Continuing the celebration of National Poetry Month, it is my pleasure to publish today an interview with the gracious poet Dianalee Velie, who hails from New England and contributed two gorgeous poems to the Sisters Born, Sisters Found anthology. Warning: after reading this, you may want to order all of Dianalee’s books.
Thank you, Dianalee, for participating in this interview. Here’s my first question: Given that your work has been published in hundreds of publications, I expect you were drawn to writing at a young age. Is that true? When did you know you were destined to be a writer, and what drew you to poetry as your primary area of focus?
Tough but true answer: I was molested by our neighbor, “Uncle Stanley,” at a very early age and not believed by my parents. Spent time in and out of the hospital for urinary and kidney infections. As soon as I could read and write my diary became my confidante. I knew I would be a writer, specifically a poet, when my freshman English teacher, Mr. Nolan, read my poem about a snow storm out loud in class and told me I would one day come back to sign my books for him. I did and can never thank him enough; an English teacher from a small high school in Wallington, New Jersey, was my hero and mentor. Because of him, I adore Shakespeare and poetry. The poem, Rose of Sharon, in my first book, Glass House, was written when I was sixteen.
You contributed two beautifully crafted and moving poems to the Sisters Born, Sisters Found anthology. What can you tell me about the process of writing Pink Moment and Segovian Riff?
My youngest sister and I, instead of exchanging birthday gifts, treat ourselves to a spa weekend. At the time, my son, his wife and my grandson were living in LA so we flew to California for a visit and then on to a spa in the Ojai valley. We were both instrumental in the care of our mom when she was dying of cancer, so we have a special bond that binds her to us. She appears always in our conversations. Pink Moment was born in the rosy glow of a sunset, martinis and memories.
Segovian Riff, was written after a visit to the same sister’s house in Connecticut. Her husband is a classical guitarist, and the scene of his strumming and her gardening was filled with so much domestic bliss, I knew I had to capture it in a poem. I was widowed at 36. My husband died of a heart attack at the age of 40, and at that time another loving relationship was still eluding me. It is a poem of longing.
Would you like to include one of your short poems in this interview, one that you’re particularly drawn to right now? If so, please paste it in and tell me why it speaks to you.
Having mentioned Rose of Sharon, a poem I wrote many years ago. I am always amazed how it still resonates with women of all ages when I read it. I have seen so many women friends handle enormously difficult situations with calm beauty, dignity and serenity.
ROSE OF SHARON
Full white blossom with scarlet filling,
no wonder they call you woman.
Each day opening fully,
baring your blood red heart and beauty
then shutting demurely with the night.
Even clipped, you follow your same routine
in a glass jar or a crystal vase.
The need is there, to expose the center,
the core of your reality,
even though, when full, open,
the wasps and bees
jab away at your primrose core,
stealing your sweet nectar,
while you keep the same smooth rhythm
every day of your life.
You describe several tempting workshops on your website. For example, Dancing with Dante, Poetry and the Body, Short Fiction, and Fixed Form Poetry: Discipline as Freedom. What motivates you to teach writing to others? How do you come up with ideas for courses?
I am so lucky to be able to do what I love, to write and to share that love of writing with others. I feel I am more a poetry mid-wife, helping to bring to the surface the raw and truthful stories that are then sculpted into exquisite poems. So many of my students have gone on to publish their works and others now have books of their own out. THAT is what is so rewarding and keeps me in the classroom.
Many of my privately held classes and workshops have come about from listening to students tell me what they feel they need. Of course my own personal loves come into play. My love of Italian and Dante helped create the course, Dancing with Dante the title of one of my poems in Glass House. I have family in Sicily and have taught several times on the mainland. Some of my poems have been translated into Italian so it was a natural extension.
Your play Mama Says had a staged reading in New York City. What was it like to write that play and to have it produced?
It was euphoric to see your characters come alive. There was some interest but it was never funded for a full production. One never knows, I might resurrect it and send it out again…. I am a positive thinker.
What are some of your favorite publications, and why?
I love Poets and Writers magazine, not only for the “submit to” listings but also for the articles. You write alone but are made aware that you are part of a huge community.
