By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Poetry Café features the work of poets of all ages from all over the world. This week, we highlight the work of Cassidy Souvannakhot.
Cassidy Souvannakhot is currently a student at Johnson County Community College in Kansas. With a plan to become an educator in the fine arts, Cassidy's goal is to provide people with an outlet for self-expression.
AN: Welcome to the Flapper Press Poetry Café, Cassidy. We met when I attended the reception to launch the highly respected publication Kansas City Voices Youth in September of this year. Your poem titled "How to Be Forgiving (a reminder that I am short-tempered)" after Wendell Berry is in the current edition (as well as reprinted below). I was impressed with your reading at the Kansas City Central Public Library that evening and your poem and asked if I might interview you for our Flapper Press Youth Series. What is it about Wendell Berry's work that captured your attention?
CS: Initially, Wendell Berry’s works were not anything intriguing to me until I read some of his background, and it finally clicked. I learned that he held agrarian values, and I found that part especially interesting because I had never really met anyone specifically with those values. Therefore, I thought it would be enlightening to create a poem inspired by Berry’s to learn more about agrarianism and to study how he incorporates it into his works.
AN: Your poem selected for the publication is an imitation poem. For those who may not know, an imitation (or mimic) poem is "an experiment in which you study an existing poem and adopt its form for your own work." Please share your creative intention for this poem.
CS: While imitating the form of Wendell Berry’s poem “How to Be a Poet,” I specifically decided to dedicate this poem to the theme of forgiving, because I think most people struggle with holding grudges. To be reminded of the reason reignites the anger.
"How to Be Forgiving
(a reminder that I am short-tempered)"
In the style of “How to Be a Poet" by Wendell Berry
Take a deep breath.
Loosen your shoulders. Remind yourself
that you are a stubborn woman with
harsh thoughts-- with words that spew
pure hatred and later the smell of regret.
The person you want to lash out on,
will shatter like a brittle bone.
A silent treatment does no good,
other than the lack of communication.
For that you must use those lips
that you have been given.
Please learn how to apologize.
The lack of information frightens
the conscience with worries of
sanity. Focus on the words that are
projected-- it may hurt your dear loved ones.
Relax your eyebrows, I’m afraid they may
be conjoined. Understand that you cannot
hold a grudge for 50 years, yet alone
30 minutes. The burning rage feels much
better with the refreshing side of forgiveness.
Put out that fire that resides in your chest.
Use your words, but think wisely.
For whatever you say may result
in distant relationships and lonely nights.
Comprehend that your perfectionism isn’t
everything to others. A simple mistake
does not mean you must burn in flames.
Apologies. Give it meaning. Let it go.
AN: Lovely poem. This makes me want to read more of Wendell Berry's work. Cassidy, let's go back to the beginning. How did you “find” poetry, and in what ways does writing bring joy into your life?
CS: I found poetry during my senior year of high school. It was a class offered at my high school, and I adored the teacher, Mrs. Carriger. Her class allowed me to find a new, innovative way to express myself and think creatively rather than draw creatively. Poetry has allowed me to fixate on the details of the simplest things and bring me out of my creative slump that I had been struggling in for so long.
AN: Where do you hope your association with poetry will take you in the future? For example, I read where you are interested in both education and psychology. How does poetry figure into those interests?
CS: I hope my association with poetry will keep igniting my passion for poetry, because I truly believe it is a special outlet to engage in. Initially, I wanted to become a psychologist. However, I have become more assured in pursuing a career in teaching the fine arts. Poetry allows me to have a constant reminder to have appreciation for itself, and it is a way of expression. Plus, poetry allows me to have another appreciation for the artifacts/media.
AN: We began this series on youth interviewing the esteemed poet Naomi Shihab Nye. One poem that she shared was "Kindness." Might you share your thoughts on this poem from a youth's perspective?
CS: “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye is beautifully written. In some ways, the poem reminds me of my own imitation poem, “How to Be Forgiving.” Naomi Shihab Nye does great work showing kindness from different perspectives in order to really comprehend the core of kindness. There is some personification, which I adore because I once wrote a poem regarding the topic silence. My favorite of Naomi's lines is “Before you know what kindness really is / you must lose things, / feel the future dissolve in a moment / like salt in a weakened broth.” (lines 1–4). What stands out to me is how Naomi displays the loss of desire and self-centered thoughts. I love this poem, and it is a poem to read once in a while to remind one of self-centeredness.
AN: Do you enjoy reading other poets? Who are some of your favorites, and why does their work “speak” to you?
CS: Some of my favorite poets are Walt Whitman and Sylvia Plath. Walt Whitman’s works intrigue me with his themes of individualism, life/death, and play of nature. Both Plath and Whitman write about the concepts of death. I am always curious to hear about individuals' perspective on death and the afterlife, whether it is more of a religious or nihilistic outlook. Specifically, pertaining to Whitman’s theme of individualism, I find it intriguing because it renders America’s indulgence to individualism. Lately I have been interested in the comparison of Western societies' values of individualism versus the societies that dabble in collectivism.
