“I want to want less / Freedom lies in / recognizing perfect moments / but not calling them perfect.” ~ from “Notes for January” in Still Life Stories
Sitting in a circle of friends recently, conversation turned to wanting to want less, to the serenity found in simpler things, like a slow and deliberate walk on a two-lane road in order to take in the sounds and scents around you and to feel the ground below your feet.
Cristina M. R. Norcross’ new chapbook, Still Life Stories (Aldrich Press, 2016), explores experiences and memories in poems such as “Notes for January” and “Where I Am From” (two of my favorites), taking moments of complexity that define who we are or what we become and sculpting them into a single thread or phrase–poems that speak to the power of meditating on one true thing.
Poetry at its finest.
I’m honored to host Cristina Norcross for a Q&A. In turn, she’s offering a copy of her chapbook, Still Life Stories, along with a set of poetry postcards, for one lucky reader. You can enter the giveaway HERE (deadline is Tuesday, October 11th at noon).
And while this Q&A focuses on Still Life Stories, Cristina is also celebrating the launch of another chapbook, Amnesia and Awakenings (Local Gems Press). If you’re local, stop by her double book launch and open mic event on Saturday, Oct. 15th, at Books & Company in Oconomowoc, WI (6:30pm). Look for me, I’ll be there!
Now welcome, Cristina Norcross.
Christi Craig (CC): I love the title of your chapbook; it works well to pull the reader in with the promise of images captured in time. Then you enrich those images with fragments of story and tiny lessons in living. What sparked these poems most often, settings or ideas?
Cristina Norcross (CN): I guess I’d have to say that people sparked most of these poems. Although not every poem is a tribute to a person, over half of the poems are about people no longer with us, who have left behind a soul legacy.
My people poems “asked” to be written. Whether you believe in our connections to those who have passed on, or not, as a poet, I allow myself to be open to the story coming through. Many times when writing this book, I would get a feeling, a memory would come through, or for example, the scent of my grandmother’s favorite flower, Lily of the Valley, would appear. In each case, I knew that there was something I needed to write.
This collection of 25 poems was originally 56 poems. I started writing it back in 2008, before I moved from New Hampshire to Wisconsin. I kept writing, editing, tweaking, adding poems, and then cutting a big portion of poems out, until 2015. This book has had a long history and a brave journey.
In poems where ideas came first, there was also a sense of urgency to how the poem came into the world. Usually I would quickly write down the first line or 2 that came flooding into my head, and then it was up to me to do something with that raw material. I received many, inner writing prompts. I always wanted to see where the poem would take me. Every poem required edits and re-writes, but the initial thoughts would often come free flowing.
CC: One of my favorite poems in Still Life Stories is “Notes for January” for its reminder to slow down and soak up the life around you; there is beauty and comfort in simplicity and in “holding the sweet candy / of just enough.” Knowing writers might feel strange when asked which passages or poems of their work they love best, I’ll rephrase it a bit and ask which of your poems in this chapbook you cherish most?
CN: Thank you so much for your kind words about “Notes for January.” Oh boy, this is a very tough question. Many of the poems in Still Life Stories celebrate the voices of loved ones, or the loved ones of friends, who have passed on. These tribute poems, for those held dear, are ALL my most cherished in the book. I have poems for both my grandmother, on my father’s side of the family (“The Last Party”), as well as a poem for my husband’s Nana (“I Hear You”) in this book. For each of us, these were our longest living grandparents, so we had the honor of knowing them well into adulthood.
All of my grandparents were extremely special to me. All four of them have been the subjects of my poems in past books. There is a special connection between grandchildren and their grandparents. Perhaps, it’s because they get to give you cookies and Lifesavers candies, listen to your every word over cups of tea, and then send you on your way home with mom and dad. Or, maybe there is a sacred connection between generations, and that sense of history which grandparents preserve for us.
