Pam Smith is a Middletown resident and author of “Beloving: A Poetic Journey to Inspire Your Life,” a novel full of poems about her life.
She recently answered some questions via email about the what inspired the book, her writing process and more.
What inspired “Beloving?”
Smith: In May 1994, we left our beloved farm with our two sons who were three and seven years old to live in Lusaka, Zambia for two years. We fell in love with Africa and stayed for seventeen years. Everything, all day, every day was more different than anything we’d ever experienced. There was so much to understand, to learn, to see, to appreciate and to love. When we moved to Lusaka, I wrote letters to my dad and mailed them home each month. He made copies and sent them to my aunts, uncles and cousins. They loved reading about our adventures and begged for more. It forced me to write. The poems flowered from the letters. In 1999, we moved to Zimbabwe which was going through biblically tough and wrenching times, economic collapse and social turmoil. Writing poetry became a way to express the stories, sacredness, beauty, challenges, majesty and heroism of everyday stories – and the feelings they evoked in me.
What prompted the initial move to Zambia?
Smith: My husband, David was offered a leadership role in a USAID project in Lusaka to help the new democratically elected government transform the economy from government-owned companies to private sector enterprises. All companies in Zambia had been seized in the early 1960s by a new revolutionary communist government when they kicked out their British colonizers. We decided it would be a life changing adventure for all of us. Of course, most of my family and friends thought we were crazy. We live by the motto: “you only go around once in life, so give it all the gusto you’ve got.”
When did you start writing poetry?
Smith: I started writing poetry 40 years ago. ‘A Little Girl’ was one of the first poems I wrote. I was born cross eyed and pigeon toed. I had to wear a patch on one eye to strengthen the lazy eye.
Kids called me ‘the pirate.’ I sat in corners alone on the playground and sobbed. When I married my husband 36 years ago, we wrote love poems to each other and have kept doing this ever since. I have stacks of cards and poems. Some are in ‘Beloving,’ including a poem he wrote on yellow lined paper on page 224. At an airport store on one of our 30-hour plane trips from the US to Lusaka, I bought a book called ‘Poem Crazy’ by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. It overflowed with ideas and prompts for writing poetry.
What was it about poetry that spoke to you?
Smith: Poetry can express a feeling, a vibration in a concise, direct, profound way. It can freeze-frame a moment in time. Poetry is the music, the lyrics and the song of human experience and a way to understand our deeper humanity. Poetry allows us to write about what we love, a month in our life, a season, where we come from, joy, grief, pain, loss and grace. We can witness and wail and howl and bless in poems. We can wake ourselves and others up. The Bible is one of the best poetry books written. Ephesians 1:18 says: ‘May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened.’ Isaiah 60:5 ‘Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow.’ This is a time when we must open the eyes of our hearts and overflow with love.
When you lived abroad, how often were you dedicated to writing poetry?
Smith: I tried to take time to write each week — either poems or letters to my Dad. I jotted down notes in journals and then created poems from the ideas. ‘African Woman’ on page 27 was written about a woman who sold baskets on the side of the road. She’s elegant. She glows. She could be a model. ‘African Woman’ on page 29 was written about a woman who sat all day breaking up boulders and hammering them into small stones for builders. In the hot African sun, she always managed to smile and share a happy heart. Imagine! There’s a story in every person and behind every poem. I wrote ‘You Survived – to Patrick’ when my son was at UNC. He wanted to major in computer science and took a 4-credit course during his Sophomore year. He was failing because of a lousy professor. The poem flowed out … his whole life with dozens of things he survived. Thankfully, he aced the test and ended up with a C. I’m always amazed that people love this poem.
What was your overall inspiration for your writings?
Smith: I included the poem called ‘My Breast’ because so many women are faced with the fear of lumps. I wanted to give people hope that we can survive. We’re faced with challenges every day. How do they change our lives? How do we face them? How can we be transformed by them?
My husband’s favorite mantra is: ‘every moment overflows with infinite possibility.’ When I walk outside, everything I see is a poem. Right now, today, there’s a Canadian goose couple nesting on our pond. I write poems about the geese, about honeybees, the trees, flowers and butterflies.
How often are you writing?
