David Herrle SubtleTea Interview - Lisa Zaran 



 David Herrle SubtleTea Interview with Lisa Zaran


D: One of your books, the sometimes girl, is currently being used for a translation course in a German school.  (The title in German is das manchmal mädchen.)  Please tell us about this impressive gig, how it happened and what it involves.


L: About a year ago I had a collection of letters published at A Little Poetry.  The collection is called Dear Bob Dylan and they are the product of my unabashed adoration for the man and his music.  Finding no outlet for my feelings about his music, without going so far as to disguise emotions in poetry, I decided to begin a one-sided correspondence with him, which I posted in an online journal.  I made the letters available to the public but I disabled any links for people to contact me.  The editor of A Little Poetry discovered them and convinced me that I should publish them.


Once published, the collection was discovered by somebody unknown to me, who in turn, forwarded the link to, the number one Dylan site worldwide.  Expecting Rain's creator, Karl, added the link to his front page in the daily news and through that link, I probably heard from a few hundred people.


One person, in particular, stood out.  A teacher, and fellow Dylan enthusiast living in Germany.  We began an intermittent correspondence.  After many months she broached the idea of teaching a translation course using my poetry.  I readily agreed, but she would have to go through her supervisors and school board for approval before anything would happen.


Once the permission was granted and the course was set up, it was open for students to enroll.  The class began this month.  It is held every Wednesday from 7:45 a.m. until 9:20.  There are 23 students ranging in grades 8th through 10th.


They are attempting to translate the sometimes girl, my first collection, which still remains my biggest seller, to German.  The students plan on incorporating their own artwork and photographs to the collection.  They are free to contact me to ask questions, which some have and a few have sent me photo's.  The entire process has been thrilling.


the sometimes girl has always appealed to young people.  I wrote it when I was quite young myself, early twenties, but did not have it published until 2004.  I think because the poems are so short, many not more than two or three lines, almost vignettes, and speak openly and often times bluntly about how life feels "sometimes". 


Some of the best compliments I get about that book are when a person writes to tell me they bought it but can hardly get a chance to read it because their teenage daughter or son keeps taking it.



D:  Your favorite book(s) and film(s)?


L: The book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa.  I bought it two years ago and to this day carry it with me everywhere I go.  It's melancholy at its finest.  I've grown very attached to Pessoa. 


The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  I've read it twice, cried both times.  An insatiable tragedy.  In many ways I feel related to Werther.  His dedication to his feelings, which are so dignified, and yet he suffers most because of them.


Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea.  I own a first edition I paid fifty cents for at a used book sale.  It's a prized possession.



I really liked Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf. 


I just finished One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Marquez and have already purchased a second book by him.


Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaatje, which is about one of jazz's legendary pioneers, Buddy Bolden.  A really brave and beautiful book.  In fact, David, you being such a jazz guy, if you haven't read this, you should.


I've read every single book by Anne Tyler.  I think she is an amazing storyteller.  She knows her characters very well.  I have never been disappointed by one of her stories.  Every single one sucks me in and gives me hope.


Films are tougher for me because I don't watch a lot of them.  I'm not one of those girls that hits the theater whenever a new release comes out.  Besides, my thoughts change on what I think might be good and what I think would not.  I like anything Woody Allen has done. 


The Apostle starring Robert Duvall is probably an all time favorite.  I love Amadeus with Tom Hulce.  My daughter and I just saw North Country on HBO and cried.  So, I think if a movie can evoke teardrops, it's pretty good.


I'm a fan of Independent Films and many of my favorites are those.  Thumbsucker was fantastic.  So was Clay Pigeons, Punch Drunk Love, Fargo was amazing!  I liked The Virgin Suicides.  Almost anything with Sean Penn; Dead Man Walking, She's So Lovely, and U Turn.  I think his wife is a beautiful woman and great actress too.


Really enjoyed the sad and bold documentary, Bukowski:  Born Into This.


Of course, No Direction Home, the Dylan documentary by Martin Scorsese.   I must have seen Don't Look Back about thirty times. 



D: Though I dig classic blues, from Leadbelly to Big Joe Williams, I prefer jazz, especially digging later Coltrane (the  Meditations/Sun Ship days).  Jazz is a synthetic and transcendent treasure wrought from a predominantly blues base: an artistic salvation for all races and nations.  Blues the prophet, jazz the messiah,  I say.  Blues also represents, for me, despair expression inherent in the chancy and painful is-ness of physical existence: delightful because blues (descendent of slavery, sorrow, and Stoicism) music is art, which is hopeful in its creativity though stuck in the old doldrums.  The classic tap/stomp metes (heart- and clocklike) unstoppable fate, the march toward age and doom and entopy.  Jazz, however, is liberated from the limited heart muscle and the clock; it has conquered necessity and lament.  Jazz can break the plodding beat into sprinkling glass and explode into  supranature.