Growing up, I didn’t write everything down. Sometimes, I wish I had. Instead, I think I was taking notes with my heart, recording the essence, so that one day I could pay tribute to the deep love my grandparents gave me. Most of my enduring memories from childhood involve sitting around someone’s dining room table and sharing a meal, laughter, family stories, and just one, last raspberry thumbprint cookie.
CC: You are a co-founder of Random Acts of Poetry and Art Day. Can you tell us a little about this project, how it started and the impact it’s had on you or those around you?
CN: Thank you so much for asking about RAPA Day! Random Acts of Poetry and Art Day is celebrated every year on February 20th by artists and writers, both in North America and abroad. We’ve been conspiring to bring beauty, joy, and kindness to others, through the arts, for 5 years now. February 20th, 2017 will mark our 6-year anniversary. My courageous and talented co-organizers are artists, Sonya S. Sinha (New York) and Jennifer S. J. Peña (New Jersey). (Jennifer S. J. Peña happens to be the cover artist for Still Life Stories.)
There is no event location and no registration necessary. The premise is pretty simple. Wherever you are on this day, simply do something good – give back to others through the arts. This can be in the form of donating books to a library or a shelter, randomly giving away a pair of handmade gloves to someone who is cold, leaving a small, boxed treasure of handmade earrings on a public bench, donating a framed photo or painting to a school, etc. The choice is yours!
We invite people to connect with us on the RAPA Facebook page, where each year we offer suggestions and ask participants to share photos of their Random Acts of Poetry and Art. I often hear from poets and artists, who take part, that they really enjoy doing this. It is good for the heart and soul. Just knowing that your art, perhaps, made someone’s day a little brighter, is the best possible feeling! My heart is always very full by the end of February. Each year we grow a little bit more. Visit our RAPA Facebook page to learn more.
CC: What are you reading these days?
CN: I just started reading a book by TED Talks presenter Kio Stark (When Strangers Meet: How People You Don’t Know Can Transform You). My husband and I love watching TED Talks for inspiration in our work. When I saw that Kio had a book, I did the one-click order thing (that click/order function is way too easy, and dangerous to the purse, but you can never have too many books!).
The premise of Kio Stark’s talk, and book, is that when we open ourselves up to the beauty of meeting strangers and engage in simple, respectful exchanges such as smiling, paying someone a compliment, or comparing notes on parenthood while standing in line, we enrich our lives and the lives of others. It is a wonderful book about the importance of human connection.
CC: What poem (or poet) do you return to again and again as sustenance for your spirit and creativity?
CN: I have many favorite poets, who nurture my spirit, but I would have to say that the 13th century, Sufi mystic poet, Rumi, definitely provides my poet’s soul with breathing room, wisdom, and a certain gentleness. When I am caught up in a flurry of deadlines and projects, I turn to Rumi. He reminds me to slow down and return to my breath. He encourages me to remember the very reason why I write – to connect with something deeper, something greater than myself.
I’ll end by sharing a Rumi quote, which I’ve shared on social media many times. There is both a sense of freedom, and also a true love of life, in these words:
This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet. ~ Rumi
Cristina M. R. Norcross is the founding editor of the online poetry journal, Blue Heron Review, and lives in Wisconsin with her husband and their two sons. She is the author of 7 poetry collections, and her works appear in print and online in North American and international journals, such as Red Cedar, Your Daily Poem, Lime Hawk, The Toronto Quarterly, The Poetry Storehouse, The Avocet,Right Hand Pointing, and Verse-Virtual, among others. She was a semi-finalist in the 2015 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition and a finalist in the 2015 Five Oaks Press Chapbook Contest. Cristina was one of the co-editors of the project, One Vision: a Fusion of Art & Poetry in Lake Country (2009-11). She is currently one of the co-founders of Random Acts of Poetry and Art Day and is a regular contributor to the Art Ambush Project. Visit her website for more information.
Don’t forget: ENTER the giveaway by Oct. 11th for a chance to win a copy of Still Life Stories.