Poets of SMITTEN Speak: Melissa Fadul

Melissa Fadul lives in New York with her wife, dog and two rabbits. She teaches English Literature and Advanced Placement Psychology.  She loves animals, poetry, and film and photography and baseball and screenwriting. Melissa is currently writing her second poetry manuscript and a screenplay.  Melissa hopes that someday she can work with her favorite actresses: Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Cate Blanchett and Mariska Hargitay.

Is the Die Really Cast?

I was a sophomore and part of GLU (the gay and lesbian union as it was called then) getting my undergraduate degree in New York and two years younger than twenty-one-year-old Matthew Shepard, when barbed wire pierced his wrists as he was pinned to a fence on a chilly October evening. After his assailants, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson thumped his skull, dented it, they stole his shoes and wallet before running him over in a pick-up truck— leaving him for dead in Wyoming dark.

He was found by a young boy riding his bicycle the next morning, eighteen hours later. From a distance, he thought Matthew was a scarecrow. As the boy rode closer, he saw a man—a man whose face was marred and sopped in blood—except where tears skidded down his cheeks.

Twenty-one years later, I still repeat to myself, that could have been me. I could have been murdered for being a lesbian. In Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History, Cathy Caruth states, “Freud describes a pattern of suffering that is inexplicably persistent in the lives of certain individuals. Perplexed by the terrifyingly literal nightmares of battlefield survivors and the repetitive reenactments of people who have experienced painful events, Freud wonders at the peculiar and sometimes uncanny way in which catastrophic events seem to repeat themselves for those who have passed through them” (1).Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(23).png

Bearing this in mind, it’s high time that America give credence to the power of vulnerability. However, how and why should we do this when Webster, Random House and any other dictionary defines vulnerable as weakness? The only way to look and accept ourselves as civil beings is to admit without metaphor or interpretation what it means to be human—which means we must muster the courage to reconcile our exiled musings of private vulnerabilities. It means redefining the fast food, bizarre definition of the word, vulnerable.

Thus, my reason for contributing to Smitten. I’m not naïve enough to think that by writing this essay (which seems more like a manifesto) that most will be influenced to come-of-age and pass through some rite-of-passage. One must experience to comprehends the acute power kindness and empathy possess when one
is courageous enough to be vulnerable. Momentarily, there was a bit of ambivalence to submit to Smitten—a reluctance born of unfounded anxiety—coupled with my semi-introverted nature that drew up useless excuses: I’m too intense, no one will like these pieces, they’re too graphic, etc.

However, I remembered my purpose—my students who I write for—the ones who can’t speak for themselves because of their own political hinderances—youth who can’t conjure the duende within—nor know how to use the ordinary world as a catalyst and objective correlative that stands at a distance in order to bear witness.

Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(24).pngI recalled my vulnerability-my greatest strength which includes the courage to believe that people do desire to listen to strangers’ stories—to really feel something especially when tragedy is on the frontlines of the tongue. This evergreen notion is a pattern I’ve noticed made most explicably apparent through the vehicle of trauma and disaster. According to Nicole Cooley, “to think about how disaster produces speech, writing, and testimony and disaster is reproduced through language. I’m not talking about disaster as metaphor in poetry but about a poetry that arises in direct response to a disaster, a poetry of disaster” Cooley, Nicole. “Poetry and Disaster” American Poet, Volume 39 Fall Nov. 2010, pp. 3-5.

My submission to Smitten has tried serve as witnesses for the LGBTQ community and its allies. These pieces are designed to be umbilicals which help guide those who need it through the uprising of Stonewall and the shooting in Orlando’s gay club, Pulse. There’s almost half a century of time between these two events with Matthew Shepard’s murder in between—not to mention countless other hate crimes that are recognized by law enforcement and the LGBTQ community.Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(25).png

Ideally, in a utopia these tragedies should antagonize peace. They haven’t—nor will the next one. Nevertheless, the autonomy and my hope lie with the idea that it will create nonviolent conversation. My primary point was to create a Socratic discussion in which all voices are heard and inquiry based on all beliefs are supported.

