How I Became A Poet

Poetry Editor Lisa Marie Basile for little infinite
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Lisa Marie Basile shares her journey as a modern American poet.

My name is Lisa Marie Basile, and I’m an editor for little infinite. I’m also a poet, editor, and writer living in New York. I’ve published several chapbooks and books of poetry — Andalucia, Apocryphal, Warlock, Nympholepsy (which is brand new and I’m proud to say will be included Best American Experimental Writing 2020) and one book about magical living, trauma resilience, and self-care: Light Magic for Dark Times. Of course, because I’m a poet first, even that last book has sections devoted to writing, poetry, and journaling.  

Poetry for Life

I have been writing poetry for as long as I can remember. When I was little, my dying grandfather bought me a calligraphy set, which was a sort of beautiful parting gift; I fell in love with the way the words looked on the page, with the intentionality of writing the letters, with the power I felt when I created words with my words.

“I fell in love with the way the words looked on the page, with the intentionality of writing the letters, with the power I felt when I created words with my words. “

Poetry would become my only outlet as I grew into my teenage years, too. We dealt with heavy addiction issues and poverty in my family, and later I would end up in foster care. Through it all, I had poetry. It was my magic, my comfort, my outlet, my hope.

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For new followers who may not know, this is one of the faces of #FosterYouth. I was in foster care for many years, and it’s important to me that I share this aspect of myself via what small platform I have. Here, I’m reading a story about my time in foster care for @narratively. . The reason I’m here today is b/c a handful of adults took the time to encourage + support my writing. This gave me a way toward resilience, out of the dark. Did you know that 437,465 kids are in foster care—many due to the opioid crisis (like me). A little under half age out of the system, meaning they turn 18 within a system not designed to support them AT ALL. Some have endured forced separation due to immigration policy. . For many, there is no adoption or happy ending. Finding foster parents that care for you is rare (many are furthered abused+neglected). Many of us experience years in homeless shelters, squeezed into a single room, we stay back in school or leave school entirely, & we develop trauma reactions that last our lives: constant fight or flight mode, depression+anxiety, & physiological issues. We disappear into a society not set up to support us. . STILL, many foster kids are creative, kind, and empathic. We go through having the world (our parents, our schools, our siblings, our belongings) taken from us and yet many of us become compassionate and kind. Never doubt that a foster youth has capabilities beyond what TV shows and the stigmatized narrative says. Watch a show like CSI and you’ll see that almost every perpetrator is an orphan / foster youth. In a way, that reflects what trauma does to us, but it also reduces a huge body of young people to a disease or a wound on society, and that’s just not true. . Let’s start making space for a foster youth to grow and blossom. Let’s invite them to contribute to our a projects+literary journals, seek them out in the community, & find organizations in our local areas to support. . At Luna Luna I created a way for former or current foster youth to work with me. Encouragement, positive messaging, love, inclusion, and compassion goes a long way. Visit lunalunamagazine.com to read more.

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Academic and Personal Poetic Pursuits

I started by reading some of the classics — you know, what they taught in school. I didn’t connect with a lot of it, but I enjoyed it more than any other academic subject — by a long shot.

By the time I got to college, I had fallen into a heady relationship with writing. I wrote short stories, vignettes, newspaper articles. I surrounded myself with other students of writing, and I took myself to literary readings and open mic nights. What I most deeply connected with was that everyone who came to writing had a similar impetus: they wanted to write their own narrative, timestamp their own truth, create their way out of the dark.

Around 2008, a friend gave me a copy of a book, Loose Women, by the poet Sandra Cisneros. I found myself falling in love with her raw, feminine, powerful language. I wasn’t connecting with a lot of the texts from my poetry class syllabus: it was mostly Beat poets or old English white guy poets. I rarely saw other voices, and even though I didn’t really know how to articulate this, I felt a massive absence of inclusivity.

