Letter in Green
Principles of Bone
The Butcher's Daughter
The Uncertainty of Altars
Offspring; A Local Art Show
Why Jonah's Wife Was Never Found
Death, Stone and a Woman Named Virginia Woolf
In Uganda there is symbol of a circle with a line through the middle; it means, we all share the same stomach. It means what you eat, I swallow and no matter where you are, we are connected.
Recently nominated for a Pushcart, T.E. Ballard describes herself as a professional artist and writer residing in the Midwest with her two young daughters. This modest description of herself, while accurate, doesn’t even begin to reveal the depths of the woman I’ve come to know as a friend, writer, artist, mother, and now, Tryst’s Feature Poet.
Born in Berwick, Maine, in a small town she fondly refers to as a “blip in the road” Teresa comes from a long line of writers, artists and politicians. Her family roots trace back to Emily Dickinson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Though she jokingly quips that she’s probably related to everyone in Maine, her loyalties remain tied to a long line of strong island women from Nova Scotia.
Tryst Interviews T.E. BallardMia: Teresa, you say that your great grandmother and her daughters influenced you; however, I often find that your grandfather, a former senator of Maine, and your father might have had a stronger influence on you. Apart from being a mother, I feel there exists two integral parts of you in this respect: the writer today and the child growing up under the auspices of prominent ancestry.
Could you describe your relationships to the woman and men in your family?
Teresa: I am a New England woman. I come from a line of women who have lived by the sea and were lighthouse keepers and fishermen. I would hope, I have more than two integral parts of myself, more like a thousand threads of experiences that create who I am.
For a time, I believed what shaped me were the things that pulled me into this world, ones which taught me beauty. My grandmother and great grandmother were that for me; but now I am finding I am formed not only by what draws me out but by the people and situations which push me in. We cannot choose our foundation, we carry the threads of mistakes and triumphs of the ones who have lived before us. None of us are without roots, none without family.
I say that not only about the people I am related to, but the ones who come into my world. In Uganda there is symbol of a circle with a line through the middle; it means, we all share the same stomach. It means what you eat, I swallow and no matter where you are, we are connected. Of course, the relationships I have with the women and men in my family are complicated. I relate to each person differently: my mother taught me how to name wild plants and my father, how to cut meat from bone. My grandfather led me to be arrogant and helped me fight for what I wanted. My grandmother showed me the woman I wanted to be and each one gave me stories, the stories they imagined and the ones they lived. Yet I have always known, it was my job to write them down.
Mia: In which ways do you feel the matriarchs in your family influenced and shaped the writer in you? And in which ways did your grandfather and father influence you?
Teresa: My grandfather gave me a King James Bible at age of three and said "read." He and my grandmother brought me to church every Sunday and taught me the power of word. My father brought me to the racetrack and taught me how to pick the horses and he also believed in the power of me learning things on my own. He told me once, he knew everything I did, he just didn't want to discuss it. I have read many articles about artists and what they believed their parents did to give them a hunger to create and the answer they all seem to come back to is, "my parents left me alone." And that is what mine did for the most part, they left me alone and in that space, I read and read and read and lived in a world far better than my own.
Mia: Besides your family, who or what events have been/are the key influences behind your work?
Teresa: Books-the work of Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Victor Hugo, Pablo Neruda, Lucille Clifton, Edwidge Danticat. I have spent a large amount of my life reading great writers and it has created in me a hunger. I am not just talking about awards and publications or the need to write to be published. I am saying I have a hunger to be read, to have my words reach someone else, in a way, fit into another's skin. Only art has the ability to transcend time, culture. I can read a book, poem and become more than who I am.
Mia: Do you see any difference between the way women and men write these days; and will that change? Why do you think men writers are still more published, or more recognized than women writers? Especially, since studies show that women are normally more adept with verbal/communication skills over men who tend to be analytical.
Teresa: First of all, I hate the woman/man writing thing. One of the reasons I go by T.E. Ballard instead of Teresa is because I want people to see my words before they see my gender. All that said though, you are right. There are far more published male writers than women. I think that men tend to risk more, that they are taught not to take rejection as a personal insult and I also think women tend to guard their dreams. Mandela wrote, that it is not failing we fear but succeeding, becoming all we believe ourselves to be.
Time and time again, I meet women who are afraid of their own strength. They make themselves smaller to fit into the boxes others have created. Do I think that will change? Yes and no. Each woman has a choice. I think it is our job as writers to ask the questions and lay down the ideas and do away with the boxes.
I would also like to add here, that Lucille Clifton is the only person to be nominated twice in the same year for a Pulitzer. She is a woman, one who writes truth, and I admire her a great deal and yet she has never won that award. If one looks at the number of females who have won, it is staggering because it is so small. Things have not changed greatly since Millay's time.