You've an outspoken love for blues.  Tell us about this love.  Ramble as much as you wish.  Do you also dig jazz?


L: The Blues is the soul of music.  Following the Civil war and originating in the fields where slaves were made to work and earn the white man money, they were not supposed to have an opinion or a voice.  Many Blues songs, minstrel-type songs, folk songs and spirituals erupted as a means for these men and women to express what was in their heart and what was essentially, their essence, their soul. 


It is impossible for me to listen to some of my favorites and not feel them.  Howlin' Wolf, Mississippi John Hurt, Jimmy Reed, even some of the real archaic Blues, the hard-times Blues of an unfortunate soul.  Man and his guitar, where he would sing a line and his guitar would respond.  Blues is full of hardship, the struggles and strife of some of the worlds most unfortunate souls.


A recent favorite is R.L. Burnside.  I listened to him for two hours straight driving through this maddening traffic here in metropolitan Phoenix. 


Two of my favorite Dylan albums are his 1992 Good As I Been To You and 1993 World Gone Wrong.  Blood in My Eyes is a particular favorite.  I once made a collage art piece based off that song.


I dig Jazz, but, I'm not going to pretend to know a lot about it.  I have a small collection of jazz, Coltrane, Charley Parker, Miles Davis and the Dave Brubeck Quartet.


When I first started submitting poetry, one of my earliest poems was a piece I'd written to Coltrane.  It started:  Johnny when we kiss....


I like your philosophy, Blues the prophet, jazz the messiah. I may have to steal that.



D: According to your online journal (I hate the word "blog"), you cut meat from your diet and cursing from your speech.  Why these disciplines?  And have you been successful with either or both of these since the vows?


L: I hate the word "blog" too.  Reminds me of one of those annoying news feeds.


Mine is definitely an online journal.  I post poetry but I also elaborate on my personal life.  I make-believe at other talents too, like photography, which I know very little about and music, which I know even less about, but that doesn't stop me from posting a self-made mp3 now and then.


I haven't eaten red meat in about ten years.  I gave up all the rest about three months ago.  Yes, and I've been successful.  Without going into any descriptive details, meat doesn't agree with me.  I didn't stop eating it because of any religious belief or ideology.  I don't have any persuasive attitude toward anybody who eats it.  I just prefer soy.  Go soy!


Cursing is detrimental to the spirit.  I truly believe that.  I'm not nearly as successful at not cursing than I am at abstaining from meat.  A lot of people say it feels good to curse.  Drop a few F-bombs to set things right.  I'm the opposite.  I feel bad after I curse out of anger or frustration.  To me, it is a loss of control.  Especially if I'm upset with someone or about something, once I curse, I lose points.  It's like finally people are beginning to listen, than I curse, and I can feel myself losing ground.




D: You've endorsed Bob Dylan in every way short of tattooing his visage on your left buttock.  (Or have you done so?  On the right one maybe?)  While I'm not a Dylan fan, I appreciate his art, especially his Slow Train Coming album, which seems to be his most underrated work.  It was composed during Dylan's brief, few-years enthusiasm for Christianity.  His gospel albums culminated in the critically crushed Shot of Love  (1981).  Needless to say, he lost many of his fans and pals for that choice, as he wrote in "I Believe In You," a touching song about the isolation of subjective faith:


L: No tattoos.  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  I will probably endorse Bob Dylan until the day I die.  I try to catch at least one show every tour.  I am, in fact, about to make the drive to San Diego with my sister to see him again.  I've taken my daughter to see him as well.  She's 14 years old and has most of his songs memorized.  We like to sing together while in the car (where we won't frighten anybody). 


Slow Train Coming was in fact Dylan's last top 10 album for 18 years.  Until Time Out of Mind  came out in 1997.  


And "Gotta Serve Somebody" won a Grammy for best rock performance in 1980.


The same critics who crushed Shot of Love as a whole probably didn't bother to listen to Heart of Mine, The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar, Every Grain of Sand.


Who are these critics?  Where are they now?


I don't think Dylan's enthusiasm for Christianity has ever been brief.  I think it has been a life long commitment.  And still is. 


They show me to the door,

They say don't come back no more

'Cause I don't be like they'd like me to,

And I walk out on my own

A thousand miles from home

But I don't feel alone

'Cause I believe in you...


Oh, though the earth may shake me

Oh, though my friends forsake me

Oh, even that couldn't make me go back...


