Interview on “So You Want to be a Poet” by Mei-Mei Mijares
Questions by Selina Wells
Here’s the original post S: This is the third installment of a “Poet’s Beginning Series”, what influenced you to write this series?
M: At the time I started this series, I was planning out a reunion with the other alumni of my UCSB Poets’ Club. I was overwhelmed by the fact I hadn’t been writing a lot of poetry throughout quarantine and I didn’t feel like a poet anymore. I wanted to prove to myself and to others that you are always a poet, no matter where you start or when you begin again. And I’m making the steps to get back into poetry!
S: Will there be more installments to this series or is this the final piece of the series? Would you consider doing something like a spinoff to the Poet’s Beginning?
M: Oh absolutely! I’m not done with poetry as a topic at all, but I think my next few installments will be into the nitty gritty about poetry. An intermediate level, perhaps. There are a lot of ways it can form.
S: I love that you got advice from other poets for our readers! Would you say having a writing community helped your writing prosper?
M: Thank you so much! It was really fun and, Jason, one of the poets who participated said, “It really felt like all the people you quoted were in conversation with each other.” That’s always what it feels like when we write together.
I think there’s something so special about writing in a circle—you’re just people in that moment, trying to express yourself as well as you can to others. A writing community gave me accountability to make art. Thursdays at 7, I met up with my friends and we wrote together. I have so many lines in my poetry that have been edited for the better by my friends. I have read books that changed my life because of them. When you are challenged in your passion and you have people to support you through life, your writing will reflect that.
S: You mention two different approaches to getting started; the scholar and the expressionist. You tell the audience you started off as the scholar, could you expand a little more about your experience as the scholar?
M: I was a really avid reader throughout middle school and high school. I used to get in trouble for hiding a book in my lap during class. I broke my leg once and someone asked me if I tripped on a pile of books.
So really, it was just…my life? I read novels and poetry. I watched so much spoken word. I was on Tumblr writing and reading feedback in the comments. I wrote sonnets for fun just to practice. It was a lot of information to gather so I knew the best way to express myself and it was really fun to learn all of it. I kept my literary device sheets even after school was over and I carried a dictionary with me everywhere. I wanted to know everything there is to know about anything, especially how to write and what stories there are to tell.
S: You mention that the reader should remember their “why” or reason when it comes to writing their poetry. Are there any tips you could expand on further for the audience?
M: Before or after you write, whatever works better for you in that moment, try to evaluate why you wanted to write the piece. Ask yourself questions and check-in. It’s to bring more self-awareness and it’s to build trust with, “hey this is how I’m feeling about…”
And then just sit with that for a moment. You recall so much about yourself and it will help you tap into those feelings if you ever want to perform the piece.
S: You have a bullet point called “Write what you know! Speak your truth!”, I love the header by the way. I do want to pick your brain a bit about this advice. Do you think writing other people’s experiences could work? Gwendolyn Brooks wrote her first published collection, A Street in Bronzeville, which she beautifully “makes the ordinary life of her neighbors extraordinary.” Now is writing about one's own experience just a gateway to be able to write what another person has gone through?
M: Ah, absolutely! “Write what you know” isn’t just your life at all and that’s what I love about it. One song in particular I think of is “Remember Me” by UMI. She wrote that song about her friend’s experience. And what I think about writing other people is that is still your truth, as in your interpretation of the story. I love how much power we have to change things.
I don’t think of one’s experience as just a gateway to write about others. Sometimes it takes reading or writing about other people’s experiences to be able to write your own because self-vulnerability can be harder, for whatever reason. My poems in high school used “she” a lot, rather than “I” because I wasn’t ready for that. So I think the process can go both ways in that respect.
I love this question by the way!
S: Where can our audience find you? And are you working on poetry right now?
M: You can find me on Instagram @mei_mers or right here at thelyfoundation.org! I also have a YouTube (it’s quite dusty though) that features some past poems. It’s “TheHopelesssRomantic” because I’m extra hopeless.
And yes, I am! I’m really excited to share poetry once I’m ready. I’m figuring out some performance sets I can do but that’s still secret!