A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Christina Strigas

with Christina Strigas:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Christina:

Writing has always been my go-to. It all started with journal writing in high school, which turned into writing poems. During one particular English exam, the teacher asked us to read a poem and analyze it.   I must have finished in record time and felt so mindful writing down my interpretation. After class, everyone was saying, “What was that poem about, man?”  I listened to everyone complain, and that’s when I realized that I was different; that’s when I realized I understood this poetic language better than my friends and classmates. Suddenly, my friends were making requests for poems, and I wrote poems every day during class. Can you write a poem about my boyfriend? I just broke up with my boyfriend? Can you write me a poem I can give him? Friends and acquaintances would give me scenarios, and I would recreate their love into a heartbreaking poem. If I would look back at those poems now, I may have a few somewhere in an old shoebox in the garage, and I would probably gag at how infantile and cliché they were, but at the same time, they were the poems that started this love affair with words so I can’t be too tough on myself. What kind of weird gift was this? Did I think to myself?  This knack for writing poems for strangers. I wrote so many poems and then typed them out.  During typing class, I recopied most of Jim Morrison’s poems for the fun of it. I suppose he was the first poet I adored. Listening to those albums, his poetry readings, and reading his lyrics changed my life. They made me see the world differently. It was a portal into the sky that a select few could grasp. Once I started college and discovered the vast aisles a library contained, I spent hours recopying poems onto lined paper. I sat on the floor under the Poetry section and knew the books off by heart. I recopied Wordsworth, T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, Shelley, Virginia Woolf, on and on…

Then one day, nineteen-year-old me walked into a second-hand book store across from my university. I picked up The Selected Poems of Anne Sexton for a couple of bucks and fell in love with her writing style. Her poetry awakened something in me. Her poetry book is always close by me at any moment.

I started a blog in my thirties and started to share my poems online, which also helped me get out of my shell and share my work and ideas.

www.christinastrigas.com

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Christina: Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and T.S. Eliot are poets that keep influencing me. Margaret Atwood is a goddess of writing. She keeps astounding me with her novels and poetry books. Atwood is the G.O.A.T. She can weave stories like a magician. She can write poems that clench your guts. Hers is the type of writing that keeps me grounded and makes me strive to achieve better daily.

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing?

Christina:

I was born and raised in Montreal, Quebec. My parents were hard-working Greek immigrants who came to Canada, struggled with the two languages and built a life here. I grew up in the city and moved to the suburbs when I was in elementary school. Living in the suburbs kept me focused on school and reading, but I have always been a free spirit and wild at heart. The city was full of life; we stayed up late; played hide-and-seek in the Montreal alleys with cousins and neighbours, and created fond memories that make me nostalgic. Moving to the suburbs opened up a whole new world for me; friends from other cultures and the abundance of sky and land to ride my bike and play outdoors without fear. I loved reading outdoors under the trees in my backyard for hours. I learned to enjoy the moments and breathe. It was a twenty-minute drive to Montreal;  this made life always exciting. I studied English Literature at Concordia University, worked as a barmaid in Old Montreal, and taught adults part-time until I finished my degree. I learned so much about humanity by being a bartender at my boyfriend’s pub and living the nightlife. We had live bands nightly at the pub, talked to all kinds of people from all walks of life, stayed up late until the sun came up, and lived every minute. My environment, my city, my culture have always played a role in my writing. My novel’s locations are in Montreal. My poetry book, especially my latest, Love & Metaxa, includes poems about the city, life, family, love, death, being Greek, being raised in a Greek household and relationships with loved ones.  Also, what it means to be a mother, daughter, wife, lover, and granddaughter coming from an immigrant family.

Here is a photo of some of my journals on my bookshelf in my writing room.

Q4: Have any travels away from home influence your work?

