I’m happy to start off the Vita Brevis “Poet Profile” series with a bang! I hope you all enjoy this interview I conducted with the poet (and Vita Brevis reader and contributor) Ann Christine Tabaka:
Ann Christine Tabaka
A Brief Bio: Ann Christine Tabaka has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, has been internationally published, and has won a number of poetry awards. She lives in Delaware, USA, loves gardening and cooking, and lives with her husband and three cats. Her most recent credits are: Pomona Valley Review; Ariel Chart, Page & Spine, West Texas Literary Review, Oddball Magazine, The Paragon Journal, The Stray Branch, Trigger Fish Critical Review,Foliate Oak Review, Better Than Starbucks!, Anapest Journal, Mused, Apricity Magazine, The Write Launch, The Stray Branch, Scryptic Magazine, Ann Arbor Review, The McKinley Review.
Her forthcoming publication, Just Breathe, can be found here.
When did you first start writing poetry, and what do you think attracted you to it?
ACT: I had to laugh because that is the first question that everyone asks! I was fourteen when I wrote my first poem. Our Junior High School had an annual magazine that anyone could contribute to – art, stories, poems, comics, etc. At that time, I was interested in art, and in fact went on to be an art major in High School and College, but for some reason, I decided to try my hand at writing a poem for the magazine instead of drawing a picture. It was 1965 and the Vietnam War was on most of our minds with family and loved ones being drafted daily. My first poem was “The Young Soldier” about a soldier being away from home at Christmas time. After that, I wrote sporadically as the feeling hit me. When I was a teenager, I wrote about the usual angst, love, loss, etc. As I got older, I started to fall in love with nature, emotions, and words.
What do you consider your largest accomplishments as a poet?
ACT: That is a hard question. For me, maybe my largest accomplishment was just getting over the fear of not being good enough and putting my words out there for the world to see, and to judge – that is where the fear comes in. For every person who loves your work, you will find ten who think it is not so good, or that is how it feels when the rejection letters roll in. I suppose, I must admit that I feel good to have as many poems in as many publications as I do, especially since I only started to share my work publically about 2 years ago, late in 2016. Within the first year, I had a poem nominated for the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, so that is an accomplishment in my eyes as well.
Tell me about your first publication–what was it like, how did you get it?
ACT: I guess you can say that I ‘lucked into it.” I started to share my poems on Facebook, and that seemed to start a cascade of new Facebook Friends’ Requests. Along the way, I met other poets on Facebook, and they added me to FB Poetry Groups. There was one man in particular that manages several groups, Michael Lee Johnson, he was compiling an anthology of poets from his group. I asked if I could submit a few, and that was my first time seeing my work in print. It was from those poetry groups that I started to see the publications where other poets were submitting their work. I started to submit, and that is how it all started. The Indiana Voice Journal was one of the first e-journals to accept my work after the anthology, and they have been a great supporter of my work ever since. And, I must not forget to add that since I discovered Vita Brevis – The Modern Poetry Magazine, they have been very supportive of my poetry. I am most grateful to them and all the publications that continue to publish my words.
Do you have any tips for emerging poets on the publication process?
ACT: Yes, always read the poems that a magazine or e-journal has previously published before submitting your work. Many journals have a specific taste or style that they are looking for. If you write flowery rhyming poems, there are places that accept those, but do not try to think that your romantic rhyme will be so wonderful that a publication that is specifically interested in deep, dark, free verse poems is going to accept that poem. Try your hand at something new and challenge yourself to write something that may be in line with that particular journal.
Also, always, always, always read the submission guidelines and follow them to a T. And, NEVER give up. Most published poets receive far more rejections than acceptances. Keep writing to improve your style, and keep looking for the correct match for your words. A poem can be rejected many times, then it hits the right editor at the right time, and it will be accepted.
