Literacy Elements with a Literary Bird: An Interview with Artemis Skye McNeil

literacy elements

There is a point where every artist comes across the humorous lightbulb moment. This moment, in particular, is most comparable to that feeling when you either realize your socks are two different colors or your bank account finally starts with three digits. It is a relieving feeling. It is a funny feeling. It is a triumphant yet terrifying blow when one looks in the mirror and realizes they are a Writer. 

Is your duty to serve society or translate society?

Is your promise to those who come across your work to help them understand themselves or question their subconscious beliefs and identity—the environment? In most cases, including myself, a Writer will tell you that the purpose of their calling is to simply write. The rest of the story, fortunately yet unfortunately for us, is deemed by those who both admire and ridicule us as life continues to very well unravel.

But who’s to say that all origin stories are the same?

This most certainly isn’t the case, for anything. Especially when it comes to the story of the published author and poet Artemis Skye McNeil.

McNeil was someone who I recently discovered earlier this year upon completing a research project for another publication. Her work, safe to say, both dazzled and astonished me. Astonished, per se, because the evident rawness found in her poetry is brilliantly unforgiving and, in the end, a source of satisfaction if ever challenged with the question What is the purpose of all this?

Confused?

To put it simply: if one were to ever ask McNeil about the definition of poetry, I predict that her answer wouldn’t consist of a legitimate conclusion but rather a respectful gesture, encouraging the other party to gaze upon the stanzas before them.

Poetry is love. Poetry is heartbreak. Poetry is not much so literacy elements but literacy ligaments. It is bone. It is heart. It is flesh. It is, sometimes, blood and sweat. It is a rush of adrenaline. It is bitter coffee on a Sunday morning. It is a sweet, nostalgic memory that teases the individual upon daring to peer into a California sunset. Poetry is, unarguably, all these, the previous and a thousand other metaphors that age and crack and birth over and over again.

So as one can assume, when I received McNeil’s responses for this interview, they were not only intellectually captivating but all things humble, organic, and sincere.

literacy elements

The Interview

Q1: Tell us about yourself. What was your childhood like? Were you always interested in books and poetry?

A: I grew up with modest means but a house full of love, and laughter. My parents were strict but very loving and always supported and promoted self-expression through creativity (reading, music, art, dance) of all kinds. I have always had a love of reading and writing as far back as I can remember. I used to get so excited when the book fair would come to our elementary school. I specifically saved up money for that day. 

I always wanted to buy more than one book. Which didn’t always happen? But it was still a great time browsing through all the selections. During my childhood, I loved mysteries like Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene, The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon, Mrs. Pepperpot by Norwegian author Alf Proysen, as well as fantasy like The Borrowers by British author Mary Norton or The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Reading brought worlds to my fingertips. The fact that they were series made it even better. Little Women and Jane Eyre are still at the top of my favorites list. I’ve read each more than half a dozen times. I also started reading poetry from a young age but didn’t really appreciate it until high school with the required reading of Adventures in Reading (Laureate Edition) that introduced me to bits and pieces of various poets from Dickenson, Frost, Blake, Whitman and many others that took me on journeys with their words . . .

As far as writing, about a year ago I found some of my early short stories and creative writing from the fourth grade. But let me refrain, as you can see I can go on and on.

Q2: They say that an artist cannot attempt to conjure their own worlds without acknowledging some form of inspiration from another artist. Name two individuals who served as this ‘’mentor’’ to you. Why these people? Do you relate to their personal lives as well? 

A: My parents were incredible mentors. My father and I shared a love of words and would discuss their etymology and break down their meaning in both Greek and English. My mother was a very talented lady in many areas. We sang together. She would tell me stories of how she and her sisters sang together for fun and did harmony together.

She taught me scales (do, re, me…) as well as harmony from a young age. I learned many creative as well as practical things from her. After her passing, I found some journals of her poetry she had in Greek that I wasn’t aware she had written. It brought such a sense of comfort and understanding about her as well as myself.  I very much relate to both of them as their DNA runs through me.

Q3: I read that you had ‘’wonderful memories’’ with your father growing up and that his ‘’own love for words’’ led to some very interesting conversations. Can you expand on this? How does it impact your writing today? 

A: I’ve probably answered this in your previous question. But I will add that my father was very scholarly with words and a stickler for accuracy in translation or to convey the meaning of a thought.  I picked up writing again after his death six years ago in journaling. The first poem I wrote was for him and my mom who died 7 months after he did (it will never be published). Although I no longer sing, in essence, he helped me revive a different voice.  I believe I also take after him in being better in written word than actual conversation, hence my quote:

literacy elements

Through pen, I find the confidence my voice could never muster”.