But I devoured poetry on my own, like Sylvia Plath and Anne Carson and Gwendolyn Brooks and so much more. I also found that I liked a lot of poetic writing, writing that teetered on poetry but stayed in the lane of fiction or nonfiction — like Anaïs Nin’s journals or Marguerite Duras’ works.

Publishing My Poetry

And then one day in 2008 I submitted my very first poem to an online literary journal (the poem was inspired by Lorca, another poet I loved).  A professor mentioned that there were a lot of online literary journals looking for new voices; all I’d need to do was send in a document of poems by email and hope for the best. So, I did. Sending that email felt like casting a spell. I also entered writing contests (won some, didn’t win plenty more) and I read poems during my lunch breaks at work.

Not many people knew I was writing poetry. It was my own secret little world, and it felt right. When the literary journal published my piece, I roamed the halls of my college on cloud nine, my body alight with pride and fear (what if no one likes it?) and relief. I had become a poet. Or, really, I had become a published poet — because you’re still a poet even if you’re not publishing your work.

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Thank you to @clashbooks + @lezacantoral + @christophpaul_ for creating the TRAGEDY QUEENS anthology (based on #lanadelrey + #sylviaplath)🖤 It was an honor to contribute (thanks for hounding me—I’m a slow writer) along with all the other great talent in the book. My essay was inspired by Plath’s exploration of shadow & Lana’s aesthetics of want and grandiose sadness. Here’s an excerpt (go buy the book!) . . I know this game well, you fool, I say. Because you cannot destroy my blood with my own poison. Because my body will run filters over your trauma. I can make anything a glamour. . . I am in love with a sadness, simply because it is easier to translate it than to conquer it. And I am only good at replacing my sadness intermittently, with my body — because my body can transcend, if only for a moment. Into my body I pour a hundred elixirs and shapes and voids and wildnesses; I can make sacred my misery. . . I learn to find men who make me cult-like in my surrender. Whether I am being loved or left, I find myself bending toward those who can supplant what is, day by day, a leaking in me: a sense of self in a world that values normalcy and good homes and nice girls and early mornings. I am not an early morning girl; I am a destroyer. . . Thank you to @still__orbiting for this snap, to all the friends who came out, and to the wonderful @spoonbillbooks — please support your local bookstores by buying your books THERE when you can.

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After college, I went to graduate school for creative writing with a focus in poetry, on a hefty scholarship and even heftier loans. I spent a lot of my time around poets, writing poetry, and reading poetry. I quickly realized that being around poets was a lot like the real world; there was a pressure to conform, to succeed, to make a name for yourself.

I wanted to be popular and to sound like the ‘cool’ poets, but my voice just did not fit that mold — or so I thought. For a long time, I doubted myself. Still, I wrote what and how I wanted to write. It paid off.

Around that time, The Poetry Society of New York, a group of poets that I worked with and that produced a poetic festival and show in NYC, published my chapbook. It was called Andalucia, and between you and me, it’s still my favorite published book.

It was about 30 pages, and it was written over a feverish week or so — although I’d been building the world in my mind for years.

I took it to literary readings, I gave copies to friends, I sent it to people who I thought might want to read it, and I treated it as a talisman. It was my darling, my little beast, my hard work and imagination and passion actualized.

I went on to publish more books (my last having just come out in November 2018), and I still continue to send poems to journals. In fact, putting out new work is important to me. I’m slow at writing, but I love to bring new words into the world. The poetry an extension of myself.

What Poetry (Still) Means to Me

From the time I fell in love with poetry, it’s been my go-to. It falls into my journalistic and essay work. It’s what I teach when I teach. It’s what I edit for my magazine Luna Luna, and it’s a huge part of my digital life on social media.

All it took was a willingness to write, edit, and send it out into the world, where it grew and bloomed and turned into my life.

If you have questions about poetry or want to chat about your favorite poets, I’m always interested in talking! I can be found at @lisamariebasile.