Monday, September 30, 2013

Lesleigh Owen, one of the poets featured in Fat Poets Speak, won a poetry contest.

Lesleigh Owen, one of the poets featured in Fat Poets Speak (both 1 and 2) won a contest today!!

Congratulations and hugs to her.

I am featuring her winning poem in its entirety, as well as her remarks on her blog.

From the blog:

I entered a poetry contest sponsored by the Poetry Society of Colorado, and I won first place. The theme was "overcoming," so I submitted a poem about standing up to and eventually leaving an abusive partner. It's one of my very, very rare rhyming poems, and to be honest, I'm not even remotely a fan of poems that rhyme. Nonetheless, and in large part because the poem fit the theme so beautifully, I submitted it. 

Below is the winning poem. You can also read it on their website if you'd prefer. 



My cage is in your bedroom
To keep my howls in check
But bitches might begin to bite
And chickens learn to peck

You tie my apron tighter
To keep me “safe and dry”
My waist’s too thick for them cheap tricks
Its strings unwind like lies

You bend my vision downward 
With heavy crowns of lead
But I stand tall, and when they fall,
They break your foot instead

You shove me in a shoebox
Stiletto heels, size four
But my bare feet are so damn fleet
They’re running out that door

You seal me in an envelope
And try to mail me home
No stamp’s enough, cuz I’m too tough
I’ve got the world to roam

To dream

FatLand  (the land/territory featured in my trilogy of the same name) will not have its first actual poetry contest until about five years after it becomes a sovereign territory. But the FatLand Anthem is sung at the first celebratory gatherings. It was written in a contest.

Living in a territory in which discrimination against fat people is forbidden and in which all sizes of people are welcome frees up an amazing amount of psychic and emotional energy to write. But even more importantly, it frees up a lot of energy to dtream, to become, to change, to fly, to celebrate. Suddenly you are allowed to dream yourself into possibilities you had denied yourself before. You can become so many things you could not even let yourself imagine becoming previously. You are at one with yourself, with your territory, with the earth. You can even encourage your friends to become things both you and they were denied, not only in actuality, but in possibility on the Other Side/USA.

You can become a shero. A hero. An inspiration. If you are a villain, you can curtail or rechannel your villainy :)   (Interesting developments in the latter in FatLand 3 :)

FatLand: Its government, taxes and safety net

During this politically charged time, when the US Government has shut down (hopefully quite temporarily), I got to thinking of how FatLand's government thus far had not faced a similar threat. FatLand is after all governed by the FatLand Governing Board, usually referred to simply as "The Board." The Board's members change every two years. They are elected by FatLand citizens in a popular election. (Election Day is yet another good reason for a holiday, with lots of restaurants and bars featuring Election Day specials and all open into the wee hours with screens up and detailing the results of the election.)

FatLanders do not pay taxes unless they earn one million dollars a year. When income reaches one hundred million a year, the tax is 25 percent. With no loopholes of any kind. No reduced rates on capital gains, either.

FatLanders have a very strong safety net, as noted elsewhere. They receive income and medical insurance while unemployed and undergoing training, and of course when they retire. Daycare is free, since daycare workers are paid by the government. Medical insurance is one-payer, also provided by the FatLand government.

Yet more reasons for Other Siders to want to live in FatLand, besides the obvious ones of non-discrimination and size-friendiness.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

In which the author/editor partakes uncharacteristically of gossip

To get slightly personal here, a movie was made about the life of one of my former poetry workshop professors a year or so ago. I would rather like to see it, but I know it does not contain the interesting stuff :)

I took another name partly so that he would not know what I was up to. Not that I expect he would be searching or googling, mind you :)   It is just that I did not wish to subject myself to his expectations.

I do remain in touch with the professor under whose guidance I translated many of the poems by the poet Celia Dropkin from Yiddish to English. Dr. Kathryn Hellerstein, of the University of Pennsylvania, writes regularly and beautifully about Yiddish woman/women poets and is also a distinguished poet in her own right.

A poet who was with me in one of the workshops -she had actually published quite a few poems already- taught by the professor about whom the aforementioned movie was made developed such a strong thing for him that she told us that she could not have sex with her husband on nights after the workshop took place. (She is/was rather slim.)

Put  that in the movie...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fat Beauty

In one of the poems I wrote for Fat Poets Speak 2: Living and Loving Fatly, I wrote about my mom, who was plump and absolutely gorgeous. She still is gorgeous now, at 85, but is rather thin, for many reasons.

I really like the idea of redefining beauty and talking about and writing about fat beauty. It is one of the ways in which we "fat" poetry. But it is also one of the ways in which we "fat" beauty. The section on "Beauty" in Fat Poets Speak 2 is as long as the section on "Love." I like the fact that fat beauty is defined not only in terms of what people look like, but what they offer, what they give, what they bring to the world in terms of love and caring and pleasure.

Short, long, spicy

In Fat Poets Speak 2:  Living and Loving Fatly, you will find haiku, a form we didn't have in Fat Poets 1. You will also find more long poems.

Because of its brevity and requirements for syllabification -5 syllables-7 syllables-5 syllables in three lines-  the haiku is of necessity image-heavy. One or two images is/are all the writer can cram in. However, there are some wonderful haiku in FPS 2. Two sets of haiku are by Kathy Barron, whose lines flow so smoothly into each other that they probably should constitute an entirely new poetic format. Anne Kaplan's whale haiku is the finale for the book.

As for long, long poems, my poem "Forgiveness" is the longest, at around 11 pages. Lesleigh has quite a few poems of 3-5 pages. Speaking for all of us, many good things do come in large packages.

And variety is the spice of Fat Poets Speak 2 is often as spicy as it gets. Nom nom nom..

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Safe places for fat people

Are there such things as safe places for fat people, places in which they don't have to endure discrimination, being stigmatized and being harassed? Fat Poets Speak 2 features a section entitled Safety Net, in which poets write about exactly this. They also write about anti-fat prejudice in this section and  in other sections, as well.

It is a treat to write about places in which fat people are completely accepted, whether in FPS or in FatLand.
It would be doubly and trebly a treat if such places actually existed.  A sad little secret:  Every time I have endeavored to put together a list of real places in which fat people are respected and welcomed, someone has mentioned the lack of respect and/or harassment that has occurred in these places.

Fat Poets Speak also has a section entitled Revolution. This is another idea for fat people to embrace when they have been insulted one time too many, and when venues that welcome fat people completely are nonexistent. Time to march!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Interview with Lesleigh Owen, poet extraordinaire

As promised, an interview with the amazing Lesleigh Owen (aka Elle Hill). To supplement this, I recommend that people read Lesleigh's poems in Fat Poets Speak. That is one way to discern just how awesome Lesleigh and her writing are.

1. When did you write your first poem?  When did you write your first "fat" poem?
I wrote my first real poem at the age of thirteen. It was an anti-Vietnam War sonnet. Yeah, Shakespeare twisted a little in his grave that day. As for my first explicitly fat-themed poem, I penned a freestyle one entitled “Boogeywoman” around 2000. I used it in my fat zine (so 90s!) by the same name. 
2. Which poets/Whose poetry do you like most?
I have mad love for Sylvia Plath. Her poems evoke so much feeling through her rich descriptions and her persistent messing with interiority and exteriority.  Her work inspires me to reach deep into myself – in this bloody, painful, visceral way – for ways to express and understand issues far bigger than me. Emily Dickinson also rocks my socks. Such a dry, quiet, and brilliant wit. More contemporarily, I am always moved and inspired by the luscious, fat-positive works of Susan Stinson. And finally, I love the poetry of my friend and mentor, Frannie Zellman, who somehow manages to straddle the line between lush and sparse, interior and exterior. I have so much to learn from all these verbal artists.
3. Tell us about your muse or muses :)
My muse’s name is Shi-Shi, and she’s much more interested in playing with the cats than ensuring I remain inspired. I’m enormously fond of Shi-Shi, you understand, but I do kind of wish she would spend a little more time cramming my brain with brilliant ideas. She’d rather play hide-and-seek with the kitties’ catnip toys, though, than be bothered with such petty concerns.
Given my muse’s more hands-off approach, I’ve developed a bunch of strategies for inspiring myself. When it comes to poetry, I will often place my hands on the keyboard and tell them they can’t stop writing, even if the words on the screen don’t make sense or, worse, are loaded with clich├ęs. This is a great, organic method for pushing past writer’s block and birthing poems. Heck, it’s also pretty good therapy.
4. What is the most important thing for poets, especially fat poets, to remember?
Their greatest source of inspiration can come from the very body that places its fingers on the keyboard and sits its butt in the computer chair. Our bodies are wonderlands; they’re symphonies of delight. My fat body is a garden of sensory input. What more could we ask for? Living in this body, listening to the music of my thighs rubbing together, feeling gravity tug me in a way very different than someone thinner, seeing my lush body fill a mirror, I find endless sources of inspiration. I am endless sources of inspiration.
From an artistic perspective, it’s also wonderful to realize fatness can serve as a new lens for many of our readers. Over seven billion people occupy this planet; we hear all the time about the impossibility of new and creative art. Yes, we are bombarded with images and words about the human body. However, only particular kinds of bodies are highlighted. Right now, we celebrate – even worship – thin bodies. Art pays homage to it, magazines glorify it, novels and poetry rhapsodize about it. As fat poets, we have the opportunity to grab those images, sounds, and words and map them onto our larger bodies.  What does a fat fairy tale look like? What does fat sex feel like? How do racism, ageism, ableism, and other forms of oppression change when we place them in fat contexts? Everything becomes new when we shift the focus from thin to fat. This is both validating for people of size and educational (and interesting) for smaller persons.
5. How do your cats influence your writing?
I nominate this for best question of the year!
I did write one poem about my fattest cat, Sabhu. It’s called, appropriately, “Fat Cat.” Less literally, I credit my cats with a lot of my equanimity. I’m a pretty calm, happy person who enjoys communing with my body and journeying inside my mind. I find a lot of pleasure in being me. I’m quite sure my cats are largely responsible.
6.  Tell us a little about the place in which you share your poems in South Dakota.
Last spring, a student told me about a local poetry contest. I immediately entered and ended up winning. Yay! This was my introduction to the High Plains Writers’ Group, which focuses on all things literary. They recently sponsored a poetry reading, which is pretty much my idea of heaven, since I design a lot of my poetry as performance pieces. I performed three of them, two of which were explicitly fat positive. They were a hit!
Thank goodness for this group and for this opportunity to share my creativity. Living in South Dakota, which isn’t exactly a haven for progressive ideas, I’d probably explode all over the state if I didn’t have some way of getting my creative groove on.
Next stop: Poet Laureate of South Dakota!
7. What is your favorite among poems that you wrote?
I’m definitely not opposed to hierarchizing my poems, but I honestly don’t think I can choose one. I’m super fond of “Lilith,” a poem celebrating Adam’s first wife. I did a lot of research into Lilith before writing the poem; as such, it teems with symbolism. I’m also in pretty hopeless love with “Ceres,” a poem about autumn, my favorite season. I recently wrote a poem about a humiliating medical experience and recorded myself reading it. I’m honored to know it served a very political and educational purpose for a group of nursing students. Finally, I really like “Soft,” a freestyle poem that meanders everywhere, winding throughout my experiences of a fat and queer woman, before finally reminding everyone that the softest things are often the toughest.
Thanks for the interview questions, Frannie!
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it may be necessary from time to time
to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.
~Miss Piggy 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fat Poets Speak movie?

One of my former poetry workshop professors recently had a movie made about his life. Of course most of the good stuff -all the intriguing, unwieldy, emotional attachments and decisions- just isn't in there. Oh, well..

I think it would be kind of cool to have a movie made about the poets in Fat Poets Speak 1 and 2, featuring us all reading, discussing, going through our days, being happy, sad, thoughtful, excited in turn. We could have music, as well. We could even dance.