AN: Is there a contemporary poet who you read and would recommend to youth, and why?
CS: I recommend reading the poems of Natasha Trethewey because her poems will literally jump into the perspective of whoever she is writing from. My favorite poem is “Enlightenment,” a poem describing the differences in racial identity. She does a swell job connecting to Thomas Jefferson’s morals, and it adds great contrast. Not only that, but she adds themes of history in her writing. I think it is intriguing to add history to poetry because it elevates some of the lessons in history that are still prevalent in today’s society.
AN: Might you share your process for writing? For example, do you have a specific way that you enter writing? Or does it change on the availability of your time?
CS: My writing process usually begins by drawing from my emotions that I have been feeling in the present. Then, I decide to personify the emotion and see if I like how it is presented. If not, I try to find ways that exude the emotion better. Sometimes going on a drive helps me draw inspiration to write poetry, especially the early morning drives on the way to school. They really inspire me. Something about the sunrise peaking underneath the dark clouds brightens up my day. So I would say most of the pieces I write derive from my earlier part of the day rather than at night. Plus, I absolutely adore writing in quiet settings because I totally want to be immersed in my surroundings.
AN: Do you participate in writing groups?
CS: I do not participate in writing groups, but I think it would a great activity to consider adding to my life.
AN: How do you think we could bring more of the younger crowd to poetry?
CS: I think if the younger crowd saw it as an outlet to express thoughts, feelings, and aspirations, then they would see poetry as an innovative literary work. Personally, for the longest time, I saw poetry subjectively, and when my mindset flipped, it became an eye-opening experience. If there were more classes taught by passionate poets, I believe that the younger crowd might be more interested and informed about the world of poetry.
AN: What I cannot stress enough is that poetry is a great skill to create critical thinking.
What are your strategies for publishing? Your work is beautiful, so are you working on a chapbook?
CS: Thank you! As of right now, I am not working on a chapbook. My strategies for publishing consist of compiling a few poems together in my journal and revising them to fit the publication.
AN: Is there a question that I did not ask you that you wish I had? If so, ask this question and then answer it.
CS: What importance does poetry bring to you? To me, poetry is a gateway to critical thinking and innovation. I believe that the United States has lacked understanding the need for critical thinking. If any student or I a year ago were to be asked about “critical thinking,” I probably would have said, “what. a. chore.” Poetry has all the foundations in order to develop skills to be more efficient at critical thinking. Plus, it is an entertaining way to develop those important skills.
AN: Cassidy, thank you so much for all that you have shared with our readers. We at Flapper Press wish you the brightest of futures and hope to keep in contact. Before you leave, though, might you share two more poems and a short backstory on them?
CS: I would be happy to. And thank you for inviting me into the Poetry Café.
The Raw Face Woman
Rouge gently brushed upon skin--
seeping into pores day and night.
Restless eyes covered by Maybelline’s Sun Beige,
disguising the dark shadows cast across her face.
Portraying a look only seen by strangers--
whether it is a quick glance or an intense stare.
Questions if she crosses the bridge to insanity.
Dripping bat-scat-covered lashes dissipate the melted concealer--
destroying the hour-long creation.
Sweet sorrow uncovers the transparent facade, like shattered porcelain glass.
No intention of impressing or anything, but
pure dependence of the matter killed the woman.
She cries into the dead of night like a wounded bird.
If she hadn’t begun the rigorous routine,
her tan skin wouldn’t have been scrubbed raw.
Stress soon turned into snow-white hair.
Bloodshot eyes entranced at the blank face in front of her--
depicting every flaw to be corrected.
Obsessed with perfection, her heart aches more--
She lies on the woven rug in agony,
only for death to grab her.
A body roams in the foggy forest with a raw face,
snatching for a plump face.
I was presented with the prompt of writing from the perspective of an inanimate object. Sticky rice is what I chose to write about because it has been a staple of my Lao childhood. Writing this poem made me feel nostalgic, and I would hope whoever reads it recalls a sweet memory of a childhood dish.
A woven basket with rough edges,
scorching boiling water releases its wrath–
steam softening my uncooked pellets–
I blossom like a baby lotus in July.
My aroma lingers, attracting guests;
fumes, trip the stove fan as wind
from the opened windows,
cools my tempered self.
Fresh cut grass and I mesh, welded
into each other: a goo-like texture.
Gradually losing sight of what I once was,
I am pale on a white porcelain plate.
Monstrous eyes fix on me, waiting to feast.
Bits of me torn to pieces, limb by limb.
I am here in this basket again:
a vicious reincarnation.
Annie Klier Newcomer founded a not-for-profit, Kansas City Spirit , that served children in metropolitan Kansas for a decade. Annie volunteers in chess and poetry after-school programs in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her husband, David, and the staff of the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens are working to develop The Emily Dickinson Garden in hopes of bringing art and poetry educational programs to their community.
Annie helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to both read and write poetry!
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