According to her breakthrough non-fiction work, Catalysis, Dr. Alice Maher states, human understanding needs a language all its own, an Emotional Literacy that synthesizes insights from multiple disciplines. It must be codified and taught, using theory literature, thought experiments and daily exercises, until it exists on a par with other major subjects in a K-12- PHD curriculum. Emotional Literacy needs to be taught and practiced until our species becomes fluent, until the best are recognized and supported in their rise to leadership. (Maher 15).

One way to understand how Emotional Literacy works is by understanding how to ask someone a question even if one party is fuming because their subjective isn’t synonymous with the other party’s. It seems obvious—still I don’t know if as a species we know how to speak to one another in a way where there’s room for empathy, which always deems itself essential in order to reach the duende state of vulnerability.Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(26).png

For example, if a discussion between two people begins on a calm and a bit of trust is created between those two individuals, when one person feels like he, she or they can be vulnerable that step will be taken. However, if the other person’s approach and angle into the discussion is volatile and branded apathetic, the option of sympathy or empathy dissipates quickly. If that occurs, the true meaning of that dialogue could be lost—Thus, truth and vulnerability aren’t reached. Maher goes on to add, “be curious, invite the person to talk about his/her childhood and share your own similar-but-different experiences.

Remember that your beliefs come from a personal center too and are probably equally distorted as a result. Be curious about your own distortions and try not to be too triggered by theirs. In order to succeed with Maher’s recipe for serenity, we must be willing to view our own distortions—that means being vulnerable. Can you bear it?Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(27).png

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

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Poets of SMITTEN Speak: Kay Shamblin

Kay Shamblin is a lesbian poet, student, and avid D&D player based in Louisville, Kentucky. Her poetry has been published in theWhiteSquirreland OROBORO, and her most recent work is centered around body horror, eroticism and intimacy.

I started writing poetry before I realized I was a lesbian, but I started getting serious about my writing at around the same time that I started to really question my sexuality. One of the moments where my sexuality became clear to me was when I realized that I wanted to write poetry for this girl so badly, but I that had never wanted to write poems for the men that I dated. I write on my sexuality a lot now, in less of a political way and more of a confessional or introspective way. Before I knew I was a lesbian, my poetry felt artificial. Now it feels raw.

I don’t really see any tropes in work by women who love women that get on my nerves, but I get really heated at some of the portrayals of gay women by straight writers. If I see one more oversexualized, male gaze-y, predatory depiction of gay women I’m going to scream.Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(28).png

I don’t think that love is a worthier subject to write on than erotica. The two intertwine so often that I feel like it’s a disservice to both subjects to act as though they’re completely divorced from one another or working against each other. I’ve found that one of the more important parts of my journey as a poet has been finding ways to combine themes of romance and eroticism in poetry, especially since women who love women are so often objectified.

It’s a reclamation to be able to talk about sex and love concurrently and on my own terms, all the while having the power to frame this conversation in the ways that I want. Poetry, especially love poetry, is as much for myself as it is for the girl I’m writing about. It’s a way to shed all the stigma surrounding the ways that gay women express sex and love. To express a shameless outpouring of yearning and say “Look! I’m not predatory! I’m in love!” is reclamation in itself.

I’m so, so smitten with my girlfriend. As much as I want to get cocky and say that I can put that feeling into words, I know that there are some things that are bigger than poetry. My love poems go through more drafts than any other of the pieces I write because of that desire to get things across exactly as I mean them. I come back to the same images/situations a lot in love poetry just because there are certain things that really hit me in the heartstrings. I have insomnia, so I end up spending a lot of time awake, holding my girlfriend as she sleeps. There’s so much intimacy and tenderness wrapped up in those moments, and I come back to them a lot when I’m writing for her. For me, writing on that feeling is as close as I can get to transcribing love.Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(29).png
I love my chosen poem! It’s a labor of love that has become really dear to my heart. Over this past summer, my girlfriend and I were living in different cities and didn’t see each other that often. We were texting and sending each other love letters to fill that space that distance left, and that’s where this poem began. This started as a few lines in the notes app on my phone that I wrote and texted her during my lunch break, but I ended up coming back to it. There were a few months where almost the only writing I worked on was this poem, and that’s why I submitted it here. I put a lot of love into this piece, and there’s a lot of love to get out of it.

