Interview with Poet & Psychologist, Claudine Nash

A rare and beautiful mind that houses the proclivity to simultaneously scribe magnificent poetry and comprehend complex science on a level similar to that of Da Vinci — mesmerizes me. As always, I want my phrasing to flow exceptionally well but; this interview is extremely special to me because Claudine Nash to me is a — warrior. Not only does she create distinguished pieces but also houses a massive core to aid her patients, through her work and poignant phrases of: beauty, insecurity, loss, self doubt and awareness. As someone who\’s worked in a similar field on a much smaller scale as Claudine, I am in genuine awe of her — her exquisite writing speaks for itself as does her essence of true artistry.

Please take a moment to follow Claudine via social media on Facebook

I will now let the bio Claudine graciously provided to speak for itself…

Claudine Nash\’s collections include her full-length poetry books Parts per Trillion (Aldrich Press, 2016) and The Wild Essential (Aldrich Press, forthcoming) as well as her chapbook The Problem with Loving Ghosts  (Finishing Line Press, 2014). She also edited the collection In So Many Words: Interviews and Poetry from Today\’s Poets (Madness Muse Press, 2016) with Adam Levon Brown.  Her poetry has received numerous recognitions including  Pushcart nominations and prizes from a number of literary competitions. Widely published, her work can be found in such publications as Asimov\’s Science Fiction, Cloudbank, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal and Dime Store Review amongst others. She also has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and is a practicing psychologist. 

RMMW: What is your favourite piece written by you? And why?

CN: I have two actually.  The first is a short piece called “Sea Glass” which is about the way that the loss has a tendency to become less cutting over time. The second is a poem entitled “Certain Words.” It’s been my experience that so many of us have something that we wished we could have heard some important person in our past say to us. The poem is very much about that experience of still longing for those words even though we know they may never come. They are probably my favorites because they are powerful to read aloud and I feel the most connected to the audience when I recite them at readings.

RMMW: What tools do you use to write with: pen, pencil, feather quill, typewriter?

CN: Ah! I absolutely LOVE a nice pen and notebook. I find the smell of Staples intoxicating and the stationary section of any superstore is most definitely my happy place. That said, while I tend to begin the bones of my poems in notebooks, I quickly move them into my laptop so I can edit them more easily. Editing is actually my favorite part of writing. I love getting lost in a single line for hours at a time. For me it’s an act of mindfulness where I can tune out everything else except for the handful of words before me.

RMMW: Has your idea of poetry changed since you first started writing?

CN: Absolutely. I cringe when I think of some of the pieces that I wrote as a young poet. Back then, I put the sound of the language above meaning which resulted in some pretty bad and obscure poetry. The psychologist in me wishes to use poetry to promote healing so what is so important to me now is that each poem be accessible and carry a message worth spreading.

RMMW: How do you feel your education fuels your poetry or vice versa?

CN: I was blessed to have attended a wonderful humanities high school and then later a liberal arts university, both of which took a very interdisciplinary approach to education. I definitely think those experiences led me to take a more integrative approach to writing.  Becoming a clinical psychologist though, was probably the best thing I could have done for my poetry. 
I was a double English and psychology major in college, but became frustrated with the writing I was producing and put it aside for many years as I focused on a psychology career working with people who suffer from severe and persistent mental illness. In order to conduct psychotherapy, I had to learn to understand my own experiences and emotional reactions better. I think that this type of training in self-awareness coupled with the years of bearing witness to loss, longing and the complexity of human emotion helped me to produce more emotionally-affecting work.  My last book Parts per Trillion (Aldrich Press, 2016) was very much about those themes as well as the liberation that accompanies releasing the past.

I find that my psychology and poetry practices are very much intertwined. Although I didn’t write poetry for many years, I never stopped hearing it in the words of the people I had the honor to treat.  Today, I often encourage patients to write as a way to help them find their voice. I write my own poetry to find mine and hope that it is one that others will find healing and inspiring.

RMMW: Being a published poet, what was the catalyst for you to start writing?

