Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Suzy Conway

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Suzy Conway,

fell for poetry when she was introduced to Shakespeare by a nun exhibiting uncharacteristic passion for it. Her poems were published in medical journals and newspapers during her career, and once retired, she devoted more time to writing. A former medical librarian, originally from Minnesota, she finished her career at Countway Library in Boston, only to restart it in Nepal in 2002, creating a medical library for Kathmandu University. She resided in Nepal for four years.

In Donegal, Ireland, where she lived in 2006, horses manifested before her in uncanny ways as she rode her bike hither and yon. Back in the states, Secret Halo trotted into her life, and how things shifted into the most demanding and mystical schoolroom is a poem yet to be penned. Rilke wrote: The future enters into you long before you know it. In retrospect, it s right before your eyes.

Her brother once told her that she looked like her horse, which thrilled her. Now she endeavors to be like her horse: awake, aware, in the present moment. Her book of haiku, Lights Along the Road, debuted in Kathmandu in 2005, co-authored with Janak Sapkota. She lives, rides, and writes in Corvallis, Oregon.

The Interview

1. What inspired me to write poetry?

As a sensitive child my questions were these: Who am I? What am I doing here? Surely there’s got to be more. I got a hint to the answers when I learned to print my letters. If I was holding a pencil stringing words across a page wellbeing flooded my soul. It was the beginning of purpose, I got an inkling of how I would be able to stay, how I would cope.

I discovered the library as a young girl and found gold. I eventually became a medical librarian to quench a desire to serve, read, learn and publish. I worked in buildings that held the archives of famous writers, and minds. Libraries were my true north, my cave. I didn’t need a map to navigate them.

I was a seeker. In high school poetry was where I found beauty and truth. Poetry gave me some of the first bricks to a philosophical foundation of life. I loved school, but it lacked what I was specifically after which was a viable explanation to what I was truly doing on earth. Raised Catholic gave me the holy, sacred rituals to soothe myself but organized religion per se never got me to the crux. India got me closer to it. India ripped layers off and left me close to naked in the sense of shedding the false self. Surviving India was a breakthrough of massive proportions, I could almost hear the crash the masks made when they hit the ground. India will do that to you. Life shifted after that. In good ways.

When I read The Merchant of Venice, “The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest…” I was on to something. I can remember the moment I read those lines, they gave me ballast to keep my head above water. I grasped poetry as one would grasp a life raft. A truth from the universe. A young woman’s philosophy began to form.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I was introduced to poetry by a nun in high school, who unlike most nuns from that era, showed a passion for what she was teaching. She was the Shakespeare teacher. Her enthusiasm was contagious. The poetry teachers in college bored the life out of me, except for one, the Chaucer teacher who I’ll never forget. In my mid-20s I began to read poetry with a vengeance. None of my family or circle of friends were into poetry, so it was a lone journey, but I bought a lot of poetry books, and I haunted a lot of bookstores.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Such a good question. I was aware of who was being taught in school, but other than that, I wasn’t aware at all, and in the scheme of things what was being taught in school was limited. I was quite sheltered, quite naive. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s, 40s that I sought out those poets. I was working in libraries with poetry at my fingertips, so it was easy to gain momentum. I craved poetry that touched on the liminal, the ineffable, the mystical.

My therapist, who was a Renaissance man, turned me on to Rilke. I carried his books around the world with me for decades. His poetry was an elixir for my soul, and once I discovered Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir, the Japanese haiku masters, (especially Ryokan) and other Zen poets, I was air born. In the old days, Howard Moss, poetry editor of The New Yorker, served up heaps of good poetry.

I wanted to be moved at the heart and soul level, wanted to be seismically knocked off my feet.

I had the great fortune to meet and become friends with Tess Gallagher. She influenced me greatly and still does. Ray Carver’s poetry and short stories brought me home and led me to her. I owe so much to Tess; her straight talk and generosity is engraved in my heart.

4. My daily writing routine.

To be open and prepared to meet the mysterious, I begin every day with meditation followed by a big pot of French press coffee. I get ideas, inspiration, whispers, points of view and guidance when I’m silent, and quiet, and still. Mostly out in the woods and forests.

