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Heather Fowler is a Renaissance woman, and I’m not speaking of her lush lips, her vibrant red hair, or her jeweled eyes. She is a writer, poet, playwright, screenwriter, painter, and mother, and now she is the author of a debut collection of stories, Suspended Heart, just out from Aqueous Books. It’s a dazzling collection of magical realism, from boys made of clay and girls made of razor blades, to Philip Dick-esque replicants, to vampires and heroic parrots. I talked with Heather about the collection, her emotional pulses, her inner old lady, and more:

In laughter, one can cure the restless mind—
bring flushes to those cheeks we would adore,
make magic from the dullest realist find,
take mirth from each hard task we most abhor.

What care have I for those who extend spite
when warmth can be what’s shared here for a time?
Is not the man most happy with his kite
if on some flying string his soul can climb?

Such freedoms don’t depend on counted gold,
for men are not contented by their wealth.
We most fear strolls alone as we grow old,
our pleasures more in company and health.

If we two stay quite close, while joy relays,
your smile can salve the pain of wretched days.

~

Your smile can salve the pain of wretched days.
This I admit and often do proclaim.
It cures my guilt, my none-may-care malaise
to cast aside the terror of my shame.

For I am one too weary (and too scared)
to take up battles I may fear to lose,
but you reduce once crippling thoughts compared
to how I’d view them with such fear reduced.

You soothe me with the most patient of hearts,
to slow me with the calm part of your love—
each bit of progress made in fits and starts—
where earnest pushing never turns to shove.

Thank heavens for a heart that’s true and kind,
should memory bring to fore what’s left behind.

~

Should memory bring to fore what’s left behind,
I’ll contemplate each heartbreak I’ve endured,
remembering my yesterdays confined
so lacking in self-worth, esteem injured.

For then were days I lost parts of myself,
heart set adrift when false men harmed my soul,
no laughter heard to add to greater health,
no love for visions others could extol.

And if I heard the sounds of others’ joy,
this left me, all the more, in some strange space.
The mirth they shared seemed only love’s decoy;
I did not feel I dwelt in their same place.

I prayed, just then, to mimic normal’s craze,
my joyful sound to bring back joyful ways.

~

My joyful sound to bring back joyful ways–
This much and more I’d seen with life explored.
A smile to multiply, one’s fears allays–
much more than hateful acts to be deplored.

So lavish me with willful comedy,
the kind to tear my sides and tear my eyes;
one’s humor is ironic remedy
when pain, full twist, contorts to joy’s surprise.

If only we could share this, hearts’ content,
not just our maladies, but also mirth,
such pleasant histories could foil dissent,
like needs create a tightening of our girth.

A moment’s laughter is a moment’s gain:
What better joy (than to escape from pain)?

~

What better joy than to escape from pain,
as sun that comes to brighten in wet trees
after the gloomy outdoor graying rain,
alighting golden shine drops hung from leaves?

A clown’s face can be funny as it’s cruel,
so painted with its gross, unnatural white,
a garish slash of lips, the crimson rule–
each motion large to falsify a plight.

But pain and pleasure both ride one same nerve,
so this explains our fusion of the two,
our need to know each one, to judgment serve,
so we may fathom which we’d choose anew.

But if we could love lighter, without care—
we should forget what knowing would strip bare.

~

We should forget what knowing would strip bare
since, from small knowledge, solely harm begets;
confusion can be prized when memories snare
the pain a thinker’d rather he forgets.

Amnesia is as sweet as it is vile,
depending on how pain has marked one’s path.
A murderer would sooner sit and smile,
or laugh instead recall his former wrath.

If only such forgetting killed the crime
such that the wounding act had not occurred,
rewound the wary, ticking hands of time,
so that a better future be secured.

But nothing harmful rendered won’t remain.
A person never free will oft complain.

~

A person never free will oft complain
his torturer is other than himself,
a guard or man of law who makes the stain,
the keys to his release up on locked shelf.