CN: I began writing poetry in elementary school, so I suppose that it was just always a part of who I was.  While I do think it was ultimately helpful for my poetry to take the hiatus that I did, I felt very bad about not writing at the time as though there was something more I was meant to be doing. I stopped reading poetry during that time as well because it reminded me of the part of myself that I gave up on.  About five years ago, I started to sit in on some meetings at work run by a colleague who began each team meeting with a poem in order to help the team tap into and share their feelings about our therapeutic work.  It was a very powerful and effective method and it made me start to think about poetry again. I found myself reconnecting to that lost part of my identity. When I finally started to write again after a 20-year break, the poems poured out and I ended up writing three books in a three year period.

RMMW: Have you ever read a bad review of your work? If yes, how did you handle the rejection?

CN: This wasn’t a review, but I once received a really thoughtless rejection letter that left me in the fetal position for a week. Ordinarily when you receive a rejection, you receive a pretty standard and brief “thank you but your piece wasn’t a good fit for us” type of letter. Disappointing, but painless.  Or, if you do happen to receive feedback, it is usually written in a constructive way intended to help you develop your writing.  
One publishing house instead decided to send along a transcript of their internal three-way conversation critiquing my submission.  It was like being a fly on the wall and listening to people tear you and your work to shreds. They said some pretty harsh and devastating things.  A dear friend of mine checked in with me a week later to see how I feeling and when I said “I’ll live” he responded by saying “It’s not about living, it’s about thriving.” That statement gave me the idea for my poem “That True Voice” which went on to receive a Pushcart Prize nomination. I love that a Pushcart nomination came from such an awful rejection. The greater irony of course is that the same submission was accepted elsewhere two weeks later which just goes to show you how subjective the arts can be.

RMMW: How do you feel the internet and social media shapes the well-being of poetry on a whole as it relates to own personal writing?

CN: I think it is fabulous how the internet has made poetry more available to the public.  I love being able to share poetry with a wide range of people and read other writers’ work with the click of a mouse or tap of a screen. When I first started writing, I sought out print magazines because I wanted my work to appear in the type of traditional book that I could put on a bookshelf. However, it quickly became apparent to me that very few people would actually see my poems that way. The internet and social media have helped me disseminate my work to a much wider audience.
I’ve also been able to form a number of wonderful connections and online friendships with other writers from around the country and globe through Facebook. Apart from sharing work and learning about new publications and publishing opportunities, it’s enabled me to work on some really fun projects with others.  For example, last year I was able to co-edit an anthology entitled In So Many Words: A Collection of Interviews and Poetry from Today’s Poets(Madness Muse Press, 2016) with Adam Levon Brown out in Oregon completely through email and Facebook Messenger! That book simply would not have been created a decade ago.

RMMW: Have you ever been creatively blocked? If yes, what methods did you use to escape the doldrums?

CN: I’ve mostly experienced that after completing major projects like my last book. It is almost as if there is nothing left in me to say and there is part of me that worries that it will be another 20 years until I come up with a poem again!  Rather than pressure myself, I find it more useful to give myself permission not to have any fresh ideas for a while and to spend more time reading other poets. Exposing myself to different approaches and styles other than my own usually loosens my own creativity up a bit.
That say, I’ve found myself having a hard time writing since the election. I had been enjoying writing hopeful pieces meant to be inspiring and I found it really difficult to connect to those feelings after the election.  I have been writing a little science fiction book on the side over the past few years. I just may need to dive into that manuscript and immerse myself in an alternate reality for a while!

RMMW: All artists have an inner critic, how do you contend with yours?

CN: So very funny you ask this! My inner critic is so loud, I had to silence it by writing it a book.  My forthcoming book The Wild Essential, due out late this year through Aldrich Press, is very much about self-forgiveness and learning to quiet the types of doubts that stop us from connecting to our true, authentic selves. This was obviously a topic to which  I could very much relate!

RMMW: If you had a superpower what would it be? 

CN: To make dogs live as long as the humans who love them.

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