Meet the Author of . . . Every Day Is a Poem

October 22, 2020

The Author

Jacqueline Suskin has composed over forty thousand poems with her ongoing improvisational writing project, Poem Store. She is the author of six books, including Help in the Dark Season. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Yes! magazine. She lives in Northern California. For more, see jacquelinesuskin.com.

The Book

Every Day Is A Poem Book

How do we deal with the heaviness of everyday living? When we are surrounded by uncertainty, distrust, and destruction, how do we sift through the chaos and enjoy being alive?

In Every Day Is a Poem, Jacqueline Suskin aims to answer these questions by using poetry as a tool for finding clarity and feeling relief. With provocative questions, writing practices, and mindset exercises, this celebrated poet shows you how to focus your senses, cultivate curiosity, and create your own document of the world’s beauty. Emphasizing that the personal is inextricable from the creative, Suskin offers specific instructions on how to make a map of your past and engage with your pain to write a healing poem.

 

Show us a day in your life.

I’m currently the Artist in Residence at Folklife Farm, where I spend my days writing, reading, teaching online and working in the garden. 

Rainbow

I wake up and take care of my body, dance, stretch, and harvest something for breakfast.

Blueberries

Then I usually work at my desk until late afternoon when I find my way back to the garden for more harvesting and chores.

When I’m working on a book, I’ll wake up around 4 am to write before anyone else is awake. I know that whenever I wake up in the dark with an idea, it’s my job as a poet to turn the light on and write it down. 

Workspace

With this schedule, my days are fluid; and although I make showing up at my desk a main priority, I never forget that it’s summer and there are rivers to swim in, flowers to smell, and berries to pick.  

Are you learning any new tricks or skills during this time (COVID)? What’s been hardest for you? What do you miss the most? Has your book taken on a new meaning in the world’s current circumstances? Is there anything you would have included in your book if you were writing it now?

smelling flowers

During quarantine, I had to shut down the retreat program I was running at Folk Llife Farm. This was a sad shift, as we had folks signed up to stay for months in advance. Now that I’m not spending my time hosting or interacting with my local community in person, I’m engaging with my online community in a larger capacity. I miss sitting in front of my audience, writing for people after looking them in the eye, and I really miss browsing bookstores. I miss hugging my friends, having teatime and long conversations, and I miss going on tour. But I can’t complain. Poetry has its place in the world now more than ever. I’m here to translate the communal mood, to voice our collective pain, and find the beauty in all of it. My book will help others do this as well. And if there’s one thing COVID has taught me, it’s that we all need an outlet for our emotions, especially when we feel unseen and disconnected. Poetry is this outlet and we can still share it even if we can’t be with one another in person.

What is something about you that doesn’t make it into your author bio?

earth

I’m an ecstatic earth worshiper. Everything I do, every word I write, is attached to the idea that when my readers discover healing through my words, when they transform and become better by way of my work, they’ll in turn treat themselves, each other, and the earth better. This planet is a perfect gift and humans have ruined so much of it. Through my efforts as a poet, I hope to pay tribute to the earth and offer up ways for humans to change their relationship to our one and only home.

Photos of Jacqueline Suskin by James Adam Taylor

Photos around Folklife Farm by Jacqueline Suskin

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Jacqueline Suskin

Also By Author

Poetic Mindset Tip: Your Awe Can Be Connective

POETIC MINDSET TIP: YOUR AWE CAN BE CONNECTIVE

Try applying a mentality of awe when you’re interacting with someone who lives a life very different from yours. Let your awe be the inspiration for a connection. How did they come to believe something that makes you so uncomfortable? What is the root of their behavior? Maybe this person has a dissimilar political view. Maybe they live in a rural town, and you live in a city. Maybe they grew up practicing a particular religion, and you didn’t. These are the big facts that surround the difference between you, but maybe this contrast can be intriguing instead of off-putting? When I find myself on a disparate page from someone else, I try not to close up. I try to lean in to discovery. It’s frequently these occasions that surprise me the most and give me new insight.

When I let myself stay curious about another person’s point of view instead of shutting down, I’m challenged to see with a new lensand that feels creative. What would I have overlooked if I hadn’t led with a sense of reverential respect? For example, through Poem Store, I developed very unlikely friendships that are still a huge part of my life.

