Spectacular Saturday, October 15, 2022, at 6pm
On Zoom

Interview with Tamara Hattis

By Carla Joy Martin

We had a delightful gathering of poets at Spectacular Saturday, October 15, 2022 on Zoom.  Our featured poet was the talented and profound Tamara Hattis.  She read poems from her full-length book, Colors of My Pain, with the assistance of her friend, Belen Robles.  We were moved by Hattis’ poems which give a brave and honest portrayal of living with chronic pain.  She has a strong spirit that graced us all.

Other participants that night were Jill Egland, Irene Sinopole, Virginia Liascos, Tracy Yvon, Christopher Robert Craddock, Christopher Nielsen, Carla Joy Martin, Margie Bell, Richard Aguirre, Portia Choi.  Listening was Donna Sanders.

Zoom video link:
Passcode: R0m4VkH?

Here are two of the several poems Tamara shared with us that evening:

False Hope

False Hope nail polish is the perfect classic red. It will give a superb pop to your little black dress when out at the local nightclub. Your keratin and calcium levels will rise through the roof as soon as the brush touches your desiccated cuticles. This phenomenon has been scientifically documented. You even checked snopes.com. Everything’s gonna be alright, everything’s gonna be alright, you belt out as your assistant paints your nails at your bedside.

Through the window, you see a male Anna’s hummingbird with a glittered crimson head, much like the pigment of this posh polish. You continue to observe him as he crashes right into the window. Bonk! You look to see if he has fallen, but there is nobody on the ground. Then you find that he is proudly perched on the feeder drinking the luscious nectar. Praise Baby Jesus! The little hummer is alive and thriving. Your assistant glazes a top coat and the ritual is complete. Your nails are now the glossiest they’ve ever been and you go to sleep knowing your nails will stay healthy and the polish will last forever! That’s what everyone’s been saying. You are getting better all the tiiiime!

You awaken. The nail polish is chipping, soon cracking, smashing against the cuticle beds. Your hands feel like otherworldly terror. To distract from your pain, you look out the window and notice there are no birds at the feeder and the nectar has transformed into blood with floating human hangnails, and a hint of scarlet sparkle. You collapse into the corner of your bedroom. You begin weeping. Why must promises taunt you? What made you believe in hope this time? Were the fumes of the polish a placebo? Fooled again. Nothing is crueler than False Hope.

Little Mermaid Syndrome

An enchanting, glamorous mermaid makeup trio: two eyeshadows, “Shattered” (golden shifting to teal, turns eyelids into gleaming fish scales siren-calling you home as you sleep) and “Knife Stabs” (metallic rust, hints of bloodstains and broken decades of dreams), and a sheer lip balm, “Mute,” to soothe your painful articulation muscles that make you suffer in silence, sometimes having to quarantine yourself to heal. “Mute” smells of sea salt and children’s sandcastles. Best applied after LOVEBIRD LIP EXFOLIATOR. Do not take selfies while wearing the lip balm, for you will get #fishface. If eyeshadow is applied 300 days and nights in a row, scales will appear elsewhere and a mermaid tail will replace your sore sad former prized ballerina legs that have betrayed you on land. You will have no more pain, finally free, returning home to the ocean.

Q. What inspired you to write your poems?  What are their back stories?

A. My chronic pain (now going on 28 years) has been so mysterious to myself, doctors, and friends and family. It is invisible to others and I’ve had traumatic experiences where I’ve been dismissed and not believed. Also, the pain itself is very traumatic as it keeps me from doing simple things I love independently. It affects my ability to talk, write, stand, sit, read, etc.

Since I was a teenager, I have been fascinated with makeup and how it makes me feel. It has been one of my favorite outlets for both expressing myself and escaping reality. It is such a sensory experience: touching the silky textures of eyeshadow and swiping them on my eyelids to create iridescence, enjoying prestige brands whose palettes smell of chocolate and of peach. I feel I can enter their colorful numinous worlds. Each shade has its own name. I was originally intrigued by the non-glamorous names of Urban Decay lip glosses and eyeshadows: Gash, Mildew, Oil Slick, Roach, Speed. Some names I didn’t understand until after using them, such as Last Call, Gimlet, Asphyxia, Polyester Bride. Even before I learned the real meaning of them, I felt that I experienced the words by wearing them.

I then had the desire to describe parts of my life in poem form, the good and bad, as makeup products, hoping readers could gain insight into my bizarre, sometimes terrifying, invisible chronic illness.

There have been so many times researchers have announced “cures” or treatments that promise I can lead a normal life again and I have been let down so profoundly. The poem “False Hope” explores the promises and the grief of these specific experiences.

With the poem “Little Mermaid Syndrome,” I first wanted to pay homage to Hans Christian Andersen who is one of my favorite writers. Since my chronic pain began, I have always felt better in water. I fantasize about the ocean frequently. There have been days where I literally feel like knives are stabbing my legs as I walk. Because of the pain in my tongue, which is not a typical symptom of fibromyalgia, I feel I may be living a parallel life to the Little Mermaid when she was on land. I long to find a place where my pain can be abated and I feel a sense of belonging.

Q.  Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A.  Yes, I love to read poetry. Allen Ginsberg and E.E. Cummings inspired me the most as a youngster. Ntozake Shange is my favorite poet. I recommend people check out her work as I feel she is very underrated. Jillian Weise, author of The Amputee’s Guide to Sex and Cyborg Detective, is an ardent disability activist and she has inspired me most recently along with Kay Ulanday Barrett’s work. I very much relate to the poems Weise and Barrett write about their disabilities. 

Also, when I was in the midst of writing Colors of My Pain, I loved the genre-bending, wild hilarity, and inferences to pop-culture of poet Douglas Kearney’s performances. I was listening to his CD There are Sharks in This Poem. Kearney inspired me to reference songs, allude to all types of pop-culture that has influenced me throughout my life, and to infuse as much humor as I could into my poems.

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.?  Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.  Just begin writing—it may take you to a place you never thought you’d go—dig deep into yourself and find your own wishes, dreams, and magic. I usually begin writing in a journal before I type it on the computer. Sometimes, a line or idea will come into my mind and I will put it in my Google Docs where I can later expand and work that into a poem.

While writing Colors of My Pain, I found that the TV series American Horror Story was giving me morbid dreams that were seeping into my work.