Monday, December 28, 2009

Passion and Dandelion Seed: A Monday Matters . . . You Do, Too, Interview (Part 2)

Last week, I published Part 1 of my interview with L.L. Barkat; you will find that post here. Today I publish Part 2, in which L.L. and I range across subjects, from her memoir Stone Crossings, to poetry-writing, to L.L.'s look ahead. The answer to what my interview title means can be gleaned below. There is also a very special surprise for those who stick with the interview; it's toward the end. (Don't cheat and go there first. You'll miss some wonderful responses, a few rather "saucy", to my questions.)

Passion and Dandelion Seed:
A Monday Matters . . . You Do, Too,
Interview With L.L. Barkat

Part 2 of 2

. . . it came to me somewhere between a leg lift and a push-up. . . .
~ L.L. Barkat

Maureen Doallas: How did you come to write Stone Crossings, you first book?

L.L. Barkat: I like to say that it came to me somewhere between a leg lift and a push-up. That was after my spouse said I HAD to bring a book proposal to a conference I was going to, which was after someone said I should go to the conference. But really, I think I'd spent my life writing [Stone Crossings] and this was just the formal moment when everything came together and I was asked to finally set it down.

MD: I've read many reviews of Stone Crossings, all highly laudatory. In some cases, your readers themselves seem to have come away changed by the experience of having read this book. What do you learn from your readers and how does that inform who you are?

LLB: Recently, on my blog, I said I used to think that Stone Crossings was a book about grace. (It's in the subtitle [Finding Grace in Hard and Hidden Places], after all.) But my readers taught me it's more particularly about the grace of forgiveness. People have come to me with stories of longstanding brokenness they couldn't forgive. . . and said that Stone Crossings became a threshold they could cross, a way to embrace what they could not embrace before.

Does this inform who I am? I don't know but it certainly calls me to enter into this mysterious forgiveness thing existing in the pages of a book that came from my own hands.

MD: Have family members read your book? Did its publication change anything about your family dynamics or relationships?

LLB: My father wept when he read the book and thanked me for grace. One of my stepmothers also responded very deeply, with apologies and a gift of a little bag of polished stones (if you've read the book, you get the import of that). But, mostly, I think the book changed me. I came away loving my parents and stepparents in new ways, because I'd delved into my own faults, and not simply theirs.

MD: How does grace manifest itself in your day-to-day life?

LLB: I walk in the woods; I turn a corner to find red berries sitting upon bright green moss, as if placed [there] by a generous hand. I look up and the sun is still peeking over the roof of the house, just as it did yesterday. I say to my littlest child, "You're in my way", but she says back, sing-song-like and hugging me, "Mommy, you're in my way, you're in my way, you're in my way." I open my e-mail today, and I find you.

These things are grace.

MD: What tests your faith, your sense of grace?

LLB: The other day I wrote a poem called "Number 100 Million and One" [, posted December 13, 2009]. It included two repeating lines: "I am the girl in the window" and "smiling so no one will know". It was in tribute to the 100 million "missing" women in the world and those who are oppressed.

The poem itself was based on a photo I once saw, of two young girls in a window, each with a number pinned to her clothing, [each one] for sale for sex. Do these things test my sense of grace? Yes, they do. And all I can do is think, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken them?"

Then, too, I see inside my own heart. Maybe I am also the "girl in the window" or maybe I am the "men low/ and high".

Despair picks at me.

I don't know what to think or say. For the sun is still peeking over the roof, and a mourning dove is just now lighting on the lawn. Someone is working to rescue the "girl in the window", and my own little daughter is saying something to rescue me.

I would like to think I am just a conscious poet.
~ L.L. Barkat

MD: Let's talk about your poems, poetry, and poetry-making. Who numbers among your favorite poets? Which, if any, would you say have influenced how you read and write poetry?

LLB: I love Walt Whitman, though he's a bit wordy at times! And some of my poems are direct "lifts" from his style, playing with and modifying his words and ideas. Wendell Berry makes me smile. George Seferis. . . oh, catch me. . . his words are about to lay me flat. [For an example of a Seferis poem, click here.]

MD: What surprises you about your poetry writing?

LLB: How naturally it comes. And from what depths it emerges.

MD: How much rewriting or revising do you undertake?

LLB: Um.

Which is to say:


I rarely rewrite or revise. [The poems] land fairly whole. Okay, but maybe that's because the room in my head has been cradling them and changing their diapers long before they wail onto the page. So, it's an illusion — this supposed lack of revision.

MD: How much time or care do you invest in how your poems look on the page, print or virtual?

LLB: I'm a very visual person. This [characteristic], too, comes naturally then, in the composition of a poem. In fact, I think it's something that assists me unawares. . . this internal visual sense.

MD: Do you actively seek venues in which to publish; for example, do you regularly submit work to magazines that publish poetry or to poetry competitions?

LLB: That is a naughty question. I think I will tell you, instead, how much I love Japanese green tea. Dark chocolate also is good, especially when I have had a stressful day.

[I am laughing. So wonderful an answer! ~ MD]

MD: What are your poems' sources of inspiration?

LLB: Emotions.

Always emotions. Then an emotion kisses an image, and . . . well, you know. . . .