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

Poets of SMITTEN Speak: Aviva Lilith

Aviva Lilith is a queer poet who, like a flower, enjoys the sway of fate. She’s been writing since elementary school, working towards earning a BFA in creative writing and photography at the New Hampshire Institute of Art. Along with poetry and flowers, she enjoys knitting, cloud gazing, and dumpster diving for new collage materials.

Do you think there is enough representation of lesbian poetry and writing in general and if no, what do you think is the reason?

No, and I don’t think so because lesbian voices are not out there enough, and when they are it is within a community of other lesbian poetry and other lesbian readers and writers. I think I just wish that LGBTQ voices were more integrated and “normal” within the void of everyone else. It is really really nice to have our own community, and I think it’s also necessary in order to be understood and to understand. But my hope is that one day (in my lifetime) there won’t need to be a separation.Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(19).png

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. I feel so much poetry in my head and body when it comes to my love, and I have an entire file full of pieces and whole poems that I don’t feel like I can submit just anywhere. It’s nice to have a place for them to go!

How do cultural differences influence how lesbian and bi writers communicate or experience life?

This is such a huge part of being lesbian/bi, that most people can’t understand unless they are going through the same thing. In my culture, it isn’t really “normal” to be homosexual. I’m lucky my mom is liberal, because with the Jewish community, it’s really hit or miss with this stuff. My dad’s side of the family (hispanic), it wasn’t so easy to come out and still be part of the family. In fact, I was so scared that I didn’t ever come out. Still to this day. Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(20).pngMy family knows about me, they know I have a girlfriend, but I never got the opportunity to properly come out and get closure about the issue. I have family members that passively dismiss me or post on Facebook about their views while knowing that I could be hurt by these posts. It’s one of the reasons why I deleted my social media.

SMITTEN is a collection from throughout the world we have writers from India, Africa, Australia, Canada, the UK, France and many other countries. What does a multicultural collection accomplish?

Multiculture is so important! How can we understand our own culture if we don’t know what other cultures bring? Especially for artists and poets, culture is so important to get a diverse opinion on this shared experience called life. I depend on learning and understanding others in order to grow and learn about myself.

How is being a JEWISH lesbian different and what does the jewish lesbian voice bring to the table?

Lesbian voices are already marginalized, we aren’t something that just anyone would pick up and read. Being Jewish is something that has always marginalized my voice. This combination is important to me, because there aren’t enough lesbian Jewish poets out there, and I know that growing up, I struggled a lot to test my limits in what I can write or feel or say about being lesbian and Jewish. I wished I had more role models to look up to that were like me. I feel like there’s a specific voice that is always pushed in school, in the media, in America. That voice wasn’t one I could relate to. I needed someone who understood my culture, as anti-semitism has always been in my life. I also needed someone who was apart of my culture to help me understand the feelings I was going through when I started liking girls.Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(21).png

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

Poets of SMITTEN Speak: HOKIS

Hokis channels zir mistrust in humanity and love for puzzles into unfolding poems. Ze is Senior Editor of “Headline Poetry” @Line Rider Press, and previously served as teacher, community organizer, and body-centered mindfulness coach. Recent works are found in Truly U, Paragon Press’ Snollygoster: A Conversation About Politics, and For Women Who Roar. {Hokis; n. /hō/kēs/ The Armenian word for “my soul”or “my beloved.”}

Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(22).pngHow does poetry and identifying as lesbian/bi come together for you?

In the cracks of direct truth of prose, is poetry. In the mixed meanings of poetry, is an inability for others to argue with your truth. In these ways, poetry and identity are a crucial link for me. In poetry I found my story, not the story others would grammar and spell check, not the story where the he’s and she’s and they’s were “supposed to fit.” There was a delicious freedom in this pause, this exploration of what love looks like. My contribution to SMITTEN, “Preference Over Judgement,” was THE turning point in my writing, which mirrored my self-acceptance. My hope is this piece brings us back to our humanity, and our natural roots of a creature on Earth.

Do you find any stereotypes in lesbian/bi work that you would personally remove?

I find it challenging to feel authenticated as a bisexual female in a 20 year marriage with a male partner. I chose a pen name that reminds me that my scope of existence is beyond even my own boundaries; Hokis, which is Armenian for “my soul.” This pen name keeps me true to my truth. My hope is this provides others space to offer themselves permission to be true to theirs.