I write and correct and edit and write and correct. I do this until I’ve aged the poem. Sometimes riding my horse or my bike, ideas fall into my head. Sometimes fixes come in. Sometimes entire poems spurt out of my pen with no effort.

I’m a morning person, I write when my mind is free of pesky thoughts, but if I’m on a roll, I’ll be up all hours. It depends on where my soul takes me.

5. What motivates me to write?

The need to be in touch with who I really am. That vast spirit tucked into my small physical form. I want to express that aspect of my identity, you know, the one that isn’t criticizing or judging or planning the future and raking over the past. The one who is the over soul, the one who is the observer, the one who is trying to be heard. I want truth. From another realm. And writing puts me in touch with that.

Janak Sapkota is a poet I met when I lived in Nepal who motivates me every day. His belief in me, his support is a kindness in my life. He and I published a book of haiku called Lights Along the Road when I was living in Kathmandu from 2002 – 2006. He is a gifted young poet, a beautiful soul and a unique voice. To find someone who believes in you when you don’t believe in yourself is vital to one’s ability to keep on writing.

6. Work Ethic

I was brought up Irish Catholic in a family where hard work, responsibility, good grades, and sticking with it were prized. On top of that I’m a classic Virgo which ratchets the intensity up considerably. Now that I’m older and retired and have had lots of therapy, (smile) I’ve morphed into a new sun sign. This one lets me relax more, trust more, and stay in balance, in harmony. I’ve freed myself to run amok in the best sense; to be wide open to whatever happens. To jump out of planes, to ride my horse in a pitch-dark forest, to know what the next step is and take it afraid or not.

My work ethic is more in balance because my worth doesn’t stem from it anymore.

7. Writers when I was young who influence me today.

What influences me from that time in school more than actual poets was experiencing the beauty of words. Rhyme captivated me. Iambic pentameter soothed me. A turn of a phrase calmed me. Poe captured my imagination with his dark longing, and desperation. Even though the feel of his poems was so disturbing, the beauty of them consoled me. More than anything, that’s what I took from the poets of yore. How language could soothe the broken heart, lift it even when it remained broken, transform something like loneliness into a beautiful work of art.

8. Writers I admire today and why

Wendell Berry
Robert Bly
Ray Carver
Tess Gallagher
Jane Hirschfield
Jon Loomis
Tom Lux
Sharon Olds
Antonio Porchia
Rainer Maria Rilke
Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir, Lao Tzu, Li Po, Ryokan
Antoine de St. Exupery
Edna St. Vincent Millay
William Stafford
Wislawa Szymborska
Sara Teasdale

Because they replace what I know with something I don’t.

9. Why Do I write

I am visual, and I was born with a fountain pen in my hand. Ink to paper is an orgasmic profound thing, and I’m sure in past lives I was a scribe or an illustrator or a writer or maybe just a fountain pen! I write to be in touch with my soul’s yearning to create and evolve.

10. How do you become a writer?

You become a writer by writing. Daily, often and frequently. Read. Take notes. Be aware. Observe.
Understand as best you can what moves you. We are not our bodies, thoughts and emotions. We are spiritual beings here to wake up to that. Wake up to the areas within yourself that need healing, the parts that need the light. Write about what makes you weep.

11. Writing projects at the moment

Since publishing my book of poetry Bringing In Horses, and two other books I wrote with my publisher Cheryl McClean, my interests shifted to short stories that have a synchronous point, the kind of stories I hanker to read, ones that illustrate a larger force at work. I trust that shift of focus after I put my life’s blood into Bringing In Horses. Writing the book took some courage and it put a lot to rest.

I help a friend, a German journalist, mountain climber and translator on occasion, and when invited speak at creative writing classes held in and around where I live. There is always enough to keep my soul engaged with its purpose, with what enlivens it. I have writing projects just for myself. I finish them and then investigate what to do with them. Answers always come.

I also collaborate with my older brother who acts as my muse. That close relationship inspires many creative writing projects and some of them have manifested as books. He is one of my strongest supporters.

Thank you so much for this beautiful opportunity to delve into these questions. I’ve never pondered them to this degree before, and by doing so have learned a lot about myself. My gratitude to you Paul, and to everyone who contributes to your site, everyone who is doused to the gills with poetry.

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