In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Wendy Brown-Baez
1. Tell us about your poem in Volume 20. How did it come to be?
The impetus for this poem came out of reflecting on a time when I was part of a group that traveled together.It is a compilation of places but Spain in particular. One young woman and I would gather up tomatoes and olives, bread and olive oil, and find a secluded spot by the sea—it was rare that we could get away from chores and kids so it really felt magical. Her friendship meant so much to me but once the group broke up, we didn’t stay in touch. I feel nostalgic for that friendship and those beautiful seascapes. The title “Recuerdos” can mean memories but I called it souvenirs because it was a tangible turning point. Trust later turned into disillusionment. My memories are souvenirs from a time before heartbreak and loss.
2. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
Oh I loved books since I was a very young child but I wrote a story in 6th grade about two teenagers in love (as if I knew anything about teen-aged love!) called The Sun Came Shining. I can still picture the construction paper cover I designed. The boyfriend saves the girl’s brother from an oncoming bus and dies at the scene. At the end, she goes to their special look-out spot and the “sun comes shining” again. I had every girl in my class sobbing. I thought, “This is what I want to do!”
3. How has writing shaped your life?
Writing has been a way to have a voice. It has given me a way to connect. Most importantly it also was a way to reclaim my voice when it had been silenced, because of being a woman, being told that my opinion didn’t matter, being a caregiver instead of a partner. Writing has been cathartic in coping with multiple losses and painful memories; it helped me heal and move on to joy. It is a way to grapple with the world’s injustices. Writing is a form of meditation for me. It nourishes my imagination. I teach writing workshops, which keeps me on my toes to find new ideas. In particular, facilitating writing for healing workshops always uplifts me because I witness the resiliency of the human spirit. My motto is “The shortest bridge between us is a story.” Turning trauma or grief or tragedy or loneliness into story is like the alchemy of turning lead into gold.
4. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work?
I am very eclectic. I go through phases of becoming entranced with a particular writer. As a young writer, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Bronte, and [Fyodor] Dostoevsky were my favorites. In terms of other artists and role models, I admire Frida Kahlo’s determination to portray her inner truth and Georgia O’Keefe’s fierce independence. I read everything: my range is from Alice Hoffman, Susan Power, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to Donna Leon, Louis Penny, and Anne Perry (I admit it, I read murder mysteries for entertainment). In poetry, from Pablo Neruda to Danez Smith, from Anne Sexton to David Whyte, from Joy Harjo and Naomi Shihab Nye to local poets Julia Klatt Singer and Athena Kildegaard, from Denise Levertov to e. e. cummings, from Sharon Olds to Kazim Ali. I love reading international poets: Miguel Hernandez, Yehuda Amichai, Mahmoud Darwish, Simin Behbahani, Zeina Hashem Beck. I get poems in my inbox from Split This Rock, Poets.org and a group called Panhala. I love the dynamics of spoken word and the spiritual depth of Rumi and Hafiz. I am either ingesting poetry because it touches my soul or because I admire playfulness with language and want to try it out for myself.
5. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
My novel Catch a Dream that takes place in 1980s Israel [is now available], so thinking about how to get it out into the world. When working on a short story, suddenly two characters popped up: one is Irish and they have a child with a birth defect. I don’t know how to write this story yet but I do know what it is like to have expectations crushed. I am putting together a collection of essays called Unlikely Predicaments and a “how to” craft book for writers who teach in community spaces. I enjoy experimenting and trying things out—sometimes they work, sometimes not. I have a pile of manuscripts: memoir, novels and poetry, so I am always submitting, revising, reading at open mics and overcoming writer’s fear of rejection and failure!