Catherine Strisik – “Next Big Thing” Interview
Thank you to my dear friend, Veronica Golos for tagging me for The Next Best Thing.
The title of my manuscript-in-progress is The Mistress. However, my first published book is called Thousand-Cricket Song (Plain View Press 2010). The book evolved after an intimate time spent in Cambodia with friends who are survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. The book includes many poems of witness in reaction to a country in continued emotional recovery from the genocide that occurred there from 1975-1979 where close to 1,700,000 people were murdered by means of starvation, execution, and disease. I have an adopted stepson from Cambodia whose entire family died before his eyes during this atrocious period, who survived by hiding and running through jungles between the ages of seven to twelve with an open cleft lip and palate. While in Cambodia and when beginning the manuscript while at the Vermont Studio Center four months after returning from Cambodia, I realized that I was an outsider, that my consciousness and the consciousness of Cambodia are not the same; and hoped to achieve a balance between subjectivity and objectivity. The manuscript took five years to complete because of the amount of research that was necessary. I remember not being able to write the word genocide for at least a year so the first written poems touched more upon the tangible for me such as temples, monks, my daughter. During this period a friend introduced me to the poet, U Sam Oeur who is also a survivor of the genocide in Cambodia. I shared many poems with him before the book was published; he cried, and clarified unclear thoughts and facts, encouraged me to continue writing poems about Cambodia so that others would not forget what horror had occurred in his homeland. As a poet in a foreign country I strove to understand the systole and diastole of a life I was unfamiliar with. I am familiar with bodies of water though, and their healing qualities; oceans, lakes, and rivers and realized to write about Cambodia I must understand the Mekong and the Tonle Sap Rivers. Through water, my awareness enriched and many of the poems began to gift themselves to me in unexpected and varied ways. Water flows through Thousand-Cricket Song. As do women, childbearing, and childbirth. Where I felt solidarity is from where I wrote. The Silky Raw is truly my first manuscript that has evolved over many years, has placed as finalist in various national contests during its many incarnations; poems that are open to mystery, the unconscious, and with leaps that may be difficult for some people to make. It is a sensual manuscript, I believe, in the sense that body, earth, animal, longing, motherhood, ancestors, and continued existence interrelate in subtle and profound utterances and instances. When read deeply there is an interconnectedness of themes that may not be evident if read lightly and without care to the ways of the unconscious mind. The manuscript-in-progress, The Mistress, is a love poem, a love triangle, where a mistress, not necessarily in the physical form of mistress, presents herself numerous times in the course of a marriage, beginning with the inhalation of her, the festering of her within the deepest part of a brain, substantia nigra, where for nearly thirty years she acts slowly, deliberately in her attempt to call this man hers as she destroys brain cells.
TNBT: Where did the idea come from for the book?
My husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease four years ago, although I noticed signs of it probably one to two years prior to his diagnosis. I’ve kept a journal of the progression of the disease, his behavior, and his reaction to medications since the beginning. The Mistress poems involve the battle between a man and Parkinson’s, his wife and Parkinson’s, the numerous mistresses: the poison insecticide he breathed while acting as a physician on the Thai/Cambodian border in 1980, the diagnosis of the disease, the disease itself, the medications; this is a love poem about holding onto the man you love as he reacts to dopamine agonists and appears physically as self but with behavior unrecognizable as self, therefore, the stranger; this is a love poem about disorientation where a split has occurred at the heart, and two separate realities are being lived. It is a wife speaking for her life and her husband’s life, at times blinded, at other times unblinded. It is a seeking out, many of the poems written through persona, of spirit, a red rock, a canyon, a goat, a cow, monk, beauty, Mount Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, the architecture of a marriage, in an attempt to make sense of the mistress who in the end will have what she wants, she thinks, but for the bond that binds in love.
TNBT: What genre does your book fall under?
TNBT: What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a move rendition?
Because the actor, Michael J. Fox has Parkinson’s, he would do a fine job because he would not be acting even when acting.
TNBT: What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
The Mistress: Parkinson’s Disease
TNBT: How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I’m still writing the poems so a first draft is incomplete at this time. I could say that since his diagnosis I have been churning ideas, and documenting his experiences and our experiences, but the first poems for this book were not written until this past November when I spent a week alone at Christ in the Desert Monastery in Abiquiu, N.M.A poem titled, “The Mistress Speaks” is published in the second issue of Taos Journal of Poetry & Art. (taosjournalofpoetry.com) The Silky Raw does include two poems that were written early into the diagnosis of Parkinson’s.
TNBT: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Parkinson’s Disease inspired me and the fact that I am now dealing with it intimately day to day. The upside is that because of the disease we journeyed to Tanzania two years ago so that my husband could climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, a long time desire of his, after having climbed numerous mountains in Nepal, Greece, and North America before his diagnosis. Current poems have moved away from persona and are in the voice of a poet experiencing Africa. They are love poems in a foreign setting. People in local Parkinson’s support groups and movement disorder classes in Taos also inspire me, their sense of humor and desire to maintain their dignity in the face of a potentially debilitating disease. And, of course my husband inspires me with his continued bravery and research, and as a poet I am thrust into being a truth-seeker and truth-teller, regardless of the pain involved. I am continually inspired by the poetry of Larry Levis, Ánnah Sobelman, Scott Cairns, Anna Akhmatova, Yannis Ritsos to name but a few, and pay close attention to their poetry, their breath, when I am at a loss.
TNBT: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The title of my published book, Thousand-Cricket Song came from the sound of the thousands of hidden crickets in trees outside Ta Prohm Temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia, their loud “song” mesmerizing, soothing as I passed by limbless and blind land-mine victims who played their own songs with handmade instruments.
TNBT: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I have some presses in mind that I would be honored to be published by.
With admiration I introduce the following tagged poets: