Loren Mixon is a poet, educator, and actor in Charleston, SC. She recently completed her first book of poetry entitled Taking Up Space: A Poet’s Guide. This book explores themes ranging from relationships and depression to figuring out life as an “adult.”
Form Constellations in Limbs Send the dancer to space Let them learn how to inhale Without air And fill the infinity with movement. Let the ballerina find relevé on Soft surfaces of migrating meteors, Discover weightlessness, And reach a finger toward creation. Let them bring back a new way to live in our bodies Teach us how to paus de deux With the unknown Interlocking elbows of existence And form constellations in limbs.
Your collection reflects a great “patron of the arts” spectrum. I recently attended your book release in Charleston, S.C. where you performed alongside visual artists, dancers, singers, and artists of the theatre stage. How important is cross-genre collaboration for you? What have you found to be the poet’s role in the larger arena of the arts?
I think cross-genre collaboration is essential to who I am, as I have been an active participant in just about every art form. I danced for a majority of my life, have familial roots in the visual arts, and still act here and there when I can. I think poetry is often left out of the conversation when it comes to a collaboration of the arts, and it is important to show how each art form can really influence and inspire the others. I am fortunate to have friends who are artists of all kinds, and who wanted to collaborate with me. I gave each of them one requirement: “Create something inspired by a poem in the book,” and after that I had no other knowledge of their work until they showed up that night. I was in turn really inspired by that evening full of talented local artists.
I truly believe that you can’t really separate any of the art forms from each other. Poetry is a language with which we express the things that sometimes language doesn’t come easy to, and I think each art form has their own poetry—the lines of a dancer, finding light and shadow in a painting, the ache of a singer’s voice as they sing—it is all poetry. I think the poet, in particular, has the daunting and beautiful task of trying to give a voice to the generation they live in, and I don’t think you can do that in a bubble.
You’ve taken a bit of a non-traditional road as a writer, beginning with slam and then publishing a collection independently. In fact, it’s my understanding that you put out “Taking Up Space” just one year after you participated in your first slam! What caused that kind of momentum? How did you decide to take on such a large enterprise so quickly? What drew you from the stage to the page?
Yeah, it is kind of crazy how fast all of this has happened! It was almost a year to the day from my first slam here in Charleston that I had my book release party, and that truthfully is all due to the amazing support from the poetry community in Charleston. I had written poetry and taken some workshops in undergrad, but hadn’t really claimed the designator of “poet.” I had been in this area for about two years, and didn’t find the scene in the area until after a weird breakup. As many questionable decisions begin, I was looking for an outlet after this breakup, I had fallen back into my writing, and I decided to go to the first poetry event I found. It just so happened to be the first slam after the election, so there were a lot of emotions there.
I immediately got a lot of support from these relative strangers who wanted to hear more of my work, which meant I had to write some more. The book developed from a series of poems that I started and it just grew from there. I enjoyed the slam, but that’s about the only one I’ve ever done. Truthfully, I think the stage versus page dichotomy is a false one. I think my work has always ridden the line between the two. I like to think of the stage as a page and the page as a stage. I would hope that my “performance” pieces work just as well on a page as they do aloud. That’s my goal at least.
Where are you from and how has that informed your work?
I grew up in Clemson, SC. There is actually a small town around the large college, believe it or not, and I think how I grew up informed a lot of both my writing and who I am. There wasn’t much to do other than go outside and make some trouble. I mean, I think I was in middle school before we even got a Walmart near us. So a lot of my childhood was riding my bike down the street to the creek, hiking with friends to star gaze, jumping off docks into the lake, basically anything you could do outside. And I think a lot of what I write reflects the imprint of nature on my sensibilities. I find comfort outside, under the stars, in bodies of water—exploring my feelings and understanding of the world through the language of nature seems natural to me. I’ve spent a lot of time looking up at the stars and thinking, and this book got a little bit of that feeling from my bones onto a page.
One of the things we’re really focusing on at Yemassee this year is working artist communities in MFA programs, yes—but just as important—local grassroots communities. Can you talk a little bit about the artist/poet community you work within and what distinguishes it?
The community in Charleston is incredibly diverse and supportive. You have artists of every level, of every background, and any style you can imagine coming out and sharing their work. And what I truly love about it all is that every bit of that is welcome and applauded. There can be a tendency, I think, for people to look down on an open mic community, to the lay poet, but there has been and will continue to be incredible voices in the Charleston community that need to be heard that aren’t necessarily ever going to find themselves in an MFA program. The community in Charleston welcomed me with open arms, quite literally, when I was searching for some motivation in my artistic endeavors. I can vividly remember a poet, now friend, who wrapped me in a big hug between bouts at my first slam and said, “Where have you been? We need this voice here!” and that moment altered my course in a huge way. I think local communities like the one we have here are vital in proving that having more voices, more art, more collaboration, doesn’t necessarily make it harder for the established voices or diminish their “shine” but rather lifts the community as a whole and makes it brighter. I’ve seen poetry be a game-changer in both individual lives and community spirit.
Which poets have informed your aesthetics?
I’ve always loved Sarah Kay and her ability to ride the line between stage and page, with imagery and story telling that never fails to take my breath away. I think I’ve been not so secretly trying to become her… to varying levels of success.
Kendra DeColo, Morgan Parker, Miranda July, and Roxane Gay are all writers that I’ve turned to at different points to inspire me, but truthfully a lot of what has informed my writing has been my time going to open mics and writing with friends. Open mics are honest in a way that is sometimes scary, painful, and breathtaking, and they usually push me to be the same.
Can you talk a little bit about the title of your collection—how you came to it and how it informs the poems therein?
The title of the collection actually came from a writer’s retreat that I had with a friend from undergrad who is currently in an MFA. She had brought a couple of “assignment poems” that we could work on, and I was struggling with some revisions so I picked one up. The title poem “Taking Up Space” became really fitting as a title poem as it centers around taking up space as a hobby, and reads similarly to an instruction manual. I had taken up space as a hobby myself not only in the writing of this book, but as a way to understand my personal life. In fact, there are quite a few “instructional” poems in this book like “If Bad Luck Knows Who You Are, Become Someone Else”, “Laws of Attraction”, and “Blackhole”. I think I started to see this project kind of as an instructional manual for myself in a time of change. Learning to “adult”. Changing professions. Moving away from what was familiar in life. It’s also been a bit of a push for me to actually take up some space in the world and give myself permission to focus on myself and my art, and kind of make the leap.
Finally, do you have any upcoming readings, events, publications, plans that you would like us to know about, and/or any social media accounts we should follow to keep up with you?
I’ll be doing a reading at Mind Gravy in Columbia on January 17th where I will share some work from the book and a few newer pieces.
In early 2018, I’ll be putting out a podcast with Derek Berry and Matthew Foley, two Charleston poets, about emerging writers, writing communities, and pursuing careers in writing entitled “Contribute Your Verse.” These poets were early readers and editors of my book, and were a huge part of me getting the book off the ground.
You can find “Taking Up Space: A Poet’s Guide” on Amazon, should you want to delve into that work.
To contact me or follow my work, you can find me on Facebook as Loren Mixon Poetry.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me!