It must have been around Summer 2013. I had just had my first collection of poems published. It was the culmination of many years of continuous writing. A searing, intense, daily practice of generating language. I had begun writing in the first instance as a means to save my life, and now I had no room left to contain the word. I was emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausted.
It was around this period that I discovered the poetry of Cindy Savett. For a time, hers was the only poetry I was able to read. A poetry of survival, a poetry of urgency. A chrystalline poetry born only of its own insistencies. A poetry of voice and image but beyond that it was the image speaking in its given voice. It was animal and not. It was breath and breath held. The image without precedent, the half-glimpsed and the full-recognition. It was the wordless wingless thing that flies beneath and beside thought and utterance. It was kinless and orphaned in the way that light is. It was not testimony of the thing it was the thing itself but only more itself than that. It was the song buried inside the song that no one sings. It was fire-light reflecting from a spade, the deep hole dug in the dark ground, dusk’s descent seen from the crow’s vantage. Or was that rain? Or was that shards of glass ascending in the garden you promised to tend to but never did?
If I knew you around that time then I would have emailed you links to her poetry on the internet saying “You Have To Read This”… because I thought and still think that everyone who is invested in poetry should read Cindy’s poems.
For a time, the only poetry of Cindy’s I had access to was whatever I could find on-line. Then, I bought a copy of her collection, ‘Child In The Road’. A book written out of and through the devastation of the death of Rachel, Cindy’s daughter. An immersive experience, less a testimony or witness account of the fire, more embers delivered from the fire itself. The pages molten, everything smouldered. I then discovered that Cindy, like myself, delivers creative writing workshops in care settings. I promised myself that one day I would contact Cindy. And I did. And Cindy kindly, generously agreed to answer some questions for Burning House Press.
– Miggy Angel
It’s a gift for my mind and body… I breathe more fully when I write. Ways of sitting with my confusion emerge and the loud rambling in my head tries to order. Poetry finds a way for me to belong… we are part of each other, the poem and me. We disturb the air.
When Did You Start Writing Poems?
Sometime around 10 yrs old I began to actually write, however around 5 or 6 my father gave me a record of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass (I actually still have) I used to fall asleep to. It was magical. Writing, at that age, was about discovering all parts of me and how I fit. It was what I imagined flying to be.
How Would You Describe Your Process When Writing Poetry?
There’s a stirring deep in my body, an ache, a longing, something trying to form. I get anxious to pour it out of me, begin “raw” writing longhand in college-ruled notebooks in a fairly fast paced stream of consciousness. Then the process shifts to mining what I threw on the pages. Always feels like I’m taming my lawless mind.
Do You Have Any Obsessions, Are They Evident Or Recurrent In Your Work, And What Are They?
My daughter’s death exposed in my poems what had been camouflaged – my fear of impermanence, my curious relationship with death, the value of my space. I seem to return to these over and over, hoping, I imagine, to be resolved.
‘Child In The Road’ – In Which Ways Have Poetry And Writing Been Valuable To You, Especially During What Must Have Been Such A Devastating Time?
Rachel died on Friday evening and Saturday morning came the first poem. My words are the place where I find permission, where murkiness turns into safety. The only way I was able to remain breathing during those years was to allow myself to listen to the chaos and terror inside and birth poems. There were times when the poems literally felt too hot to touch. I climbed into them as a safe bedroom or a lake of quicksand or the very darkness that is the universe. I believe I survived because I wrote.
How Do You See The Role Or Function Of The Poet Within The Mental Health Community And The Artist Within Care Settings?
Being marginalized is one of the worst experiences and the mentally ill suffer it greatly. The poet’s work is to include (we are universal in our frail humanity) and validate – the poem is the speaker who invites one to explore. The setting is safe and the poet listens.
What Is The Biggest Challenge To You, As A Poet And Facilitator, When Working Within Care Settings And Community Arts?
To help clients find relevance in the poem to their life experiences and be able to translate that into other ways they can appreciate their lives.
Is Music An Influence On Your Writing?
The music in my poems is somewhat of a mystery to me. I was a flutist when I was younger and have definite leanings towards jazz and classical – but I write in silence (as close to absolute as I can find) and spend much of my time listening to that silence, living in that world. It is peace and safety. I imagine there is a relationship between them, each providing the skeleton so the other can flourish.
Do You Have Interests Within The Visual Arts, Do You Take Photographs Or Do You Paint? What Is Your Relationship To The Image?
I am neither a photographer nor painter but I have a deep love of both. I often go to one of our art museums, wandering through different conversations I have with the paintings and write. It feels to me that the making of an image is like putting clothes on the language. There is the potential in the word for expansion – singly on the page it is only partially born. The image is what enables the word to exist.
What Is The Most Difficult Aspect Of Writing Poetry?
Not falling in love with a word or a line or even the poem. That infatuation clouds and covers completely the truths and fictions that bred it. It might take me some time before I realize the trap I’ve fallen into – then I wield the machete.
What Has Poetry Taught You?
How to articulate and preserve my relationship with stillness, silence… living in the pauses between words, between lines, between poems. I find peace and a beautiful suspension from what haunts me. It is the universe that appears in a poem and my job is to let it breathe.
Do You Have A Favorite Poet/s?
My library has grown, many poets sit on my shelves – ones I haven’t looked at in awhile. So my answer now really reflects who happens to be sitting on my desk, beside my bed. The first who always comes to mind is Jean Valentine. Gennady Aygi, Vasko Popa, Edith Sodergran who although lesser known fills her pages with such remarkably expressed sorrow and beauty. Giacomo Leopardi. Tomas Transtromer. Paul Celan from time to time. Someone recently led me to Kabir, so distant from my world. I have a fascinating book I turn to every once in awhile – Japanese Death Poems compiled by Yoel Hoffmann.
What Was The Last Poem Or Piece Of Art You Saw That Left An Impression On You?
At the MOMA in NYC there are several Jackson Pollock’s I stare at, wanting to live in them. When I approach a Pollock painting I lose my breath at the same time as feel my body expand to include the world. He tells me – here’s a way to hear my own snarled state and not feel compelled to fight it.
What One Thing Would You Pass On To Someone Who Wanted To Begin Practising Poetry?
Listen very slowly and quietly for the little bursts of words and pictures that constantly bubble up. And give no importance to the loud criticisms trying to derail you.
How Do You Think The Internet Has Changed Poetry?
The ability of the poet and the publisher – of both journals and books – to build a readership has magnified, and to a much more diverse audience. It is a gift to the poet and the reader.
If The House Was Burning And You Could Only Take One Book With You, Which Book Would You Take?
What Is Next For Cindy Savett?
When I’m in my breath, my silence, my vulnerability… those are my most connected and renewed moments. I get in trouble if that linear place in my mind becomes dominant. Rachel’s death opened compartments and it’s my job to keep them open. That’s what’s next.
Cindy Savett is the author of Child in the Road (Parlor Press, 2007) and the chapbooks The Story of my Eyes (Dancing Girl Press, 2012),Battle for the Metal Kiss (H_ngm_n Books, 2011) and Rachel: In the Temporary Mist of Prayer (Big Game Books, 2007). Her poems can also be found in the anthology Challenges for the Delusional (Jane Street Press, 2012) and in LIT, Margie, Heliotrope, The Marlboro Review, 26 Magazine, Cutbank, and other print and online journals. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she lives with her family on the outskirts of Philadelphia, where she leads poetry groups for psychiatric inpatients at several area hospitals.
Miggy Angel is the author of the poetry collection Grime Kerbstone Psalms published by Celandor Books. He is the Poetry and Fiction editor and founder of Burning House Press.