It could also show us all writing/typing at our desks or tables or wherever we write//type. It could even show our cats or dogs jumping on our laps and screens. It could show us walking around our respective rooms, deriving inspiration. Around the yard, too. (Since I derive at least half of my inspiration in the bathroom, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to show it..)

And how about showing us having people over and reading our poems to them?

Hmm. I think we need  Fat Poets Speak tee shirts.

"Fatting" poetry

Lesleigh Owen -one of the poets who contributed prolifically and wonderfully to Fat Poets Speak- and I were talking about "fatting" today - the process of writing poems that use and create images that make poems richer and perhaps slower as they tilt toward making fat pleasurable. In other words, we don't just say pleasing things and create positive images of fat; we also craft sentences that echo the lusciousness and length and width and breadth of fat people and things. Images, sound, feel, touch, taste, appearance - the idea is to "fat" them.

Lesleigh does this better than I do. You will see/hear her words on the subject soon.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Writing about being fat

When I was studying at U Penn supposedly toward a Liberal Arts degree, I ran into one Education professor who almost become hysterical when I told her that fat people constituted an oppressed group. I would bet anything that all or almost all of the professors who led poetry workshops I attended (Brandeis U. and Boston U.) would have felt the same way.

Thus it was all the more liberating for me to be able to write about how it is to be fat in this thin-centric society of ours and to have your voice dulled or muted because you can't write in your own skin as a fat person. Or  - you couldn't, until recently. You had to pretend that you were writing as another slim person, or put another way, someone who was sufficiently like everyone else who didn't think about being different. Someone who was part of the great mass of non-bodied, unembodied poets.

This was not only because a lot of poets disliked the mention of deviant bodies, but also because they had been sufficiently inculcated with the Puritan attitude toward bodies in general and found their mention embarrassing. How doubly embarrassing for them then, to possess a "loud" body and not to be embarrassed about it.

This is why, until recently, you did not see many poems written by fat poets about being fat.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fat Poets Speak is a first

It is always dangerous to go out on a limb and say that one or some group is the first to do something, but I believe that Fat Poets Speak is the very first series of books dedicated to fat acceptance/liberation poetry. There are certainly other books that contain fat acceptance/liberation poetry, but they also contain memoirs, interviews, and stories. Our own Fat Poets Speak contains poetry. Only.

I would like to say that when I write fat acceptance poetry, I go into a natural high. This is because for so many years, I didn't feel at ease or in my poetic skin when I wrote poetry, and I didn't know quite why. It is only when I started to read fat acceptance poetry in Radiance Magazine, bless its wonderful heart (and wish it were still around), that I started to understand what was missing from my poetry. 

And my life.

I will be featuring interviews with the poets from Fat Poets Speak, and you will be able to read their stories. Some have been writing poetry for a long time; others started later. One thing, though, that we all have in common is that we are committed to finding words for our fat selves, bodies, spirits and muses (whether the muses are fat or slimmer).

And to making our readers smile.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Interview with Dr. Deah Schwartz, New Voice in Fat Poets Speak 2: Living and Loving Fatly

Interview with Dr. Deah Schwartz, New Voice in Fat Poets Speak 2: Living and Loving Fatly

Dr. Deah Schwartz has more than 20 years experience using therapeutic arts, music, drama and recreation activities in a variety of clinical and educational settings with clients ranging in age from 5 to 80+. She has a Doctorate in Education, a BA in Theater, an MS in Therapeutic Recreation, and an MA in Creative Arts Education and is a Nationally Certified Recreation Therapist.

And…she is also one of the New Voices in the second volume of Fat Poets Speak:  Living and Loving Fatly.

This is the first part of the interview. The second will be published at a later date.  Read and appreciate her as she talks to us here.

1.      First of all - at least to my mind- many of us are excited that you have just finished your second book. Can you tell us a little of what it is about?

The book’s title is:  Dr. Deah’s Calmanac:  your interactive monthly guide for cultivating a positive body image. It is loosely based on The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which is a manual that provides information for growing and harvesting hearty and plentiful crops and gardens. People struggling with Eating Disorders and Body Dissatisfaction often feel trapped in cyclical patterns with no way out.  For example, Every January offers another reminder that whatever resolution was made the previous year has most likely failed and they are still struggling. 

