Monday, October 10, 2005

An Interview with Donnel Lester, poet from Bakersfield, California.

Listening to the Heart

An Interview with Donnel Lester, poet from Bakersfield, California.
(February 28, 2005)

Question: What prompted you to start writing poetry?

Donnel: I have enjoyed reading poetry over the last twelve year or more. I wrote an occasional poem but I wasn't aware of any inspiration to continue writing poetry. It wasn't that I didn't have inspirational moments, just that I didn't connect them with writing.

Much of the poetry that I was exposed to over those twelve years dealt with the hazards and joys of being male, the struggle for masculine identity, the paradoxes, the trials and celebrations of discovering the male mystique. I guess that was what drew me into poetry, a vehicle that took me to places in myself that I hadn't seen or appreciated before.

The poem "Free Flight" that appears elsewhere on this webasite was probably where I reached what is called "critical mass" in nuclear physics, the point of no return. I didn't know it at the time, but looking back on it now, something happpened that day from which there was no turning back. I had seen too much of myself to hide in denial.

Question: What was it about the poem "Free Flight" that drew you further into writing poetry?

Donnel: It was just three days after my birthday and my delightful wife told me she had a surprise birthday gift for me and we had to go to Solvang so she could give it to me. We drove into a valley back toward the mountains and my heart went wild when I saw the gliders at an airport, realizing my wife was giving me the gift I had longed for more than 25 years. I was going up in a glider!

Talk about a peak experience! I was that little kid with his first brand new bicycle for his birthday, just the right color with everything he wanted on it. Once we were released from the launch plane, we caught a thermal and rose up above the mountains where we could see the ocean, the whole valley and the town of Solvang. That was when the pilot said "It's yours now. You're the pilot" and for about twenty minutes we soared very close to heaven.

After the pilot landed the glider, I walked over to my wife who was waiting expectantly, perhaps wondering if the candor of my expression suggested that I was on drugs and why didn't my feet touch the ground when I walked? After about five minutes of describing my experience, I blurted out "I need to write now" and grabbed my notebook from the car and started writing. In less than twenty minutes I had written the poem, in essentially the same form as it is now. Before we left the airport I found the pilot and read the poem to him as a way of saying thank you, something I had already done a dozen times. I knew that we had seen the same thing, in the same way, when he asked me to send him a copy to put on his office wall. I heard a key turn inside me and I crossed a threshold; I didn't know it at the time but there was no going back

Question: When did you start to write poetry on a regular basis?

Donnel: A couple of months later I guess. My mother had died the month before that birthday and I had been keeping a grieving journal even before she died which I continued into the next year. The grief journal eventually morphed into my life journal. Then for some reason I stopped writing in it regularly and it faded into the background. I became restless and uneasy when the writing in my journal tapered off; I guess detached would be a good word to describe the exerience, detached from myself.

About the same time, my wife, amazing how she shows up at the right times, introduced me to a poetry mentor and coach. In her subtle and convincing way, my wife suggested that I attend a workshop series that Alexa was offering here in Bakersfield. The voice inside me said "go" and I did. In January the following year I went to another poetry writing workshop series and decided that I would write at least one poem a week for the remainder of that year. By the end of that year poetry had become part of the fabric of my life, and so I continue to write.

Question: Do you have a particular style of writing?

Donnel: Not really. I'm still exploring the possibilities of who I can be in poetic expression. If this works the way I think it does, I will always be open to new ways of expressing myself through writing, not unlike a painter who keeps experimenting with new styles of expression.

Question: Do you have plans to publish any of your poems?

Donnel: I'm not considering publishing anything at this point. I'm retired and write poems because it helps me to be a whole person. By whole, I mean emotionally and spiritually well. I think that is the purpose of writing and reading poetry, for personal wellbeing. Before there was psychotherapy there was poetry and all of the other creative means of expressions. I think everyone needs to have creative outlets where they bring the best of what lies within them into the world.... and it makes no diference what anyone else thinks of it either. I admire those who make a living writing poetry, sculpting or painting; it's risky business and I applaud them; it's just not something I'm interested in for myself.


There is nothing we must do. There is nothing we must have. There is nothing we must be. There is nothing we must know. However, it is important to remember that when it rains we can get wet and that fire burns.