From a familial bond with a timber baron to a deep camaraderie with a wealthy businessman, I found myself open to all kinds of folks I might normally shut out if I weren’t in the mode of poetic openness.

quote

These relationships continue to teach me how to develop compassionate language and an availability for dialogue that focuses on similarities, respect, and humanity, as opposed to difference, disdain, and judgment.

Letting your interest in a person’s inner world outweigh your differences could have unifying results. Awe is often the key to the similarities we all share. It’s our curiosity that links us, and these connections can cause the largest transformations.

poem

Housemates

Pierre Talón lives

in the kitchen,

close to the kettle

with an invisible web.

His brothers and sisters

share the same name.

Long glass-like legs

and dark teardrop bodies.

Penelope is on the front porch,

blending with the potted plant,

her green abdomen longer each day, 

her hind legs like mechanical armor. 

Pierre Talón catches the flies

and Penelope reminds me

to pause, peering between blossoms. 

The spider never leaves, just changes 

corners and sizes, and dodges the steam 

when I make tea. The grasshopper 

greets me for months, until one day

she sheds her skin and leaves me

with a perfect paper version of herself.

This is an excerpt from Every Day Is A Poem: Find Clarity, Feel Relief, and See Beauty in Every Moment by Jacqueline Suskin.

 

 

jacqueline suskinJacqueline Suskin has composed over forty thousand poems with her ongoing improvisational writing project, Poem Store. She is the author of six books, including Help in the Dark Season. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Yes! magazine. She lives in Northern California. For more, see jacquelinesuskin.com.

 

 

 

 

 

book cover

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Let the Dark Places Be Teachers

FIND THE SOURCE

This is a tender exercise, a tracing of pain, the path back to the deepest wound. For myself, a huge hurt that I carry is often the source of great realizations and growth. I’ve worked with many different types of therapy for years to figure out where my pain stems from, and my curiosity has been my greatest guide in this effort. I want to know why I am the way I am, and my trauma informs so much of my mindset. Do you know where your pain comes from? Does it point back to a certain occurrence? Do you have only a vague idea, a slight memory, that seems to be the source? What do you do to familiarize yourself with the hurt you carry?

quote 1

There are countless, well-trusted methodologies to help us become acquainted with our pain, and when we dig into this work, the cave of our understanding becomes incredibly deep.

I like to turn my pain into a guide. I follow its directions, meditating on where it all began. It’s at these starting points where I find the most potent feelings. My heartbreak from a failed relationship will often give me a chance to let out my sadness in verse, but not before I try to unpack the whole story. Only when I attempt to understand the many aspects of this failed relationship can I fully feel it and pay tribute to it. I begin this kind of investigation by rambling in my journal. Then, if I feel inclined, I might pull the heart of my understanding into poetic form. I recently wrote a book of poetry called Help in the Dark Season, which focuses on my childhood trauma, the way it affects my adult relationships, and the modes of healing that have helped me grow. Writing this book was extremely hard, but after I finished, I felt like I’d turned coal into gold. I pulled back the curtain inside myself and let light do its thing. Now I not only get to feel the inner effects of my work but I’m also able to witness the importance of sharing this book with others, the way my words act as a key to unlock their personal process of healing. The result of this revealing has been an honesty and a newness that I couldn’t have reached without the alchemy of writing poetry.

I urge you to do this hard work with your trauma, if you’re able. Give yourself permission to move into the realm of blame. Maybe move beyond it toward forgiveness.

quote 2

Our traumas create our fears, and our responses to these fears can be as poetic and beautiful as we make them. Let your pain be a source of inspiration, turn this heavy load into poetry, own it, use it, and take as much from it now as it has taken from you in the past.

Close your eyes and meditate on the hidden ache you carry. I like to start with my childhood because that’s what makes sense for me, but you can start anywhere along your timeline. Do you see any images attached to your discomfort? Can you try and put words to your grief and your loss? Who hurt you? What was their childhood like? Why did they do what they did? Make use of the pain of being alive. See the universality in whatever caused you harm, and focus on the connection to others who have survived similar experiences. When I sit with my wounds, I find my resilience, and that makes me want to linger there, gather up the lessons left in the aftermath, and use them for my own creation. Writing about my pain enables me to claim it as my own, and this ownership is empowering.

quote 3

How can you show your reader your personal methods of self-care in a poetic way? Maybe start by writing a list of poems or even song lyrics that have been healing for you in the past. I have poems dog-eared and underlined in every book on my shelf, and I’ll pull them out in a moment of need. They’re my reminders that yes, it is indeed hard to be alive for everyone.

