Rochelle Lynn Holt

by Diane C. Erdmann

I attended a consortium for writers a dozen years ago which was held at Edison Community College. I heard Rochelle Lynn Holt at that time when she was leading a workshop in ‘Imagery and Poetry.’ I’ve followed her career over the years and attended several of her readings and book-signings at local bookshops.

Rochelle was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, but has lived in Iowa, Alabama, Mississippi, New Jersey, St. Croix and, since 1994, Florida since 1994. She accrued over twenty-five years experience teaching english and creative writing on all levels, including secondary schools and colleges. Grants and residencies allowed her to travel to Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. She’s given over 700 poetry readings in 34 states since 1970.

She has recently been ranked in the Top 3% of America’s major poets in a nationwide Writers Digest survey. Over 600 of her poems have appeared in numerous periodicals and anthologies since the Sixties.

Recent poetry titles include: Whispering Secrets, Warm Storm, Caution: Child at Play, Kaleidoscope of Dance and the forthcoming The Poet Tree, a lyrical narrative illustrated by Wayne Hogan.

In the forefront of poetry as therapy in the Seventies, she developed lyrical fiction with Panes–Fiction as Therapy and in 2003 invented the poemnovel with Valley of the Shadows & Surrender and Mirage. Bloodli(n)es, a poemnovel about an estranged family, continues her exploration into ‘the novel of the future.’

The following interview was conducted at the home of Rochelle Lynn Holt, a poet and novelist who has lived in Fort Myers for over a decade.

How long have you been a writer and who influenced you to write?

Rochelle Lynn Holt: As a child I read Louisa May Alcott and then in adolescence I was enamored of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Frost. I discovered Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ‘sprung rhythm’ in my twenties, but was most influenced by Anais Nin, the famous diarist who wrote and identified ‘the novel of the future’. More than thirty-five years after her critical prophesy, novels of the future have been published in the past decade, predominantly by multi-ethnic women writers.

How does Anais Nin, who became your friend and mentor, still speak to the present generation since she's been gone for over 25 years?

America remains desperately in need of 2lst century vision that sees beyond consumerism; education that's not routinely mechanical; and publishing that's not purposely self-serving.

Your work is psychological both in your poetry and novels. What does this spring from?

My fascination with Dostoyevsky's The Double when I was a teen. The dual nature of each person—what’s apparent and what’s hidden intrigued me early-on, which is why I became enamored of the Diaries of Anais Nin.

In your own work, do you have favorite books?

Caution: Child at Play, a poetry volume, because the truly free person seeks solace in creativity, thoughts, ideas, the space of any place, nature and her creatures, the depth of always-changing relationships, meaningful friendships, action and concern for the community of now and the future. With Promises to Keep, a collaboration with my mother, is a family saga that’s not the traditional rags-to-riches plot and remains one of my favorite creations.

What else do you do besides write?

For twenty-five-plus non-consecutive years I taught in several states and on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands—for the past several years in Fort Myers. My hobby is numerology, but I painted and sculpted for twenty years before moving south.

You've come a long way since your first novella, Pangs, which concerned a journalist who travels throughout America in search of beauty. Is the book related to your later Ph.D. thesis?

Pangs was the forerunner to my thesis in English/Psychology from Columbia Pacific U. in l980. Half of it was published by their press a dozen years later as Panes–Fiction as Therapy. I've again revised the other half and that may eventually be published as a separate novel, different from the series of short story testimonies written by patients for their psychotherapist, Dr. Angela HeartSinger.

Many publishers didn't know whether the book was fiction or non-fiction which precluded acceptance. Now we know that doesn't matter since non-fiction self-help books often commingle the real with fabricated lives as personal examples of whatever is espoused. However, Panes– was at the forefront of the fiction as therapy movement. It's old-fashioned to use the word ‘therapy’ now, but a rose by any other name is still a rose.

What about Whispering Secrets?

These are certain narrative poems which unconsciously guided me to the final revision of the family saga my mother and I had begun twenty years earlier. My mother once told me she thought my poems were shorthand for longer stories. In addition to standing on their own merit, I'm sure.

Your family saga With Promises to Keep collaboration is unusual. Could you explain?

My mother, who has lived in Phoenix for more than 30 years, did 80% of the covers for my poetry books. About a decade ago we collaborated on Three Southwest Mysteries, her first published fiction, set in the southwest of the United States in places we’d visited together. It’s very supernatural. I then urged her to consider a family saga.

With Promises to Keep isn't a traditional rags-to-riches tale but rather the story of my maternal grandmother Jenny, who left Poland at age l5 to search for a better life in America and how subsequent generations evolved.

By the way, I’ve collaborated with numerous writers over the years which have resulted in published duets: Marie Asner, Ruth Moon Kempher, Virginia Love Long and Susan Sheppard.

I understand you were also a dancer? How did you go from dancing to writing?

I had two desires when I was young—to become a dancer and a writer. I was enamored of Isadora Duncan as a child and Louisa May Alcott—especially her biography, An Invincible Woman. I was both for many years, taught dance and danced professionally until I studied with Hanya Holm one summer in Colorado Springs in the 70s. After dancing 12-16 hours a day I decided to dance instead in my writing. I was delighted when Timberline, a superb letterpress in Fulton, Missouri, wanted to publish a third book of mine. Clarence Wolfshol requested a series of dance poems. Hence, Kaleidoscope of Dance, a hand-set, hand-printed and hand-bound limited edition chapbook that begins with the villanelle ‘Dancer’ I wrote when I was seventeen and ends with ‘Calomche is Dancer of the Reed,’ a poem for an unfinished novel of mine on the Mayans that I may one day get back to.