MD: What, in your estimation, makes a poem "good"?

LLB: If a poem is just an intellectual exercise — lots of clever words and ideas and a fancy construction — I don't consider it to be a very good poem. It is a nice formula or a math problem or maybe a texbook. If, however, the poem makes me gasp or sigh, choke or weep, or even smile in delight, why, then I know I've been in the presence of "goodness".

Ironically, a "good" poem must use the intellect to produce emotional effects. Some of the worst poetry simply speaks about the feelings/responses I just discussed, rather than eliciting them through a careful choice of concrete details.

Never mind. Let's just say it this way: Does the poem bore me? It's probably not a very good poem. (Or maybe I have chosen to read the wrong poet.)

MD: Are you a "socially conscious" poet? Do you think a poem can bring about change in the way, say, a photograph can stir, incite, or effect a change?

LLB: I would like to think I am just a conscious poet. And, in this way, whatever I notice, I hope to set down, so it could turn someone's head, or flip her heart. Ultimately, that's social change: beginning with a single reader.

MD: Kim Rosen (who wrote Saved By a Poem) says that poetry's "first door" is the intimate and unobstructed voice. To my ear, your poems have a distinct voice. How would you describe that voice?

LLB: Cinnamon. Or maybe almonds. Okay, both.

MD: What do your poems reveal to you about yourself? [Note: What follows is L.L.'s second response to my question. Although I liked her original answer, which shall forever be known only to her and me, I like this one more. On receiving it, I thought, what a wonderful surprise!]

LLB: May I answer with a poem? It's not so much to say what my poems reveal as to say how they are willing to hold every part of me and, by extension, to also hold others.


What is poetry,
she asked, fetching
it to me with full
hands. How could I
answer the woman?
I do not know what
it is any more than
she. I guess it must
be marks on tender
skin, bearers of sin,
cool cups of rain
and bottles of tears
collected on midnight
trains from the eyes
of old men, old women
and infants traveling
to God knows where,
it hangs and is lifted
from our hair
goes onward and
onward speaking
itself, tripping us
as we debark
metal stairs.

[from L.L.'s newly published collection, InsideOut, page 30]

MD: What do you like best about your poems?

LLB: When I read them, I cry. Or sometimes I laugh. I like that. [It's] [a]s if someone outside of me is giving me a gift, and when I open it, I find that it was really my paper, my tape, my ribbon. What a nice surprise!

I don't know why I'm doing this; . . . it just feels completely right.
~ L.L. Barkat

MD: Stone Crossings follows your faith journey. As some readers may know, InsideOut, a collection of 139 of your poems (there are many more not in the book), is the result of a year you committed to spend outside, for some period of time each day, looking, observing, translating what you saw into words. Now, among other activities, you've undertaken an art pilgrimage. Tell us about that. Where do you "go", whose art are you divining, and what do you learn or hope to learn during this experience? Also, any chance of a book coming out of this?

LLB: One person asked me early on, "What's the point?" Last night, my dad said, "I don't know where you're going with these pastels but you sure know how to rip open a heart."

These baffled responses represent my own mystification. I don't know why I'm doing this [art pilgrimage]; as with the outdoor experience, it just feels completely right.

I don't have a compass for the pilgrimage, just an openness. It means that I stand still and look at buildings when everyone else is hurrying on. Or I spend time creating abstract art with my pastels (something I'd never done before this "pilgrimage" — neither the abstracts nor the pastels). I spend time with books about any artist who happens to capture my attention; this summer, it was [the renowned glass artist Dale] Chihuly.

Write a book about the pilgrimage? Too early to tell. But see how nicely it has attracted me to your work in the art world? Maybe it's just about this kind of thing. . . whom I pay attention to, whom I seek with no direction beforehand.

MD: Are you a target-setter? If yes, what do you want or hope to accomplish over the next one-to-two years, and then five years out?

LLB: I am a dandelion seed. Who knows where I'll drift? But the world never seems to rid itself of those sprightly yellow flowers.

MD: If you were never to write again, what would you like to be remembered for, and why?

LLB: Love. The way you can't forget purple lilacs in spring. And maybe for the same reason.

MD: Thank you, Laura, for this wonderful opportunity to talk with you. Though we chatted via e-mail, reading your answers in the white light of a computer screen, I do feel as though we were talking face to face, sitting on a big stuffy couch on a cold day, a pot of tea set out before us, poems in the air, seed falling, being scattered, planted. You did indeed answer to the meaning of my interview's title: Passion and Dandelion Seed.

Upcoming Activities

On January 29, 2010, L.L. will appear in New York City with singer Brook Campbell. L.L. will be reading her poetry; Brooke, singing. The venue is described here.

L.L. will be speaking at next year's Jubilee Conference, to be held February 19-21, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Of Interest

A podcast of L.L.'s conversation with Christy Tennant of International Arts Movement is here.

Glynn Young's review of InsideOut is here.

You can follow L.L. on Twitter at (She's also on FaceBook and LinkedIn and probably any other Social Media site worth using.)


Anonymous said...

well done :-)

Kayce aka lucy said...

wow! what an amazing woman. her name has been popping up for awhile now and i am so glad i took the time to read this interview. maureen, you offer us so many gifts with your own skills! thank you. xox