Friday, February 3, 2017

CHRISTAL ANN RICE COOPER

Christal Ann Rice Cooper was born in 1969 in Wichita, Kansas and reared in Texas, Germany, and Georgia, where she moved in 1980.  She received her Criminal Justice Degree from Georgia State College in 1994 while working as a bank teller.  In January 1996 she married her military husband Wayne and the couple moved to Kansas, then Oklahoma, Illinois, Florida, and Alabama.  During these migrant years she worked on her Creative Writing Degree, focussing on poetry at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville.  Christal, her husband Wayne, sons Nick, 15 , Caleb, 11, and cats, Nation and Alaska, now reside in the St. Louis area.  

You blog about many subjects that range from poetry to humanitarian issues to literature. And you have played a generous role featuring the words and works of many poets and writers. What motivated you to start a blog? Has its focus changed?

In August 2011, I learned my publisher of the Asian American Times had died in a car crash in Los Angeles. My publisher Shwuing Fu was a wonderful publisher/ editor/ boss. I was Features Editor for the paper for seven years and she gave me creative control, so I could feature individuals of all colors and backgrounds.

The new publisher had a different philosophy for the paper and wanted me to only feature Asians in the art field and also wanted my features to be shorter. As a result, my stories ran in installments, all of which was stifling to me.

About a year later, I was still struggling to write the way the new publisher wanted when my husband was assigned to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery. We moved in July 2012.  It was a terrible experience for us –I felt isolated and experienced culture shock. I found one part of the community to be close-minded, another, judgmental and, on the whole, racist. More importantly, I was extremely isolated from one-on-one friendships and found myself lonely and artistically starving.

During this time, my psychiatrist was trying to find the right recipe of medications, which I was fully willing to try, although I endured numerous side effects, which only made my depression worse. I was also walking hours a day and participating in cognitive therapy with a kind and patient therapist.

Still, it was a very mentally despairing time, especially around January 2013 when I had my last installment published in the paper and realized that I was a writer with no medium, no place for which to write. This was a shock because for I’d been writing for newspapers or news magazines for almost 20 years.  

Finally, out of pure desperation, I decided to start my own blog – to post features. I went to the local bookstore and purchased Blogging For Dummies and in April 2013 launched my blog. 

My original intention was to include stories of individuals from all backgrounds, places, cultures, religions, and races. I wanted to blog in a photo-journalistic style, so each paragraph would match an image that would help flesh it out. The image could be a photograph, painting, or representation of other artworks. I thought it would be interesting to use all artistic aspects to support the feature, which would allow the reader a full experience, using all senses.

As I began the inquiring process, the people that were the most open and gracious to me were other poets. I soon found that the majority of my blog posts actually focused on poets. The Facebook community was also extremely supportive.  People I didn’t know would answer my calls for help on how to improve the blog, what I was doing wrong, and so forth. I couldn’t have done it without my Facebook friends.

The blog and my expectations of it have not necessarily changed, but they have expanded. I would like to include all voices – especially voices that do not agree with my own. The only exception would be voices that promote violence and racism such as the KKK and Nazis. 

Then I received a few Facebook requests from artists who wanted to know more about me and my own voice. So I wrote a post on my personal experience of 9/11; then one on how Whitney Houston’s death affected me; then one on my personal experience of having mental illness.  

Another blog component was adding excerpts from poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Again the community of Facebook, publishers, and writers helped me in this. 

I also started sharing my voice through poetry, posting my own poems, mostly persona poems on real-life individuals.

What is most important to me about my blog is that it's not about me, it’s about the person I am focusing on or featuring. I like to remember that scene from  The Help where Ms. Abilene asks Ms. Skeeter what would happen if she didn’t like what she said about white people and Ms. Skeeter responded, “This isn’t about me.  It doesn’t matter what I think.”

Your poem, “Words Become Flesh,“ about poet Miklos Radnoti, a Hungarian Jew who was shot and killed during the Holocaust, essentially for the act of writing, and other blog posts on resistance and the Holocaust, for example, demonstrate your avid interest in justice and the role of the arts as a tool for protest. What role do you see for yourself as a poet and writer in these critical times?

There are numerous aspects of my life as a poet that I want to express and that reflect who I am:

First, I want to champion the rights of victims of violence, poverty, and political oppression and never let their memory fade. I like to do this through the persona poem or what I call a “monologue” poem or biographical poem about the person.  