But I believe that our history is not fate—it is knowledge, and our past does not dictate our present or future behaviors. We can learn from our past, hold on to the positives, and choose to throw the negatives in the mulch bin. In order to reap the benefits of the repetition or redundancy that our calendar year presents, it is imperative that we take some time to examine the months and seasons for their predictable ebbs and flows and plan our garden of positive body image around the elements that are most certain to occur.  This proactive approach has a calming effect in lieu of a self-critical outcome, hence the name, Dr. Deah’s CALManac.

2.  What made you want to go into the field  of eating disorders?

That is a difficult question to answer concisely but I will give it a try!  My career path was heading in the direction of Expressive Arts Therapy because of my interest in psychology and the expressive arts.  Concurrently, I was trying to figure out a way to resolve my own Eating Disorder by using psychodrama and drama therapy.  This resulted in co-authoring a three woman play called, Leftovers, the Ups and Downs of a Compulsive Eater.  While performing the show on Off-Broadway, New York, and up and down the west coast, I found that the audience inherently experienced a therapeutic benefit from watching the actors confront and ultimately step on the road to personal recovery.  It reinforced my belief in the Expressive Arts as a healing intervention for Eating Disorders.  In the process I found that even though my E.D. was improving, I was still grappling with my body hate, you see I was not just obsessed with food; I was obsessed with the desire to be thin.  I was also working in adolescent psychiatric hospitals at the time, and noticed that the two areas were intertwined.  The teens hated their bodies because they wanted to be thin, they developed disordered eating patterns to become thin, found ways to address their eating behaviors but still had to change their self-loathing to self-acceptance with or without a change in body size from their E.D. recovery.  I also noticed that  teens and young adults resonate with expressive arts and are more easily engaged than when only verbal psycho-therapy is used because there is an integration of the mind AND the body in the process.  (I actually have a soundcloud recording Under the heading Expressive Arts Therapies explaining this concept if you want to hear a bit more information about that).  So I suppose the answer is I gravitated to the field of Eating Disorders because of my personal experience with my own E.D.  and in my professional life, seeing the efficacy of the particular therapeutic work I was doing with this population specifically.

3.  How would you say the shape of your life today differs from what you thought it would be 20 or 25 years ago?

 Life throws us interesting curveballs once in a while.  20 years ago I was an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University, working full time at a psychiatric hospital, and a new mom working on my doctorate.  I really loved the balance in my life.  Then I had a severe back injury that resulted in my having to leave my work and found myself at home as a full time mom and very part time doctoral student.  The good news was how available I was for my son.  Those were years I wouldn’t give up for anything, despite the pain and grueling rehab I went through because of my back, but unfortunately, it also catapulted me from my career path into the unknown.  I found that I needed to find work that did not require driving long distances and a variety of other physical limitations due to my newly acquired back disability.  And so I began to do two things.  The first was writing.  I co-wrote a workbook/DVD version of Leftovers that is a unique multi-media resource for Eating Disorders.  I started blogging; writing articles, and as previously mentioned, just finished my second book.  The second was I started a private practice in Oakland California called Dr. Deah’s Walkie Talkies.  Part of the rehab for my back is to walk every day.  Because I am a certified Recreation Therapist, I found that I could walk with clients who were struggling with body image and disordered eating and were either intimated to publically engage in physical activity for fear of being taunted, or they didn’t have time to squeeze in pleasurable physical activity and a therapy session during the week.  In my ‘Walkie Talkies” we do both things at once and I was helping my back in the process!  But despite the secondary gain for my rehab, ultimately my goal is that my clients find places in Oakland and other people where they can continue to explore trails and opportunities for weight neutral physical movement.