But never does he more need self-engage,
for honesty creates a level field,
such that his acts of tragedy or rage
can be accounted for as he is healed.

The bitterest among us craves more joy
that lightest ones do carry close at hand,
still wants to be kept near the light’s envoy,
regardless if spontaneous or planned.

He knows the holes in psyches need repair:
Small sadness marks new onset of despair.

~

Small sadness marks new onset of despair;
this much is true, but cannot be the end.
What man is not made better should he care
to earn the trust of others he’d call friend?

A friend is life’s best way to raise our flags
up from a solitary half-mast woe—
the better, those accepting of our drags,
with gentle patience lending us their tow.

Two candles lit will ever surpass one,
though not create a harsh and flaming glare;
two candles lit make tabled comfort’s sun,
conjoin communion with their arcing flare.

Though dining may be short, I’d dine in style–
but if, with you, I’m happy for a while.

~

But if with you, I’m happy for a while
I do not feel the need to compromise;
the pleasures that I’ve taken stay the rile
I feel if other circumstance arise.

With you I learn the heart of laugh and sing,
the heat found in two clasping, closing hands,
the promise known to love, more than the ring,
that best of pairing couples understands.

Two swans are we who make our futures glide,
with ponds of our own making as our fate.
What care have we for what others decide,
if at our side we’ve found our lifelong mate?

When love leads to forever’s asked consent—
I have no call to say my life is spent.

~

I have no call to say my life is spent
outside of what most men would call divine–
if love grows weak, such travesty seems bent
to rip apart thin cloth once deemed too fine.

Dark shadows all, what’s seen when I feel weak,
consumed by misted wishes for the more.
A fool am I when hazarding the bleak
of apertures dense greed could lay in store.

There is no worse illusion than to think
another love, though distant, better suits,
much like a thief can, with ambition, sink
to arrogant re-robbing homes he loots.

Such waste of now rejects good fortune’s smile
in horror, though I’ve lingered there a while.

~

In horror, though I’ve lingered there a while,
accursed by misdirection in my blood,
been slave to indecision’s whippish bile,
let trickles of affection seem a flood.

I’ve fallen prey to fantasy’s dark lure,
and while in doing so lost good’s reply;
I’ve thought that such disease might be the cure
so faltered with my none too steady eye.

But, doing this, I nearly lost my gain,
much as flailing oration loses calm,
though only through true love would I reclaim
a stable passion used as saving balm.

For love was patient through those tears I spent.
Sometimes it is the fool who must relent.

~

Sometimes it is the fool who must relent
from disadvantaged stances to a rule.
My whorish heart seeks kindness gladly sent,
but bonds more strongly with self-ridicule.

Until one walks a mile in self-disdain,
sometimes one cannot know what most is true,
or make the sweet connection with a swain
whose shallow heart is empty or in lieu.

Those deeper things I’ve found with lasting care,
including warmer discourse, hearts aligned–
post-ransacking deep pockets for my share
to find inside one creature comfort, mine.

To stay fulfilled by loving is the key;
it’s those sad ones who must most joyful be.

~

It’s those sad ones who must most joyful be
for they have tasted deeply of despair–
they know the pain of lies from what they see,
regarding lives that fall to disrepair.

They see the way to soften flaws is hold
each large fault up to bright lights till it cracks,
yet be more gentle with each breaking fold
until a will for change informs one’s acts.

There is no perfect man who will not laugh,
or cry at how he’s tried to change his ways,
who knowing what he’s done, won’t then re-craft
some happy recompense for past delays.

This is the best two lovers can decree:
I’ll laugh for you—if you’ll but cherish me.

~

In laughter one can cure the restless mind.
Your smile can solve the pain of wretched days;
should memory bring to fore what’s left behind,
my joyful sound to recall joyful ways.

What better joy (than to escape from pain)?
We should forget what knowing can strip bare.
A person never free will oft complain,
small sadness marks new onset of despair.

