Sue Spirit's first poetry chapbook, Sepia Days, about growing up during and after World War
II, won the Paper Doll Poetry Chapbook contest from Implosion Press.
Her poems have been published in Friends Journal, Sisters Today, SageWoman, Pudding Magazine, Images:
Women in Transistion, WomanPsalms, and Ruah.
Her essays have appeared in Contemplative Review, Living Prayer, Praying, Sisters Today, EarthLight, PACE,
SageWoman and The Charlotte Observer.
Sue is working on Backcountry Permit, a collection of essays about a woman's solitary journeys
She was awarded a residency at Norcroft, a women's writing retreat on Lake Superior in Minnesota, and a poetry residency
at Whidbey Island MFA program in writing. She has been selected for the Kenyon Review writers workshop in June 2008.
Sue has also attended Catskill Poetry Workshop, Midwest Writers Workshop, West Virginia Writers' Conference, Bear River Writers
Conference and Chautauqua Writers Festival.
For the past 24 years, Sue has guided a women's retreat center, Degrees of Freedom, in Ohio, leading writing and journaling
workshops there, and for Senior Scholars at Appalachian State University.
Sue divides her time between Degrees of Freedom and her cabin in the High Country of North Carolina.
Sue Spirit interviewed by Maggie Bishop
Elevator speech. It's the 25th anniversary of Degrees of Freedom. our women's retreat center
in Ohio, and I'm working on a cookbook/memoir tentatively titled "Mint Tea and Stillness: 25 Years of Degrees Delights," to
be released at our 25th anniversary picnic in September. It has turned out to be a seasonally-themed book because we live
close to nature, gardening, cooking vegetarian with home-grown foods, caring for the earth, meditating, and see-ing. The book
will contain short reflections, favorite recipes, poems, and line drawings.
What brought you to the Boone area?
Marcia and I wanted the chance to rewrite our lives, do a lot of hiking, experience
the mountains, listen to bluegrass, see things from a totally different perspective. We had the opportunity to build a small
log cabin in a wonderful community in a very rural area.
What was a typical day like at Norcroft, the women's writing retreat in Minnesota where you had a residency? It
was a beautiful, serene, wild place right on Lake Superior. I had a room called "Barbara Kingsolver" in a big lodge, and a
writing "shed" in the woods called "Zora Neale Hurston." It had a writing desk that went the length of the cabin. All the
rooms and sheds were named after famous women writers. We had all day long for a week just to write and listen to the waves
crash onshore. We told the directors what foods we would like to eat, and they appeared magically in the kitchen a day later.
How did it influence your writing?
I came home wanting a writing shed of my own, and lo and behold it happened
soon after. An Amish friend had a nice shed he'd gotten from a funeral home. He sold it to me, and some other Amish friends
cut windows and doors, put in insulation, and laid a floor. Of course it had a desk the length of the cabin! It is so cozy.
I love to go there to write.
How do you choose whether to write an essay or a poem? If I want to teach, inform, or put forth an idea or an argument
I write an essay. I don't just decide to sit down and write a poem about a camel or asparagus. The camel tugs at me. The asparagus
won't let go of me.
What attracts you to poetry? The economy of words: every word has to count. A poem often presents a mystical vision
of some small piece of the universe. A poet wants her reader to say, "Wow! I have to read that again and again! I wish I could
have said that. It expresses some deep feeling I have had that I couldn't quite put into words. " I love that a poet uses
concrete words and images to express a deeper truth.
Describe your writing time. I try to write one or two hours a day five days a week. It's not much, but it's amazing
what you can accomplish in one hour. I journal a lot, any time, anywhere. I especially like doing a travel journal on a trip
by writing, tearing, pasting, sketching, etc. I plan it so that my journal is finished on the last day of the trip.
Tell us about your work with Degrees of Freedom in Ohio.
Degrees of Freedom is a small retreat center, just eight
acres. We have four sleeping cabins, a main house with guest rooms, a straw bale meeting room and sacred space, a composting
toilet, picnic shelter, pond, trails, woods, meadows, and gardens (herb, fruit, vegetable). We share it as a gift to women
who need time and space to get away to a quiet place. Of particular interest to HCW members would be that we have a writing/artists'
residency called WIDIA ("What I Do Is Art") for a week each May for four to six artists/writers. It is a gift to each one.
We also have six or so workshops or short retreats each year, a winter Solstice celebration, and an Advent retreat. It is
a place where women of many different spiritualities would feel comfortable.
You've traveled a lot. Where are some of the places?
We just got back from Egypt. It was HOT! We've also gone to
Morocco, Turkey, and Costa Rica with Overseas Adventure Travel, a group of 11-14 travelers with a leader from the particular
nation. Other trips include Greece, England, France, Italy, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, the Maritime Provinces,
Alaska, and western USA.
Where would you like to revisit in yur travels? Why? None. Too many places to go, too little time. I hope my next
two trips will be to Nepal and Iceland with Overseas Adventure Travel.
What do you do with the Senior Scholars? This is a wonderful group that I am so glad to be a part of. It is a group
connected to Appalachian State University that sponsors trips, classes, programs, hikes, and workshops. I go to as many as
interest me. I also lead quite a few, on such topics as lightweight travel on a shoestring, low-fat vegetarian cooking with
herbs, poetry writing, journaling, and some aspect of trips taken. In June, for example, we are going to lead a program called
"A Gastronomic Tour of Italy."
Describe your favorite reading spot.
On my bed for breakfast, in the sunroom or on the deck for lunch, and in a
cozy chair in the evening. Anywhere and everywhere: on a boat, on a plane, on a hike.
What's next on your reading list?
"The Barefoot Sisters Southbound" by Lucy and Susan Letcher (hiking the Appalachian
Trail), "Evidence" by Mary Oliver (my favorite poet), "My Hope for Peace" by Jehan Sadat (wife of Anwar Sadat: we saw the
memorial to him in Cairo), "The Rhythm Method, Rassmatazz, and Memory: How to Make Your Poetry Swing" by Keith Flynn, and
"Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff" by Rosemary Mahoney.