Christina: My family trips to Greece evoke memories that sometimes turn into poetry. In my novels, I like to research cities. In my novel  Crush, I wanted it to be in St-Tropez. I had never travelled there, but I have researched it intensely. Half of the novel’s location was in Montreal the other half was in St-Tropez. The familiarity of my city makes it easy for me to write. Travelling to different countries opens up my creativity and the artist in me.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Christina: I have been writing since high school, but when I was thirty-nine years old, I published my first novel. It’s a long story how that happened, but essentially, I met a spiritual counsellor who did a tarot reading for me and told me that she saw me signing and writing books. Up until then, it all felt as if I would keep my writing in my drawers, but after that pivotal moment, I felt as if I had more stories inside me. I partnered with her to start chronicling her stories and wrote three books about her life through a first-person narrative. I wrote those three books over a couple of years, but writing them made me realize that I can be a writer and publish my work.
Another pivotal moment was in 2015 when my niece took my phone and opened up an Instagram account to share my poetry. At the time, I did not realize that her action would lead me to make connections and publish four poetry books.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Christina: If only I knew how to relax; drinking coffee in the morning during the summer when I am off of work and catching up on all my writing projects is my way of relaxing. Oh, wait, did you say relax? I like to meditate, take long walks with my dog, read books, listen to music, and enjoy moments with family and friends. The only time I can truly relax is when I am on a beach, preferably in Greece, and reading books with no concept of time. I love spending time with my family and reconnecting. My recent hobby is painting. I am painting acrylic on canvas using various techniques/ My writing room has become a painting studio in one corner.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?

Christina: I recently self-published Love & Metaxa, my latest poetry book. Now, I am working on a poetry book with Alexandra Meehan and Jacquie Prebich. I have another poetry book that I need to edit, and I have a novel that I have been working on for a couple of years now. As you can see, I can’t relax. My mind is constantly on fire.

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?

Christina: My favorite poems are “All My Pretty Ones,” “ The Double Image,” “Us,” by Anne Sexton, but I honestly can’t pick a favorite. I would also include“Daddy,” by Sylvia Plath, and “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot. Shakespeare also changed my life once I read the love sonnets. Let me add Pablo Neruda for the beauty of language he uses to describe love.

favorite artwork “I Love the Kiss by Gustav Klimt”

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Christina: Alexandra Meehan has helped me the most with my writing. She is an excellent editor. Alexandra Meehan edited my poetry book, Love & Metaxa, but beyond her editing expertise, she and I are poetic soul mates. We can discuss and analyze poems and poetry for hours. She reads my poems and can dissect them or tell me how to improve them. Some of my poems are so long, once I get into my stream of consciousness, and Alexandra can chop up poems and tell me that I have two poems written instead of one. When Alexandra Meehan began editing my poems a few years ago, I finally realized how much I needed to improve my writing and become a better poet. She has made me see that poetry is all about showing and not telling. I owe her a debt of gratitude for her editing skills and her friendship.

Links:

From Avalanches in Poetry writings & art inspired by Leonard Cohen (2019) How Leonard Cohen Kept Evading Me by Christina Strigas

https://amzn.to/3ztMiuz

https://www.iambapoet.com/christina-strigas

Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Jennifer Patino

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Jennifer: I wrote little stories about the squirrels in the front yard of my childhood home at the age of six but began to take writing more seriously at the age of nine. I was really into The Babysitters Club books by Ann M. Martin. I loved reading so much and making up stories to tell my siblings and cousins so it just made sense to me that I should be writing them down. One of my favorite Babysitters Club characters, Mallory Pike, wanted to be an author too and kept a journal so of course I followed suit. It also makes sense that a fictional character was my biggest influence back then as well. I was a very imaginative child and I sought solace in characters from books and TV. Most of my childhood writings were fan fiction.

Q2: Who is your biggest influence today?

Jennifer: I read a lot so it’s very difficult to pinpoint a single influence. I’ve also met a lot of people over my lifetime who have become poems. Some of them were people I only encountered once. I’m influenced by a lot, but for the sake of answering the question I’ll list some writers who have inspired me: Walt Whitman, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Diane Burns, Sherman Alexie, and Willliam S. Burroughs.

3. Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing/art?

Jennifer: I lived in Detroit, MI until I was thirteen years old and then Springhill, FL until my late twenties. Since my writing now is mostly nostalgic, both of these places and life events I experienced there have heavily influenced my writing. I’m not going to spill my traumas here—my life has never been easy—but both places hold huge signifiance for me on many levels. Michigan will always be home and the place I return to in my mind the most. It’s the only place I’ve lived in that had all four seasons and I’ve come to learn how that cyclic change is very important for my well-being. Times were somewhat easier and simpler then so I associate that place with so much goodness. The desire and hope that I will be able to move back and hopefully die there eventually is all over my writing. Florida is influential for a lot of other reasons. It’s a place I avoid as much as possible, except in my writing, because there’s so much about living there that I really would love to just purge. I grew up in different ways in both places so they’re both definitely in my work.