But if, with you, I’m happy for a while,
I have no call to say my life is spent
in horror, though I’ve lingered there a while.
Sometimes it is the fool who must relent:

It’s those sad ones who must most joyful be—
I’ll laugh for you, if you’ll but cherish me.

So, you’re back here at the Nervous Breakdown, this time with a heroic crown.  Do you enjoy writing them? How long did that this one take you to write?

I think heroic crowns are rather rare these days.  The sequence is long, for one thing.  For another, the fifteenth sonnet is comprised entirely of the first lines of the preceding fourteen sonnets.  When you add iambic pentameter to the mix and a set rhyme scheme, this tends to turn away many poets who haven’t worked much with sonnets.

That said, some people say that, aside from the sonnets’ interlinking nature, daisy chain, the heroic crown’s challenge is to write so many short poems in sequence with connections yet amply nuanced shifts that move forward in a logical or emotional progression. I do enjoy writing them, almost find them like weaving or knitting with words, compose them in a trance-like state, for they are gentle poems, lulling.

Although, I began with standard crowns, which are like the bite-size version, I have written several of the heroic variety.  This one here at TNB, I wrote in one long evening, while taking care of my children.  I remember this because I almost lost an entire sonnet from the sequence due to splashed bathwater, as I literally carried around my notebook and kept adding lines while they bathed.  As an aside, I have terrible hand-writing, so when you add water-blurred ink to already inscrutable penmanship, let’s just say I was glad that this was a rhyming poem so I could later guess at what was meant by various scribbles.


Do you like the anachronism of writing by hand?

I almost never write with real ink anymore, unless on receipts or scraps of paper; you know, compulsively with a desperate need to jot some trivia down for potential later use.  The exception to this is when I’m doing some kind of care-taking or outdoor activities; then I do use pens.  A friend recently found a little notebook on which I had written all kinds of strange animal facts from a Zoo bus tour.  He laughed at them.  I felt kind of violated that he’d read this notebook actually.  Like the facts therein were some sort of guideposts in a diary.  Can you guess my animal?  Which animals would I need to document?  In fact, I’m still feeling shy about that.


This poem is very gentle.  Love, laughter, and cherishing are the themes.  So much of your work is more aggressive.  But there is sadness here, too.  Would you like to speak to that?

I think that hope and desire and love and pain are all inter-related.  How can we value what we have unless we know what we have lost?  How can a person feel joy without the contrast to known sorrow?  This poem was actually quite optimistic for me in that it arose from a sort of inquiry I felt regarding a consideration of strengths and weaknesses in pairings.  For me, it’s like the explanation of a person, who has endured a lot of pain and solitude and grief, to a potential life-partner, about why a loving pairing would be desirable.  I imagine, or imagined both people in this pairing were black swans of sorts; those who knew shame and pain and loss.  In the poem, there are all the standard elements of an intellectual and romantic wooing taking place–the expression of joy at the presence of the other, the admission of a troubled past, the remembrance of the feeling of alienation that proceeded the discovery of the other, the proposal or reminder that togetherness can bring joy, the rapid construction of an argument regarding why joy is necessary in general–and so on–culminating in the final sonnet, which is like a vow or a promise to a beloved, a desire to share and exchange strengths in unity.


How does your fiction differ thematically from your poetry?

My poetry is more naked.  In fiction, especially when you work with surrealist themes or magical realism, you are quite aware that you are constructing characters.  Carefully, you shade and veil these beings.  Even in standard literary fiction, the emotional truth is still present, but fiction is a lot easier for an author to hide behind, to branch away from him or herself.

I think poetry keeps the writer very aware that people will interpret it as personal experience.   There’s the I that keeps popping up.  Whereas fiction has more he and she and you.


Do you have any private poetry that you never share with anyone and don’t submit?

Of course.  Lots of it.  Stories like this too.  They may find it when I die.  If I don’t burn it first.  If my children don’t one day secret it away from me while I’m unaware.  It’s kind of delightful, actually, to imagine being an old woman walking out to a field with a suitcase full of old work and lighting a fire to ignite and expand one page at a time.  Do you think we’ll have paper then, when I am old?  All the good things are vanishing into computers lately.  Well, I will have paper.  I will hoard it just so I can light it up. This will give me great pleasure.


