Women of Impact: Catherine Strisik, Literary artist

Named the second poet laureate of Taos in 2019, over the past 35 years, Catherine Strisik does poetry workshops for children and adults, is co-founder/co-editor/consulting editor of "Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art" and does private editorial services. Morgan Timms/Taos News

What is your current profession and for how many years?

What started as a beloved avocation in the midst of so many professions in Taos, at some point I realized as a young writer/poet that everything I was doing, all the education I was receiving, was being funneled into my life as a poet. The language of gemstones, the language of the dyslexic brain, the language of the body and the language of my gardens all became the rich language of my poetry. Slowly, my avocation became my profession for as a poet I also work as a poetry workshop teacher for children and adults, co-founder/co-editor/consulting editor of "Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art" and offer private editorial services. So, if I combine all of the years of avocation and profession … over 35 years.

How did you get where you are today, and who/what helped you along the way?

I’m here today overlooking as far as I can see into and through Taos Valley because of my early fascination with language, with words and sounds. But I’m here also because of the encouragement of a few teachers and professors in my early life who said, “Observe through your senses the world around you and then write, and keep writing and keep writing. Write everything you see, smell, hear, taste, touch.”

I’m here also because when I moved to Taos in 1983, young, shy and wide-eyed, I was almost immediately held and carried by those then-new writer friends in writing groups, and then later in poetry workshops, conferences and residencies throughout the country. The emergence of myself as a poet was like the metamorphosis of a butterfly. Patience. Time. Deep breathing. Meditation.

If you could go back in time and tell your 18-year old self anything, what would it be?

Surround yourself with only those who offer encouragement. As a poet, and as one who loved to write at an early age, I listened when teachers said, “You write well.” Those voices are the ones that helped build my foundation and confidence years before I realized “being a poet” could be real in my life.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

As a poet I’m always working because consciously and unconsciously I am observing the finite and gross, nuances and changes of nuances – for example, the way a breeze might suddenly strike my cheek, the squareness with another or lack of, and what subtleties reflect. This is not work though, this is love of life that I put into language. Poetry.

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

I love the process. I love free writing, stream of consciousness writing and all the steps, meaning days, weeks, months, years it might take to create a poem … from the blank sheet of paper (which can be intimidating) to the finished poem, that creativity. I simply thrive in this place. I might spend years trying to find the “right” word. I might say my poem aloud 500 times in search of its essence until it “feels” and “sounds” right in my ear and body. Poetry is 100 percent visceral for me.

Also, other poets’ poems motivate me as there are those times of despair as a poet when the blank sheet of paper stays blank. We hold each other as poets.

What’s an accomplishment that you are proud of?

I’ve been writing as a poet for decades now and that I have not given up writing is my greatest accomplishment, because though there are poem and book publications, readings, awards, incredible students, there continues to be those rejected poems and manuscripts, the long days and nights where I feel I might go mad if the poem I am working on does not soon speak its truth, its voice to me.

Certainly winning the New Mexico/AZ Book Award a couple of years ago for my second poetry collection, "The Mistress," published by the incredible 3: A Taos Press was amazing, and also the recent recognition within Taos Community to be honored as the second poet laureate, where in the next two years my poetry project of bringing poetry into outdoor natural settings comes alive. Humbling and reflective.

As an invisible mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?

Read, read, read, study and discuss the poetry of others because we have much to learn from one another as poets. And write until you have ink stains on your fingers.

Meet all of the Taos Woman 2020 Women of Impact:

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