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

Poets of SMITTEN Speak: Charity Muse

Charity M. Muse writes about love between women, social justice, and LGBTQ+ spirituality.  In addition to being a writer, she is a speaker, therapist, and empowerment coach, is married to an amazing woman, and is “Momma C” to two wonderful kids. She is currently working on her first novel, tentatively titled By Heart. Charity’s writing and work as a singer/songwriter can be found at charitymmuse.com.

Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(15).pngDo you find any stereotypes in lesbian/bi work that you would personally remove?

I often find that along with under-representation, the stereotypes of erotica and objectification continue to prevail. What disturbs me most is the continuation of the so called “Celluloid Closet” – an underlying message that lesbian relationships cannot last, are not valid, cannot be ultimately fulfilling. We see it in the death of partners, the leaving for a man, and other tragic and unhappy endings that far outweigh the few gems with hopeful resolutions. While even heteronormative stories have tragedies, I think it’s past time for lesbian romances to have happy endings, hope, and redemption that celebrates a winning love between women.Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(16).png

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

I am deeply honored to be included in this work. Even before I came out to myself and others, I felt drawn to women who embraced their love of other women. I have been moved by the trailblazers in our community who have dared to love and be without apology. I feel like being part of this is one way I can continue the work they began, and the fact I get to work alongside other women who love women, who are from all over the world makes this experience all the more affirming and delightful.

Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(17).pngDid you ever want to be a voice for the lesbian/bi community? If so, why?

Yes, and I still do. When I sit and think about it, I already have been/am in my own circles of influence – in spiritual communities, in the religious college I attended for undergrad and grad school. In my day job, as a psychotherapist in a small southern town, I continue to be a voice for our community. I desire to instill hope and spread a message of belonging and love in whatever I do: as a therapist, a friend, a writer, a singer, and a citizen. I firmly believe that relationship changes the minds of people who would “other” us, and I’ve taken it as my life mission to stand in that gap in the ways that I can. What is more intimate than poetry and writing from the heart?

Your poems in SMITTEN are excellent, why did you choose these particular poems and what did you hope it would convey to readers?

“Merveilleux” and “Words” were written when I was still closeted, falling in love with a friend and terrified of her finding out. The tenderness I felt for her permeated my waking thoughts while the fear of being exposed caused a juxtaposition of thought and feeling I found almost too difficult to bear.  “Your Hair Hangs Down,” on the other hand, celebrates the freedom and beauty of the love I share with my wife. I hope readers see the hopeful nature of the first two and how they bloom into flourishing as love is found and embraced.

Do you feel the lesbian / bi voice was lost or co-opted by the larger LGBTQ movement and if so, do projects like this help change that? \

Unfortunately, I do. I believe in expansion and inclusion, but I also believe that we cannot expand or include if we circumvent the voices and experiences of any of our own. Sometimes, it feels like identifying as “lesbian” has become vanilla. We aren’t seen as forward thinking or inclusive by not identifying as a more recent term or by not rejecting labels altogether. I believe that this project and other writings/music/art will demonstrate the vivacity, richness, and ever progressive nature of love shared between two women.

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

 

Artists of SMITTEN Speak: Grace Desmarais

Grace Desmarais is a queer illustrator and cartoonist currently living in a cozy corner of Eastern Massachusetts. Grace self-publishes auto-bio comics centered around themes of trauma, dis/ability, chronic illness, and art history. Grace’s work has been featured in a variety of anthologies including the Votes for Women Anthology (to be published Fall 2020) and her editorial work has been featured in magazines, including Bright Lite.

How does art and identifying as bi/queer come together for you?

Art making and my identity (as a queer woman) is mostly about community. I find myself going to drawing nights and comics festivals where fellow cartoonists are mostly queer, then cultivating incredible relationships with all of them. Being in an accepting community where I can feel safe (and heard) being myself drives me to create more honest and positive art.

Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(18).pngHow does being an artist/cartoonist inform your views on expressing emotions through art-making?