Speaking of stories, your new book of magical realism stories, SUSPENDED HEART, has just been released by Aqueous Books.  Congratulations!  As you mentioned in your earlier self-interview, you plan to donate part of your proceeds to a charity.  Can you tell us which charity and why?  Have you picked the next charity yet?

I selected the San Diego Family Justice Center, which is a facility here in San Diego for battered women and children because I love what they do, which includes providing legal referrals, housing help, and any number of important services to families that they serve.  I have not picked the next charity yet because I am perverse and would like to link the themes in whatever book comes out next, in my awareness, with the idea served by the charity.  Let us hope the next book picked up is not THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT PUT OUT.  I might then have to start researching prostate cancer facilities or other related causes. I’m kidding.  That would be fine.


What are you excited about having written that has either just come out or is due out soon?  What next poetically?

This month, the title story for SUSPENDED HEART, “Suspended Heart,” has just been released at the Winter 2011 issue of JMWW.    Also, I recently wrote a pair piece for Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” that appeared mid-January at Necessary Fiction’s First Footing project and have another pair piece for Updike’s “A & P” coming out with the fabulous Re:Telling anthology soon to be released by Ampersand Books.  Soon to follow, a traditional literary story about a blind girl will come out in Feminist Studies and an original modern fairy tale entitled “Come, Come Blackbird” is due out in 2011 in a new anthology entitled Rapunzel’s Daughters.  There are other things too, but that’s enough to mention for now.

Poetically, what next?  I’m not sure.  As naked as poetry is, I think that depends upon who next walks deeply into my mental and emotional life and sticks around a while.  I am hoping they will be kind.  Handsome would be good. Brave would be excellent.  Say, The Nervous Breakdown, do you take requests?  I would like to request that I be granted the grace and hope to write more poems like “The Love, Laughter, Cherish Crown”–because that will mean I will be happy at last, or again attempting that pursuit.  But I have no illusions.  A favorite quote from Soren Kierkegaard that I often use as a closer at the bottom of my email messages rather sums it up concisely, saying: “A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music… and then people crowd about the poet and say to him:  ‘Sing for us soon again;’ that is as much as to say, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul.'”

I would like to believe he isn’t right, but the quote resonates for me. Let’s just say my jury’s still out.  I’m not sure half the time whether I am singing or crying.



In summer of 2009, in a comment on my own piece, “Only one poem for the implosion of Capital”, I invoked Skelton for his leadership bringing female grace upon my pen.

 

Refresshyng myndys the Aprell shoure of rayne;
Condute of comforte, and well most souerayne;
Herber enverduryd, contynuall fressh and grene;
Of lusty somer the passyng goodly quene;

(Refreshing minds the April shower of rain;
Conduit of comfort, and well most sovereign;
Herber enverdured, continual fresh and green;    “Herber enverdured”: herb garden covered in greenery
Of lusty summer the passing goodly queen;)

 

Last year was a pretty good one for writing, but there must have been a superior, secondary, annual echo, because about a month ago, the goodly passing queen halted, pulled up a chair, and flourished a Midsummer birch wand.  Someone must have whispered my need in her ear.

She visits her nudity like a razor in a house of glass;
watch her slide a hand along her thigh, extinguish
a mass of hiding bubbles, let the silk of still water
warm her, her neck thrown back, her hair afloat.

In this moisture she is all things sweet and surfeit
to desire. Solitary, she creates a realm where
pleasure is primary. Degas once painted such a
woman in preparation to bathe–a silver tub, a gold

wood floor; there was no water yet, and she stood sole,
still owned by needs to ready and prepare. In my mind,
however, I have always lent her violets and the coming
future, the settling of limbs, the way that heat would fit

right to her bones, the chill of air over her hardening,
unsubmerged nipples, and the reverie in her imagining
a lover’s lips upon them, because they are wet and
pronounced, ready to be lathed by tongues as she lounges

in the place where her fantasy is succulent and the water
serves to cradle her, the softest, most needless thing she’s
ever known, that embryonic place where she has gained relief
without cost, and in it, revels, making love to her soul’s self.

What was the impulse that created the poem featured here at The Nervous Breakdown?

A lot of things really. I think much art is multiply inspired.  The poem itself came from a number of related inspirations—a painting, a piece of a novel, a meditation.  When I was at graduate school at Hollins, writing like a fiend, immersed in workshop, I also decided to take a painting class.  While I’ve always enjoyed mixing visual and literary medias, I  was assigned to paint an artistic retake of a famous painting and thought nothing of writing about it at the time.  Having loved Degas, I scoured his art: What image would I recreate?

I found a painting of a woman in preparation for a bath that I stared at for a long time.  As I regarded it, it began to bother me.  No comfort there.  Stark image.  No water in the bath.

Now, every woman I know, granted this is a biased sampling, gets into a bath craving both comfort and an excess of pleasure–or if not these, relief.  Think of a woman with a glass of wine and a cigarette reclining in her bath—with shut door and an ecstatic expression.  A woman unwound.  Degas’s woman was robbed of that of pleasure, and his portrait of the bath I viewed made it seem, beautiful as she was, that her bath became a duty.  So I painted water in the tub, made the tonal quality cool rather than warm, many blues and purples, and placed imaginary violets on the ledge above her.  It was like recreating history:  You will have an amazing bath now, girl, I told her.  I will give it to you.   But the poem hadn’t come yet.  That would take another decade.

Years later, because the painting still hangs in my house, I was writing with my annual MySpace July Poem A Day marathon, staring at my own painting one day and thinking of duty, of obligation, of the wish to escape—also thinking about a recent novel I’d read with a beautiful passage about a woman in her bath—and I wanted those violets in my own space something fierce then.  Wanted them both for me and for every woman I’d ever known.  Thus, the poem was born.


Interesting.  But are you aware there is a lot of sex in your work?

You serious?  I was trying to hide the sex.  What?  Sex?  Where?  (Interviewee grins self-depreciatingly and fiddles with some object on her coffee table.)

Yes, actually, I am.    Sex, or intimacy (broken or expanded), is a theme I work with a lot. But, for me, the sex in my work is almost always a departure point for a philosophical discussion engaged about people, proximity, love, interconnectedness, loss—the entire and enormous mixed bag of everyday living.  It’s also natural, and the one thing that almost everyone has in common because everybody wants it—and sex moves people.  A sudden failure to be touched moves people.  How can a writer explore the human experience and write without it?


Relatedly, you recently had an experience with being censored by iPhone when they required a journal where you published work to remove your story from the journal web site before approving an iPhone application for distributing content.  Did you care to speak to that, to being censored by Apple?

I found the whole thing quite bizarre.  The story in question had an element of the sexual, but it was a literary piece.  In other venues, I had published work far more aggressive, with more profanity, and had no problem.  The story censored was admittedly one of my “cleanest” published stories.  So my primary question was:  What had I done that was so risqué? Speak about sex intelligently or in such a way that the tone was not pornographic yet exceeded the fear factor that smut tabloid stories would cause?  Raise a moral quandary?  Accost some large and moneyed bastion?

With all that’s out there in the world, on the web, even on large sites like MSN and Yahoo, my small, literary short story posted at an online literary venue— a flash piece about a teenage boy trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to masturbate—was determined by a big corporation to be “edgy” enough as to require removal?  Absolutely ridiculous!  Astounding.  And flattering.  Anything that is censored has an implied power.  Don’t you agree?

So maybe I was happy about the censorship, actually.  Nearly all my favorite writers have been censored at one time or another, so, in an odd way, ludicrous as that censorship was, I felt that, in that moment, I had joined (or been inducted into) a very old and honorable fold of public intellectuals.