I collect, and I mean collect, every poetry book I get my hands on. It is a weakness and a strength.
What would you say the advantages and disadvantages of being involved in academia are for a writer of fiction, poetry or creative nonfiction?
I was involved in academia for many years and now do mostly private workshops unless called upon to fill in as an adjunct. The structure of academia is both its pitfall and its advantage. While I loved teaching and creating my own syllabus, I felt more constrained when I had to follow a previously rigid authorized syllabus. I often colored outside the lines.
The theme of Glass House is basically that being a poet is like standing naked in a glass house. You are putting your most intimate thoughts out there for the world to see. It is divided into sections by quotes from Dante’s Purgatorio, this life being a holding pattern for who knows what to come in this life or another.
The theme of First Edition is one of going from total annihilating grief and hatred over the murders of my daughter-in-law and two grandsons, then through the healing process to finally arrive at forgiveness. A long and arduous journey for my son, our family and I, as well as my daughter-n-law’s family. This book is divided into sections with quotes from Dante’s Inferno.
The Many Roads to Paradise is a book of redemption, of coming out of darkness and into the light. Noticing beauty once again. As you might have guessed, this book is divided into sections by quotes from Dante’s Paradisio.
The Divine Comedy of life completed, I wrote The Alchemy of Desire, after finding love again. It is dedicated to the man who shares my life now. It is divided into sections with quotes about desire in all its forms.
Soul Proprietorship is a collection of short stories about women who have bared their souls to me. They are mish-mashed together and no one story belongs to any one person protecting privacy and making individuals unrecognizable.
Some of your books were published by Rock Village Publishing, which specializes in New England authors. Your other books were published by Plain View Press, which is focused on peace, justice, the environment, education and gender. How did you come to choose these particular publishers, and what is (or was) it like working with them?
Both publishers were wonderful to work with and I would use them both again. It all depends on what each one is looking for at the time. I have a new book coming out very soon, Ever After, and it is being published by Loose Moose publishing. It is about what happens after the fair tale ends and is a different humorous approach for me. It has found the perfect home. Sample:
HOW DID I END UP HERE
taking care of seven little men with strange names
who work in the coal mines then drag dusty, dirty
boots across my spotless floors expecting me
to wash their filthy laundry and cook them dinner?
And if this isn’t enough, there’s that old hag
who keeps wanting to give me apples.
“My pretty one,” she calls me,
“taste my lovely apples today.”
So, one day I took them all and baked
a pie for the hungry little freaks
and they all dropped dead. Now
I’m on trial for multiple homicides
and I can tell the jury doesn’t believe
the ugly hag story. I am numb, in a trance,
going through this nightmare when
my prince of a public defender waltzes
in with the wicked witch who confesses
she just wanted to kill me! I hug my attorney,
and he kisses my snow-white cheek
then my ruby red lips. I pat my
ebony hair, fix my bow and smile
for the journalists and their cameras,
but I know I will only sell my story
to those two cute reporters named Grimm.
Your books are available at third-party vendors like Amazon.com, but you choose to sell them yourself from your website using PayPal. Why do you handle book sales from your website yourself? What are the advantages of doing it this way?
There are really no advantages anymore to selling them on my website. I only started it because so many people wanted to ask personal questions or have books signed by me. I use it less and less.
What advice do you have for people who are just starting out on the writer’s path?
The BIC method: butt in chair. Keep at it. You don’t sit down and play a difficult piece on the piano when you are a beginner, but you get better as you practice. Keep writing and have faith in your view of the world. It is unique and like no other!
Is there something I didn’t ask that you’d like to talk about?
I am extremely proud of the playground we built here in Newbury, New Hampshire, in my daughter-in-law and grandsons’ memory. Currie-Hill Velie, Joe Velie IV, and Jack live on in the smiles I see everyday of all the joyous children in the park.
P.S.: My son has remarried and we now have a grandson named Thomas. Our miracle! Many, many Thomas poems have been written.
Thanks again to Dianalee for taking time to do this interview. For more information about Dianalee and her work, please visit dianaleevelie.com.