A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Mo Schoenfeld

Q1: When did you start writing and who has influenced you the most?

Mo: I started writing poetry in my teens, in the 1980s, and into the 90s after university, but I stopped in the mid-90s while pursuing an acting career (unsuccessfully). I started writing poetry again following the EU referendum vote here in the UK in June 2016, writing a bit and participating in Hammer and Tongue slams in Oxford. Between Brexit and Trump, I was very angry and scared and I started to become bitter, and the handful of poetry I wrote during that time reflects those feelings. I started writing haiku during the first lockdown after recovering from Covid at the very start of the pandemic, as a coping strategy and because it felt manageable through the brain fog, a short form. Brevity is not my strong suit, and it can take me quite a while of talking to find a way to express difficult emotions. Haiku connected me to the natural world and also helped me process very difficult feelings in a healthy, direct way. Haiku and the right friends coming into (and in some cases, back into) my life at the right time helped me steer away from bitterness.

As far as for who influenced me, there wasn’t one particular poet, I just liked poetry. I loved lyrics, too, when they are so well written they weave within the music. The first poem I remember really getting jazzed about was Shelley’s OZYMANDIAS. I love the haiku masters. As for currently, oh there are so many I’ve come across on Twitter I don’t even know where to start…

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Mo: No, I’ve always liked writing, but I’ve struggled with focus through the years, and it was difficult for me to pursue it as a career path. I write now to connect. That keeps me focused, and I feel more a part of a greater whole. Poets seem to me almost like the writing equivalent of jazz musicians.

Q3: Who has helped you the most with writing and career?

Mo: That is hard, as I don’t really feel I have a career. The person who definitely gets the most credit is my friend Dan Holloway (an amazing human all around). He encouraged me to get back into writing and come along to the poetry slams in Oxford in 2016. In my latest phase, in the past two years, I credit Nikki Dudley (MumWrite and Streetcake Magazine) as well as the many poets I have met in the poetry community on Twitter, generously sharing their work, their process and their support. Damien Donnelly and Gaynor Kane recently gave my poetry a boost by including one of my pieces in The Storms inaugural journal in August 2022, which was a BIG boost. The poetry communities on Twitter have been a pure gift.

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?

Mo: I grew up in Doylestown, PA, Bucks County, outside of Philadelphia. It was a rural area when we first moved there, which became a suburb by the time I was a teenager, a pretty but boring small town filled with mixed memories. I can’t spend more than 4 days there before my skin feels like it starts to crawl. It’s a place I left, and have no desire to return to, even to visit. I remember making my mind up at 10 years old that I was going to move to NYC and then to London – two dreams that did come true. My travels have influenced my work in that they’ve given me a sense of who I am apart from the huge Irish Catholic family I grew up in. And, of course, all the different experiences I’ve had when I’ve travelled, different customs, landscapes, experiences, etc., all got stored in my memory and are there to draw on.

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?

Mo: I’ve been writing haiku daily since June 2020, and that is a sort of creative baseline for me now, part of my DNA it seems almost. I walk every day, I haiku every day, this I feel is most meaningful because it has helped my mental and emotional health throughout the lockdowns, and continues to do so. It is like a springboard, which I am just now starting to spring a bit from.

Q6: What is a favorite line/stanza from your writings?

Mo: I don’t have one.

Q7: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?

Mo: I love jazz and could listen to it forever without getting sick of it. I like blues a lot, too, but my soul runs out of patience with blues after a point in a way it doesn’t with jazz. Jazz changed so much through the decades that it’s like many different incarnations of itself that also seem separate. It’s ever-evolving. It’s alive, collaborative, includes improvisation and creative freedom, and it often conjures for me distinct moods that help me write, especially in those magic moments where it seems to evoke an emotional memory that I did not actually ever experience. It gets my imagination going. I have my moods, lately especially, where I just want to listen to McCartney songs. I loved him as a teen, and sometimes I just need to hide in those old songs, Beatles, Wings, his solo stuff. He was my retreat as a teenager, and lately, it’s been helpful to retreat into his music again. I feel safe there.

Q8: Favorite activities to relax?

Mo: I’m terrible at relaxing. I am not good at sitting still. Not in a way that leads to anything productive half the time, just restless. Walking and hiking help, and I love just sitting and staring into the ocean, but don’t get much opportunity to do that, living near a river and not a coast.

Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, events, projects that you’d like to promote?

