#AuthorInterview with Jennifer Sara Widelitz, author of Battle Cry
Today, Feathered Quill reviewer Barbara Bamberger Scott is talking with Jennifer Sara Widelitz, author of Battle Cry.
FQ: What single piece of advice would you give to a person preparing to read your work with no previous knowledge of your poetic philosophy?
WIDELITZ: Keep an open mind—always. That goes for anything in life.
You might find you can relate to many of the poems in Battle Cry, or only one—maybe even none. Whether you resonate with a collection or not, the important thing is that something is gained from when you first picked up the book. It can be a new perspective, a broader awareness of an important issue, comfort through recognition, or even a kernel of empathy for others. We wouldn’t be complete without our struggles and adversities, but that doesn’t mean we have to face them alone. Pain is a universal language and everyone is suffering in their own way—it is an underlying thread that connects all of humanity. This collection is for all warriors fighting unseen battles who will not surrender easily, even when their efforts go unrecognized, but who may need to be reminded that every battle is worth fighting and comrades can be found if they are willing to look. It is for every survivor of the human condition.
FQ: Does writing about your pain and the ways it might be dealt with give you a sense of hope?
WIDELITZ: I’m a believer in the philosophy that one cannot experience true emotion without becoming familiar with its counterpart. In other words, without knowing pain or despair, one cannot become acquainted with hope. So yes, writing about pain does give a sense of hope. It’s cleansing—a bloodletting of the psyche to allow more room for hope to flourish. There are many writers who feel similarly, using poetry as an outlet for expressing their emotions or to search for kindred experiences in the words of others. There is something soothing and hopeful in seeing others persevere through the same pain that once left you in despair, and something inherently beautiful about witnessing your painful thorns bloom into the hopeful roses in another’s garden, as well as your own.
FQ: Do you see in our current world, with Covid and other factors, the possible development of such elements of your philosophy as regards the challenges of illness?
WIDELITZ: Yes, I see the development of such elements. There has been research into how common viruses like Epstein-Barr are associated with the later development of an autoimmune disease or other form of chronic illness. (You can find out more here.) So it’s no surprise that we’re seeing the same thing with Covid. In fact, the CDC granted $4 million to Nova Southeastern University’s Institute for Neuro-immune Medicine for further research into the lasting effects of Covid due to the fact that many people are experiencing residual health issues. (You can find out more here.)
Although I wish the pandemic never occurred and no one fell ill (or worse), I think one positive thing we—as a world population—can all take away from this horrible experience is a greater sense of empathy. With Covid, I think more people are becoming aware of how debilitating symptoms like fatigue or brain fog or joint/muscle pain can be—invisible symptoms that many with chronic illnesses battle on an everyday basis, not just for a few weeks. And perhaps from the rubble of the pandemic, through our common threads of pain and loss, we can find understanding for others who may be suffering in ways we cannot see.
FQ: What poet(s) influenced you most in the creation of this collection?
WIDELITZ: As Battle Cry chronicles my own experience, there weren’t many poets that influenced me in the content creation of this collection—not consciously at least. Battle Cry was born by writing the words I needed to hear that I wasn’t finding in the works of others, and so I sought to publish this collection to help others like me who needed to find comfort in the similarity of another’s journey and perseverance.
While there were few influences in content, the overall style of Battle Cry was influenced by the open, confessional styles of poets such as Nikita Gill, Rupi Kaur, Lang Leav, Amanda Lovelace, and Najwa Zebian. Like these poets, I decided to write and publish the poems in Battle Cry primarily in free verse (with several exceptions) and in a straightforward style, unlike my other poems that appear in literary magazines. I came to this decision while keeping the intended audience and message in mind—readers with cognitive dysfunctions and brain fog weren’t going to sit down and dissect a collection like a student in an English class. While still investing a lot of time and effort into crafting thoughtful, meaningful poems with literary elements, I wanted to give readers something they could enjoy and resonate with immediately, not a coded message they had to work hard to uncover. As much as I love the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Rumi, Pablo Neruda, Robert Frost, and Seamus Heaney, to whom I even write a response poem in Battle Cry, it was the works of modern and contemporary poets that were the most influential to this collection.
FQ: Is writing now your primary focus or will you continue to explore other avenues of creativity?
WIDELITZ: Writing is currently my primary focus—both poetry and fiction. In a way, it always has been. I have been writing since I first learned how to hold a pencil, long before I started my pursuit of studio and digital art. Though I will always dabble in other art forms and explore other avenues of creativity, writing is my first love and continues to hold my heart.
FQ: Could you envision a dramatic, emotive film illustrating your own life experience and intrepid development of your artistic talents?
WIDELITZ: What an interesting question! I’ve never really thought about it before...I’ve always been a private person and choosing to publish this poetry collection was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make. It was difficult enough just to summon the courage to share this collection with the public, let alone imagine a film depicting my life experiences in such vivid detail. In a way, a movie seems like it would convey even more vulnerability—the written word is subjective to the reader’s mind, but a clear visual representation leaves nothing to the imagination—and that’s honestly a scary notion.