Tell us about your forthcoming publication
ACT: When I was younger, I always thought that poems needed to have 4 lines to a stanza, distinct stanzas, and have a rhyme scheme. Since I have grown, I write all different types of poems, including experimental verses. Along the way, I took a Haiku workshop and became hooked. As I started to combine my longer poems with a Haiku type feeling, I started to fall in love with micro-poetry. To me, there is something beautiful about being able to tell a complete story in only a few lines. To be able to have the poem paint the picture without having to go into minute detail to describe what is happening and what is being said. My latest book Just Breathe is my first book of micro-poems. I am thrilled that a publisher contacted me and asked if they could publish it for me. Cyberwit.com is the publisher. I am also beyond thrilled that they used a sunset photograph that I recently took while in Kenya with my adult son, to be the cover.
What factors in your life most inform your poetry?
ACT: Everything! No, seriously! I love nature and gardening and that plays a big part in my nature poems. I had a traumatic childhood, and several failed relationships, so… many of my dark and more powerful poems are drawn on from that part of my life. I also love to have fun, and write many silly little ditties that I never expect to even submit, but I share with my friends on social media just for fun – to make them laugh, or even groan!
Do you have a favorite poet?
ACT: My all-time favorite poet, songwriter, and artist is Leonard Cohen. He was an amazing wordsmith. Maybe it is my age. He was a popular songwriter when I was a teenager. His words had a big impact on me. Many of the folk and folk-rock artists of the 60’s and 70’s molded who I became along the way, but he had the biggest impact.
I also have several favorite poets that are lesser known, basically poet friends of mine that I have met along my journey.
What’s the most difficult part about writing poetry?
ACT: For me, it is always judging myself, and feeling as if it is never quite right, never really finished. I was the same way with my art, I sometimes over-worked a piece trying to find that “perfection” that is so elusive. When I hit a dry spell I panic, I feel as if I have lost it and will never be able to write again.
Do you have a favorite poem that you’ve written?
ACT: Oh my, can any of us have a “favorite child?” I have had several I thought were special over the years, but they change as I change and grow. Interestingly, the ones that I liked most always seem to become the title of my next book, so by seeing my books, you can probably figure out which of my poems I liked at that time in my writing.
The Dream – was written in 1978, and it will always be one of my special children.
Everlasting – is about Mother Earth, and yes it is a rhyming poem in four-line stanzas.
It Is Still Morning – is a feeling that I often have to deal with, and I think many will find familiar too.
I have a few recent ones also, but as I said, how can one choose a favorite child?
What is the most ambitious poem you’ve written or plan to write?
ACT: I am not sure that I can call any of my poems “ambitious.” I have had to struggle when I am asked to write a poem on a specific theme, especially when it is not something that I usually write about. That is when I have to do research and stretch myself.
I guess one poem that I really want to write and have been struggling with is a poem about my recent trip to Kenya. There was just so much to see and experience. How do I get so much into one poem (or even two or three) and not have it sound like every other trite poem about an African Safari? I have been feeling the discomfort of that poem. I have a lot of lines and phrases written in a notebook, but it has been hard to get them to come together into something worthwhile.
If you could let our readers know one thing about poetry or life in general, what would it be?
ACT: Life can be full of regrets – don’t let them rule your life. Live each day as a new and beautiful experience. Look for the beauty in life – I know, that sounds corny, but that is where I find my inspiration. When I stop fighting the hustle and bustle of chores, and bills, and disappointments, and open my eyes to what is right in front of me, then I see what I need to write about. Even the sad times and suffering can be relieved with a few words put down on paper. The words come to life and start the healing process. I wrote a poem about my mother’s leaving our bad situation when I was very young. It made me realize what a truly brave and heroic woman she was. That poem brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. But those tears are cleansing tears that have helped me forgive and move on.
What’s next for you?
ACT: I am not a seer or prophet, but I am hoping more and better poems. I most likely will never be famous as a poet, but as long as my words are out there in the world to share with others, I shall live on through my words. Who knows, maybe one day I will even start to become comfortable with my own work.