Smith: I write every day. I also write with other writers on Zoom groups 2 to 3 times a week for several hours. We read to each other. I edit and edit and edit and turn these vignettes to ponderings and poems.
It took you 10 years before you decided to type up the poems from your journals. Was there something specific that spurred you on?
Smith: That’s a great question. A sudden spark happened. Perhaps, I felt like I no longer have all the time in the world. I realized the relentless tick-tock-ing of the clock of life. I wanted to create a book for future generations. I thought: ‘if I don’t do it now, I may never do it.’ My dad taught me to never procrastinate. I’m a big procrastinator. I’ll vacuum before I write. How insane. I had to block out everything else. I started inserting all the poems into one long Microsoft word document. I gathered poems from four different hard drives which I carried back from Africa. I had to force myself to sit every day and edit and organize the flow. I spent months editing and re-editing. Finally, I decided, it’s time to birth this baby. I uploaded into the arms of Amazon.
How many poems did you write compared to how many made the book?
Smith: I’ve written about 300 poems and I keep writing more each day. They’re aging in 30 spiral notebook journals which I carried back in my suitcase when I moved from Zimbabwe. They’re sitting in a plastic container in the closet. The next project is to start typing my notes and finish another book.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading your work?
Smith: My wish is that readers are inspired, liberated, motivated to write their own stories and lifelong flashes of insight mounting up within. That they embrace their own epiphanies. That they discover and treasure ideas in their own verse and voice. There’s a Love Meditation on Page 256. Each morning and evening, reading this meditation can open the eyes of our hearts, to send love to the universe, to the healthcare workers, doctors, paramedics and first responders, our families … to fill them with love. Celebrate each precious moment and share quantum love as a grace-note for all.
Do you have any book signings coming up?
Smith: I’m scheduled for workshops at the Middletown Library about “How to Publish Your Book” and “How to Write with Prompts.” We hope to offer them virtually. Watch the calendar section on the FCPL website. I was also scheduled for a workshop at the Maryland Writers Association Annual Conference which was sadly cancelled. I’d love to sign at bookstores too.
Are you working on any other projects?
Smith: Books write themselves in my head all day every day. I keep a list of book titles and I create covers with images and my photographs. I have outlines of 10 books swirling. How will I find the time? I’m working on a book about Philosophies I’ve learned in life. Another book with meditations. Perhaps a book of Love Letters. A book about ‘How to Publish Your Book.’ I have a book brewing with the letters I wrote to my Dad about life in Africa. Another book about how to apply to college—I started this book when my boys were applying to colleges 14 years ago. I coached students in Zimbabwe with their college applications and still have their amazing essays.
Anything else you would like to add?
Smith:This book overflows with treasures for the whole family. There are over 70 photographs from life in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Vietnam and our farm in Maryland. It includes poems and stories which our boys wrote in Zambia. There’s a story about rugby called Winners and Losers. On page 47, there’s a poem filled with affirmations to read with your children. On page 253, there’s a prayer for children. On page 254, there’s a prayer to St. Teresa. If you lose something, say this prayer and you’ll find it.
One of my favorite poems is: ‘An Empty Canvas’ on page 31. It was inspired by a Carthusian monk who I met in Italy. He lived alone in a cloister for 30 years. I searched for a photo to include with the poem and decided to insert the image of a painting by a man in Zambia. His paintings were undiscovered masterpieces of African life through African eyes and heart. We purchased them to help him and his family eat. He painted with gallons of house paints — blue, red and yellow and mixed them into a full spectrum of colors.
In one painting, he illuminates four barefoot African women who are cooking their dinner in a pot over a radiant small fire. You can hear their singing as they cook, smell the smoke, feel their collective joy in this simple daily act of existence and selfless grace. It feels as if we are with them captivated in this moment. This could be you or any of us. We each start with an unmarked white canvas. We each hold the paintbrush. Be aware of the picture you choose to paint. We are all poets and writers. Write what you feel, what you see, what you love, what you care about. Write for the trees, for Mother Earth. Write from your heart, from your soul, from the spirit of your own radiance. Start today. Write three or four lines. Write to heal, transform, enlighten, uplift, illuminate the planet.