Marilyn Braendeholm (aka “Miskmask,” or “Misk”) is yet another poet of extraordinary talent Walt and I chanced upon at the Writer’s Digest Poetic Asides with Robert Lee Brewer. As you will discover, she is talented in several pursuits, and an all-around classy individual.
Misk, normally I thank our guest at the end of the interview. So as not to take away from your final statement, I will thank you in advance. This interaction with you has been an absolute joy. Walt and I feel blessed to count you among our regular contributors. Our sincere thanks to you for opening your heart to us.
Now, as is my custom, I asked our guest to share her poem-of-choice, and why she selected it. Marilyn’s poem and the story behind it will give you a glimpse into this poet’s heart, and immediately endear her to you.
MISK: This is my favourite poem. Tom is a reflection of my autistic cousin, who’s name isn’t Tom and she’s a woman a few years older than me. She’s happy, loving, and almost entirely nonverbal. I am quite certain that she lives in a special world of her own, one quite different than mine, but that doesn’t mean that mine is better than hers. All of my poems/stories about Tom’s Beach are dedicated to her.
TOM’S BEACH, Scène Fourteen: A View Inside Out
Tom’s mother knew the doctors wrong,
of this she had few doubts. Her
love for Tom was strong and sure.
He wasn’t broken, as they said.
He wasn’t fragile, as she feared.
He was her Tom, and every word
spoken she knew he heard.
Her Tom was a universe
on to himself.
He’s awoken by clattering
again. They’re spinning,
those two busy toys of his.
… And today is his birthday …
He calls one of the toys mum,
it looks like the letter B
set firmly upon skinny sticks.
The other one’s called Da, it’s
much bigger, fussing and fretting,
and Tom’s fixated, listening
to its deep screechy, thumpy sounds.
Noise noise, his head echoes
with mum and Da, and it
shakes him out of bed.
… Cake and ice cream for breakfast …
Tom stands detached, observing
shimmering shadows along
the edge of his hand. He often
brings his mum and Da toys stride
up short. He sees what he wants
to see, not more. He’s the spark
in his own universe. Tom is
that sparkling speck of dust
in the sunlight, and he dances
with moon beams on the wall
when the house is asleep.
… and lit birthday candles. He doesn’t like those …
Tom twirls through words that curl like
the waves in his hair. He closes
his eyes, mesmerised by sparkling
colours and numbers splashing like rain.
And he counts 1-2-3. Tom counts
colours. Number sums are for counters,
and he’s not a counter. He’s a boy,
and he spins like a planet
as his throat strums the sound
of his name: Tom-Tom-Tom
His name is the beat of a drum.
… He’d wished for a bucket of stones …
And his lungs bellow out the sound
of a trombone, as he hums
a staccato happy birthday song.
Tom casts his glance at the toy
he calls mum, and then he dashes
off arms linked with bright humming
colours and small running numbers,
a periwinkle and a whelk,
all of them chasing after waves
that kiss and hug the edge
of his beach – It’s Tom’s Beach.
… Adorned with smiley face stickers …
MARIE ELENA: Often, I begin interviews with a question about the name of the poet’s blog. The name of your blog is a moniker you have adopted: Miskmask. Now there MUST be a story behind this name, Misk. What’s the scoop?
MISK: About a year after my father died, I mentally slipped off the rails (so to speak). I can’t say if a specific thought or incident set it off, but I had a series of severe panic attacks that convinced me that I was losing my mind. I spiralled into a depression, and it took me about a year to find my footing again. I’d never experienced anything like it, and I hope not to ever again. It’s like feeling icy cold, and nothing can warm you up. I had a mental melt-down, a little wobble as I call it now. The word miskmask is Danish, and it means mixed-up into small bits and pieces, confusion, disjointed. Miskmask seemed a better nickname than Melt-Down. I didn’t want people thinking Chernobyl when they read one of my poems.
MARIE ELENA: I started calling you “Misk” shortly after we began interacting at Poetic Asides. An endearing nickname, I thought. Now that I know the root, it endears you to me all the more. What an amazing attitude you have. You brought strong emotions to the surface with your response.
