Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Poetry Editor
(Column: Ward Stories)
(But Were Afraid to Ask)
Cindy Sostchen, Poetry Editor
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About 15 years ago, when I was "tired of living and scared of dying," I told my therapist that I had no reason to go on, to which he exclaimed, "but you have so much more poetry to write." A prophetic statement, to say the least!

After reading so many consumers' stories of bravery and overcoming obstacles, I fear that my personal history may seem less than miraculous. But perhaps being able to undertake this task is testament to my own emotional survival and growth since it took such a long time to learn about myself, to be in touch with my feelings, to understand that I, too, have an identity and self-worth.

So let me introduce myself....

I was born on September 5, 1957 in Brooklyn, New York. I used to believe that my childhood was normal, but in reality, it was marked by loss at a young age, which would have repercussions in later years. My beautiful young mother succumbed to multiple sclerosis when I was 5 years old. My father remarried four years later and all seemed copacetic for awhile -- I was a good student, I had friends, I had a family! When I was 19 and at the cusp of womanhood, my father, who suffered from depression, committed suicide, sparking acute fear in me that I would do the same. My father was a lawyer and had been (and remains) my idol.

My own life has been interrupted several times by severe anxiety. In my 20s and early 30s there were periods when I could not function and would consent to hospitalization on a voluntary basis. My ultimate recovery had nothing to do with medication, although I took my share of Xanax and Valium. Psychiatrists had always told me that I had a choice between being a sick person and being a well person. At some point I subconsciously made a decision to get well.

Ken asked me to list some of my likes and dislikes. You've probably guessed that poetry is my first love. My favorite poets are Walt Whitman for his candor and Sylvia Plath for her searing intensity. Music is also a passion -- from classical (Beethoven's Ninth, Ravel's Bolero) -- to good old classic rock. For me, the lyrics come first, which is why I'm a Bob Dylan fan. I also enjoy Jewel for her poetic sensibilities and love of freedom. I appreciate surrealistic art and independent films. I am a history buff and a follower of politics. I'm a fan of the Internet (and take poetry submissions by e-mail, by the way!)

Poetry doesn't reap large cash benefits so I am constrained to have a day job. I am a legal assistant and recently quit my job after eight years to begin work in a different law firm, a higher-paying, more involved position. This too bears some relevance to my emotional progress -- I don't think I could have handled this change a few years ago. But I'm learning that change does not have to be such a terrifying proposition.

I attend Brooklyn College part-time and am happy to say I am an "A" student. I have learned the importance of education and have found there is a benefit to returning to school at age 42 -- it's called life experience. My BA degree will be in English (well, what did you expect from a writer?) and I am contemplating a career in either law or education.

I was recently asked whether I've met the poets we've published. The answer is "no," not in the physical sense (aside from my brother, that is!) but from a spiritual standpoint I have met each and every one of them. When I read the submissions I receive, I get a very real sense of the person behind the poems -- how they live their life, what they are struggling with, how they cope. Interestingly, although the poems focus on a similar theme, each tale is remarkably individual. I am proud that we have showcased such a multitude of talented voices.

As for my own poetic endeavors, I keep active in the field, sending my work out to journals and working with young poets to try to help them get started. I am currently putting together a collection of my work for publication (and plan to unabashedly promote it at the appropriate time!)

There is one matter I would like to clear up as long as I'm baring all. It concerns my height. Whenever I meet people at a New York City Voices function, the first words I hear are: "I thought you'd be taller." Sorry to disappoint everyone but I stand a mere 4'11" which, by anyone's standards, is short (I prefer "petite"). True, I will never be drafted by the New York Knicks and I admit I'm smaller than the average 10-year-old. But the next time I have the pleasure of your acquaintance, I would appreciate hearing, "You're exactly the size I pictured."

My ex-boss said that everyone should be as happy as I appear to be. I am not sure I am quite as happy as he presumes. I still deal with my lifelong nemesis, anxiety. But I won't allow myself to be in the same awful place I was 15 years ago. I have chosen to go forth with a more positive outlook. I don't always stop and smell the roses, but at least I am aware they exist. I have become more flexible with others and less demanding of myself. I've learned to move on! Most importantly, I have come to understand that attaining happiness and fulfillment often takes work -- and I plan to work on it until I get it right.

A final note regarding the poetry column: Although we are backlogged through the summer, I am still reading all submissions and am trying to answer all correspondence. So send me your poems -- it is a good way for us to "meet."
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