A native of South Carolina, Felicia Mitchell lives in rural southwestern Virginia, where she has taught at Emory & Henry College since 1987. A book of her poetry, Waltzing with Horses was published in 2014 by Press 53. Learn more at her website: www.feliciamitchell.net
Do you recall when your interest in writing originated?
I began to write poetry as soon as I learned to read and write. My first poem, “The Cave Girl,” which I wrote at age 6, reflected interests I would pursue the rest of my life: language, paradox, feminism, ontology. The topics of death, nature, and love followed soon after. I was fortunate to fall in love with my father John’s little red books, a collection of Anthology of the World’s Best Poems (as of 1948) edited by Edwin Markham. I began reading classic poetry by age 7. I was fond of both Sappho and Edward Thomas by age 8.
What types of things do you most often write about?
I tend to write about my life in the context of experiences both past and present, often fusing the two, and I write about memory. Sometimes I make sense of myself in the context of ordinary details. Other times, myth and art inspire me. I have written many, many poems about my mother Audrey. I thought I was done with that, and then I wrote one last month that made me realize that I was not done with that. Intense experiences help me to find motivation and material. Loving somebody with dementia is intense. I like to make sense of things. For that reason, I have always written death, perhaps because I lost my 21-year-old brother John to cancer when I was 20 or because I am just endogenously morbid. With the birth of my son Guy 25 years ago, things lightened up. I also write about him sometimes, and those poems resonate with life. For example, “What My Son Sees” is one of my favorite poems to share at readings. This poem interrelates his passion with running with the love two parents who do not live together share for him. And it references the power of the imagination and nature.
How do you deal with writer’s block?
Some of my projects are more cerebral, so I need to find time to sit at the computer and focus. (My job takes a good bit of my physical and psychic energy.) Other times, to get in touch with my lyrical soul, images from nature inspire me. If I feel that I am stagnating and need to write a poem, I get out alone in the woods on a trail and hike until I feel like a poet again.
What projects are you currently working on?
Lately I have been writing the usual things along with some poems about people in my family I never knew. I am combining family stories with imaginative retellings. For example, one of these poems recently published recently in Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel is called “Talmadge & Annette, 100 Years Dead.” This poem is based on a family story I heard at a reunion a few years ago about the woods where my paternal great grandparents are buried, a place that could be forgotten as generations pass on unless we continue to tell the story. Writing a poem is often a way for me to create a sort of documentary. I guess these family poems will be documentaries of a sort, although some are as imaginative as they are real. I am always intrigued to give myself a challenge and then to see where the words go.
If someone were to read just one thing that you wrote, what would you recommend and why?
My choice might change from day to day. I am tempted to say “I Remember Biscuits,” my favorite poem about my mother. If somebody wanted to get inside my head, “My Turn Out of the Box” would be good. But today I will choose “A Day without a Poem” because it is a poem about how a poem is not necessary if you are precisely where you need to be (which for me that day was climbing Mt. Rogers).
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