The world may seem to be spiraling, as of late, out of the grasp of creativity. But writers persevere. It’s been a while since my last interview, yet today, I have someone special to share. As unconventional and encouraging as ever, CC’s Interview Series is happy to welcome author of Earth Gospel, college professor, and one of my poetry mentors, Dr. Tamara Miles!
I say unconventional interview because typically I email my questions ahead of time. It’s important for me to represent each writer in this series with their best voice. But Tamara wasn’t interested in typical. She wanted to chat in person. With the US stretched between South Carolina and Washington State, this was my first live (Zoom) interview and as such, we rambled on for almost two hours without ever addressing a question. This could be a sign of my amateur interview skills, but I’d like to think it was the honey-sweetness of Tamara’s southern accent. I was drawn in from the moment she said, hello!
This interview was also encouraging, although the adjective doesn’t quite reach the level of inspiration and spur Tamara’s story delivers. In the end, I couldn’t wait to pick up my pen and journal the moment our visit concluded. It’s taken some time for me to pull our conversation into a format ready to share with readers, but just as she had a unique impact on me, I know my readers will experience a similar effect. I recommend a glass of wine, or rather, a coke and whiskey, before reading on. Without our typical question and answer format, here is my take on my ramblings with Tamara…
“I arrived in Dublin with my heart in my suitcase.”
Tamara’s quote above refers to her first culminating experience as a writer, in April 2016. Just one year earlier, she had been inspired by a few fellow souls brought together in a bootcamp writing community. The online group entitled, That Curious Love of Green, was led by author, Jane Gilheaney Barry.
Tamara describes this first writing group as a place to which every writer gave their hearts. She began writing like a madwoman, with flash fiction, essays, and poetry. She attributes her drive to Jane, but after my time spent with Tamara, she surely carries her own torch. I believe her surge of inspiration was ignited in the coming together of all these passionate writers.
They referred to their group as a tribe, and as Tamara shared, “Because of my tribe, I began crazy writing and crazy submitting, thirty to forty poems at a time.” She went on to emphasize, “I recommend to anyone, submit relentlessly!” After six months, with many rejections in hand, she got her first acceptance. She published with The Tishman Review and felt grateful for the opportunities that followed. Suddenly, publications came pouring in, with a couple of them counting in the scholarly world. But she didn’t care, she was filled with momentum and joy and continued on her quest to grow as a writer.
We haven’t arrived in Dublin yet, but hold on!
Ireland and O’Bheal:
Tamara discovered O’Bheal, a five-word poetry competition in Cork, Ireland. This is where five words are given for the author to create a poem using all five words. The challenge was invigorating. She began submitting poems, and to her “shock and amazement” placed with two poems, Chinese Zodiac: Year of the Fire Monkey, and Sky, an Open Window. When she was invited to read at a celebration in Cork, April 2016, she knew she had to go. She smiles to remember telling her employer that she was the only American on the list of winners. “This was a good enough reason to take leave from work to go.” She was also representing, “all novice female writers following a crazy dream.”
Experiencing Ireland for the first time, by herself, was quite a revelation. She truly did arrive in Dublin with her heart in her suitcase. She was in love with the country, with the writers of O’Bheal, and with the miraculous timing of an event planned with her writing group. She would connect with her tribe in Dublin, celebrate with O’Bheal in Cork, and experience the beautiful country of Ireland.
Part one of Tamara’s trip felt like a dream. After checking into Dublin’s Central Hotel, she promptly settled into a cozy, dark library bar. She didn’t know what to order, or whether to pay with euro or pound, but gratefully, she had a lovely bar tender who brought her a coke and whiskey. He helped her sort out the money so she could sit back and take in exactly where she was. Just as she relaxed into the reality, that after months of writing and submitting, along with both rejections and successes, she was in Dublin. Soon she would meet up with her writing tribe, and later travel to Cork for the annual O’Bheal celebration. Looking up, she gazed at a red painted fox on the wall of the bar. Tamara had always admired foxes. They’d become symbolic in her feisty conquering of fears. Seeing that fox on the wall of the exquisite bar, coke and whiskey in hand, heart on her sleeve, Tamara heard the words sing in the back of her mind, “You belong here.”
Later, she remembered a conversation with a friend from home, when she’d declared, “If I can get a poem, a song, and a glass of wine (or whiskey) in an Irish bar, I’ll be in love.”
Her friend responded promptly, “You’ll get that on every corner.”
