Beth Grindstaff | Interview

Kenneth P. Gurney. Tells us how you started in poetry? What age?

Beth Grindstaff. Poetry seems to have started in me, rather than I in it.  I was compelled to write from a very early age, starting with simple limericks for my parents when I was 5 or 6.  It gradually progressed from there.  I remember one of the first poems to make an impression upon me was “Your World,” by Georgia Douglas Johnson.  Indeed, I can still recite the entire piece from memory.  I was a regular contributor to my high school and college literary magazines, so poetry has been a focus of mine throughout my life.

KPG. What is your favorite breakfast?

BG. My go-to breakfast is two eggs scrambled with sauteed peppers, onions, mushrooms, apples, smoked cheddar, and chicken sausage with fruit and sprouted grain toast with apple butter.  And coffee.  Coffee is a must.

KPG. Does your university degree influence your writing of poetry and how?

BG. In a sense, yes, as most everything influences and informs my writing.  My college career is a meandering one.  I got an A.S. in Medical Office Technology and then, quite by accident, completed an A.S. In General Studies.  My father was an employee at East Tennessee State University, so I got half-off tuition.  That resulted in me not adhering to a program and generally just taking what I was interested in…lots of philosophy, literature, and humanities classes.  I later went on to complete one year of a B.S. in accounting at my father’s behest (he wanted a lucrative career for me).  I dropped out of that because I loathed the mundanity.  I then went back for one year of pre-med, with the intention of becoming a pathologist.  My father died on the first day of the spring semester, and I flunked due to not being able to get my head back in the game.  After much soul searching, I went on to complete a 500-hour massage therapy course, which taught me a great deal about anatomy and energy healing, allowed me to become a licensed massage therapist, and saw me meet and fall in love with my partner of seven years.  All that experience certainly shaped my writing, and helped it to evolve.

KPG. Is there any endeavor that you are passionate about outside of poetry? How does it enrich you?

BG. I have many passions outside of poetry.  As a person living with multiple sclerosis, health and wellness are big priorities in order to help keep me functioning at my best.  Also, spending time with the people I love.  Looking at the sky, the mountains, the stars.  Having new adventures, experiencing animal companionship, and kindness.  Kindness is a huge priority for me.  Working to grow and change, fostering inner peace, and generally just being happy to be here.  When one works to remain seated in joy, every given moment becomes a cornucopia of enrichment.

KPG. Tell about one of your favorite poetry experiences.

BG. One of my favorite experiences was a poetry slam held locally four years ago.  I found out about it a day before it was set to happen.  The small inner voice of my intuition pulled at me to go, and to read a particular piece I had just written called “Woman:  A How-to.”  I listened, and attended the slam.  When I read the piece, the entire audience seemed to stop breathing and to hang on every word I spoke.  That was the first time I really got to see how deeply poetry can shake people, how it can wake them up and make them hunger for something they didn’t even realize they were missing.  So many women thanked me afterward, and I was invited to interview on a local radio show, “Women on Air.”  I think that experience helped to point me in a new direction with regard to my writing, and resulted in tremendous growth.

KPG. Do you have a connection to the American Civil War? Relative who served? Visited a battlefield and have a story?

BG. The keepers of my family history are all gone now, and they sadly didn’t record any of their stories.  So I don’t know of any wartime stories before the era of WW2.  However, just around the block from me is a historical plaque noting that the area where I live was a training/parade ground for soldiers who fought for the Union.

KPG. If you could wave a magic wand and place a poetry book into every high school English classroom as required reading, which one would it be and why?

BG. I would likely choose a small sampling of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.  When I was in high school, all I’d really been exposed to up to my junior year were the stylized formulaics of classical poetry.  So up to then I had only written rhyming poetry.  When I first read “Howl” by Ginsberg, it was like I was seeing the world in color for the first time.  I had no idea one could do such things with words, and I began to understand how limitless and expansive an art form poetry truly is.

KPG. Where was your last selfie taken?  With anyone?

BG. My last selfie was taken on February 6th, in my home with our beloved pitbull-boxer mix, Abby.  Technically, it isn’t actually a selfie, as it was taken by my partner.  It was Abby’s last day on earth with us.  She was in the final stages of bone cancer, and was beginning to suffer.  We were about to take her in to have her euthanized, and I was desperately clinging to every last minute I had with her.

KPG. Recommend a poetry (or literary) website that you frequent.

BG. I like the Academy of American Poets.  I subscribe to their Poem-A-Day email [sign up is on this webpage], which has helped me to discover quite a number of very talented contemporary poets, whose work I would have likely never stumbled onto otherwise.

KPG. What is your favorite National Park? Why?

BG. The Roan Highlands, which are situated just adjacent to Roan Mountain State Park in Carter County, Tennessee, and are traversed by the Appalachian Trail.  I live about 45 minutes from there, so it’s easily accessible, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  The locals call it “The Balds,” because no trees grow up there, though it is well below the tree line.  Dendrologists have tried growing stands of trees up there, but the trees won’t ever take and they can’t quite figure out why.  Local legend says a great Native American battle took place up there, and so much blood was spilled that the trees won’t grow.  Another legend says the devil got drunk and went roaming the earth, and the balds are the places where his feet touched the ground.  If you go up during certain parts of the year, you’ll find paddocks of goats guarded by Great Pyrenees dogs.  The goats are there to help rid the area of a very infiltrative species of Canadian blackberry that’s trying to gain hold in higher altitudes of the southern Appalachians.

KPG. Please tell about a dream that you work toward achieving at this time.

BG. My greatest aim in this life is to become the best version of myself that I possibly can.  To make an impact, whether that be through writing or simply being.  I want to be a conduit for love and healing, and to do my small part to make the world a better place.  Right now that comes in the form of exploring the idea of going back to school, yet again, to complete my B.A. in English, and perhaps to pursue an M.F.A. in poetry.

KPG. If there is a little known poet you think everyone should read, who is that poet and suggest one book of theirs we should purchase?

BG. Dan Rouse with his book, The Hollow and other Poems and Jude Dippold with his book Crossings.  I have known Dan since I was a freshman in college, and his writing is both beautiful and powerful, especially with regard to the way he performs it at readings.  His ability as a spoken-word artist is staggering.  And Jude’s poetry is deceptive, appearing simple on the surface, but holding a wealth of depth and wisdom.

KPG. If you could be present at any moment in history as a safe observer or unsafe participant, what event would you visit and why?

BG. I would pick the Six Gallery poetry reading, which took place on October 7, 1955, in San Francisco.  This was the first public manifestation of the Beat Generation, and heralded the literary revolution that began on the West Coast.  This was where Ginsberg performed “Howl” for the first time.

KPG. What reoccurring themes or personal experience have you noticed in your poetry over the years?

BG. A recurring theme of mine is the idea of transmuting pain and suffering into something that conveys beauty, strength, and healing.  Something with which others can empathize; a tool with which they can engage and explore their own trials and challenges.  I like to invoke the idea of alchemy in my poetry, taking things that have torn me down and turning them into things that have the potential to uplift…lead into gold, if you will.  Because suffering is never a one-dimensional experience.  It is perhaps the most fertile ground for new growth that we encounter in this life, especially where death and loss are concerned.

KPG. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or some other sweet?

BG. I love a really good piece of homemade strawberry cake, or some really good strawberry ice cream.  Though dark chocolate is always nice.

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