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How Poetry Saved My Life - Interview with Mei-Mei Mijares

Questions by Loraine Garcia

Find the original post here.

L: Hiya Mei-Mei! Before I start, I just want to say that I really enjoyed reading your blog post! As someone who has never been a part of a writing group, I definitely feel like I’ve been missing out on something great.

And now on to the questions! How did you come up with the idea behind this blog post?

M: I’m so glad you enjoyed it! If you ever want to write with me, let me know. I’m always down for writing sessions.

I honestly started writing this post last month around the time I had finished planning a small Poets’ Club Alumni reunion, but with doing the trip and feeling all of my loss over not being able to do it in 2020, I couldn’t bring myself to write it. I wrote a prompt post for National Poetry Month and I really really wanted to do a Poets’ Club post justice because I was seeing everyone again and my school for the first time since 2019. So basically, I was feeling sad and nostalgic and I needed to write about it.

L: Who is your favorite poet of all time and why?

M: Sarah Kay. I’ve been following her spoken word poetry since I was 14, around the time that I started writing, and I love how she focuses on free-verse and really uses every figurative language tool in her arsenal. I love the softness in her delivery because it’s the natural way I perform poems too. It’s very easy to yell spoken word, but it takes skill to know when to stew in quiet.

She also started Project VOICE with her friend and fellow poet, Phil Kaye, where they go around the country performing and teaching workshops on poetry and spoken word. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and I aspire to be like her one day. I once was at the Last Bookstore in LA when I heard her voice, and she happened to be doing a performance there! I had no idea and I criiiiieeeed. I got her autograph and a photo with her and everything. So yeah. She’s a huge deal to me.

L: What about your favorite poem of all time and why?

M: Okay, this is NOT fair Loraine haha. This is really hard, so I will cheat and say two favorites: a poem meant for the page, and a poem meant for performance.

This is actually the poem I did for Poetry Out Loud (I got second place to a girl who broke literally every rule but you know, not still mad about it or anything). My favorite lines are:

But I do not approve.

More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

The speaker of the poem was talking about how when we put our loved ones in the ground, they are fed to the roses and while the flowers may be beautiful, they will never compare to the beauty of their loved one alive,, sharing moments with the speaker. I know this is a sad poem but I have loved it since high school because while it is sad, it’s hopeful. It is reminiscent. It is acknowledging that death will come to us all but we don’t need to be resigned when it happens. It’s okay to be angry and it’s okay to not approve. It is perfectly normal to acknowledge that it is not fair when we suffer loss, and to wish it didn’t happen at all.

I was battling between this one and Intro by Reyna Biddy from Kehlani’s album, but I chose this because it speaks to me more at the moment. I love this poem because Sarah tells us that growing up, there will be those who will want to love us and we can let them, but at the end of the day, we can build ourselves. The whole poem is full of favorite lines but this one hits:

Some men will want to hold you like you are THE answer

You are not THE answer

You are not the problem

No matter how others treat us women like we’re the answer or the problem or the muse or anything other than a human being with wants, needs, and dreams, we have the power to build the life that we want. I love how empowering this poem is. It makes me proud to be a woman and to love as strongly as I do, even if it isn’t always matched.

L: Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into writing poetry but don’t know where to start?

M: Well you could look at my prompts blog! This is supposed to be a series so I think I’m actually writing an in-depth article to answer this question next. But in the meantime, get a notebook. Moleskines are amazing and they have cute little pockets in the back. And write. It doesn’t have to start off as poetry. It can be prose or it can just be blurbs or journal entries. Try not to restrict yourself too much at the beginning because you really are just starting out.

The next thing I want you to do is pick one of those blurbs or even just write your heart and mind and pick a poem form for it. I used to practice with sonnets (horrible idea as a beginner but I ended up specializing in Shakespeare so I think it worked out) and haikus in the beginning. Then, of course, in school, I learned metaphors, similes, and all that jazz. But starting out with the basics helps so much when you’re trying to figure out your own style. Learn the rules before you break and meld them together.

L: I’m someone who is absolutely terrified of sharing my work with others (not even my close friends). I have only recently gotten around to sharing my work with people and that was only for a workshop class where it was required. How did you become more comfortable with sharing your writing? Does this stem from having confidence in your writing?

M: Oh I was absolutely terrified too. I didn’t show my work to anyone at all for years until I felt ready. I think what helped me most were my teachers and finding solace in the fact that they always encouraged me to keep writing. They saw something in me before I did.

And Poets’ Club’s motto “We want to hear what you have to say” is what really brought me into sharing. Being in the circle and knowing everyone was just as afraid as I am to bare their souls was comforting. Our hands would shake. Our feet would shift uneasily on top of the table. We shared anyway because everyone needs to share their authentic self. Everyone wants to feel accepted and loved for all parts of them. That’s what Poets’ Club was about. “The apostrophe after the ‘s’ because it’s not just one poet’s club,” as Sam, a Founder and Vice President would say.

I don’t think I felt truly confident about my writing until junior year of college, when I was 20. I shared despite my trepidation and Poets’ Club gave me a space to become a better poet and person. I think finding that safe space where people encourage you to be yourself is crucial.

L: Was it difficult for you to be vulnerable in the poets’ club that you joined? How did you know you were ready for that kind of vulnerability?

M: Yes, but mostly no. I think I was sick of hiding at that point because I spent so much of my life hiding behind books and being super quiet in class. After I moved to Germany (another story), I was forced out of my shell by my extroverted friends so I had preemptive training of being “out there.”

I think the main thing was getting over what people thought of me. When I realized, “hey, I’m not judging them and I want to hear their words, why would it be any different with me?” That was when I knew I was okay and if they could do it, so could I.

L: What do you hope our audience takes away from reading your blog post?

M: I hope they see that it’s possible to grow and to express themselves through poetry. I want people to see that there are avenues for them to feel themselves and people will want to hear what they want to say.

Hell, I do. I want to hear what y’all have to say.

L: And finally, what have you been up to and where can our audience find you?

M: Oh I’m just hanging around everywhere, writing and making art. I’m getting back into songwriting so that’s exciting and I’m working on spoken word again after a year hiatus from performing. I write, edit and still dabble in blog admin with LYF. Oh and the LYF Blog just published our 2022 zine!! It looks amazing and I have a poem on page 21.

You can find my stuff on my YouTube and you can follow me on IG @mei_mers, where I’m most active. Don’t be a stranger! I love meeting new folks.

Also thank you for the great questions, Loraine! Cheers ❤️

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