Sometimes, when we see a person, we only see a victim – and I want to write poetry that shows this person was so much more than a victim.  An example is this: I’m working on a feature and poem on Kitty Genovese, a young woman who was murdered outside her Kew Gardens apartment in New York and who sparked a debate about the apathy surrounding circumstances of her death in 1964. But my focus is who she was during the 29 years she lived, instead of the last 30 minutes of her life.

Secondly, I want to be able to indulge a fantasy in order to combat a certain reality or situation I wish were different – this usually deals with victims of violence. I have a tendency to dwell on the last minutes of a victim’s life and this can send me into a bout of depression. So I like to “create” a new “idea” of this person’s last moments on earth – where he or she finds some sort of victory, spiritual catharsis, despite what the perpetrator is doing to him or her. This may also apply to literary figures, and I like to call these works “beautiful conquering poems.”    

I’d also like to be known as a historical poet who strives to bring actual occurrences from the past to life in a poetic form. These poems have a wide range and usually focus on notable events such as The Dust Bowl, the Civil War, the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.

Much of my poetry deals with mental illness, which will always hit close to home for me. I have been diagnosed as bi-polar, with OCD, anxiety, and mild PTSD, and I take five different medications a day for my mental state and I am proud of it. I like to think when writing a poem about my own mental illness that I am releasing someone else who suffers from mental illness from the chains of ignorance and prejudice. Mental illness is very real and affects many people and no one should be ashamed of having it. 

Last but not least, I’d like to be viewed as a poet who writes poems about the Trinity of God (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost).  In these poems I want to make the Holy Trinity more authentic and accessible than the far religious right does. The far religious right often focuses on the rules and regulations God has set forth, whereas I want to focus on the PERSON of the Trinity, which has, I think, has led me to the best love poems I’ve ever written.  

A lot of my poems tend to contradict the way some far right individuals, and even far left individuals, interpret scriptures and the way they treat human beings, especially those who are different from them. I find the best lessons the Holy Trinity teaches us are not about right or wrong but about how to love instead of hate. I hope readers also find lessons of love in my poetry.

As a writer, I would like to be the person that gives everyone a voice.  Recently, I recognized I was so busy listening to victims' voices that I didn’t hear the voices of those who have been falsely accused and the imprisoned. I’m sure as I mature and grow, I will recognize more changes that need to be made.

One of your posts featured poets on the subject of 9/11 and spirituality. What is the connection for you between trauma, art and spirituality? How do they inform one another?

I was not a happy child – at least from what I can remember--and I don’t remember much. Out of respect for those I love, I don’t want to go into great detail, but I always remember hating myself, completely and deeply. I lived in fantasy worlds, pretending, and denying my reality in order to make it from day to day. There were things I experienced and witnessed that I pour into my writing and art.    

As a little girl, my father was Kojak, Roger Staubach, Clint Eastwood, and John Wayne.  I had an older sister named Farrah Fawcett, and I had a fixation on the sitcom Good Times, where James was my father, Florida my mother, and JJ my brother. I had all kinds of conversations with these imaginary fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers. I remember walking up and down the railroad tracks conversing out loud with them.  

I’ve had counselors tell me that it took great courage and creativity for that little girl in me to develop these behaviors in order to survive and maintain sanity. As a child, these behaviors were creative ways of escape, but in adulthood, they became inhibitors. 

I had to change--all but my fascination with the figure of Jesus, who was always in my mind.  I remember wanting to be a nun because I thought if I was a nun the chances of Him choosing me as His bride would greatly increase. That all changed when I learned from my mother that the bride of Christ was not a princess who would be Jesus’s wife, but the Church itself.  I didn’t want to be a nun anymore, but I always found relief by talking to Jesus, telling Him about my day. This was not always complicated. Sometimes I just described a movie I had seen, or a flower that I had smelled, speaking to Him as one would an internal friend. I was prone to nightmares and to sleepwalking, even with my Fred Flintstone nightlight, but what really helped me fall asleep was imagining Jesus standing at the foot of my bed, watching me with smiling eyes. 

I keep that same image in mind when dealing with my trauma. And I view my art and my poetry as a way of communicating with Jesus. 


Most of my artwork consists of women's and little girls' faces, and I guess a part of me is in those faces. When I see a victim, I see myself; when I hear them speak, I hear my own voice. I feel like I am helping myself while at the same time communicating with the Holy Trinity that goes far beyond any words I could muster or utter.

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Chris maintains a blog at www.chrisricecooper.blogspot.com and can be reached via email at caccoop@aol.com, or via Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/christalann.ricecooper



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