Everywhere I go I always have my sketchbook. I am constantly coming across moments throughout the day where I will think “I have to draw that” or “that’s going to be a comic.” I think viewing life in this way allows me to hold on to child like enchantment with the world around me instead of being a cynic. As I have started to write and illustrate children’s books I have also found myself really trying to harness that magical excitement about the world and transform it into something meaningful. I feel like an alchemist or a witch when I sit down to draw and write– and I think that is really what being an artist is.

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

I am absolutely smitten now. I have struggle feeling affirmed in my bi identity, primarily because I had been intimate with cis-straight-men, which was incredibly dysphoric. Now I am absolutely smitten with a partner who is also bi and it is so incredibly affirming. I feel far more seen in this relationship than I ever have. The way that translates into my art I also think is interesting, my art and comics practice is really rolling. Since I am happy and affirmed I make more work– there is nothing more that I want as an artist, particularly a queer artist, but to dispel the notion of the suffering artist makes more or better work.

In this happy relationship, where I feel affirmed and smitten, I make more work than I ever have. I feel comfortable exploring the tender sensitive side of myself because I feel comfortable being tender and sensitive in my intimacy.

Do you feel your voice is heard? Do you believe anthologies like this can help you be heard?

I think the power of anthologies is to diversify an art medium and movement by getting as many folks as possible to feel seen in their experiences and to create allyship in creative communities.  I have been a victim and survivor of violent crime and I am constantly struggling against my chronic conditions, by bringing my art to the table it allows me to feel heard. However, as a white woman in a hetero-presenting relationship I carry a lot of power and privilege, and I think it is also my responsibility to be a proactive ally in intersectional movements by recognizing the power I hold.

How if at all has the experience of being lesbian/bi changed over the years? And how has this influenced you?

My identity as a bi woman has always felt like something that just existed. I always knew that I was queer– I just didn’t know how to articulate it. My experience at Hampshire College definitely made me feel comfortable in being more loud and proud of my queer identity. As for how it’s changed my art? I think it really hasn’t changed my art as much as it’s changed how I think about art making. I think a lot about ways my art making can help community or help kids feel seen and heard– that is definitely a product of being more involved in queer communities.

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/

 

Poets of SMITTEN speak: Amie Campbell

After coming of age in a conservative Christian environment, Amie Campbell didn’t come fully into herself until she found herself turning thirty, getting divorced, and raising two small children. It was then that she accepted that her love was not limited to one gender and she allowed herself to fall head over heels for a beautiful woman, thinking it would last forever.

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

I think “smitten” is my most common state of being. It’s probably my favorite emotional state. Life just feels good when you’re smitten. It’s such an optimistic and curious state of being. I don’t know that it is possible to summarize those feelings in poetry, but rather a poem can give you a little glimpse into that very special state of being.

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

As a bi woman who “came out” later on in life, I feel like I struggle a lot with that feeling of “am I queer enough?” There’s the bi stigma met with a heaping dose of impostor syndrome that sometimes can make it hard to feel like I fit in with the queer community. Being involved in this epic project, even just a little bit, feels like a huge leap of validation. I am enough. My love is enough.

Woman Motivational Quote Facebook Post(11).pngSMITTEN is a collection from throughout the world we have writers from India, Africa, Australia, Canada, the UK, France and many other countries. What does a multicultural collection accomplish?

It sounds almost cliche to say that love is love, but a collection like this, with writers from all over the globe and all over the age spectrum, shows how universal love truly is. It doesn’t matter what continent you are from, what language you speak, we all want to love and be loved. We may experience love slightly differently or express it in different words and ways, but in the end, the emotion of love is the same.

Do you think there is enough representation of lesbian poetry and writing in general and if no, what do you think is the reason?

Is there enough? Oh goddess, no! The lesbian experience is so rarely seen in the general audience, and even when it does come to light, is often cloaked in euphemisms and hushed tones. I think this is because the lesbian experience holds a certain power that is terrifying to the patriarchy. Women who love women, women who are not dependent upon men for their needs to be met, those women have such dynamic power that is wild and earthly and that’s scary to some.

SMITTEN is coming out late October, 2019 via all good book stores. Published by Indie Blu(e) www.indieblu.net 

Please consider supporting this project of over 120+ talented poets and authors by purchasing a copy of SMITTEN for someone who appreciates beautiful poetry. https://www.facebook.com/SMITTENwomen/