Les Femmes Folles

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Cat Dixon, poet

Cat Dixon will read at the Aromas Coffeehouse  on Friday, March 23 at 7pm and at the Faculty Reading Series hosted by The Crop at UNO on Wednesday, April 11 at 7:30pm in the Dodge Room of the Milo Bail Student Center. She will be joined by Todd Robinson, author of Note at Heart Rock. She generously shares with Les Femmes Folles about the impact of her childhood teachers, working with Girls, Inc., her latest writing inspired by the Greek tragedy Medea and more…

How did you get into writing?

I began writing short stories at a young age. So young that I can’t remember the exact time, but I was writing stories and creating characters continuously. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Langhorst, encouraged our class to write creatively and I became quite popular because every time we had the opportunity in class to share our writings, I was chosen by my peers to read my stories. I liked the attention and the eagerness of my classmates to hear what I had to say. In high school, Mrs. Beliveau, my creative writing teacher, allowed me to enroll in her class even though I was a sophomore. I was her first student to take the class three years in a row instead of the usual two (not because I failed, but because she enjoyed working with me, and I enjoyed working with her).  The first time she saw my name she said: Catharine Dixon—Now that sounds like a writer’s name. Turns out there is a Canadian author with the name (same spelling) so she was right on.

Background/from Nebraska?

I have lived in Nebraska since I was 5 years old. My parents were both active duty in the Air Force. When my parents divorced, my mother retired here. My father, because of the military, moved all across the globe. He planted me here, and then he left, so here I am. We have a better relationship now, but the abandonment shadows most of my poetry. I like Nebraska. I like the unpredictable weather, the friendly people and the fact that we are all connected in one way or another.

Is Omaha a good place for women in writing/arts?

I believe so. Almost any night of the week, one can find a poetry reading in Omaha or Lincoln. There are many excellent female writers in Omaha, in the Midwest. I will not even attempt to name them for fear of leaving someone off the list, but a poet in Omaha, Nebraska is in good company!

Currently, I serve as the secretary of The Backwaters Press, a nonprofit publishing company in Omaha. The press publishes poetry by emerging and established writers, and partners with the Nebraska Arts Council to feature Midwestern writers each month at the Wednesday Words: The Braided River Reading Series. By publishing poets and hosting readings, the press has made an important contribution to writers of any gender here in Omaha and the Midwest.  I am in awe of its Founding Editor and Publisher, Greg Kosmicki.

Tell me about your style/inspiration.

In my younger days, I wrote as a catharsis. My parents divorced when I was 6 years old, and I was an only child.  I am a survivor of abuse. As a child and teenager, my only hobbies were to write and read (hence I never learned how to ride a bike, roller skate, swim or jump rope). I would write poems, stories, song lyrics, journals. I wrote anything to escape the pain or to release the pain. Naturally, I was drawn to the confessional poets (Lowell, Plath, Sexton, Snodgrass, Berryman).  As a teenager filled with angst, I wrote out my rebellion.  The catharsis poetry served as a sign of distress to my creative writing teacher, Mrs. Beliveau. I began to visit with a counselor when I was in my junior year of high school because of her recommendation to my mother, and I am grateful for Mrs. Beliveau’s intervention. I would not be who I am today without Mrs. Beliveau’s instruction and kindness.

I received my BFA in Creative Writing from UNO and my MFA from the low-residency program at the University of Nebraska.

While working towards my MFA, I held poetry workshops/classes at Girls Inc. along with The Crop (UNO Writer’s Workshop Student Organization) in an attempt to reach girls who may have been struggling with their emotions. Currently, I meet once a week with a promising 12-year-old girl who loves to write, maybe even more than I did. I find my one-hour meetings with her the highlight of my week. She was referred to me by another writer who knew I have a passion to work with young women who want to write and would like guidance.

In the fall of 2008, I became a Christian (after having been an atheist for many, many years). I still enjoy poetry as catharsis, but now I find my poems are more spiritual and reflective. After having gone through the pain of infidelity and the pain of divorce, I have found comfort in my faith along with poetry. Another change to my writing was brought about with the birth of my two children (Pierce, 7, and Leven, 4). They have helped me to discover what it feels like to really love another human being and this has caused my poetry to have a positive tone more than it once did.

What is your latest project of excitement?

All that being said about loving my kids and Christ, I am currently finishing a manuscript of poems inspired by the Greek tragedy Medea, a play written by Euripides. In the play the mother, Medea, is betrayed by her husband and in response she kills his new lover and their two young children.

“I have no intention of doing that!”  I joke when I tell people about the manuscript. I can identify with Medea. Betrayal hurts no matter who you are. Abandonment by a spouse in any way—whether through death, divorce or infidelity—can create agony. In my book, the poems’ titles are quotes from Medea and then I take the persona into modern day—the modern housewife finding out her husband is having an affair, renting hotel rooms, and running around during the day when he’s supposed to be at the office. The question that comes to a person’s mind when facing such a tragedy is: Why? In life we are never given an answer as to why the bad things happen. We just accept them. If we are Christians, we believe God will turn the evil done to us for our benefit. If we are not believers, I guess, we just accept the bad as part of life. The persona in my book accepts that the man she loved was a façade. My book’s persona does not actually murder anyone.  She mourns for her children who will never know a “normal” family life—whatever that means. She mourns that the façade was not real, and perhaps, she always knew it wasn’t.

My favorite manuscript I have completed and have sent out is titled I’ll Bury Everything. This manuscript grew out of my interest in geology and spirituality. My poems and creative nonfiction pieces have been published in numerous anthologies, magazines and journals, but a book publication still eludes me.

What does feminism mean to you and does it play into your creative work?

At the end of Euripides’ play, the character Medea flies off on a golden chariot pulled by dragons as Jason, her adulterous husband, looks upward begging Medea to allow him just a touch of his dead children’s skin one last time. She refuses. Medea, in the end, goes unpunished. She gets her revenge and has no repercussion. Even though I do not advocate revenge, I appreciate Medea’s power in this final scene. I appreciate that Euripides wrote this play during a time when female characters were rarely heroines and certainly not masterminds who could reduce a man like Jason to a whining defeated wimp. The idea that a woman can overpower a man has played into my poetry for years. I believe women should have equal rights and opportunities. There should be justice for women who have been abused, neglected, and mistreated. I believe God loves everyone equally without regard to gender.

What will you be reading from in April at UNO?

I will read from both manuscripts for the April 11th reading at UNO. I have taught creative writing classes at UNO since the spring of 2009 and I love to help students improve their writing. I love to watch their creative progress/process. A student sends me a first draft, then it evolves to another and another until we feel it’s almost right. A lot of this back and forth is done via email. One student emailed me recently after three different drafts of his sestina, “I never knew playing with words could be so much fun.”  Remarks like that keep me energized and happy with life. I keep in touch with several of my former students because I believe their poetry is outstanding and I want to help them be successful. I am looking for new voices, new perspectives, and new images. My students keep me young! And for that, I really appreciate them! My own instructors and teachers (whose voices of encouragement and assistance remain in my ear) are priceless to me.

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Cat Dixon will read at the Aromas Coffeehouse  on Friday, March 23 at 7pm.

Cat Dixon will read at the Faculty Reading Series hosted by The Crop at UNO on Wednesday, April 11 at 7:30pm in the Dodge Room of the Milo Bail Student Center. She will be joined by Todd Robinson, author of Note at Heart Rock.

Visit http://www.catdix.com/ for more on Cat.