Compass North, An Int'l Interview Series: Rania M.M. Watts

J: What interview can't start without an introduction?

R: Hello, my name is Rania and I am a Poet! Well, at least that is what I keep telling myself. However; my inner critic named Tabitha may strongly disagree. I’ll let you decide!

J: If I had to name my inner critic, I think Harold would suffice (i.e. Harold Bloom). There seems to be a new lexicon forming in the depths of Instagram poetry. How familiar are you with the terms “glancer/glancership”, “boo”, “she-poem/poet”, and “balling”?

R: When I first joined Instagram, I wasn't familiar with these terms at all. Now, I've a better understanding of the words and their definitions. And thanks to Poet Thom Young, whom I follow, and his satirical writing -- who uses those terms quite frequently. (Shameless plug – hey you, reading this interview: once you are done with this one check out —Thom Young's interview on the CCC blog!)

J: Shameless self-promotion! That covers that. Reading about your ethnic & cultural past is very intriguing to me, as I was born and raised an American. Do you have any memories of Beirut? If not, how did your parents ‘introduce’ these images of civil unrest to you?

R: I was two years-old when we left Beirut so my memories are quite vague—when it comes to that time. However, I can recall a story for all of you. I was about three years-old visiting a petting zoo with my family for the day, a plane flew overhead. Apparently, I was so frightened that I ran to my eldest cousin for comfort. So, there must have been some residual PTSD with regards to perhaps bombs exploding overhead that stayed with me a bit. Which is funny, because the one place I am the most comfortable is up in the air! Whether it be on a ride going up a mountain, a Ferris wheel or on a plane…high altitudes are my best friend and it is in these places I feel most free. After two diasporas, one from Haifa in the 1940's and another from Beirut in the 1970's, my parents were not really in the mood to discuss much of what happened during either war. Upon one rare occasion my mother opened up about the events she experienced firsthand during Black Saturday and how she had to contend with many road closures on her way home as well as the violence that ensued.

Being a Christian Palestinian in Lebanon did not help either.  My brother at the time was thirteen years-old and such individuals were being targeted; Palestinian boys were being taken, strangle-tied to the end of a car bumper and dragged to a painful death by being constantly scraped over the roads. One of many catalyst to my parents leaving Lebanon—not something I would wish on anyone to go through. I remember last year, when Canada took in Syrian refugees—to allow them a fresh start after the atrocities they'd been exposed to whilst they still lived there. I became very emotional when I saw the first plane land on television because I somewhat appreciated how these Syrians must have felt having to leave because of civil unrest. I felt proud to be a Canadian, being an immigrant myself.

J: Wow. I’m speechless. Seeing the contradiction between seeing the plane vs. flying in a plane is intriguing. Then the paranoia your brother had to overcome. Unbelievable. If actions like that occurred here, there would be mass panic and riots. But I digress (and to keep this off the political side, we should move on). You said you’ve been writing since 13. How has Canadian life shaped you as a person? A Writer?

R: Yes, I first started writing poetry at the age of 13 it has been my salvation—the most liberating thing about being a writer is that you can allow your mind to go anywhere regardless of how wonderful or miserable your real life is. An outlet I will always be grateful for. I did not really think about the depth of this question until a few years ago when my husband turned to me and said, “Look at the adversity you've encountered over the course of your life!” From being tossed into an English-speaking classroom only knowing how to speak French, being the only Palestinian in an elementary class, to marrying someone who is of another ethnicity, to having mixed-race children as well as coming from a war-torn country at such a young age…These experiences have shaped me into the person I am today and have shown me that when I write I should always write from a place of my truth. I hope that makes sense—it's the best way for me to explain it.

J: Makes perfect sense! Let’s talk about your social work. What experiences with patients/clients do you remember the most? Does your humanitarian work crossover into your poetry?

R: Yes, being a Social Service Worker bled into my writing. I remember whilst completing my diploma I was constantly writing poetry. Human atrocities enrage me on so many levels—being able to write about it genuinely helps in a way I would have never imagined. About six months before graduation, I no longer wanted to be there anymore; too many of my clients had died on me already and it was painful constantly losing more people I grew to care about. So, whilst this existential dilemma had occurred, a specific philosophy or ideology floated into my funnel (for those of you who remember Thomas the Tank Engine). What I sought most at that time was the definition for the phrase “the verity of humanity,”. What it really means to be human: the experiences which shape us always hold true to one universal question asked over the ages—what does it mean to be human? I think much of the experiences that hold fond memories for me are the interactions I had with my clients. During my second year of school, I was surrounded by such a supportive group of people—who one would think would be breathless at death’s door. But they all fought for their lives; something I will never forget. Not one of them thought it was going to finish them but the science back then wasn't as consistent as it is now. These days there are medications used to prolong the life of those who suffer from HIV/AIDS which is nice to see considering how grim the statistics were when HIV/AIDS first hit the main stream media.