Don't let me change my heart,

Keep me set apart...


Since Dylan has abandoned his musical expression of faith, he has made a comeback and revived his legendary status.  Do the math.  (He should have done some more palate-able pagan or Theosophic albums.)  All this aside, I tend to dislike preachy songs, from Billy Bragg's socialism to Ani DiFranco's political/"feminist" rants to most "Christian rock" junk.  So I'm not entirely adverse to his fans' disappointment.


What are your thoughts on my interpretation of his light/dark time in the late-1970s/early 1980s?  Do you think that the pressure was too great and he might have changed his heart after all, or did he perhaps separate his belief from his public image and art?  You know more about him than I do, so I'm curious.


L: I know what I've read about this time period.  Dylan was receiving negative reviews for Street-Legal.  His 1978 tour was also getting its fair share of negative reviews, people were saying he was washed up, tired.  At the end of one of his shows in November, a fan threw a silver cross onto the stage.  Dylan picked it up and put it in his pocket.  His next show was in Tucson, Arizona.  According to Dylan, he was feeling worse than his previous show.  Sitting in his hotel room, he experienced a vision of Christ.


Dylan would later explain, "Jesus did appear to me as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.  There was a presence in the room that couldn't have been anybody but Jesus.  Jesus put his hand on me.  It was a physical thing.  I felt it.  I felt it all over me.  I felt my whole body tremble.  The glory of the Lord knocked me down and picked me up."


I think Dylan does whatever Dylan wants to do.  I believe in God so I believe Dylan when he says he experienced a vision of Christ. 


His fans rejected him on what grounds I often wonder?  From as far back as I can remember his songs have always been interjected with Biblical prophecies and spiritual mythology.  They still are in fact.  I feel that When The Deal Goes Down from Modern Times is laced with spirituality.


I guess they didn't like the preaching in between songs on stage. 


I don't think he can, even if he wanted to, separate his belief from his art.  He himself said he made a deal a long time ago with the Chief, the head honcho.  I think he credits God for where he is today.


I've been to a lot of shows and met a lot of people, the real fans of Bob Dylan.  The men and women who have supported him for years and years.  They are the ones he goes out there and sings to and plays for.  It's a very youthful group, regardless of their ages.  It's an intellectual group.  People with hearts the size of watermelons.  In my experience, Dylan fans are among the most giving and loyal I've ever come across.



D: Tell us about your latest poetry book, Subtraction Flower (inspiration, themes, etc.).


L: Ah, Subtraction Flower is a culmination of me growing up a little bit and showing some strength in being a woman.  I dedicate the chapbook to my mother, one of the strongest women I know.


I was raised like many children of my generation, that children should be seen and not heard.  This idea was rooted in my father and I don't blame him for it.  I learned in school and by society that girls became mothers, nurses, teachers, perhaps because they are suited to those fields though many of us are not.


Women are vulnerable, I'm not denying that, but they are strong and courageous and intelligent.  They wear their hearts on their sleeves and want to create atmospheres of harmony in their lives.


I didn't so much choose this title as it chose me.  I was writing the poem of the same name and the title just struck me.  It simply popped into my head and I knew what I wanted to do.  Women and girls are always related to flowers.  Flowers are often given to girls.  Women love flowers.


Subtraction Flower is a venerable collection.  It respects both men and women.  The poetry I chose to include is industrious and takes long strides.  But, I'm not afraid to admit I have needs and wants.  My favorite piece in this collection is entitled The Difficult Suitor.


In it, the man is asking the questions and the woman is answering.  She begins by answering harshly, aloof and uncaring, as if nothing can touch her.  By the final line, she asks not to be left alone. 


Life is juxtaposition, so is love.  



D: Strict physicalism or materialism is stuck in the jungle law: tooth for tooth.  Even so-called "liberal" folks tend to be harsh judges when faced with disagreeable thinking or action.  Nature is the harshest legalism.  We're all of a blind process that somehow sees itself through unique human eyes.  Stuck in a walled-in physical cycle, there is no Grace.  Like Greek Tragedy, legalistic fate reigns.  "Do we matter in mere matter?" is our common question.  Love says "Yes."


And Personality, the subjectivity of Love, demands relationship beyond "eat or be eaten."  When it comes to belief in true Love and God amidst slaughter and evil, in order to believe beyond the worms, reject the cold "truth' of graves, I insist on the Presence in the apparent absence: the absence emanating from the presence, contrasted to the as-if-not of our bloody world.  As writer George MacDonald stressed, Truth-Idea allows the call of disbelief in the first place.  Outrage against the good/bad dichotomy and blaming it for human error is itself an appeal to a "good," an acknowledgement of a "better," a remedy (which presupposes an ailment).  Disappointment comes from a deeper knowledge, a hardwired valuation - valuation is impossible without meaning, without true measurement.