She enjoyed these first couple days exploring, laughing, drinking wine, and too many other cocktails late into the night with her writing tribe in Dublin. Soon, it was time for her to travel south for her poetry celebration in Cork, a good bit hungover.
She left for Cork on a train the next morning, exhausted and alone. Checking into her tiny Bed and Breakfast, emotionally spent, she felt nervous about the poetry reading for O’Bheal. Suddenly, she was apprehensive about attending this awaited event solo. Self-doubt began to rise, and yes, there were tears. Thankfully, after figuring out the Internet and plug-ins in her room, her tribe back in Dublin talked her through it, mainly convincing her to simply, “get some sleep.” Then, as instructed, “I got up, got dressed, and showed them my best!”
Her poetry reading was a success. The room was packed, everything felt right, the audience kind-hearted. It helped her to relax enough to finish strong. An Irish poet even hollered from the back, “Why didn’t she win it?” Tamara was overjoyed! She savored the rest of the evening, sitting with a couple from England, listening and learning from all the other poets.
The next morning, she was off to Belfast. Still alone, though not so lonely this time. The memory of the O’Bheal celebration had her floating. Once again, she was in a new place, meeting new people, taking in new sights, and soaking up renewed inspiration. All of it had been for a purpose. Her journey, courageous and insightful, led her full circle to where she began…with more crazy writing.
The following year, in 2017, Tamara placed with O’Bheal’s five-word competition again, with two poems, The Safety (highly commended), and Minor Deities. She returned to Ireland for a second visit, with an invitation to present a full twenty-minute reading in the O’Bheal celebration. This time, she even had members from her writing tribe surrounding her, grounding her, and elevating the magic already lingering in the room.
In 2018, Tamara placed in the O’Bheal competition with two new poems, Reindeer Moss, and My Mother’s Birthplace. And in 2019, she placed again with the poem, Nexus. She wasn’t able to travel back for these two celebrations, but the charm of O’Bheal and enchantment of Ireland has continued to energize her craft. She went on to include Nexus with another collection of poetry she had been working on, publishing her chapbook, Earth Gospel (Scriptor Press) in 2019. [https://www.amazon.com/Earth-Gospel-Poems-Tamara-Miles/dp/1072672626]
Sewanee in 2016:
Let’s back up to 2016, all the way back to Tamara’s home in South Carolina, where she became that fox on the wall in Ireland: determined and passionate about her craft. Outside her day job, teaching college-level humanities, Tamara filled her days with writing. Along the way, That Curious Love of Green grew in size, her tribe of writing support increased, encouraging her to continue on her path.
“I was in love with poetry!” She smiled through the Internet, right into the Zoom lens at me, and I could literally see the joy of her work and her writing community, all her traveling experiences, emotions from every corner of her soul…fill the space around her. At this time in her life, she was hungry to write and thirsty to learn even more.
“I’m going to try everything and anything.” And she did! She challenged herself by applying to the great Sewanee Writer’s Conference.
This isn’t any conference, it’s considered one of the best writing conferences in the country. It’s twelve days long, and expensive. The novice writer doesn’t usually go to this conference; the application process is competitive.
Well…she didn’t make it in (at first). And that was okay. She’d learned, “You can do so many more things that you didn’t think you could do.” She took a risk; that’s what mattered. Tamara stressed that when we try new things, doors from all over begin to open. And one did. She received a call that someone had dropped out of the conference and they were inviting her to come to Sewanee! There was still the question of cost and time off from work, but thankfully (and not without bravery, standing up for herself with the Dean), her college supported this great opportunity, as well as her endeavors to become a stronger writer.
Twelve days of wonder! Twelve days of awe! Twelve days of learning from the best of the best: professional authors, poet laureates, and other serious writers. Everyone had a mentor with one-on-one time to delve into their work. There were times when Tamara would read her own poems and think, I don’t belong here. I’m an imposture. But that was insecurity creeping in, and when she opened herself up to embrace the unfamiliar, she grew even more.
Through working with her mentor, she learned a trick or two about finding the feeling and true emotion of her pieces. They weren’t where she thought she’d planted them, right there on the first line, in the opening stanza…no. Tamara found her emotion was halfway down the page, and that’s where she learned to start.
This incredible Sewanee experience led to many other open doors, such as an invitation to return the following year, and invitations to other conferences and writing events.
“Things opened up!” Tamara exclaimed. “You have to try…believe in yourself in that crazy way.” Her willingness to take risks proved to be a part of the inspiration impelling her on.