5. How does your son feel about what you do and how you identify yourself?

The timing of this question is amazing because of a recent conversation I was having with my son.  Z (short for Zachary) was home from college over the summer and he and I were talking about the concept of people living up to their potential.  One of the benefits of having a 21 year old son, besides being able to legally enjoy a beer together once in a while, is having more open and disclosing conversations.  I told him that sometimes I questioned whether or not I was living up to my potential because when I was a professor and a hospital clinician my income was exponentially more than what I am earning in my post disability “reincarnation”.  He looked at me and said, “But Mom, the work you are doing is all about helping other people make their quality of life better and feel better about who they are.  You help others live up to their potential.  That HAS to be the way you are living up to your potential.”

Yes, I was farklempt!  It was clear that my son not only really groks (understands) what it is that I am doing, but he is proud and supportive.

7. What advice do you have for fat younger women who are worried about "fitting in" with their peers, but don't want to diet or starve themselves?

Well, because I don’t believe in a one size fits all philosophy, I would need a bit more information before giving what I feel would be a truly beneficial response.  Chronological age is important, how long the person has been fat is a factor, the etiology of their fat has some import when offering advice about interventions. But assuming that all variables are equal, I would recommend the Dr. DEEEE’s 4 steps to increasing body-acceptance.

1. EXPLORE:  Find your support systems, people and organizations, websites, therapists, family members (lol notice how they are different from people) who feel the same way you do.  You do not have to fight this level of discrimination all alone.

2.  EDUCATE:  Educate yourself with facts facts facts about the realities of weight stigma, the relationship between fat and health, and the reasons behind size discrimination in our culture.

3.  EMPOWER:  Empower yourself with permission to love your body and EMBRACE the concept of body diversity. 

4.  ENCOURAGE:  Encourage others to do the same, whether they are fat or not.   Changing a societal norm HAS to include the oppressed and allies of the oppressed.  If one group of people is discriminated against, all people are subject to being discriminated against.

8. Tell us the addresses of your blogs so we can follow right along with your essays.

 The primary place to find my blog is on my website, Dr. Deah’s Body Shop at
Once a month I write an original post for the Fierce Freethinking Fatties Website at

I also write about once a month for where I post an Expressive Arts Therapy Directive specifically created to explore issues related to Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fat Poets Speak Welcomes You

Welcome to Fat Poets Speak, the blog which will feature discussions and poems and the thoughts of fat poets, especially pertaining to the Fat Poets Speak series of books of poems. There are two books, thus far: Fat Poets Speak: Voices of the Fat Poets' Society, and the one that is due to come out in early 2014:  Fat Poets Speak: Living and Loving Fatly.  (Vol. I is currently available from Pearlsong Press, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.)

Fat Poets Speak began at the 2006 NAAFA Convention in suburban Boston. I gave a workshop on writing poetry that would empower fat people. Mary Ray Worley, two of whose poems are featured in Fat Poets Speak 2 (Living and Loving Fatly), conceived the idea of our forming a society of fat poets who would write and exchange and comment on each others' poems. There is nothing like an online society of poets (of any weight) to make you smile and dance and curse and exult when you read their poems and when you write your own, which they read :)   So many wonderful poems were produced that I felt we simply had to compile a book of them (anthology). So, with much work and support from Peggy Elam, the Director and CEO of Pearlsong Press, our publishers, we wrought. Edited. Commented. Argued. Smiled. The first volume, Fat Poets Speak: Voices of the Fat Poets' Society, came out on May 6, 2009, No-Diet Day.

The second volume of Fat Poets Speak (often referred to by us as Fat Poets Speak 2), Living and Loving Fatly, is set to come out early in 2014. It simply amazed me, when I read the poems submitted, how the poets who had poems featured in the first volume, had matured and grown into their voices. And each with her own voice, her own kinds of imagery, her own concerns, her own unique vision and talent. We were even more united in our fat pride, yet we were even more individual in our loves, likes, thoughts and the places we had reached in our individual journeys and life wanderings. If Fat Poets Speak 1 was a chorus of fat women's voices finding sound and strength, Fat Poets Speak 2 is a smorgasbord of poems from fat women living their days and lives with gusto and passion.

We welcome you to our blog.

Frannie Zellman on behalf of the Poets