You address the difficult trust in Love in "Love Is Believable":


Love Is Believable


love is believable

in every moment of exhaustion

in every heartbroken home

in every dark spirit,

the meaning unfolds... every night that sings

of tomorrow. in every suicide

i carry deep inside my head.

in every lonely smile

that plays across my lips.

love is believable i tell you,

in every scrap of history,

in every sheen of want.


what can be wrong

that some days i have a tough time


and in each chamber of my heart

i pray.


And my spiel on Presence in apparent absence reminds me of passages from your "When It Comes":



emptiness comes

we must learn

how to fill it.


It's hard.

Finding things that

take up space...



that might take the place

of our voices,


fill our mouths

with new language

fill our hearts

with acceptable grace.



Such romantic belief allows the unnatural love of enemies (which is associated with the mere survival-countering forgiveness concept), as said in your "Folklore":




I follow through with each

uncomfortable decision,

even those that threaten


to detonate me, spin my

hungry heart into orbit.


Do you ever experience, as I do, inexplicable moments of elation and comfort, pokes of outrageous Love that absolve the worst of monsters and reveal the need for compassion on this blood-pay plane?   And why does such clarity only emanate briefly?


L: I was about fifteen years old.  My mother was remarried to a man who had spent some time in prison but was born again.  They used to attend an evening service at a non-denominational Christian church.  One evening my stepfather asked me if I would like to go.  I dragged my best friend along with me and we went.


While sitting in the pew listening half-heartedly to the sermon I experienced what felt like a cable of cold wind pass through my chest.  It was so overwhelming that I stood up and ran out of the church weeping, not out of fear or discomfort, I just couldn't control my tears or my actions.  I was overcome.  Several people chased me out of the church, including the pastor and my stepfather.  All were convinced that I'd felt the Holy Spirit.


I never doubted it, though I never questioned any doubt either.


I do experience inexplicable moments of elation and comfort.  I also experience inexplicable moments of complete knowledge, meaning I know what I have to do and how I have to proceed without any planning or forethought.  I believe in God.  But, I believe that a person must begin a personal relationship with Jesus in order to know God.


I also believe in the power of prayer, in synchronicity and I have a bit of an obsession with numbers and their patterns.


In my poetry, I am a full-blooded romantic.  But, I don't take romanticism lightly.  I hold it to the highest standard.  I believe that abandoning oneself to love and romance without any specific ideal or pre-conceived notions on what love is or how love should act is the core of inspired poetry.  Some of my best poems have been inspired.  I can't even take credit for them.  They came from "out there".


A compassionate society makes a better world.  When a person grows cold and compassionless, they cheat themselves.  Love is a continuum, a never-ending cycle.  It has no beginning and no end. 





D: Lisa, I appreciate your art and respect you indeed.  Your work is honest and inspirational, and you've a sharp sense of humor.  I wish you blessings on your path.  Any closing words for readers/fans?


L: Most importantly, thanks. 


I've received a lot of emails over the years, some letters, but mostly emails.  A person will write to tell me that they used one of my poems for a class project or they were so moved by a certain piece, they made copies for their friends.  One fellow, I can't remember his name now, told me he had several poems blown up mini-poster size and framed to hang above his desk at work.  He said reading them gave him the drive and inspiration to go about his day.


Another guy, a great poet himself, took twelve of my poems and wrote music to them.  He then burned it to a c.d. and gave it as a gift to his grandmother.


When I was a child I wrote silly little rhyming poems.  As an adolescent I began to seriously consider poetry as more than a hobby.  I used to sit in my bedroom and read James Whitcomb Riley, Rainer Maria Rilke, Thoreau, and any other collection I could get my hands on.  My mother fed my thirst for poetry by visiting local antique markets and buying me old, dusty copies of love poems, spiritual prose, anthologies from Africa and Asia, Mexico and Canada.  I read voraciously with a deep desire to be able to say things like those people could say things.


I used to visualize my name on books.  To fall asleep at night, I would imagine myself writing.  The more I imagined it, the closer it felt to the truth about who I was and what I was meant to do.


Every note from a reader solidifies that truth, that calling.


To borrow a verse from my favorite poet, Bob Dylan:



Guess I'm Doin' Fine


Well, I ain't got my childhood

Or friends I once did know.

No, I ain't got my childhood

Or friends I once did know.

But I still got my voice left,

I can take it anywhere I go.

Hey, hey, so I guess I'm doin' fine.












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