LGBTQ. I myself didn’t really know enough. I sought refuge in gay bars when old enough but often times found those as judging and uncomfortable as being the only straight. The stereotypes, expectations, reductions and cliches of being a lesbian were as backward among lesbians as among heterosexuals! We had no role-models, nobody to refer to and only a palpable sense of shame emanating from society en mass. Nobody in their right mind wanted their daughter to grow up to be a lesbian, wasn’t that just something that happened like a birth defect or because a mother didn’t do her job right? That was the thinking back then and back then wasn’t ‘that’ long ago!

Consequently I spent more of my youth trying to get by without examining my lesbian identity and enjoying what it could be like to love another woman. I look at photos of very young lesbians now and I envy them their freedom but I am not so naive to assume they are entirely free, as a minute after the photo is taken, they could be beaten up by a mob who didn’t like what they saw. It still happens.

SMITTEN defies the hate, bigotry and misunderstanding of lesbianism. SMITTEN isn’t about women fucking other women for porn. SMITTEN isn’t about stereotypical lesbians created by heterosexual men. SMITTEN isn’t angry and hateful as some feminist backlash can be. SMITTEN is about this: Love IS LOVE.

Please support SMITTEN by gifting it to an LGBTQ person you care about, or buying it for yourself irrespective of your gender and sexual orientation, because love IS love and it transcends everything. If you like poetry, or you support LGBTQ inclusion and visibility then your support of SMITTEN can person by person, change everything. And if you cannot do that, perhaps think of requesting SMITTEN from your local library or purchasing the less expensive Kindle version (although it should be said the print version of SMITTEN is sumptuous!). YOUR support helps little girls growing up today, grow up to have a VERY different outlook in life, one without as much fear and isolation.

SMITTEN is available in print at

SMITTEN is available in KINDLE at

SMITTEN’s authors interviews, poetry readings and photo archive can be found here

With thanks to Indie Blu(e) for taking a chance and publishing this incredible project.

SMITTEN Poets Interview: Talia Rizzo

Talia Rizzo is a lesbian poet studying creative writing at the University of Denver. Her work focuses on her experiences as a queer woman, the complexities of family separation, and the power of images. Talia’s work can also be found in Levee Magazine, Foothills, and Prometheus Dreaming. When she’s not writing, Talia can be spotted among the Colorado mountains, taking in the sun with the wildflowers or skiing until her legs are sore.

1.How does poetry and identifying as lesbian/bi come together for you? 

I don’t want to say my poetry would be nothing without my experiences as a lesbian, but I’m going to say it. In some way, when I read old poems from five or six years ago and when I read the collection I am working on now while living in Spain for a few short months, I see different reflections of one another. Sexuality is everywhere and for that reason, each of my poems has some type of image that can be traced back to a specific experience, thought, memory, fear of being a lesbian in the United States. When I began writing poetry, it became a catalyst for me to understanding my identity and my past relationships with women and how they have felt in relation to the men I have been with. It gave me a chance to create, to sit and think for hours over cups of coffee about the intensity, the vivid colors I felt when I was with women, even if it was just their leg grazing mine under the table. Over time, my poetry has shifted and taken on different forms, some I don’t even understand yet, but one thing has remained the same—my life as a lesbian is at the core of all my work; it is the way my world is shaped, the lens on which everything is always seen.

2. Whom are your favorite lesbian writers and why?

Alicia Mountain and Pamela Sneed. They are my two biggest icons in every way and I aspire to be half the writers they are. They have each, in their own very different rights, mastered the art of image, of storytelling. If the man drinking a beer at the table beside me reached into my backpack, all he would find is their two very different and sensational stories—Sweet Dreamsby Sneed and High Ground Coward by Mountain. Mountain’s collection of poetry has come to me in every moment of need, over and over again, and still each time I am able to get something new from it, something I didn’t see before. Sneed taught me things beyond myself and gave me the chance to reflect on and be thankful for all the privilege I have been given in my life. Their images are relentless in the best way, so specific and subjective to each individual woman, yet so universal to the community.

7. What does it mean to you to be part of something like SMITTEN and have your work along side other women who love women? 