Q4: Have any travels away from home influenced work & describe?

Jennifer: I have not traveled much in my lifetime for the sole purpose of traveling. The two trips I have taken for vacation purposes were in my twenties. I went to Las Vegas once and when friends fell in love with the place and wanted to live here someday, I told them all they were crazy and I would never even consider it. Well, life had other plans. I currently live in Las Vegas and believe me, I never imagined I’d live here and I’ll admit I’m still not a very big fan of it. It is way too hot for my liking. Living in three different parts of the United States at various stages in my life that are so vastly different from each other is a definite influence. Every new place created a whole new me. I had to grow and adapt to new ages, maturity levels, locations, and worsening chronic illnesses. As I said before, I hope my next and last stop will be home again.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be an artist/poet/writer?

When I was nine this old man who ran a neighborhood newsletter asked my friends and I if any of us wrote or drew pictures and wanted to be featured in it. I liked writing creepy stories and had a lot of them so it was perfect that he specifically asked for something spooky because it was October. I wrote a few stories for the newsletter until he ran out of money to keep it going. He gifted me an old typewriter and that was when I knew I would be writing for the rest of my life. I was addicted to that thing. I typed up every thought in my head and annoyed my sister with the clunky sounds it made. It broke beyond repair right before I moved with my family down to Florida, but by then computers were becoming the thing. I learned to type early but I still kept notebooks and that continues today. Sometimes I have better flow with the keyboard, other times I can only write with the pen.

Q6: Favorite activities when not writing/creating to relax?

Jennifer: What is this “relax” thing that you speak of? laughs As I said I love to read. I’ll read just about anything. I prefer darker literature, memoir type stuff, and poetry the most though. I’m also a huge lover of film. I can spend entire days watching movies and due to chronic pain, I often do. I also listen to a lot of different types of music and that can be relaxing too, especially if I’m in the mood to sing along. I’m also a huge fan of phone calls. Most people hate the phone but the rare few I know that I can talk with for hours are treasured by me.

Q7: Any recent or upcoming promotional work?

Jennifer:

I just had a story published in Punk Noir Magazine called “Snapped”. https://punknoirmagazine.com/2021/06/22/snapped-by-jennifer-patino/

Forthcoming, some of my microfiction will be published in a horror anthology. It’s going to be a collection of #horrorprompt tweets from over the years by those who participate in the writing prompt over on Twitter. https://twitter.com/horrorprompt

Q8: One of your favorite lines from one of your poems/songs?

Jennifer:  
 "but I'm certain
  of sounds from the dark
  keeping me awake,
  of navigating postictal
  through tunneled hallways,
  & of the last image
   I recall before the long fall"

I can't ever pick favorites, but this stanza from a poem I wrote called “After the Shock” sticks out in my mind at the moment. My “epilepsy poems” often stand out for me. Some of them I've written while my head is still in that post-seizure, postictal state and that's always a surprise to find while I'm editing. Being diagnosed with epilepsy has changed so much of my life and the way I write. It's something I'll  never escape from because it's my own brain.

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Jennifer: There are two people. My high school drama/English teacher for telling me “Wow, these aren't your typical angsty teen poems” while reading my work. He was a writer himself and he gave me a lot of advice and encouragement to keep learning, writing, and improving. I still remember our talks about writing and I learned more in those conversations than in my entire high school career.

The second was a dear writer/editor friend of mine that I corresponded with for many years who unfortunately passed away in 2013. He helped me break through a lot during discouraged times in my life where I was ready to call it quits when it came to the whole writing thing. I'll never forget either one of them or the advice they so kindly offered to me.

Thank you, Fevers of the Mind, for wanting to interview me. Wolfpack Contributor Bio: Jennifer Patino

3 poems by Jennifer Patino : “Postcard” “the Thaw” & “Watching Rosemary’s baby at 6 AM”

Audrey Hepburn Challenge: Some Things A Lady Just Wears Well by Jennifer Patino

http://www.thistlethoughts.com for Jennifer’s webpage