The Personhood Project Episode 7: Caits Meissner
In this episode, host Aaron Tyler Hand is joined by poet, musician, and Director of Prison and Justice Writing at PEN America, Caits Meissner. They discuss some of the amazing work that she is doing at PEN America such as editing the book The Sentences That Create Us and hosting writing contests for incarcerated writers. Meissner also goes into the difference in sitting down to wrong lyrics versus sitting down to write a poem. While discussing poetry, they dive into the importance of balance between writing about pain and happiness.
Writing towards joy is a choice, it's writing towards gratitude, it's a choice that through the pain, through the sorrow, through the grievance, to keep identifying what is beautiful.
It was dark on the road, on the way to the house.
I was going about 35 miles in the car, the only light on
the way was 3 street lights that shine on the road.
In the far distance I saw a small dot on the road.
“What is that?” I asked aloud.
The object was getting closer, when I recognized
it as an “armadillo.”
I thought to myself, I will just veer right
once I get close to it. But once I got close,
it looked like it wanted to get hit.
I tried to avoid it, but over it I went.
Crunch said the armadillo and squeal
went my car, after I stomp on the brakes.
Leap of Faith
how can something look so
inviting and terrifying at the
same time. gentle whispers urging
me on, daring me to take
a leap of faith. with my
courage up I make a mad
dash only to step on a dime
at the very edge of becoming
a superhero aquaman I
imagine. it can’t be that
bad, maybe I just might
survive to see the next
four candles on my favorite
cake. this is it, I’m going
through with it, nothing can
stop me now. no, hold
it, just one second, could
I drown? no that’s it,
it has to be done, I
think as I’m gliding
through the air, splash
I go under, only to
resurface with water
and sunshine on my
smiling face, brought
about because of my leap of faith.
It’s time to float. Time to become one with the universe.
A simple thing, since I’m a man who goes with the flow.
But it’s not simple.
In fact it’s quite the opposite.
It’s dark all around me and I’m trying to find my way to nirvana
but I get lost. Too much on my mind.
I should feel safe, like a child in his mother’s womb.
Instead, I feel like a man lost at sea in a storm.
I should have the sensation of floating through the cosmos.
With all these thoughts, I feel like I’m sinking in the ocean.
My final thoughts wrapping around my legs like a block of cement.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
My hour of strife is over,
Am I still lost though?
Lentil’s Peace (a Poem)
1) In the small place light never leaves, two lentils mix in a recipe divined by unseen eyes and blinking machines,
2) The seeds, strangers to each other, seek calm in the crucible of hot and cold,
3) Out in the steel and limestone kettle, they’ll simmer with other perilous peppery elements,
4) Each day serves a new stew with a heaping side of ennui,
5) Weeks in the pot pass, just blinks in the abyss,
6) Outside, the stainless sieve lets in rain and waxing moon but denies the wings of birds and men,
7) Seems our jack-booted chefs are particular about what gets into their slop; and what gets out,
8) The people porridge cooks too, roasting nourishing peace in the boiling fray,
9) A peace that bubbles out graphite totems and technicolor panyo dreams,
10) Apostles of Valhalla find it spinning epics of the slain and the almost got aways,
11) Wouldbe stars of the hardwood find repose in embarrassing King James 5 point shots on a 10ft rim,
12) Reluctant Buddah’s discover serenity in their hidden Chi’s while learning how to breathe again,
13) Ex-Kansans seek the Man Behind the Curtain with lamentations for their solace,
14) Hold Em Kings hoard Ramen piles while the vanquished addicts starve on in saturating games,
15) Small white dots on pacific ebony wood split the air announcing their 5’s and 10’s,
16) Swollen hands stink of blue rubber and sweat as the tranquil cage sponsors the sport,
17) Those grains finding no respite visibly disappear in the borsch, leaving the burnt chaft to the stove,
18) Sometimes furious blood and angry badges pour in before the ladle of our angels can save good seed,
19) Each ingredient seeking its place and taste in the covered cooker as outer space and time move on,
20) All look forward to that morrow when their lentil is gently sliced ATW,
21) All The Way Out,
22) Out into the calming bowls of familiar loves and lands,
23) And out onto menus only tomorrow’s peace will know.
What We Remember is a confessional poem. That means that Meissner uses the poem to express a deep psychological experience, in this case the trauma of hitting a dog with her car. To help her cope with the pain, we see her honor the dog by creating a fictional world where the dog had a loving family. In a similar framework, write a poem about a time you cried. It can be a time that you cried for joy or for sorrow, either way, be sure to convey the emotions around the experience by telling the truths of the moment as well as weaving in some fictions.
In Feeling New Agey, Meissner walks the reader through the ways in which she tries to find peace within herself. We see her talk about new self-care methods, but ultimately she ends up expressing the old ways in which she used to let loose and feel free. The ways she misses and wishes she could get back to. Playing off of this idea, write a poem about the ways you participate in self-care. This means, what do you do to find peace within yourself? You can also use this poem to express the ways in which this self-care is different from what you did on the outside.
Caits Meissner uses her poem, Growing Bold, to reflect on a childhood memory.Upon her reflection she allows the reader to see the life lesson that she learned in that moment and how it has shaped the person she has grown into. Think of a childhood memory that is still clear in your mind. Think back to what little you knew back then and then how much you know now. Write a poem about that memory and share the life lesson that you learned in that moment.