It is absolutely thrilling. I am so excited to see all of their work. In countless ways, all lesbians, all bisexual women, all queer people are connected through a similar experience of identity, while simultaneously having so many individual differences. Love is both an individual and collective experience, especially when it comes to being a lesbian. I remember being eighteen in a restaurant with an old girlfriend and having to move tables because of a couple older, heterosexual couples next to us talking very loudly about how disgusting they found us. All we were doing was holding hands. I remember the way it felt when the waiters carried our plates full of food across the restaurant to a new table and every head turned to watch us get up and move. I remember my girlfriend’s eyes filling with tears and the excessive apologies of the employees. In some ways that night, a love I had never experienced before presented itself, as well as an experience I know is universal. As a community, we have been spit on, degraded, beaten, and killed for our sexual preference. While simultaneously, finding other people, other women, who love us, who accept us, who become a part of us. Being featured in SMITTEN alongside so many women from all over the world is an absolute honor for me, as all these words and stories bring us together—even when we are miles and miles apart.

SMITTEN is due out any day now. Please consider supporting this project by purchasing a book when it comes on sale. Even one purchase helps support the endeavors and hard work of these 120 authors and highlights the value of LGBTQ subjects. SMITTEN will be available via all good book stores please check the Facebook SMITTEN page for up to date information. 

Glass

Champion me

Though I may not deserve it

Lazy as I am

In ways of discipline

But I’ll give you my rotten core

And every discarded pip

The very dear and marrow of me

Just to believe

I’m a satellite in your sky

Or even stardust

Something rather than nothing

Nothing comes from nothing so

Speak again

We are all fools when in love

Lest our allotted time runeth dry

And dying we plunge to dusky grave

Unfulfilled, not finding

That God of morsel and mercy

What if when it grows final

And trees no longer spring their buds

For one more year

What if you are gone from my side and I

Empty without your solace and the shape of your mouth

See only endings without playback

I rewind all the years

Each bitter marinated cherry

Tart beneath tongue

A losenge, a comfort, a poison

You wormed into me and I

Never whole

Welcomed the intrusion

Your familiar vibrate a reminder

Not all that lives is alive

Without some movement

My heart beating faster for its attempt at love

Causes arrythmia and constriction

You wound around me a silken thread

One end tied to skin, the other dangling

Over the edge where all who dream

Must plummet

Let me then

Take your small hand in mine

And jump

For there are no safety wheels stable enough

For how I feel …

Champion me

Though I may not deserve it

I cannot eat without you, there is only

Nourishment when you look upon me

And my arms behold your surround in half light

Making prisms of dull walls and music in movement

We are figurines in our own clock, counting the seconds down to eventual loss

Let me loose then with you reflecting back

Our echoes in the center of the flame

When I close my eyes beloved

I see with your gaze the sum

And with your ears hear my cries

As I crest and fall beneath you in rivers and fire

We exchanged the key

With open mouths

Red from touch

And I never withdrew

Stsying instead

In the blossom of your kiss

Take it, turn it to gold, bury our hearts beneath the miracle

So long as I follow in your step

No time is long enough and no regret

For we are but whispers on the crest of day

It will dawn without us and I hope when that happens

Our branches and roots have thickly woven

Deep beneath our flight we become

Not two, not divided, but one

Reaching through time as I strive to call you now

With my longing and the pearl within my very bones

Champion me

Though I may not deserve it

We are nothing if not the wild in the wind

Dashing against our inevitable ending

Come beloved, follow the trail

Where it leads I know not, yet am I sure

If we fuse like glass nothing remains behind

But some memory before this

The match was struck

A scent of sulfur

You entered the room

And I felt the dagger of joy

We as thunder

We as electric

Striking down obstacle

Falling into mutual devour

The sweetness of eternity

Near in summer storm.

(Nothing comes from nothing/ speak again. Quoted from King Lear. Shakespeare).

Her own thirsty heart

photo of two women
Photo by Mahrael Boutros on Pexels.com

But I am divided. In a way that is hard to shape into words.

For women who love women are often the rarest night birds.

Theirs is a love that does not come easily and for this reason, it takes a great deal to stay

Sure and certain on the rainbow path.

Sometimes I understand my bisexual sisters, who having had their love affair with the curves and softness of a woman

Return to their husbands in droves or pick out that wedding dress and let the man

carry them over the threshold.

For a woman to be loved by a woman may feel natural but many times it is a struggle

we have no rule book, we may both want to have the other carry us or hold us when

fear besets

and men are so good at being heroes

and women are taught to be saved and rescued.

I understand then, the desire for a woman and the longing for less strife

where if you have children it is sometimes impossible to find a way to describe

why you leave daddy for a second mommy and how

fractures in emotions are not easily translated for young minds.

Had I children, who is to say I would have been brave enough? Equally it is part why

I never did.