J: To me, it seems that you are someone’s best friend; a last hope possibly. That is a very selfless and noble pursuit to follow as a career path and lifestyle. You mention that you’ve been ‘deemed a freak of nature’. Despite the negative connotation, I (and the audience) would love to hear what this translates into. What sort of artistic and/or literary theory do you value the most?

R: 'Deemed a freak of nature' is who I am and have always been. Do you know the song from Sesame Street: One Of These Things Doesn't Belong? Well I was always the odd one out; the one who went on her own to write poetry in a corner. I mean, how many thirteen-year-olds do you know who want to run away to Europe and type on an aged typewriter while composting in a field of long grass?! Normal thirteen-year-olds don’t think of things like that! Also, then as now, whilst I was young, I was always vocal about what I thought and people don’t like that. Especially if they think that you are simply a snot-nosed brat that doesn't know their head from a hole in the ground. I know, I am different and that scares many people because not everyone is going to take the opportunity to get to know someone before they are negatively judged. I subscribe to one philosophy “les goûts et les couleurs ne se discutent pas” directly translated means, “tastes and colours you do not dispute.” Just because someone likes something that you do not it is ok; acknowledge the difference, especially when it comes to art and writing as much of it is subjective and really should not be argued over. Discussed ad nauseum perhaps but; argued over? Absolutely not.

J: I see how your philosophy incorporates this thought of the ‘different’ into your work. Don’t get me wrong, I romanticize the American renaissance as much as you with the Euro’s; far too much for my liking. If you get a chance to travel southbound, Concord, Amherst, and of course Boston are huge literary hubs that I’ve visited. It solidified my interest in the transcendentalist movement of the early-mid 1800’s. So, next question. You are the editor-in-chief of Crimson Covered Critique and Cement Covered Ink Quills, blogs that promote yourself, as well as other authors and poets with critical reviews and interview spotlights. I thank you humbly for the latest interview of myself, my work, and Thirty West. Care to talk more in detail about this venture?

R: You are more than welcome! It was an absolute pleasure (for those of you reading here is another shameless plug for CCC: the week before last was interview week and Josh's interview was posted on Friday so after you read this one you can go and read his!). I no longer wanted to write for this blog or that—I wanted to focus on my own poetry. Cement Covered Ink Quills has come from that desire and now CCIQ has become my daily poetry challenge page. Currently I am focusing on all things candy-related and, no, I've not yet lost my sweet tooth. Crimson Covered Critique came from a whole other desire all together: to be able to scribe reviews and interviews, again focusing on the literary community with a heavy focus on poetry. I want to get to the heart of indie poetry to write about those poets who constantly inspire with their versification.

J: Nice metaphor, and an even bigger compliment on being at the forefront of the indie poetry scene. Also, Congratulations on being published through (KUBOA). I am duly a fan and friend of Scott Laudati, whom has two publications through them. Without spilling ‘trade secrets’, how did you like the traditional publishing route more or less over self-publishing? Care to tell me (us) what your latest title is about?

R: Thank you so much! Yes, Scott is a brilliant writer one whose work I often refer to when I look for inspiration. The main difference I would say is support. Any writer can put a book together and sell it on Amazon. Create Space has made it quite simple for anyone to do so. However, being at a place like (KUBOA) where they really support and believe in their writers is worth its weight in gold. Everything is managed through them which, in my opinion, clears the writer's mind from any minutia that goes into self-publishing in the first place. It also affords the writer a moment to freely scribe knowing their work is in good hands. My latest book published just a few weeks ago by (KUBOA) is called Cockroach Blueprint. The purpose of this book to is to use one’s emotions instead of physical violence. It basically describes 101 different ways to kill a cockroach. I know most individuals are freaked out by cockroaches but this methodology allows you to focus on killing them instead of hurting someone else or yourself. I originally meant for the book to be a journal of types where others can be free to write their own processes instead of using violence.

J: A very reserved and rational way to divert angst and rage…sign me up for a copy! Being also a self-starting press/blog/collective founder, I truly value your efforts on the preservation of the creative community. If you were to have a mission statement, what would that be?

R: Right now, I have two missions. The first is to write every poem as though it is my last and the second is to help as many indie artists that I can as much with positive reviews of their work. Our world focuses so much on the negative which is why when I select poetry for my blog to review I am indeed quite picky with what I read. I would like to think CCC is a cleanly curated blog with information that appeals to readers, writers and artists alike.

J: Every collective/press has their own subjective preference in vetting authors to find their best fit. I know that feeling, with the broadside and hint fiction completions of2016 and this new chapbook contest (yes, I said it! Guidelines @ www.thirtywest.submittable.com ). Last one. Are you currently open for submissions for blog interviews/critiques? Do you have guidelines and standards?

R: Yes please, work can be submitted via the contact form on the blog or by emailing me directly at crimsoncoveredcritique@gmail.com. Poets can send three pieces at a time with a short bio, social media links and any publishing credits that they wish to include. I look forward to reading what serendipity has in store for me.

J: Excellent! Thank you again for our very short, yet blooming relationship in the creative realms. I wish you the best in your ventures!