And speaking of strong emotions surfacing, one of my favorite poems of yours catches in my throat as I read it:
LESSONS EARLY ON
She loved every first day
of school. New pencils
in a new pencil box.
A new dress with matching
coloured socks. On the first
day of school she felt
special, as good as all
the rest but she knew come
all the other days that she’d
disappoint — because
she was a very average girl
with a very average brain
with an entirely too fragile heart
MARIE ELENA: This is so touching, and perfectly written. Does this describe a young Marilyn Braendeholm?
MISK: I forgot about that one. Crumbs. It is good, isn’t it. A young Marilyn? No, that’s me inside out and forever and ever. I’m not well practiced in self-belief or confidence. When I discover that I can do something fairly well, I’m always knocked off my feet. There’s always that little voice whispering in the background suggesting that it’s a one-off, I just got lucky. I discovered recently that I’m bloomin’ good at baking bread, and every time I bake a perfectly risen and shaped loaf of sourdough I just blink and pinch myself.
MARIE ELENA: Glad you “raised” that topic. We’ll “knead” to get to that in a bit. But first …
Do you remember when you became interested in writing poetry? Was there a particular poet or style that first grabbed your attention?
MISK: I saw one of Robert’s Twitter links about the NovPAD challenge a year ago. I followed the link, just watching for a few days before jumping in and possibly being boo’ed off the premises. I was gobsmacked at the response. People who I thought were simply brilliant actually liked what I wrote, and I suddenly felt a real empathy for Sally Fields’s Academy Award reaction. Every time a fellow poet posted a comment to something I wrote, I just felt like I could do anything and succeed at it. I can’t tell you how important positive comments are to a poet, whether they’re new to the craft or not.
As for particular poets, I am a huge fan of De’s (De Jackson, @ http://whimsygizmo.wordpress.com/ ). I quietly sit in the background at her blog and marvel at her talent. I’m also a huge fan of Dr. Seuss. Okay, maybe not proper poetry but it’s fun and delightful and delicious. His books were the first that I read as a child. Now I read “Green Eggs and Ham” to my granddaughter using Skype. She knows it word-for-word, and we can get very animated with its telling. Anything that inspires so many generations to read through rhyme has a big thumbs up from me.
Regarding style and forms, I’m a vacuous space on that subject. I have dyscalculia with a bit of dyslexia, so understanding the numerical relevance of poetic forms is a flippin’ nightmare for me. Anything that exceeds the number of fingers on each hand results in a huge shrug, and then I’m off to try a different form. Mostly free-form; I like those. No numbers. I mean I have Stephen Fry’s “The Ode Less Travelled, Unlocking the Poet Within” and the Appendix is about Arnaut’s Algorithm, spiral stanzas, circular arrows and letters floating about on circles and words that I’ve never seen before opening his book. I adore Stephen Fry but I think I need a Dummy’s book.
Did I answer the question? I seem to be waffling on a bit.
MARIE ELENA: You answered perfectly. And anyone whose favorites are De Jackson and Dr. Seuss is a woman after my own heart.
I have to admit I had to look up dyscalculia. I’ve never heard of the term, but it might explain my sestina neurosis. I’ll leave that one to Master Walter Wojtanik.
Like many of us here at Poetic Bloomings, you often publicly respond to the prompts of Robert Lee Brewer at his Writers Digest Poetic Asides site. Is this where you first began to put your poetic voice out there?
MISK: Yes. Poetic Bloomings and Poetic Asides are my poetic homes.
MARIE ELENA: You have several active blogs, including your poetry blog (Miskmask’s Alphabet Soup de Jour). What drew you into the world of blogging?
MISK: Gosh. I don’t know. It was there so I did it. If I didn’t, I’d have to think of something else to do. Is this interview going as you’d hoped?
MARIE ELENA: You’re so cute! Rest assured, it’s ABSOLUTELY going as I’d hoped.