A Painful 2018:
All good things come to an end…or so it is said. The Summer of 2018 knocked Tamara back down to Earth. Something painful happened, and she stepped away from her writing community. It was a difficult time that she doesn’t like to talk about. There had already been a change in the group because the administrator had moved on to new opportunities. Tamara took over the group for a while, but says, “It really didn’t work because we were all in love with Jane and her approach.” Still, it was great fun to try.
When things fell apart, she says, “My writing root came undone.” But she is incredibly grateful to Jane Gilheaney Barry and the original tribe for those years.
This is where I came to know Tamara Miles. As she was hiding her pain for the good of the group, feeling uninspired to write anything at all, and searching for new direction, I came onto the writing scene. I must confess, I did not see the pain in the online group, nor did I realize the break. After joining, I only knew Tamara as the leader of That Curious Love of Green…and a new inspiration source for me.
I drank everything Tamara offered…the posts of where to submit, the collective sharing and critiquing of our poetry, and the friendships. I met amazing writers that welcomed me into their world, treating me as an equal along the way. We were there to help and encourage each other, which caused me to grow as a writer, and to start publishing more of my own work.
It wasn’t long after I joined that the group name changed from That Curious Love of Green to the Creativity Salon. Though after about a year, Tamara stepped down from leading. With no one offering to take the reins, the group finally dissolved. Luckily, by then, I had established trustful relationships with many of the writers, and we are still in contact today.
Unexpectedly, after such a positive experience on my end, it was a shock to learn that Tamara was still mourning the loss of her great original tribe. I didn’t press her for details, but I imagine if I wrapped myself up in such a close-knit group, like she had, a part of me would always remain there. Thankfully, Tamara is close friends with much of her tribe, including Jane. And, she presses on…
Where the Light Most Falls:
Although Tamara’s own writing slowed down a bit, she continued hosting a poetry radio show, Where the Light Most Falls, on SpiritPlants Radio, https://www.amazon.com/Earth-Gospel-Poems-Tamara-Miles/dp/1072672626. This was something she had begun in 2017. In fact, this was how Tamara and I met. She had read one of my published poems and reached out to me for permission to read it on her show. I was elated! Unbeknownst to her, I had just begun my public presence as a writer, and the poem she found was one of my first three published pieces.
I bring this up because as Tamara was losing steam, feeling broken, I was encouraged by her work. We smiled about this revelation during our interview. As Jane was Tamara’s inspiration, Tamara was mine!
Final Thoughts and Accomplishments:
Tamara is writing again, publishing excerpts from her Memoir, Same Moon, on The Cenacle. She is also submitting to O’Bheal again. And she’s found new inspiration right in her own backyard; her beloved has built her a greenhouse, and it’s become a wonderful source of peace and inventiveness. Remarkable words have found form in this space, and she’s publishing a brilliantly beautiful new blog, Church in the Greenhouse, https://churchinthegreenhouse.blogspot.com/.
As mentioned at the start, this interview has been unconventional in comparison to my previous formats. However, there is no lack of encouragement. Tamara is the essence of inspiration. Her courage and willingness to pack her heart in a suitcase, travel to Ireland all alone, and who continues to offer herself to the world, through the thick and thin of it, simply…to become…is surely a star to wish upon.
I leave you hanging on the last line of her poem, Transformation: a Foxtale, found on page 13 in her book, Earth Gospel, “All this I offer on the word of a fox.” I don’t know about you, but I’m in need of another drink and a whole lot more of Dr. Tamara Miles.
Happy Writing (because at least you’re writing),
Celaine Charles, July 26, 2020
Please see Tamara’s links below:
http://www.scriptorpress.com/home.html (The Cenacle)
http://www.spiritplantsradio.com/ (Where the Light Most Falls, Tamara’s radio show)
https://churchinthegreenhouse.blogspot.com/ (Tamara’s Blog)
https://tamaramiles.wixsite.com/sylviasdaughtersays/where-the-most-light-falls-radio (Sylvia’s Daughter Says, another blog site for Tamara)
https://www.amazon.com/Earth-Gospel-Poems-Tamara-Miles/dp/1072672626 (Earth Gospel, Tamara’s Poetry Chapbook)
https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R39225WRNCQ760/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1072672626 (my review of Earth Gospel)
Photo Credit Links:
canva.com (“I arrived in Dublin…”)
https://fineartamerica.com/featured/fox-painting–print-from-original-alison-fennell.html?product=art-print (fox art by Alison Fennell)
https://www.jackdaniels.com/en-us/recipes (Coke and Whiskey)
https://www.lonelyplanet.com/ireland/dublin (Ireland picture)
Other pictures provided by Tamara Miles
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