Mia: With your poetry, Teresa, I find that I am drawn to it because it is so visceral. One of my favorite poems, The Butcher's Daughter, which placed first in IBPC (Interboard Poetry Competition) is literally about viscera. "Butcher's Daughter" is a dark poem, almost primal, that explores the more profound and unflinching look at childhood. You write from that deep inner place and what surfaces is weightless with one soft image blending into another.
Also, being an artist, I feel that you have an advantage over many writers. For one, you use a lot of colors and concrete images in your poetry. Secondly, I notice that you have a natural rhythm to your writing; a lyrical cadence that rolls off the tongue. All your line breaks, caesuras, lend a seamless flow to your poems.
Most times, I find your writing to be very lucid and smooth. You have a huge following of readers built up already. However, why do you think some readers “just don’t get it”?
Teresa: Thank you for your compliments regarding "The Butcher’s Daughter." It was a very important poem to me and took me over a year to write. I spent much of my young life working for my father in his meat market. I do not try to write “visceral” poetry. I write about my own truth, what is important to me and I do not think I have an advantage over writers who are not artists. I have always been one of those people who found the strangest things beautiful, even pain has its own wonder. I believe that gift helps me as a writer.As far as the people who "just don't get it", why should they? There are people in my every day life who don't understand me or even accept me. I don't write to be popular or understood. I write because it is all I have ever known and I could no more stop myself, than I could stop breathing.
Mia: You say you began reading at the age of three. But when did you actually begin to read poetry? When did you begin writing poetry and why do you feel you were ultimately drawn to that form of writing, as opposed to prose?
Teresa: I wrote my first poem at the age of seven, which was really a song. I wanted to be a singer when I was little and if I could have ever carried a tune, I might be in a different place now. My teachers loved it and named it poetry and thus began my love affair with the written word.
I do like writing prose. The truth is I like writing everything, even letters. Poetry fits into my life. I have an eight and a four year old and a full-time career. I have time to get about ten lines in before someone is hungry or crying. And I have always believed poetry helps me be a better writer, every word counts and every image needs to be strong.
Mia: You once wrote, "a writer needs to get out of the way of the act of writing.” First, could you elaborate what you mean by that statement? Secondly, when do you feel the writer needs to “come back into the writing process” to rework and revise a piece. Why is it imperative to return to a piece at all, then?
Teresa: The art of creating is also an act of transcending. I believe poetry to be like prayer, when I write it is to become more than who I am. It is about reaching into the purest form of my being and letting that surface.
I tried for a while to "write" poetry, I counted the beats and measured the line breaks but the poem laid flat on the page. I found that when I let go, the poem became alive, when I stopped trying to "write" and let the voices be heard, the music speak, it somehow became more.
Of course, I believe in editing but that is like pruning a tree for growth, picking the strongest limb, it does not mean what you cut away was not beautiful-it was just not needed.
Mia: What do you feel are the strengths of your writing? How and where do you see the need to improve, if any?
Teresa: The strengths I have in my writing are the strengths I have in myself. I am a very strong woman. I accept myself as a spiritual, sexual, intellectual being and I believe that shows in my work. I want to live life to the fullest and write poetry that reaches everyday people, not just some literary buff sitting in a cubicle somewhere.
My work will improve, as I improve, when I take those moments to "get out of the way" and write. When you do something you love it is like floating on water, you do not think about how it is possible or even where you are going, you just let yourself be.
Mia: Where would you like to see your writing go? How many years are you willing to invest to reach your goals?
Teresa: I will write everyday of my life. I want to be the writer of my generation, and create books that a hundred years from now people are still reading. To float one must be in the water; to write well, I must be committed everyday to putting my words on paper.
After the birth of my first child, I stop writing poetry for six years. I lost something in myself. I became frozen and the core of who I was went into a deep sleep. The irony was when I decided to write again, it was as if I had been frostbitten and every word hurt to put on paper. Those poems were not my greatest work but in a way there were, they woke me up and reminded me everyday how important words are.
Mia: Is there is anything personal you’d like to share with our readers? Such as, what you do as a professional artist? What is your educational background? Could you tell us a little about living abroad in Europe and Haiti?
Teresa: I work as a professional artist bringing art education to inner city youths. I am the creator of girls in power, which uses art and writing as a form of expression for young women. We create our own journals, painting and sculptures and work as a group to empower each other. It is a wonderful job and I am very fortunate that I am able to do the things I love.
I adore the country of Haiti. I lived there in my early twenties, in a small village where I was the only white person they had ever met. I spoke very little Creole and I saw first hand how similar we all are. It is truly one world, a world that calls each one to embrace our similarities as well as our differences.
I have traveled and lived all over this world and I have never met anyone that different from myself and yet no one who see things just as I do.
Teresa, thank you so much for this interview. I definitely feel that you have the talent, drive and strength to become one of the leading voices, and accomplished writers in this century granted you wish to pursue it to that end. My best wishes for your success.
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