MirrorPoetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it –letters to Theo How many self-portraits enough, Vincent? Rembrandt created almost one hundred. Were you trying to meet his goal? Or was it that poverty bred necessity? Perhaps poets should take note to explore one’s self so intently. Purchase a mirror good enough to study introspection spending hours learning to hone craft. I do not want to spend any more hours writing about my life. Instead, I prefer to breath art and scribble awe about your painted daydreams instead.
I have always called my students “pickles” hailing back to my early days of teaching. My students loved those stinky, garlic pickles wrapped in plastic they bought from the corner store to suck all day. Teenagers are like pickles; they are sour in temperament, sharp in odor, but I cannot get enough of them. I love them. Pickles have hard rinds, but are still green-fresh inside. The light that shines from my students’ eyes with exuberance and joy are cucumbers of spring. Their hard rinds pickle to protect vulnerable flesh in their struggle to survive section eight housing developments where walls are paper-thin and hallways reek of urine, onions in bacon fat and the chemical sting mamas use to do hair in the kitchen to supplement ADC checks as social workers turn a blind eye to “the men’s shoes” in the closets. My pickles do not ask each other where they live; they ask “where you stay?” because that is exactly their experience.
I once worked with a kid organizing his locker and binder. I said to him, “What must your room look like?” to which he responded, “Room? Ms. Beck, I stay with my aunt on the sofa in the living room. I ain’t got no room of my own.” I had to turn my head so he wouldn’t see the tears spring into my eyes, thinking about my son’s room that is probably bigger than his aunt’s entire apartment. Another young man took to coming to my classroom first thing in the morning to clean his white leather sneakers. I once asked him why his shoes were always so dusty and he whispered, “Don’t tell anyone, but our house still has dirt floors. I don’t want my Daddy to think I’m not grateful for these shoes, so I wear them, but they always get dirty.” I kept a container of Lysol wipes in the classroom especially for this early morning ritual; our secret before he walked down the hallways each day.
Secrets are held tightly behind my pickle’s lips, but the truth poured onto the pages of the spiral notebooks they kept as journals in my classroom. Every class bell began with a journal prompt as opportunity for my pickles to clear their minds before we launched into instruction I peppered with stories and jokes about my own life and pop-up dance moments I used to keep them entertained and engaged in learning. Not all secrets found their way to the page; some kept locked inside. Destiny was a shining star of a student; physically beautiful, smart, smiling. Her journal was decorated with doodles of hearts and flowers; her own name ornamented in different color inks I would enjoy scanning every few weeks. So, imagine my shock and grief when a few girls came into my room the following school year, “Ms. Beck, have you heard about Destiny?”
Destiny had transferred back to her mother’s school district over the summer, but I assumed all was well when I packaged her writing portfolio to be sent to her next teacher. I would never have thought those would be some of the last words she ever wrote or I might have been tempted to keep that writing journal as a memory of my smiling girl. What I never knew is the only reason Destiny was a student in my classroom was because protective services had removed her from her mother’s house for a year. When she was returned, Destiny hanged herself in the garage instead of subjecting herself to further experiences of being prostituted by her own mother for drugs. Apparently, Destiny’s body had been used as an object of exchange for years. How did I not know one detail about this? What had I missed between the blue lines of that college ruled notebook?
Carlos kept a secret; a beautiful talent I did not discover until the most heinous of situations: his own mother’s funeral. He was his church band’s percussionist and took pride sitting behind the drum kit to lead the music as we entered the sanctuary that held the closed casket of his mother’s body he and his little sister had found beaten and mangled almost beyond recognition in the alley on their walk to the bus stop for school. She was a drug addict who owed money the dealers took out in rage against her life. Did they know her body would be discovered by her own children? Was that part of the retribution? I had no idea until that moment he could play drums and he had been in my classroom for the entire school year.
June, my moon-faced boy held a secret within his brain even he did not know about until it was too late. A tumor at the base of his brain stem that grew and grew until he dropped unconscious and was rushed to the hospital. When the surgeons went in to relieve the pressure, his skull flooded with blood. I was there when they took June off life-support. I could not console myself as I looked at the baseball hat his mother had chosen for the open casket with the idea that at least, I had taught a sixteen year old boy how to drive before he died. Using my own old Honda, I taught June the delights of a clutch and gear stick on the hills of Cincinnati’s parks.