This is an excerpt from Every Day Is A Poem: Find Clarity, Feel Relief, and See Beauty in Every Moment by Jacqueline Suskin.

jacqueline suskin

Jacqueline Suskin has composed over forty thousand poems with her ongoing improvisational writing project, Poem Store. She is the author of six books, including Help in the Dark Season. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Atlantic, and Yes! magazine. She lives in Northern California. For more, see jacquelinesuskin.com.

 

 

 

 

 

book cover

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Bookshop

Jacqueline Suskin: Every Day Is a Poem

Jacqueline Suskin is a poet and author whose published titles include Help in the Dark Season and The Edge of the Continent trilogy. With Sounds True, she has written a new book titled Every Day Is a Poem: Find Clarity, Feel Relief, and See Beauty in Every Moment. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Jacqueline about the soulfulness of poetry and the internal changes one goes through while writing it. They discuss Jacqueline’s affinity for working with manual typewriters and the success of her ongoing Poem Store project. Jacqueline and Tami talk about the poetic impulse that is the root of true change, as well as overcoming the inner critic’s desire to stifle creative expression. Finally, Tami considers the “trance state” of creative flow and Jacqueline shares a spontaneous poem for the audience.

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Gratitude Is a Byproduct of Service

Among the lessons I’ve seen people embrace by performing their microgestures is the true meaning of gratitude. Gratitude has become a big idea in certain circles these days, and a lot has been written about research showing that a focus on gratitude has real benefits for people in terms of their mental and physical well-being.3 This is probably why the practice of gratitude journaling has become so popular. You can even buy gratitude journals at your local bookstore ready for you to fill in the blanks about what makes you feel lucky today.

I have to admit that I have a bit of a bone to pick with the gratitude journalers of the world. It’s not that I disagree with the research or the idea that gratitude can be a powerful force. It’s that I think the idea of gratitude, perhaps because it has become so popular, is too often misunderstood.

I don’t believe that gratitude is about sitting in your room and saying thanks so only your walls can hear you. I don’t believe it’s something that should remain in the pages of a journal. I don’t believe it’s something you can find on a bracelet or in an Instagram quote. These can be good ways to remind yourself to be thankful, but they’re not enough. That’s because gratitude isn’t meant to be passive. “God is a verb,” as Paulo Coelho once said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey about his bestselling book, The Alchemist.4 I believe that gratitude, too, needs to be treated as an action.

In fact, we used to talk about gratitude in terms of giving thanks, which makes it sound so much more active, instead of merely being thankful. Rightly so, because I believe gratitude is something you should do, not something you merely think or feel or write about. This means you can’t just read in the news about the hurricane that devastated a town or the drug problem that plagues a community and feel thankful that you’re removed from it and safe. You can’t just walk by people in need and feel sorry for their suffering and grateful that you’re not in the same position. True gratitude is more than just a feeling. It’s the expression of that feeling through action—the action of serving others. To truly be grateful, you have to act gratefully.

It’s a bit like that old philosophical question about whether, if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it really fall? By the same token, if you love someone but you never express that love, either verbally or through your actions, can you really call it love? If you’re grateful for what you have but never extend that gratitude to others, then are you truly living a grateful life?

When we mindfully show our appreciation for what we have through the action of serving others, then gratitude is the result. It’s the byproduct of that service, and there’s really no other way to get it. We live in a world that loves shortcuts. If there’s a faster, easier, simpler way to get something done, then we’re all over it. People write about “life hacks” as if they’re going to save us, but some things can’t be hacked. I believe that gratitude is one of them.

In the energy exchange, there’s a dynamic between people made up of living, breathing energy that flows back and forth. When that energy stops moving, it dies. Gratitude has an energy behind it too, but I believe that energy dies, or at least atrophies, when we keep it confined to our thoughts and prayers or the pages of our journal. Even sharing grateful thoughts on social media—which I highly encourage as an antidote to all the complaints and judgments that tend to be put on display—is not the same as allowing our gratitude to inspire us to act on behalf of others. Because it’s so often relegated to contexts like these, gratitude is really in danger of losing its meaning.