Q4:‘’To be a poet is a condition, not a profession’’ is a quote said by Robert Frost. Do you agree with this? In either case, support your conclusion with at least one example. 

A: I will answer this question with another quote by Robert Frost. “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.”  Are these the “skills” of a profession or a condition of the heart? Let the reader use discernment.

Q5: Do you believe poets and novelists differ in terms of the thought process? For example, how might a poet approach the making of a storyline compared to a novelist? Would one person have an advantage over the other? 

A:I am not sure how to answer this question as I am not a novelist. My field of writing is in prescriptive poetry and meditative short stories and prose. I tip my hat off to novelists who absorb themselves in plot and character development to bring a plethora of fascinating subjects to life for the reader. But a tongue in cheek answer might be that the novelist puts the pieces of a character or storyline together. A poet picks them apart.

Q6: Do you think modern authors benefit from the rise of technology? Or does the easy accessibility to publishing sources diminish the so-called ‘’caliber’’ of the industry? 

A:. I believe technology in its various stages whether self-publishing or social media venues has given more opportunities for writers to express himself publicly. Writing is still a very finicky field. So much of it is timing and passion. I have seen many good social media writers give up over the years.

I have also seen tenacity and growth in others who have stuck to it and have gone on to publish books. As far as caliber, there have been a lot of poorly written books published way before self-publishing. I don’t believe this would be the only indicator for caliber. As far as self-publishing, it is more accessible but by no means easy. This field needs a lot of heart and perseverance. 

Are you a lover of poetry?

Then we’re here to help…

Q7: Let’s talk about your work. Her Wilde Heart is a publication of yours that features poetry, inspirational quotes (and more!) Why is this particular collection important to you? Would this same reason also relate to your audience? 

A: Her (Oscar) Wilde Heart, while obviously very personal, is a very different poetry book. The opening quote is in fact “I needed a place to hide my secrets so I became a writer.”

It is to honor the reader! The opening paragraph begins with, “Her (Oscar) Wilde Heart is for those with art…in their heart and a wry sense of humor embedded in their soul…This is a complement to all the people we are on the inside.” It is divided into three sections for our different moods: romance, thought-provoking prescriptive poetry & quotes, and tongue in cheek humor.

Each section is introduced by a very down-to-earth, flawed, yet brilliant writer Oscar Wilde in bits and pieces, bridging the gap between several generations of work that showcases how human and similar we all are. It encourages the reader to not be intimidated or shy about writing and expressing themselves through  poetry, or quote . . .

I made the layout of the book interactive by including wider margins and spacing for the reader to write should they choose to do so and to “collaborate” with me on my pieces and even blank pages should the mood strike to write their own creative expressions. It includes all my own photography for further inspiration. There is also a very comprehensive dedication section in the back for readers who have loyally supported my work through the years.

I certainly hope it’s relatable! 

Q8: ‘’Keep your imagination endless, and so you shall be’’ is an original quote of yours. Can you expand on this? How does it relate to the human experience? 

A: Sadly most of us live in less than ideal circumstances in one way or another. But, no one, not one soul, can rob us of our imagination. That is totally ours and ours alone, and with it we travel, fall in love, cry, laugh, get angry, dream, design, invent, create, and come to terms with ourselves and others.

literacy elements

Imagination allows us to be who we want to be. So many beautiful things have turned into reality because they imagined it, and I hope my book helps inspire more of that.”

Q9: I read that you used to possess a fond love for singing until a tragic event in your life scarred your vocal cords. This setback, however, would eventually end up serving as the battery that reenergized your passion for the written word. Are you comfortable expanding a bit more on this period in your life? If so, do you think other writers can relate to your story as well? 

A: It is hard to rehash old wounds despite being reminded of it daily since I still have a deep desire to sing and no longer have the ability to due to scarring.

I will share that I transferred all that passion into the creative venue of writing as well as my art and have found an incredible amount of satisfaction, contentment, and catharsis just as I had with singing. It’s important to never give up on the person you are even if things didn’t work out exactly how you thought. Stay persistent but flexible. You’ll be surprised at what you can achieve, even if life makes you go left when you wanted to go right.

”Your plans may change. Your purpose should not.”

Q10:Do you ever worry about running out of words to say? 

A: Never. . . . (laughs).