Some secrets found their way to the pages of the journals; mostly pregnancy. Because I could not read every journal every day, my pickles were instructed to tap me on the shoulder as they exited my classroom each day and whisper, “read my journal today, please” after which, I would pull the notebooks and stack on my desk to read at the end of the last bell, before bus duty. I sat with China and Arianne as they told their own moms that they were pregnant. Because of Narqueta, I could confidently council my students that being a teen-aged mother would not be the end of their lives if they chose to keep their babies.
Narqueta Kent walked into my classroom her freshman year of high school, having given birth to her daughter over the summer. Before meeting Narqueta, I truly believed teenaged pregnancy equaled academic disaster. The day she graduated high school, she walked in cap and gown holding her four year old daughter’s hand, armed with several scholarships including single parent dormitory housing. Thank you, Pickle, for teaching me this singular success because China and Arianne made the same decision to have their babies and I am proud to say both women are in college today.
Cutting is a secret Kelly unintentionally revealed through her insistence of long-sleeves, even when Kentucky turns soupy with humidity in my classroom with no air-conditioning. In the winter, she wore hobo-style knit gloves to her elbows to cover the criss-cross scars she opened in her attempt to assuage her internal pain. Homelessness a secret Jessamine kept as long as she could until her mama’s car was towed and shelters not always available. Scrawled notes requesting extensions on assignments came from parents too often as my students wasted hours in prison lobbies, waiting for their forty-five minute visits after driving hours to and from the facilities. Field trip forms always included box lunches for almost all of my students who received free breakfast and lunch, even though most of them cobbled together enough change to buy chips and sodas and of course, their beloved pickles in a plastic bag for a dollar. Hard rinds, green-fresh, sour but undeniably delicious.
-first published in Pluck! Spring 2014
Interview on Accents Blog: http://accents-publishing.com/blog/2013/09/30/an-interview-with-elizabeth-beck/
Interview on Marie Direction’s Keep Hearing Voices June 29, 2013
Interview on Accents Radio June 7, 2013
“The Next Big Thing” Interview Project
I am honored to be tagged by http://katerinaklemer.com/ownaccent/ for this interview project, “The Next Big Thing,” where writers answer a series of questions about their recent or forthcoming book, post on their blog/web space, and tag others for the next week. You can read Katerina’s interview if you click on the link above. I am thankful for the opportunity to talk to you about my two upcoming publications. Please read on!
What are the working titles of the books?
“Interiors” is the title of my chapbook of poems due out August 3, 2013 by Finishing Line Press. “insignificant white girl” is my full-length book of poems, which will be published by Evening Street Press May 2013.
Where did the ideas come from for the books?
“insignficant white girl” is based upon my own life experiences. Through poetry, I tell the story of a girl who was raised in an affluent, American suburban home in the 1970’s/80’s. The girl survives incest by the hand of her own father (who, ironically, was a lawyer); molestations by other people; rape at the age of fourteen; a housefire; domestic violence by the hands of two alcoholic parents.
“Interiors” is a departure from this story entirely. It is a thematic chapbook with the extended metaphor of interior design to explore inner-personal relationships. It invites you into the foyer, through a transom, to stay in the guest room, sit at a picture window and even slip into a bubble bath in a claw-footed tub. I call “Interiors” my gem and “insignificant white girl” to be a continuation of my life’s work in championing against childhood sexual abuse.
What genre do your books fall under?
Poetry. Make no mistake… neither books are non-fiction. They are both books of poetry; therefore, the characters, setting, narrative thread… all are creations of my imagination. Perhaps based upon my life, yes… but they are both poetry.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
No one. There is no child actor I would ever want to act out any part of “insignificant white girl”. I thought about this idea when watching the film “Bastard Out of Carolina”. I really worried about the child actress having to “pretend” to be molested on film. I think it would traumatize a child actor to have to “act out” even one episode of the years and years of sexual abuse I endured. No way.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Hopefully, “well-crafted” would be the phrase I would most desire to describe both of my books. As a dedicated English teacher, I took great pains in my revisions and edits.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscripts?
“insignficant white girl” was drafted for over twenty years in my private journals; however, once I sat down to actually write it… the first draft was written in the course of thirty-six agonizing hours. Then, I spent two years revising/rewriting/editing it to the final version. “Interiors” was written much differently… it was written in the span of one year, which also included intensive workshopping for the completion of the collection. Actually, “Interiors” was my escape space… the poems I wrote to treat myself when “insignificant white girl” was too heavy emotionally for me to continue and I needed to take a break. But, I couldn’t stop writing… so both books got written.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired to write “insignficant white girl” as an on-going effort to support my cause to champion against childhood sexual abuse. Of course, I was inspired by Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker; but, when I read “Sister” by Nickole Brown, I knew how I wanted to shape my story. Her book is incredibly beautiful, sad and haunting and it taught me how to create a lyrical narrative. Sue William Silverman’s book “Because I Remember Terror, Father I Remember You” was a huge source of inspiration to have the courage to be unflinchingly honest.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
“insignficant white girl” will be published by Evening Street Press in Columbus, Ohio around May 1, 2013. “Interiors” will be published by Finishing Line Press in Georgetown, Kentucky around August 3, 2013. Both book will be available at the press websites, as well as on Amazon and independent bookstores, such as Morris Book Shop.