I was once in a yoga class that was winding down on a hot day when I witnessed a missed opportunity to really live gratitude. We were all sitting in Lotus Position with the lights dimmed and the door open so the breeze could flow through the studio. Soft music was playing in the background and our hands were pressed together at our hearts as we whispered our “namastes.” Just then a man, who appeared to be suffering from mental illness, walked in through the open door to say hello and ask, “What are you all doing in here?” He was friendly

enough, but the reaction was immediate. The people closest to him scattered while others turned away or shook their heads. No one answered him. I meant to, but I didn’t gather my thoughts quickly enough. The teacher rushed over to tell him to leave, pushing him out the door and closing it behind him.

It was as if everyone in the room had forgotten what they’d been doing right before the man walked in. Yoga classes often end with the students saying namaste as an expression of gratitude for the experience they just had, the teacher who guided them through it, and the fellow students they shared it with. But it’s also generally considered to have spiritual connotations, to be a conscious acknowledgment of another person’s soul, of the divine light that resides in all of us. Some literally translate namaste from Sanskrit to mean: “The light in me acknowledges the light in you.”

I guess my fellow classmates decided that not everyone was worthy of a namaste. I don’t mean to be overly harsh. I get why people were frightened, as they often are by mental illness, or turned off by the disruption when they were in the midst of a peaceful moment. But if we’d all taken a moment to simply notice this man (an act of non-resistance), I think it would have quickly become clear that he meant us no harm. He was just curious and, I think, lonely. It seemed like what he wanted most of all was someone to talk to, and here he’d found a group of people expressing gratitude in a tranquil place. We can perhaps forgive him for thinking we were the kind of people who might be receptive to his attempt to connect.

We live in an amazing time. Being part of the Information Age gives us exposure to all kinds of wisdom and ancient teachings along with all the new. Yoga has been practiced for hundreds of years. Verses on gratitude can be found in the Bible. There is truth and power in these old ways, but let’s make sure we’re getting the most out of them. These ancient concepts should be more than just things you think to yourself or utter on autopilot. If we really want the benefits, we need to learn how to live them.

If you are grateful for something in your life, you have to find a way to put some of that grateful energy back into the world instead of holding onto it. That’s the only way to keep it flowing. That’s the only way gratitude can come back to you. If you have your antenna up while you perform your microgestures, you’ll start to notice the flow and you’ll start to better appreciate when some of it flows back your way.

❤ HEARTWORK

Ask yourself: How can I do more than just think grateful thoughts? How can I act gratefully in the world today?

If you keep a gratitude journal, consider recording not just what you’re thankful for, but the full energy exchange: what you’re grateful for and what you gave gratefully in return.

Notes:

  1. Colby Itkowitz, “The Science Behind Why You Shouldn’t Stop Giving Thanks After Thanksgiving,” The Washington Post (November 24, 2016).
  2. Paulo Coelho, “What if the Universe Conspired in Your Favor?” Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations (August 9, 2017). 

This is an excerpt from Love Without Reason: The Lost Art of Giving a F*ck by LaRayia Gaston.

 

larayia gaston author photoLARAYIA GASTON is a former model, actress, and founder of the nonprofit Lunch On Me, an organization dedicated to bringing organic, healthy food and holistic healing to those experiencing homelessness. She’s also a regular public speaker, podcast guest, and activist. She resides in Los Angeles. For more, visit lunchonme.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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Victory! A Poem

Victory!

By Jeff Foster

 

You don’t have to be the best. 

You don’t have to win. 

You only have to be yourself.

 

You only have to be real. 

And speak from the heart. 

And know that you have the right to see how you see, 

and think how you think, and feel what you feel, 

and desire what you desire.

 

You don’t have to be a success in the eyes of the world 

and you don’t have to be an expert on living.

