In the Fall 2014 issue, two poems by Beth Brown Preston were published: “November Seperation”, and “The Dancer”. The following is an excerpt from her poem “The Dancer”:
The dancer is a sole flower.
Seething with restlessness, he resents
the absence of motion.
In order to give readers a deeper sense of our writers – from their drive to write, to writing in recovery – we touched base with Beth, a contributor from our most current issue. We asked her a series of questions related to the impact of the written word on her life. Here are her responses:
When did you begin your craft in writing, and specifically for your wellness?
I started writing professionally when I was a senior at Westtown Friends School in 1970. I assumed the editorship of our school literary magazine – the PPO, and I published several book reviews in the BROWN & WHITE – the school newspaper. One of my early efforts was to initiate a literary magazine for the Black sisters at Bryn Mawr College from which I graduated in 1976. The magazine was titled RA (after the sun god). Also I helped found a magazine which served the interests of both Bryn Mawr and Haverford students WORKS AND DAYS. The first prize I received for my writing was the K. Gerould Memorial Prize in fiction for a short story entitled “The Wire during my senior year at Bryn Mawr”.
I started using my writing as a means of recovery in 2010 while I was a participant in the Wellness Alliance – a therapeutic program for individuals suffering with mental health and substance abuse issues. One of my responsibilities was to publish a monthly newsletter in which I included my own and my peers’ literary efforts – poetry, autobiography, and book reviews. I also facilitated a poetry workshop for the Wellness Alliance participants. So I would say that writing has been my wellness toll for four or five years, a relatively short time when compared with the total of years that I have been writing.
Why do you write?
Why do I write? I write because I need a way to communicate with my peers the spirit that dwells inside me, I find that writing is an ultimate and spiritual means of communication. I do not write for money – although that could be one of my motivations.
I write to capture a portrait of my other lives. Writing helps me untangle the confusion and chaos which so often tries to arise in my daily life. With poetry, especially, I try to capture the moment as if in a photograph. Writing keeps me well and keeps me trying to progress one poem or story at a time.
What genres of writing do you engage in?
I hold an MFA degree in Writing from Goddard College which I earned in 1981. My selected specialty was short fiction, however I have had more public success as a poet. I have published two poetry collections; LIGHT YEARS 1973-1976 (1982) and SATIN TUNNELS (1989). Both volumes were published by the Lotus Press. I have been working on a third poetry series – OXYGEN I . However something I feel inside leads me to believe that I’ll do my best work with ROSES – my memoir no matter how long it take to completion.
What is the hardest thing for you about writing?
The most difficult thing I find is really tackling my memoir. The memories still remain vivid. My difficulty is translating my memories into written language. I do not want to sound like a journalist – merely recording the events of my life. I want to tell my story in a language which informs as well as entertains.
Have you shared your poems relating to your experience with mental illness with the general public? How were they received?
As previously mentioned, my poetry has received the most success. I published two collections of poems and I am working on a third and fourth series. It seems recently that my poems have experimented with the scenes from my daily life, my peers’ and with encountering the work of other writers. The late seventies and early eighties were a fruitful time for me. At this time I’m still struggling with communicating to an audience after a lengthy hiatus in my writing career.
As a Peer Support Specialist, what has been your experience in encouraging writing as a therapeutic tool for recovery?
I have been employed as a Peer Support Specialist for two years at Horizon House’s Project Health. I started work in 2012. Before my being hired I worked as a volunteer with the Wellness Alliance program. Also I was a tutor for the Education department – aiding student who wished to earn their GED. I have shared my poems in the Wellness Alliance and Project Health newsletters which have been made available to an audience through circulation among my co-workers and my peers.
I have been able to encourage budding writers through my morning meditation and my poetry slam groups. We were able together to celebrate April as National Poetry month this year with a poetry slam (reading).
What are you working on at the moment?
My current works in progress are:
OXYGEN I – poetry – complete
OXYGEN II – poetry – in progress
ROSES – autobiography
AN ANTHOLOGY OF THE NOVEL – a series of non-fiction essays concerning the topic of black women novelist beginning with Zora Neale Hurston and Nella Larsse to the present.
OXYGEN II at this time remains in the form of a verse journal – opening lines, collected metaphors, and imagery in no chronological order. I have completed thirteen chapters of ROSES. And the authropological work exists on several piles of notes.
Are you reading anything now that’s speaking to you?
I’ve been reading poetry and memoir. I remember being very much impressed by Charles H Rowell’s anthology of African American poets ANGLE OF ASCENT which was published last year. I guess that I feel left out since my work was not included (although I was the first poet chosen for the CALLALOO poetry prize in 1981). Also I have read Maya Angelou’s memoir “I know why the cages bird sings”. Ironically I finished reading Maya Angelou’s memoir just a few days before she passed on. She definitely was a role model and inspiration to me as a writer and mentor to other successful writers. Also I’m reading Richard Wright’s memoir – “Black Boy”.
What are your goals as you move forward with your writing?
My goals? Write, Write, Write. The largest task ahead of me is to complete my autobiography – ROSES.
I have confidence that my story when told will be a learning experience for my audience of other writers as well as my peers. I need to complete ROSES and dedicate it to all of my family and friends who all are now involved in bringing this memoir to fruition. Second goal – finishing the series of anthropological essays.
How did you first come to hear of Open Minds Quarterly?
I first heard of the Open Minds Quarterly sometime last year when I began receiving complimentary issues of the magazine in the mail (I don’t know who paid for my initial subscription). Now I am a paying subscriber as well as an author who has published in the Quarterly.
Is there anything else you would like to relay about your publication in Open Minds Quarterly?
I am moved with great gratitude about the publication of my poetry in Open Minds Quarterly. I respect the magazine as a voice for writers and artists who need to write about their challenges and their victories. And I am proud to be included as a poet. I want to share this publication with my boss and my therapist since both of them have expressed interest in helping me reach my goals as a writer.
Thank you greatly to Beth Brown Preston for sharing her thoughts and feelings on the value of writing in her life, the struggles along the way, and her future literary goals. Sharing the deeper perceptions of our writers enables, not only us to see them more fully, but lends its way for readers to see the power of writing for ones wellness journey, inspiring us to try our hands at writing our own stories, and break down more of the stigma surrounding mental illness.