*The following interview & poetry was published in Fevers of the Mind Press Presents the Poets of 2020 Anthology*
*Catrice Greer is a Spotlight Poet in the Anthology*
1) Please describe your latest book, what about your book will intrigue the readers the most, and what is the theme, mood?
Catrice: I am working on my first chapbook publication. I expect this to be a selection across topics. I have several books planned. The books planned beyond that one are specifically themed. Themes I write about are a broad span of Spirituality, transcendence, trauma, consent, disability, healing,mental health, love, the environment, human nature, the cosmos, ancestral topics, cultural traditions, identity, dialect, food & culture, Orishas, and music I often weave my love of the sciences, math, astronomy, astral travel, biblical spiritual references, and futurism into my work.
2) What frame of mind and ideas lead to you writing your current book?
Catrice: My first chapbook would be my introduction to the literary world in print and encapsulates many ideas from over the years. Although I have written for several decades, I did not choose to publish a book. I chose to focus on refining my voice and craft. In the last few years, in service to the work I am creating, I felt there was a purpose, an audience and space that would be a good fit for the work to speak for itself. My choice to publish now is solely in service to the work itself. It feels like the right timing. I get a sense the work will live best published now versus earlier.
3) How old were you when you first have become serious about your writing, do you feel your work is always adapting?
Catrice: I began writing early somewhere around ages 8,9,10. At 10, I began to be compelled to write. Ages11/12, I experimented. By age 14, it was clear for me that it was a necessity. I was mentored one to one by a high school teacher. I wrote for academic publications in high-school and was editor and editor in chief of a creative journal. While in my senior year of high school, I also began writing as a Features writer intern for a local historic newspaper at age 17. I went on to intern, associate produce (credit) and write scripts as an intern for a local tv station in my college years. I continued a smattering of explorative involvement in media in various forms off and on through my twenties. My own private writings of poetry simultaneously continued to grow and refine. My declared major in college was English Literature. During that time, I began to perform spoken word and recite poetry. Mainly I did this at events via another mentor in college who felt it was a good avenue for me to learn to conquer my shyness. I’ve continued to write privately since then, until now.
To your second question, yes, to some extent my work is always growing and adapting. It adapts as I grow and as my vision of the world and of myself grows. As my perception refines and my craft refines, so does my work and approach to the work. At this time, I am clear that I write in service to bringing work forward in its divine nature.
4) What authors, poets, musicians have helped shape your work, or who do you find yourself being drawn to the most?
Catrice: That’s a complex question. I’ve read so many poets and writers. Off the top of my head, I can say Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Octavia Butler, Laini Mataka, Sonia Sanchez, Ntozake Shange, Audre Lorde, Kalamu Ya Salaam, Pablo Neruda, Wislawa Symborska, Jean Auel, Deepak Chopra, Zitkala-Sa, Ivan Van Sertima, T. S. Eliot, Milton, Lacan, Saussure, Descartes, Jung, some Freud, Kafka, Andrew Marvell, Shakespeare, and many, many more.
My love of music is vast. I love opera, R&B, alt rock, alt classical rock, gospel, jazz, alt Christian music,Hymns, African-American classic hymns, some folk music, the list goes on. Those influences show up in my work time and time again. It runs through my soul. I write through the music I feel as emotion and the words for me are music.
5) What other activities do you enjoy doing creatively, or recreationally outside of being a writer, and do you find any of these outside writing activities merge into your mind and often become parts of a poem?
Catrice: I am a former photographer, former dancer, former dessert caterer and entrepreneur. I still like to cook. I enjoy nutrition, and herbology. I garden sometimes. I keep a small personal healing apothecary. I enjoy fermenting foods for health. No longer in a home, but now an apartment, I keep a modest plant system and a fledgling kratky garden. I sketch a little, use various creative mediums sometimes. I enjoy singing with a community choir. I like creating songs lyrics to express some type of emotion. I listen to music for hours and hours. I used to be active in athletic pursuits for several decades. I am healing from something that creates an impairment and disability for me at this time, so being that active is abbreviated for the moment. But at heart, I am athletic. Currently, I enjoy walking, light hiking, yoga, weights. I love films. I like science and enjoy learning about various sciences in my spare time. I enjoy learning languages.
I am a Christian. I am of Catholic faith. And I am human. The combination of those elements as well as my own broad curiosity, acceptance of spirituality in general factors into my work. I see and channel much through a very spiritual lens with an understanding and respect that we are all connected and that the universe is vast. All the activities I noted above show up from time to time in my work or in how I come to the work itself and process life. The more fully and vibrantly I live, the richer the work.
6) Tell us a little about your process with writing. Is it more a controlled, or a spontaneous freewriting style?
Catrice: It depends. I mainly channel my work. I feel it is given. It is then my responsibility to refine the bulk of what was given to be sure it expresses clearly and serves the message of the work. The craft I have honed over the years and continue to hone is a skill. Those literary skills for editing then come into play. But often while I am writing, what I am channeling my mind is working very fast to edit at the same time. I allow my mind to simply speak what needs to be said. Sometimes I receive a lot. And other times, a phrase, a word, an idea, a partial Stanza. All of it eventually, shows up later in layers that are building to create something new. I feel that my job as a poet is to be present, listen intently to myself, be a witness, and scribe.
7) Are there any other people/environments/hometowns/vacations that has helped influence your writing?
Catrice: There is nothing singular for me to point to. My writing is influenced by the totality of life experiences, education, observation, perceptions, spiritual faith, heritages, connection and spiritual receptiveness. It is a reflection of an acceptance of my fellow man as I observe, receive and process enormous amounts of information.
8) What is the most rewarding part of the writing process, and in turn the most frustrating part of the writing process?