But the more I think about it, I guess my answer would be a nail-biting yes. I could envision a dramatic, emotive film that would perhaps help others through their own struggles and even help raise awareness of autoimmunity and chronic invisible illness altogether. (Although, I think I would much prefer if it veered towards autobiographical fiction—a film with too much detailed and factual information sounds quite unnerving.)
FQ: Are you able to select a favorite among the collection in Battle Cry and if so, why does that particular poem speak to you so strongly?
WIDELITZ: Selecting a favorite poem in this collection is difficult, like choosing a favorite book or movie or song—something I’ve never been able to do without breaking it down by genre… or sub-genre (ha ha!). And having a personal connection to each poem makes it all the more difficult to select only one. However, there are poems I tend to gravitate towards:
“Lessons From the Trees” “The Fiery Crown” “Places Remember” “I’m tired of being tired” “Reading Between the Lines” (...and more)
Each holds powerful memories—some happy, some sad—and I think they speak for themselves as to why I might resonate with them so strongly. For now, I just hope they speak to readers and reach those who need to hear them most.
FQ: You have had your poetry published in various magazines such as your poem “Fireflies” appearing in Stonecrop Magazine. How different is the process when you’re trying to get one poem accepted/published vs. a whole collection in a book? Is one more rewarding than the other for you?
WIDELITZ: The processes for trying to get one poem published versus an entire collection are fairly similar. Whether it is a single poem or an entire collection, there is still a general submission process—with queries and cover letters—resulting in either acceptance or rejection by the agent/publisher. I find it is the process of writing them that differs the most. Crafting one poem that can stand on its own is not like creating a collection of poems that must be cohesive and connected through a common theme to tell an underlying story. Another difference is the writing styles I choose between the two. As I mentioned earlier, I decided to write and publish the poems in Battle Cry in a straightforward style for the intended reader, unlike my other poems that appear in literary magazines, which are more traditional in nature.
Neither is necessarily more rewarding than the other—they are both equally rewarding but in different ways. Writing individual poems for literary magazines is validating to my technical skills and voice as a poet. However, while creating Battle Cry and having it published has also been similarly validating, knowing that the collection is helping others cope with their own battles is its own special kind of reward.
FQ: I see that you recently published a children’s book. Would you tell our readers a bit about it and how the experience of writing a children’s book compares to working on a poetry collection?
WIDELITZ: I am honored to have been the illustrator for A Heavenly World, a heartwarming tale written by author Tracey Dean Widelitz to help children of all ages cope with the loss of their beloved fur-baby, their fur-ever best friend. While I was not the author of A Heavenly World, I can share that the author’s inspiration for this children’s book stemmed from the same sources as Battle Cry: loss, grief, and painful experience.
Although both books deal closely with themes of grief and loss, illustrating those themes in each was vastly different. The most noticeable distinction is perhaps between illustration styles: black and white sketches versus full-colored spreads with recurring characters. In Battle Cry, I intended for my illustrations to be raw, vulnerable, unfiltered images evoking emotions that may be unpleasant—but important—to sit with, much like the poems and experiences they represented. However, in a children’s book like A Heavenly World, difficult emotions like grief and pain and loss are supposed to be conveyed in an uplifting and fulfilling manner that clearly expresses the message but doesn’t uncomfortably linger. Yet despite these two books differing from genre to message to intended audience, the core of each illustration process was essentially bringing a written story to life, and because of that they felt oddly similar at times.
For those who would like more information on A Heavenly World, please visit the author’s website.
FQ: From computer skills to artwork - you have a quite a variety of skills. How do you have time for them all? And do you see yourself perhaps combining them such as a poetry book that features your photography?
WIDELITZ: It can often seem daunting, but I think almost all creators would agree they could use a 25th hour in the day, regardless of their skill sets. The issue isn’t necessarily the variety of skills, but rather the number of projects one wishes to tackle. And that is an issue any creator—even one who works strictly in a single medium—finds themselves facing time and again.
In my case, I find I am less focused on what medium I want to use and am more inclined to choose a project or story, and then decide what art form best suits it. I also find knowing how to think in and use one art form helps me with another. For example, there are times when I might sit with the intention to write a short story and don’t have the slightest clue where to begin, so I will imagine how it would be staged visually in a film sequence—perhaps even going so far as to write a screenplay as my outline—and flesh out the story from there. Thinking in this manner often helps me determine the most important details and the best timing. While I have my degree in Visual Effects and utilize my digital skills on a regular basis, my preferred passion has always been writing—though I will often find ways for my skills to overlap, like in Battle Cry. Ultimately, I see myself as a storyteller first and foremost who happens to work in a variety of mediums.
Yes, I do see myself combining them—and I do it often! Battle Cry is one example. While Battle Cry contains illustrations as well as poetry, it also almost featured some of my photography—particularly in the “Interlude: Nature’s Elixir” section. However, my editor and I agreed there was too much vying for attention between poetry, illustrations, and photography. For continuity purposes, we decided to omit the photography and keep the illustrations as their rawness and vulnerability paired better with the poetic theme in this collection as a whole. But I would love to incorporate my photography into another poetry collection in the future, especially one dedicated to nature and healing!
To learn more about Battle Cry or my other projects, please visit my website.