Figurative speech, images, poetic prose abounds in your poems as well your lyrical fiction. You seem to be gravitating towards your own ‘novel of the future’ by merging the former within your fiction. Could you talk about this?

Images are indeed major in my writing, whether fiction or poetry. I danced for a number of years but then painted for several years, too, in the 70s & 80s, and now on a lesser scale in miniatures and expressionistic paintings. I also sculpted in stone for twenty years. I feel that all the arts feed into my writing which I try to make as tactile and visual as I can. I aim to appeal to all the senses.

In my article, ‘The Magic of Image’ which appeared in Infamous in Our Prime, co-authored with my dear friend Virginia Love Long, I expand ‘image’ to say: “The magic of image concerns public relations, promotion, publicity, and to what degree or extent, no doubt dependent on need, energy, time, financial situation, etc.

Whitman, Thoreau and William Carlos Williams first self-published, or produced themselves as I like to say. Dickinson never had a poem published in her lifetime. For Sexton poetry was a therapy that created the beginning of the Confessional School (labeled in a snide manner by male critics!). Sylvia Plath had an obsession to be known. Williams linked his profession as a pediatrician to his poetry. For Gertrude Stein it was a way of life in exile from America. For Anais Nin it was preservation of the swift passage of time. For Whitman it was also an involvement in the universe, for e. e. cummings, a desire to explode traditional language.

For me, I suppose what still matters is: Am I related to the world in which I live; and do I have or still need a definition of myself that I can live with? I'm always engaged in the process of finding the capacity to live as well as knowing or discovering what's worth living for, the magic of image. Perhaps that's why I'm excited now about writing novels that incorporate poetry totally connected to plot and style, which some poets are beginning to do in a different way—i.e. Erica Jong in her novel, Sappho's Leap. I evolved the poem novel as a genre first in Wound before Weight of Rain, then Mirage. Valley of the Shadows & Surrender and Bloodli(n)es are probably my finest examples of this new genre the poemnovel.

What other dreams have you had or fulfilled or long to fulfill?

Besides my dream of publishing in every genre and owning/operating a letterpress and being involved in other arts (dance, painting, sculpting), I would still like to write a screenplay as well as appear in a film, if only a cameo role. I'd like to learn weaving and have been keyboarding for about two years, something I taught myself to ease arthritis in my hands.

I had a dream of reading in all 50 states when I was young. For forty years I read in 35 of them—over 600 readings. Often, I don't think I'm interested in accruing more, but can't turn down an invitation to share my work with the right group and preferably in a state I've never been to.

Do you write longhand or use a computer?

I still write poems longhand in small lined black notebooks. I sometimes use long yellow legal pads for stories. But I created novels on word processors for many years. However, society is always in the process of changing quickly. I just learned that people read on the computer or in palm versions where three or four books can be downloaded, no pages ever touching a reader's hands. That's amazing to me. I wouldn't like that. I used word processors after typewriters for years. I heard Joyce Carol Oates returned to the typewriter. A friend of mine sent me her old Gateway, forcing me to enter the modern age. I must admit I really enjoy the computer, e-mail and the internet. Now I have a laptop. I’ve come a long way!

Any famous quotes regarding writing that you'd like to share?

Raymond Chandler said, “I live for syntax.” That's how I feel, because writing is my work and my life. For years I lived by a quote attributed to Plath. “You don't write to support yourself. You work to support your writing.” Well, maybe that's still true!

Finally, could you talk a little about your recent novel, Bloodli(n)es?

I like to weave social issues into my poemnovels. This one is about a dysfunctional family where the House becomes a major character since she’s known the family in Chicago before moving to Phoenix, Arizona. There’s a distance between the family members which doesn’t improve after the father’s death. I guess I work out my own personal issues, but believe that my readers can relate to similar struggles.

Like Mirage, the multi-genre novel about a lyrical painter?

Yes, I painted for over twenty years. The plot, like a painting, is interwoven with the poems Sylvia composes as she sketches for her canvasses. Memories and dreams recorded in her journal are relative to her survival. It’s a journey that begins in southwest Florida and ends in the southwest desert. You see, both art and life are a mirage for Sylvia, who learns the truth of nature (including human nature) doesn’t exist except in the mind of each of us. This reflects my years of rejection by commercial presses. I’m certainly glad new technology exists to publish futuristic writers.

I understand you’re included in a new anthology, Beyond Katrina, whose profits will go to help the survivors of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

I’m always honored to be included in worthwhile endeavors such as this anthology available through Amazon.com—as are my books.

For more information about Rochelle Lynn Holt, visit her website at: www.angelfire.com/blues2/rlynnholt. •

Diane C. Erdmann is a retired educator and free-lance writer who lives in South Fort Myers.

from the May-June 2006 issue

"The magic of image concerns public relations, promotion, publicity, and to what degree or extent, no doubt dependent on need, energy, time, financial situation, etc."