Catrice: Most frustrating — sometimes the poems come channeling through so fast and it may be an inopportune time for me to write it down. Or the lines are coming in so quickly that I am not fast enough to write it down verbatim as I am receiving the lines. I end up sometimes writing an approximation and that is often not quite on target.
Most rewarding — is the fact that I am allowed to channel through and write down these beautiful, divine, words and sentiments. The fact that I am a part of this divine process, I often feel very humbled and grateful to be a writer. The process for me is filled with music, emotion, colors, rhythms, visions, that somehow translate into words. That process even for me is well beyond me. Yes, I am an academically trained writer. But I didn’t start out that way. I was quite young when I started. For me, my process is unique as well as it has a foot in classic approaches.
I am grateful when anyone feels organically connected to the work when it is healing or creates healthy dialogue that can foster positive change. If a heart is touched, if someone feels seen or heard by my work, then I know I have been of service to my greater community and that when I was called by said poem to write it into existence, I was correct in answering that call. It served a soul. To me, that level of service is a high honor.
I did not get to be the doctor/writer I had hoped to become like William Carlos Williams. I wanted to be a psychiatrist. But, in this way, I am taking part in helping with vastness of unity and oneness of healing, speaking truths for my fellow man as well as for myself. For me, to be allowed to be part of that divine miracle, even as a scribe and a witness, is humbling and rewarding.
9) How has this past year impacted you emotionally, how has it impacted you creatively if it all?
Catrice: For me, I have a long personal story. Too long for this interview. For a number of personal reasons, disability as healing, being one, I was already living sequestered and very alone prior to the pandemic. When this began, emotionally I was already on a path to find ways to reach out to connect even though I could not physically reach others as well. This year, not due to Covid-19, but two of my close friends died. I was already mourning so much for so many loved ones that passed away. Emotionally, I needed to connect with other humans and live again. Feel alive. I did not wish to impose my will on changing the situation. I felt and prayed that I would like to walk through this with my fellow humans and somehow live as much as possible and authentically as possible. Emotionally, that meant managing any anxiety, or depression, any last hurts that can show up when we have time to think. Allow myself to clear and let go of all things no longer needed and to even now commit to honoring my solitude, my need for connection, interdependence, joy, love, need for healthy intimacy with self and others, and healthy boundaries.
All of these things have some contingency on voice and its authenticity.
Being honest with self about what I truly feel, what and who makes me feel uncomfortable, knowing what I truly need and want, desire, and voicing that clearly is a healthy evolution in my state of being. This also includes me being able to take action with healthy boundaries and not be crushed under the weight of dissension, intimidation, silence, lack of connection or understanding or respect from others. In this space, I learned to honor my voice unapologetically in the healthiest way. I also learned to embrace my deepest needs and desires. By doing all of that, I am like most humans a continual work in progress, my work reflects this authenticity and growth.
The more I see and accept my self, the higher divine self, the shadow self, the unspoken, the traumatized self, the unloved self, the unseen self, the healing self, the transcendent soul, the imperfect self, the creative self, the unbound spiritual self, the grounded self, the bold, the loving self — all of the parts as integrated parts without judgement, then I have been more adept in my poetic work to speak clearly in the service of the work. It seems that humanity resonates for other people who feel connected to the work and the voice I have to offer to our community of humans. This moment in time is one for which I share in collective mourning and also appreciate our collective unity, transformation, and healing. Emotionally, this year has shown me a great deal about myself and others.
Creatively, I have become even more in tune and immensely prolific. All for which I am deeply grateful.
Thank you for this interview. Be well.
Yearning Through the Fog by Catrice Greer
It’s a busy time
the car exhausts, the fires breathing smoke over the twilight
pollution laying across the horizon as if on a chaise, lounging
overstuffed dumpsters, overflowing with wrappers,
peels, discarded boxes, and stench
trees half bare dangling windblown bags at their tips
trying to take a stand, hold back the school of loop-winged
billowed-bottomed plastics flying by
the grass sparse, dirt scratched patches,
concrete overtaking the landscape
We miss the deer and their morning hellos
We miss the murder of crows and their caw caws
We miss the foxes leaping over and under the brush playing hide and go seek
We have not seen enough rabbits before dawn
Cortical Cartography by Catrice Greer
I give thanks for you bravely doing this again
traveling synapse by synapse
trails of electric pulses
jumping blackhole gaps
that used to remember
holding the dead space
a new soma body
birthing from bleating darkness
show us the nucleus
of what we were made of
like kamikaze flying squirrel bodies
with arms akimbo
Grateful for even
this axon potential
Praise for brave
dives and jumps
Grateful for re-birthed
making sure that we traffic on
our way by the quickest route
in this dark matter
wrinkled city of light,
gyri and sulci,
ridges and valleys
sectioned by lobes
all speaking trillions
prayerfully all at once
this chatter mines
the neuronal network
and we build
a whole new world
Catrice Greer @cgreer_greer is a poet and writer who resides in Baltimore, Maryland. She is a 2020, Pushcart Prize Nominee. In November 2020, Catrice served as a Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Poet in Residence. Catrice’s poetic work explores a range of topics about the human condition. She currently performs as a featured poetic artist or via poetry artist collectives in international virtual open mics. Her recent poems were published in Icefloe Press, the historic Afro-American Newspaper, a Phenomenal Womxn Anthology, Baltimore Health Behavioral Services art gallery, and local newsletters. She is currently working on publishing her first chapbook. She has recently read at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival with Damien Donnelly
Links to published poetry:
“The Heights” https://www.afro.com/the-heights/
“Presence and Absence” https://www.afro.com/presence-absence/
“I Am Home” https://www.afro.com/i-am-home/
Behavioral Health System Baltimore:
“Your Path is Your Own Virtual Art Gallery”