Obviously, Alphabet Soup de Jour is stuffed full of delectable verse and prose. However, it is not the only enticing blog out there. You also have a cooking site (Misk Cooks), at which you cover everything from “How to Boil an Egg,” to that fragrant sourdough you mention above, to “Creamy Pork Chops with Braised Apples.” Yummmmm! The photos alone are magnificent and make my mouth water. Do you take all your own photos? Please share with us the story behind your interest in cooking, and your decision to start a cooking blog.
MISK: Ah. Cooking is where I found my confidence. If I was 20 instead of 60, I’d train as a chef. My mother was the head baker at my high school, but at home she couldn’t cook her way out of a flour bag. She could only prepare food for 5,000 people at a time rather than 4. One year she was asked by family to bring homemade cinnamon rolls as her contribution to the Christmas meal. She baked 100 of them because she couldn’t reduce the recipe down far enough to feed 8 people. She didn’t teach me to cook because she always said that the kitchen was her territory, so I taught myself. I made sure that both of my boys could cook before they left home. Good thing, too. They’ve both partnered-up with women whose interests rest elsewhere.
I started Misk Cooks for my daughter-in-law who thought an egg required 30-minutes bouncing in a pan of boiling water before it was hard-boiled. I decided to put a few family favourite recipes in blog form for her reference, and it just grew from there. Then I was coaxed by a few Twitter friends into creating sourdough starters for bread, and lately I’ve had the kitchen fizzing with fermenting apples that turn from (hard) cider into apple cider vinegar. I have 4 litres of it now, and it’s surprisingly delicious.
Photos? I take my own. Another recent hobby. I have a little cheapo Panasonic digital camera that slips into my pocket without making too large a bulge against my hip.
MARIE ELENA: A multi-talented lady! Yet another blog focuses on gardening (Garden Diary) . This blog is every bit as professional and gorgeous as your food blog. Do you think of blogging as a fun hobby, or serious business? What are your future blogging plans?
MISK: Gosh, I’m beginning to feel like a slacker without ambition. I do it for fun, and if it inspires someone else to perfect a skill that meets one of our most basic human needs, growing things and eating, then hooray! Future? I just bought the domain name for miskcooks. Hah! I guess that makes it officially mine, as long as I pay the annual fee. You can now find me and my apron at http://miskcooks.com
MARIE ELENA: Personally, I do not consider one who works hard to perfect and freely share talent a slacker. But how about a book? Have you considered publishing a book … perhaps a gardening book or cookbook?
MISK: Until you mentioned it just now, I’d not considered a cookery book. Hmm! I wonder …
MARIE ELENA: On a more personal side, I have commented on your adorable little granddaughter on facebook. I believe you have more than one grandchild, and that these were unexpected joys in your life. Just as Walt offered me the opportunity to be the bragging Nonna, I would love to hear your heartwarming story, if you would.
MISK: To make a very long story short, I went through several operations followed by IVF followed by multiple miscarriages before I realized that perhaps I’d never be a mother. Then we decided to adopt a baby from Korea. A month later the Korean orphanage offered us two brothers, ages 5 and 11. I just knew this was right. I felt it in my bones, and so we suddenly were a family of four. My eldest son moved to America after finishing high school in the UK, and went to the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. He’s now married and has two children – Emma (nearly 4) and Ethan (2). They are my pride and joy, and whenever I see them I have to fight back tears of happiness because I know they’d not understand at their tender age what they both mean to me. They are a huge source of my happiness. My other son still lives in the UK. He teaches at an elementary school in town but lives in Brighton. We are very close, he is a delight and has a very kind heart. My two boys are without doubt a blessing, and they changed my life for the better in every way possible.
Emma and Ethan
MARIE ELENA: Such cuties, and a heartwarming story. Which brings me to another book idea, Misk: your life story.
Now, as has become my custom, I would like to end with this: If we could know only one thing about you, what would you want it to be?
MISK: I think this is probably one of the most difficult questions I’ve ever been asked. I don’t really know. Actually, perhaps I do: As I enter another decade of my life, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.