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We Each Have A Story To Tell

Rhonda Harris Slota Author Interview

By Fire is an expressive collection of poetry that tells your family story through the ‘50s and ‘70s amid family trauma and mental illness. Why was this an important collection for you to publish?

As a child, I read other people’s stories which helped me build resilience and learn how to navigate my own confusing life. We lived in the country and the library truck came every three weeks. I couldn’t wait. I read novels, biographies and autobiographies, and later, poetry. I devoured books as though starving for those stories which helped me better analyze and understand my own. We each have a story to tell. We never know who will be affected in what way when we begin to tell ours. I found that many people identified with, felt drawn to, were touched by, and wanted to hear the stories in my poetry.

In the ‘80s, when I visited my dad in Indiana, I asked him to tell me about his life experiences. I was genuinely interested—I didn’t wish to judge him, just to understand, and he opened up to me in ways that often surprised me. Mental illness carried such stigma in those days, which is changing, but there is still much work to do. I have a son who also suffers from schizophrenia so now I experience it from the point of view of a parent. Coming to terms with my dad’s illness helped prepare me to better advocate for and support my son, but the journey is still a challenging one.

My favorite poem from this book is ‘Apologies’. Do you have a poem that stands out to you from this collection?

I’m glad you like that poem. I do too. It shows our humanness as two adults and offers a glimpse of peaceful redemption.

It is very hard to choose one. I think it would be “Revelation” or “Prophet.”

“Revelation” depicts a slice of my family’s life. It portrays not only my father’s struggle with hallucinations steeped in his religious beliefs, but also demonstrates the exhausting role of the ill-equipped caregiver, in this case my mother, in supporting those who are ill. It reveals my fear that, as his daughter, I was or would become mentally ill, not unusual for the children of those who suffer from this illness.

The poem “Prophet” is based on images and stories my father told me about the childhood experiences that shaped his life. It is filled with the religious symbolism of his visions or hallucinations born of those experiences. This poem also deepens the sense of my own grappling, self-reflection, and identification with him. The poem concludes “each of us alone and the same since that first night I woke up, heard him singing and clapping his hands in the hallway outside my door.” Many of the poems in the book are about coming to terms with that moment.

I also resonate deeply with the more recent “To Myself: The Child Who Hid in Closets.” It offers a forgiving, compassionate view of how I discovered, grew and changed as I journeyed into the healing realms of my own personal and spiritual awakening.

Thank you for indulging me in mentioning three poems instead of one!

What are some themes you feel your poetry often explores?

The themes in my poetry include self-exploration through analyzing one’s family history; the role, significance, and symbology of spirituality or religion in our lives; the perseverance, resiliency, and devotion of a poor, rural family in the ‘50s–‘70s; the strength, inner wisdom, and love of women in navigating a patriarchal dynamic; the power and complicity of natural forces; the complexities of mental illness and its effects on not only the person who is ill but everyone around them; and how a child steeped in family trauma can find her own way to love, understanding, forgiveness, and spiritual wholeness.

Do you have plans to write and publish more works of poetry?

Despite years of writing very little as I immersed myself in the roles of teacher, administrator, wife, mother, and caregiver, I have come back to myself as a writer. Not surprisingly, my journey with my son through his mental illness is a consistent theme. I am more deeply rooted and balanced in my own spirituality and I think that shows in my current writing. I am working on several pieces now and, hopefully one day soon, those will emerge and be published.

Author Links: GoodReads | Facebook | Website

“With meticulous detail and plainspoken language, Rhonda Harris Slota unveils the story of a family held hostage by religious extremism when its beloved father falls victim to hallucinations and paranoia. In adulthood, the daughter sets out to make peace with her father and through that process, constructs a covenant of her own, one of compassion and forgiveness.”
Paula Amen-Judah, author of Añoranza

“Rhonda Harris Slota’s writing is so fine, so precise, the way it includes the flowers, the laundry, the secrets, that I devoured her story. Incandescent poetry that shimmers as it remembers and reveals.”
Lauren Coodley, author of Lost Napa Valley

Set in rural, southern Indiana in the 50’s-70’s, these poems tell the story of a complex family dynamic. This debut collection blends Bible images, authentic dialogue and powerful natural forces to relay the effects of family trauma and mental illness.

The daughter often questions her own sanity as she watches her fundamentalist father struggle with internal demons and the illusion that he is the prophet, Elijah. In this patriarchal world, the women hold together the seams of life’s tapestry through perseverance, inner wisdom and love.

As time passes and the father plunges deep into his fears and delusions, his young daughter learns to forge her own pathway through the maze of duality: dark and light, fear and joy. This finally leads her to reconciliation and acceptance through spiritual surrender.

By Fire: Poems

By Fire by Rhonda Harris Slota is a book of expressive poetry. Consisting of a total of more than three dozen short poems, it includes eleven previously published poems that appeared in various magazines and other publications from 1983 to 2020, and the remainder are new poems that have never appeared in print before. The poems in this book cover a broad range of themes taken from the author’s own life, but they are relatable to many others as well. These themes include family, living in the rural Midwest, the seasons, religion, death, pain and sorrow, and dreams and fears.

I liked the imagery evoked by the author’s words in many of the poems, especially the scenes of rural life that brought back memories of stories told to me as a child by my own grandparents. Both the length of the poems and the style of the writing varied in the poems throughout the book, which I enjoyed.

Some the poems in this book have been published before, most of those appeared in print more than thirty years ago in the early 1980s and 1990s in a format that is not readily accessible today. This book provides a whole new group of poetry lovers with the opportunity to read these older poems. This collection is still important because it focuses on emotions that remain as relevant now as they were when they were originally written. I felt that they fit in well with the more than two dozen new poems included in this book. None of the poems felt dated even when written years ago or focused on events that were from many decades ago because, while many things change with the passing of time, emotions like sorrow, fear, love, and joy transcend time and remain the same from generation to generation.

Beautifully-written and emotionally-resonant, By Fire is a poetry book that will appeal to readers looking for poems that tells an impassioned story about family trauma and mental illness. It can be dark at times, but there is love and wisdom shared as well which makes this a potent and heartening collection.

Pages: 90 | ASIN: B09MYRSSPQ

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