Q11: Why is poetry important to the younger generation? Do you believe poetry, through the eyes of millennials and Gen Z, is becoming a dying art?

A: Absolutely not. They are keeping it very much alive. I see every day through social media and rising poetry book sales that the younger generations are thirsting for this type of reading. While novels and stories take you on the author’s journey, poetry is interpreted through one’s personal experience.

The same poem can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different readers. I believe the millennials, as well as Gen Z, are very in tune to their freedom of expression and interpretation. This you find specifically in poetry. Her Wilde Heart is very in tune to this very concept. They are my words, but the ride is your very own.

Q12: What advice would you give to a young writer who finds it hard to bare their soul to publishers and agents? Might this same feeling relate to how so many U. S. publishers seemingly favor profitand numbers as oppose to depthand purpose

A: The writing field is such a dichotomy. You pour out your soul in honesty, pain, sensitivity, vulnerability. It’s very personal, yet at the same time you need to acquire a thick skin for all the critiquing out there, and they are out there.

. . . All I can say is that if you choose to “bare your soul” to publishers or agents, do your homework. Learn how to present the perfect query letter. Stay persistent. Prepare for rejection. Keep honing your craft. Do it all over again. The most important thing to remember is the quality of your work is not reflected by a publisher’s rejection. Some of the greatest artists kept their work private, hence inspiring my piece: “And if the Nightingale sings vacant of and admirer’s ear, or the Dawn Chorus crescendos to an audience of none, are their songs any less beautiful?”

Q13: ‘’Men die because they cannot join the beginning to the end’’ is a quote by 5th-century philosopher Alcmeon de Crotone. What do you think he is trying to convey here? How might this quote relate to a writer’s experiences in the publishing industry? 

A: This reminded me of King Solomon’s words, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

It seems we recycle thoughts and actions over and over again, through years and centuries, yet there is still a disconnect in truly learning from the past because every generation feels they are unique or need to make their own mistakes. What if we truly applied history to our future and made the needed changes? Could we? I’ll leave it at that.

Q14: Do you have a favorite poem of yours? Why this one in particular? What was going on in your life at its time of creation? 

A: Oh wow. You know, this is probably one of the hardest questions. Every poem and quote has some emotional tie that tugs at my heart, but I do have a fondness for pieces that use word play, and include intended puns because “All puns should be intended.”

Based on this, the following is probably one of my favorite play on word poems:

“I have seen a tongue both wag and lie at the same time and eyes that dart with stagnant vision. I have heard flagrant speech that uttered nothing and silence that shouted triumphant truth. I have seen hearts root for others and others root with envy. All of nothing little by little and I still waiver which to hail more advantageous.But love ah love cannot be contradicted. For love is always love, unless, it is not.”

. . . This was during a time of observing people and noticing how some will say one thing and do another.

Q15: What would audiences one thousand years from now learn from poetry of the early 21stcentury? For example, what might one think of (American) politics or culture? Have we changed at all since the 20thcentury? 

A: Based on the human experience I would venture to say that we will be repeating this all over again, if our world, society, and humanity doesn’t change as a whole (see question 13). Wouldn’t it be nice if a thousand years from now we were completely united under one perfect government and brotherhood? 

literacy elements

Q16: Does a poet have greater access to answers concerning humanity? Or do they only stumble upon more questions? 

A: This truly depends on the poet. As for myself . . .

“For every answer I find, three more questions take it’s place.” [From Her Wilde Heart Section II:Poetry Flows Through Life].

The “Why, how, when, where, what?” never ends.

Q17: Now for a fun one! Extraterrestrials have invaded Earth. The leader approaches you and insists that if the one person you choose can give them one reason to spare our planet they will leave in peace. Who would this person be? Why?

A: Oh, how great is this question? I love it. Well I am a person of faith so my first thought that comes to mind is Jesus Christ. I believe he is the Son of God, so you could say he was from outer space himself. The story is he already came down once to save us. He stated the “Golden Rule” that many try to live by today. He could simply tell those extraterrestrials,”Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.” [Matt. 7:12] 

Regardless of our beliefs he was admittedly one of the greatest poets and teachers of all time. His words are worth reading.

Was this article helpful?

Sign Up for Our Habitual Email

Get tips every week to help you develop habits that make you GLOW

You May Also Like
street fashion leigh

Self Expression & Street Fashion: An Interview with Leigh

What is self-expression? As stated by Merriam Webster it’s the ‘’expression of one’s own personality, or the assertion of one’s individual traits.’’ When it comes to street fashion this is what it’s…