Tag: Donna Ison @ http://thebourbonista.com/
Interview by Donna Ison in her Bourbonista Blog
“Marching to the Beat of her Own Djembe”
For Today’s Tête-à-Tête Thursday, we’ll be chatting with Elizabeth Beck, the brave creator of the Living with Memories blog, and author of two books of poems: ”Interiors” and “insignficant white girl”. Elizabeth was an award-winning English and Art History teacher for ten years. During her time at Withrow High School, she founded “The Tracks” Literary Magazine. She is the proud recipient of a 2012 Artist Enrichment Grant through The Kentucky Foudation for Women. And, in November 2011, founded The Teen Howl Poetry Series that serves the youth of Central Kentucky.
The Bourbonista: Let’s get started, tell me about yourself in 50 words or less. At least one word must begin with the letter X and none can begin with the letter S.
Elizabeth: I am a writer, teacher, and artist who lives with her family on a pond in Lexington, Kentucky. I cannot, however, play the xylophone. I have been known to bang on a djembe.
The Bourbonista: I’ve been known to bang my head to some AC/DC and Slayer. Banging a djembe seems much more inspired. If you were a circus performer, what would you be and why?
Elizabeth: What? Lexington isn’t a circus in itself? I’m confused. I’m definitely not a clown. Clowns freak me out. Hmm… perhaps a trapeze artist? That’s how I already feel…. I swing from one task to the next; often not knowing if I will wildly fly through the air.
The Bourbonista: Yes, we are of the generation that saw the original Poltergeist and read Steven King’s It by flashlight under the covers, and are now freaked out by clowns. I’m horrified of them. But not in the classic sense. I’m not afraid that they’ll kill me. I’m afraid they’ll tickle me into submission, and then lick me. I just imagine mile-long tongues that feel like sand paper hidden behind those grease paint smiles. I’m weirding myself out…happy thoughts…we need to think happy thoughts. Like, what would you do if you won the lottery?
Elizabeth: I don’t play the lottery. But, if for some weird chance I did win… oh, the usual stuff. Donate a bunch of the money, of course. Pay for my kid’s college. Would be nice to pay off my student loans before he goes to college, sigh. Okay! I know. I would go back to Bali, Indonesia. I love it there.
The Bourbonista: Grab me a sarong while you’re there. Now, that it’s summer, all I’ll be wearing are sarongs and kaftans. Now, if you were on death row.. don’t act like you don’t know who you killed to get there.. what would be your last supper?
Elizabeth: Champagne and chocolate. What else is there?
The Bourbonista: Bourbon and New York Style pizza with extra, extra cheese. Write a short “Thank You” letter to your future self for all the cool shit you’ve done twenty years from now.
Thank you for being brave enough to have that kid. That was the smartest thing you have ever done. Good for you for standing courageous enough to speak your truth by publishing “insignificant white girl”. I know it seems really scary right now to be so exposed, but it will help other people. Remember, you didn’t even know the word “incest” even existed until you were twelve years old. You didn’t choose this cause to champion against childhood sexual abuse. It chose you. What you did choose was to be strong enough to do the work.
p.s. I love you
The Bourbonista: Thank you for being brave for all the survivors, and thank you for sharing that courage and your wit here with us today. So, in closing, I have to know, if you were a booze, which booze would you be and who would you want to drink you?
Elizabeth: Although vodka runs through my veins via my heritage, I would choose champagne. I would love to be the magnum of Perrier Jouet that Phish opens on stage in Madison Square Gardens to toast New Year’s Eve.
Elizabeth’s first chapbook “Interiors” is now available for pre-order at Finishing Line Press. Simply click the title above.
Her first full-length collection of poetry “insignificant white girl”will be available June 1, 2013 through Evening Street Press (and Amazon). Please join her Saturday, June 8, 2013 at 3 p.m. at Morris Book Shop to celebrate Lexington’s Poetry Month with a reading and signing of her book.