My sacrifice came because I saw no other way

for it was never as it felt in the arms of someone of the same gender

and in that I am unusual and possibly 1 or 2 percent of the entire world

though it will seem more during Gay Pride and other events

where everyone holds a rainbow and joins in.

Only the days when we are not celebrating, we may be struggling

to fit in with even each other, strange as we may be, these women who

in various guise and costume

fall in love with other women.

I don’t get on well I admit, with those who believe the only true lesbian

is one who shaves her head and dons mens clothes.

It is not that I cannot see their point, or how many years before

it may have been the only choice

but I did not fight this hard to dress as a man and love a woman

who is also dressed as a man.

I would rather pick a full cheeked feminine boy with long hair

and pretend he had nothing between his legs than sell out my own idea

that love of a woman is as feminine as it gets

and we shall share each others’ dresses.

Our history has been unkind and as such, we do not trust very easily

if at all and when we do, we are liable to judge or leave out and exclude many of our tribe

just as women have done for millennia in their pursuit of men

hated other women for existing and challenging that thin mesh of safety.

It saddens me then, to be ostracized when I walk into a gay bar

and do not fit in, or feel judged by my sisters whom I want to

take into my arms and feel less lonely by.

This is but one aspect of the kalidoscope of being the L in the LGBTQ and

few of your G’s and B’s and T’s and Q’s will rush to your defense

we are co-opted in a group who really knows little of the other

for we are as disparate and different as it gets and often we walk

alone, despite our legal rights and our social acceptance (some of the time).

Alone because we cannot befriend a straight woman for she may

wonder if we would fall in love with her (and quite possibly might)

nor a gay woman for her girlfriend will begrudge us, nor a gay man

as they have often hated women and especially those who forsake

men, there is nothing in common there, and straight men will

try to tell us we just need a good f**king and we’ll soon change our

ways so who is left?  In the great wide world to be close to and share?

Those fears and our desires, the very stories of our lives

for whom 98 percent of the world cares not, they have their

1.5 children and ideas of normalcy and we don’t fit well enough.

Sometimes, how much I want to tell someone

of the love I have for a woman and the stillness of night

when we move together and how I catch my breath as

she turns like a thimble in my hands, silver against moonlight.

So quiet instead we are, often falling in love and unable

to share this or speak of it, for it is forbidden. No one will

listen, or be interested, they do not understand our strange ways.

Still in this day and this time we are shadows within

light and light within shadows picking our way through

mostly eaten strawberry fields, dreaming of a girl

who may like ourselves be wandering, looking for

a girl like herself who has only ever wanted to be

held tightly and hear the slow beat of a girls heart feel

the rise and fall of her soft breasts and know

she is where she belongs and needed every bit

as much as her own thirsty heart longs

in the early hours and late at night like the lonely

wolf who by himself will climb to highest point

in futile search of another’s call.

That Mad Ache

woman kissing woman while standing near body of water
Photo by Davide De Giovanni on Pexels.com

Some of us have a need to feel the heartbeat of another

closer than words

not enough to possess a green lawn, metal chairs, bird feeder, smiling neighbors

would God smite those who despite their fortune, seek

a feeling indescribable and beyond safe?

As if skin were rent and removed and truly naked we stood

beseeching sullen Easter Island statues with their granite far away look

all those emotions burning within us like pins set aflame

rescued in the depths of your eyes, the glass of us tilted toward

setting sun and in elongation and distortion we thrive

maddened on the love of the other

where no amount of living could sate the need for discovering closer method

to gain entry into each others soul and remain there, clenched in joy

a place of belonging in a achingly cold world where

few things seem to gather meaning and much is lost when trees

drop their leaves in beds of autumn colors

I wish I had lived every hour of my life beneath you in the furnace

of our motion, when two hearts begin to forget they are separate

in my sleep I dream of your eyes and the words wrapped around me

I could not exist alone, walking dead streets with emptied stare

you are the life blood of my long sleep, I wake when you pass me by

the smell of your neck, how you speak with a slight downturn

to one side of your mouth as if amused

when you are gone, there is no tick in my tock nor

purpose to a day, I have spent too many years grieving lost things

you would be the last day on this earth worth waiting for

afterward we close our eyes and bid good night to this struggle

content that love has blessed us with one footfall, for many

never discover its map nor know how to open themselves

wide enough to enter a union where no one returns

we transform, as you and I, into bird and for our duration

sing from steeple high, the sound of us murmuring in dusk

transforming empty corners into circles

your hand on my stomach, mine beneath

that mad ache chanting her gentle balm

Some of us have a need to feel the heartbeat of another

closer than words