Regarding the poetry, you also work in form.  How would you like to be considered as a poet?  How do you decide which form to use as you write or how to shape the next piece?

I think this goes back to the whole—I write whatever interests me in the moment idea, and then, for texture, sometimes throw in the kitchen sink.  I like form.  I like free-verse.  I like nothing more than a challenge.  An example would be that I recently decided to write a crown of sonnets, just because it was a challenge.  I had been doing pantoums, sestinas, villanelles, single sonnets, ghazals, terzanelles, and any number of other forms.  But I wasn’t content with just writing a crown.  Like Emeril, I like to kick it up a notch.  So I then researched the form and decided I would do not just a simple (laugh track welcome here) crown, which is seven interconnected sonnets, but I would instead do an heroic crown—which is fifteen interconnected sonnets, in iambic pentameter no less, interlinked, where the fifteenth sonnet is entirely comprised of the first lines of the previous fourteen.  Why?  Because I can.  Because I love challenge.  Or maybe because I, like everyone might, want to be heroic.  You can pass me my super-hero outfit now.

About identity as a writer, or as a poet, I’ve thought a lot about this question, perhaps because I do work in so many other genres, and I think my ideal identity as a poet would be where people feel compelled to binge-read my poems and then go to the bookstore one day only to discover I am actually a prolific fiction writer too. And I write screenplays.  And plays for theatre. Nothing thrills me more than finding an amazing writer and later discovering all of his/her facets.  I’d like people to say: “No way!  She did that, too?  I knew her as a [whatever they read] writer!”

As for choices within poetry modalities, again, my poetic sampling is as voracious as what I do with my fiction.  One day a blues sonnet, the next an heroic crown, the next a form inspired by math—like a Fibonacci sequence.  With my fiction, it often surprises people that I do traditional literary work, literary modern work, magical realism, experimental work, and even Sci-Fi upon occasion.  I like to keep it interesting.  I won’t be tied down.  I live at the mercy of varied and demanding muses.


As Poetry Editor at Corium Magazine, anything you hate in poetry—or strive to avoid selecting or reading?

I have pretty open tastes with reading.  Of course I don’t love trite rhyming poems with cliché turns, especially those that could be considered “cutesy,” and I particularly abhor bad meter when it is not deliberate.  I don’t tend to love poems that avoid capitalization and punctuation—but that’s a personal preference.

Otherwise, I love much of the work that I read and regret only that I can pick so little of it for inclusion.


You have a book of stories coming out from Aqueous Books in late 2010 or early 2011.  Want to speak to that?

Yes!  My book coming out soon through Aqueous Books, headed up by Cynthia Reeser, is a collection of magical realism stories I’ve been affectionately calling my love letter to women, entitled SUSPENDED HEART.  Like the poem here at TNB, it examines women’s lives in both their mundane details and their aspects of romantic love.  This book is actually my favorite, currently, of my short fiction manuscripts—of which I have eight.  I’m excited to say it will also do something I’ve always wanted to do with my writing, which is contribute ten percent of my author’s proceeds to a charity I believe in; this manuscript will be used for battered women and children. I’d like to do that with all of my manuscripts.  A different charity for each.


Which poets do you love?

Neruda.  Plath. Sexton.  Ginsberg.  Clifton.  Atwood.  Shakespeare.  On and on and on.  I love anyone who touches the pulse of life. I am polyamorous that way, an infatuated reader, and I find new interests every day.


How can one read more of your work?

Pop by my website at www.heatherfowlerwrites.com –- or friend my MySpace page and write with me through a thread or annual marathon.  My creative blog invites you.  I invite you.  Are you scared of sex, drugs, rock and roll, widely divergent topics, sadness, loss, dizzying heights, amnesia, electricity?  No?  Good.  Join me.

Maybe you’ll be my next favorite poet or fiction writer.  Who knows?  I welcome that possibility—and especially you—to my page/s.