 

You only have to offer what you offer, 

breathe how you breathe, make mistakes and screw 

up 

and learn to love your stumbling and say the 

wrong thing 

and stop worrying so much about impressing anyone 

because in the end you only have to live with yourself

 

and joy is not given but found in the deepest 

recesses of your being 

so there can be joy in falling and joy in making 

mistakes 

and joy in making a fool of yourself and joy in 

forgetting joy 

and then holding yourself close as you crumble to 

the ground 

and weep out the old dreams.

 

Joy is closeness 

with the one you love: 

You.

 

You don’t have to be the best. 

You really don’t have to win.

 

You only have to remember this intimacy with 

the sky, the nearness of the mountains and feel the sun 

warming your shoulders and the nape of your neck

 

and know that you are alive, 

and that you are a success at being alive, 

and that you have won already, 

and you are victorious already, 

without having to prove 

a damn 

thing.

 

To anyone.

This poem is excerpted from You Were Never Broken: Poems to Save Your Life by Jeff Foster.

 

jeff fosterJeff Foster shares from his own awakened experience a way out of seeking fulfillment in the future and into the acceptance of “all this, here and now.” He studied astrophysics at Cambridge University. Following a period of depression and physical illness, he embarked on an intensive spiritual search that came to an end with the discovery that life itself was what he had always been seeking.

 

 

 

 

 

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Relearning to Love Our Body

The Practice of Reconnecting

 

Finish the sentence: “I’ll accept my body . . .” 

For example:

“…when I lose 20 pounds.” 

“…when I have fewer wrinkles.”

“…when I reach orgasm faster.”

 

Determine the emotional experience you want as a result of that. If numerous emotions come to mind, write them all down, and choose one that has the most charge or intensity. 

Then complete the thought with, “As a result I’ll feel . . .”

Examples:

I’ll accept my body when I lose twenty pounds. As a result I’ll feel confident.

I’ll accept my body when I have fewer wrinkles. As a result I’ll feel relaxed.

I’ll accept my body when I reach orgasm faster. As a result I’ll feel sexual.

 

Now cross out the “when/as a result” statements:

I’ll accept my body when I lose 20 pounds. As a result I’ll feel confident.

I’ll accept my body when I have fewer wrinkles. As a result I’ll feel relaxed.

I’ll accept my body when I reach orgasm faster. As a result I’ll feel sexual.

 

Working with one statement at a time, start each morning asking yourself, “How can I have the experience of [desired emotion] today?” You might journal a few ideas to create that feeling in your day.

When we feel the need to change our appearance, it’s not because that’s the ultimate goal. We’re using body modification and alteration as a means to a positive emotional experience. But the means are always the end. As long as we use the mindset of body rejection, that’s the only outcome we’ll ever experience—no matter how much our body changes.

When doing this exercise, please note that words like beautiful or desirable do not describe feelings because they are statements of someone else’s perception of you. What we ultimately want is to feel good in our bodies, not to be judged positively by someone. Whenever we want someone’s positive judgment of our bodies, it’s because we think that’s the way we’re going to feel loved, safe, connected, expressive, or happy. Take the shortcut, and just go straight to creating that feeling in your life now.

Feelings are felt experiences in your body. Here are some examples:

Positive feelings: joyful, grateful, exhilarated, excited, aroused, peaceful, affectionate, inspired, hopeful, renewed, fulfilled, enchanted, delighted, calm, amazed, blissful

Negative feelings: hurt, sad, anxious, timid, angry, irritated, afraid, scared, confused, fatigued, tense, numb, helpless, uncomfortable, embarrassed, ashamed, exhausted, depleted, grief, appalled, shocked

Then there are pseudo-feelings—they’re not real feelings, but reflect your judgment of someone’s behavior or situation. Judgments are not feelings, they are mental ideas.

Pseudo-feelings include: abandoned, betrayed, invalidated, manipulated, misunderstood, disrespected, unseen, provoked, threatened, victimized, ignored.

This is an excerpt from The Invisible Corset: Break Free from Beauty Culture and Embrace Your Radiant Self by Lauren Geertsen.

Lauren Geertsen is a body connection coach who helps women heal their relationship with food and body image. In her previous work as a nutrition consultant, Lauren realized the underlying problem for her clients was distrust of their bodies, which results from wearing the invisible corset. She now helps clients around the world trust their bodies and step into their soul purpose. Her website, empoweredsustenance.com, has supported over 40 million readers with holistic recipes and resources.

 

 

 

 

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