Interview with Susan Evans
Susan Evans’s poem “Lucy the Nun With the Green Socks” appeared on Metapsychosis website in Autumn 2020. During the following winter, we exchanged emails in which Susan told me about her creative process, her sources of inspiration, and what her hopes for the coming year.
What was your experience like writing “Lucy”? Was it written all at once or not?
The experience felt a little like levitation, I imagine! There was a joy in writing “Lucy,” in creating the poem using memory, Rilke, Rumi, Estes, and Nordic folklore. The poem was written fairly quickly with few revisions.
I wrote the poem during our nation’s shut down when darkness seemed to cover the sun. I wanted to remind myself and readers that the Universe remembers us always, and when we are at our most despondent “a great wind” may be “bearing us across the sky.” In other words, unseen, mysterious forces operate in the world that we can only glimpse through prayer, mediation, nature, and art, so we must take heart, and be ready to answer that Divine Messenger when he/she knocks at our door.
I began the poem with a free-write about Sister Lucy, wove in a few lines from Rumi, a quote from Rilke, and a passage from Estes connecting the bears’ transformative and regenerative powers to many goddesses around the world. After that, I looked at my freshly laundered socks sitting in a basket, thought I heard a knocking, and followed the snowy trail to the woods and into the icy river.
Regarding “Lucy’s” themes of risk and transformation, what does risk in poetry mean to you? Have you ever had a time when you knew you couldn’t play it safe?
To me, writing, in general, is the antithesis of playing it safe. I equate it to giving birth. It exposes the writer, all her vulnerabilities, and strips her bare. Excavating my own depths, shining light into the darkest corner of my shadow self takes courage. Surely, I don’t want to expose myself, but as a writer I am compelled to write from personal experience and get down into the dirt and grit and roll, using my anger and sense of injustice, my fear, and my pain to express myself. Risk carries penalties—censure, unpopularity, criticism. All hurt.
Nevertheless, I always feel that risk in life, as well as in writing, is the lesser of two evils. If I don’t risk, I stay the same, life stagnates, work fades, and I die a little or a lot inside. If I risk, oft times, I suffer, and suffer good, before what I really want—to live and write authentically, and to awake to fuller consciousness—emerges from the quagmire. There is no transformation without risk, and without risk, without its accompanying suffering, poetry is dead, relevance and meaning, and the poet is dead.
What have you been reading lately that inspires you?
In December, a Scottish minister friend of mine recommended a book by Christine Valters Paintner: Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics. Paintner examines the life and mystical experiences of 12 mystics and saints, relating each to an archetype for the reader’s reflection and creative practice.
In a chapter devoted to Rainer Maria Rilke, Painter states, “To see the world from another perspective . . . to honor the sacred dimensions of our lives . . . can be seen as one of the tasks of the Artist.”
This idea of seeing with “new” eyes—that is, spiritual eyes—inspires me tremendously. That sacred dimension always intrigues me, and is the reason why I endeavor to add a dose of “medicine” to everything I write. I ask myself: does it heal? Does it teach? Does it inspire?
Thinking of your creative path forward, what are your hopes and dreams for the year ahead?
Some days during this COVID, desolate winter I want nothing but to hibernate. On those mornings, I refer to Angelou’s “And Still I Rise,” Ezekiel’s, “Arise, for it is your task . . .be strong and do it,” and Amanda Gormon’s poetic line, “For there is always light if only we are brave enough to be it.”
I feel called to rise, come forward, and add my voice to those of others wishing to be the light, shine the light, and hold the light.
My hope this year, then, is to embody the archetype of the “Inspiratrix”—a woman who inspires—and incorporate this theme of rising beyond difficulties with faith and courage into many poems and prose pieces.
My creative year ahead means following a routine of meditating, walking in nature, and writing every day. I am completing a memoir about my volunteer experience at a Christian youth camp in Scotland. This year my goal is to edit the manuscript for the last time and seek a publisher. My dream, of course, would be to have my book a bestseller, hailed by critics as fresh and insightful, and by readers as inspiring, amusing, and meaningful.