Mo: Well, again, I was in the inaugural print issue of The Storms, that’s Damien Donnelly who does the Eat the Storms poetry podcasts. That was the most recent one.

Bio: I’m a ‘born-again poet’ living in Oxfordshire, UK. I started participating in writing prompt challenges on Twitter during the summer of 2020, then took some courses with @MumWrite, then participated in various other readings, launches and workshops since then, online. Since August 2020, I’ve been published in Irisi Magazine (http://www.irisi-magazine.org/healing/healing-haikus-and-senryus-by-maureen-schoenfeld), The Best Haiku 2021 Anthology and the upcoming The Best Haiku 2022 Anthology (https://haikucrush.com/), Tiny Wren Lit (https://www.tinywrenlit.com/intentions) and several times on Pure Haiku’s blog (https://purehaiku.wordpress.com/). I’ve appeared in print in ‘Poetry in 13: Volume 3 (2020)’ and ‘From One Line: Volume 2’ (2021). One of my micro-poems appears in Eat The Storms podcast’s inaugural issue of The Storms later this month, published by the creators of the Eat the Storms poetry podcast. Twitter: @MoSchoenfeld

3 Poems from Damien B. Donnelly writer/host of Eat the Storms Podcast

Climbing up Bukhansan Instead of Just Going Around It

I believe you had a headscarf tied around shaved skull 
when you looked across the low table on that high hill
where the Buddha was carved into a cliff that will linger
longer than the rest of us. Patterned headscarf perhaps, 

just above the considered concentration of your hands 
turning round the lever of a coffee grinder on your knee

but honestly, I do not think about your head or its skull
or the coloured pattern of your scarf when I remember

you here, scrambling my way through the parts of Paris 
I cannot break down into smaller, more soluble pieces

to be able to contain it, like you had contained my gaze, 
that in turn contained a million questions I’d asked you 

and you answered in a language I have yet to learn but 
already label as treasure. I do remember how your eyes 

shone like the star of a gentle iris I painted once while 
trying to understand the strokes of Van Gogh before 

I realised that the brush carries onto canvas much more 
than just a shot of colour. I recall the iris of your eyes, 

back in Paris, where les Etoiles is just a metro station 
that too many cars just go round and round and round.

That Snarl amid All the Goddesses

My sister has two birthdays,
born from one woman to give to another,
separated by religion and the cynical snarl of a nun
that my mother can never forget.

My mother gave her up before she met my father
and discovered his infertility.
I came later, restoring a semblance of sanity
for a while, until he found that same snarl.

My real mother is a goddess, of course.
Identity is easy to construct
when you haven’t a single clue
and only have one birthday.

Treasure in the Chest

In a small wooden trunk,
now roughened and rusty but too rare to disregard,
bought one rainy Sunday after a ferry ride to the north of the Dam,
I keep the treasured beer mats we wrote numbers on,
your name pressed permanently with pen and potential into the round card.

I sometimes run my fingers
over your letters to remember what it was like to feel that alive.

You are soft shadow, now, in a room of light
where men lean in, a blinding light of lust and longing and then you;
this soft suggestion in the shadow.
And then, at times, you are light when all else is drowned out
in darkness and touch not to be trusted but for you;
a ray of reassuring remembrance, alight in the distance.

I kissed other lips, Dutch lips,
below a head of oblivious blond hair, once,
as you sat across from me watching, as if to show you
that I too could devour someone else while still wanting, still watching,
still running thoughts over that imprint of passed potential.

You are there, have been here, I’ve been told;
smiling, laughing, walking towards the centre when I’ve already taken to the road,
though you too are taken, were taken, even, back then;
not mine, not ours, not even minutes.

In a small wooden box,
now roughened and rusty, memory has no attachment to time
and possibility no tie to the destiny we cannot draw.

I leave and you walk in. And so it goes.

Find more on Damien below:

Twitter: @deuxiemepeau

Tiktok: @eatthestorms

Blog: http://www.deuxiemepeaupoetry.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/damiboy/?hl=en

Podcast: https://open.spotify.com/show/0mOECCAcx0kMXg25S0aywi

Eat the Storms: https://eatthestorms.com/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/deuxiemepeau/videos

5 poems & interview from Damien Donnelly in Fevers of the Mind Press Presents the Poets of 2020

Eat the Storms – The Podcast Podcast – Episode 6 – Season 3

Eat the Storms Podcast: Season 3 Episode 7