Tate Lewis (Poet & Editor)

What’s your philosophy in life?

I’m not sure I’d say I have a set philosophy for life. Perspectives and information continually turn, flip, and change. I grew up a devout Presbyterian in a very religious household. But now I realize that Christianity (as well as other formal religions) is not for me. I no longer believe it. Another example, maybe six years ago I was certain that I wanted to be a medical doctor. Throughout high school I focused on science classes, got my CNA (certified nursing assistant) license, and worked at a nursing home. My plan was to work every step: a CNA and then get a BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) and then medical school. After my first semester I received a 1.5 GPA, was put on academic probation, and became increasingly apathetic. My step by step plan fell away and it was then that I decided to shift my focus to the present.

What do I like to do? What am I good at? The only thing that kept me from flunking out were the papers I wrote for class. I somewhat enjoyed them. So, I took a semester off, came back, and switched to an English major until I figured out what I wanted to do. Turns out that was exactly what I wanted to do.

In a very roundabout way I’m saying no-philosophy is my philosophy. Just be mindful to new experiences and acknowledge how little we actually know about this life. Defamiliarize yourself and let the world be astonishing.

What was the best phase in your life?

I’m in the best phase of my life! After I came back to school and started writing I met the love of my life. Since then everything has been an adventure with her. We’ve road tripped across the country for a month, bought a house and flipped it together, adopted six beautiful animals, traveled around the world, I proposed to her in Greece and now we are getting married this October.

All the while I wrote a book and many of my poems have been accepted into different journals. I found a life I want to live and someone to share it with. Every day since, even with challenges and setbacks, is a day I wouldn’t wish to trade.

Is what you’re doing now what you always wanted to do growing up?

In a sense, yes. I wanted to be many things when I was little but especially: a doctor, a pastor, and a musician. I grew up a sickly child with different auto-immune diseases and never stayed in one house, or state, for more than a few years. It was difficult to make or keep friends and because of this loneliness and physical pain I wanted to comfort and offer wisdom and healing to people who were in similar situations.

I’d say poetry is the perfect mix of remedies, spiritual guidance, and musicality. When I was introduced to poetry as a serious practice in college I read just about every day. I was deeply moved even by my homework assignments but especially by Sharon Olds, W.S. Merwin, Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver, Cornelius Eady, Ted Kooser, Li-Young Lee, Tracy K Smith, Kent Johnson, Maggie Smith, Robert Hass, among others. I knew right away what I wanted to do with my life.

Someday I hope to write at the level of these poets who change my perspective and console my spirit every time I read and re-read their work.

What makes you feel accomplished?

I feel accomplished when I write, even when what I write is garbage and never sees the light of day. I’m happy for the opportunity to meditate and sort through my thoughts and practice what I learned at school but also practice the things I read that strike me. Writing is my passion and I’m proud of myself for doing it when the ideas are flowing and when they aren’t. The hardest part about being a writer is writing. It’s easy to distract yourself with other projects, especially when many other things are happening at once. It’s also easy for me to sabotage myself by not having the “perfect” conditions to write.

Sometimes I’ll have a spare thirty minutes but I feel like that’s not enough time and if I start now I’ll get going just as time is running out. So instead of write, I deliberate and stress about how much time I wasted deliberating until time runs out. When I sit down, take a breath, and truly writing, even if only for ten minutes at a time, I feel accomplished. I feel overwhelming accomplishment when someone reads and connects with something I’ve written. That is a great feeling. I also just received word that I was chosen to be the recipient of the Dalkey Archive Press fellowship.

In mid-March I will start a three-month publishing “boot- camp” which will hopefully lead me to a career in the literary world!

What’s your favorite book/movie of all time and why did it speak to you so much?

I have many favorite movies and books for so many different reasons. But if you want to get to know more of my favorite stuff I have a page on my website called, “Page of Inspiration” where I collect and post my favorite things on the internet. It’s always growing and has hours and hours of content already. But to answer your question I love Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars books and movies. I grew up with these and am still in love with them. I have to say though that in high school I watched Into The Wild, the movie based off Jon Krakauer’s book, and totally fell in love with it. I think I like adventure and traveling and stories that don’t settle or remain still.

One summer while I was in high school, I believe the summer before I saw Into The Wild, I spent a month traveling through the Boundary Waters, the northern border of Minnesota, where I walked and canoed for over 150 miles carrying everything I needed on my back, including my canoe. I have a soft spot for stories that tug on my wanderlust strings.

What’s the one thing that people always misunderstand about you?

I’m not sure I understand myself let alone what other people don’t understand about me. So many times I say to myself, “why did I just do that” or “why am I feeling this way” and lots of the time I can’t come up with an answer. My fiancé, Izzy, understands me better than myself most of the time and helps me sort my thoughts and my closest friends live at least 2 hours away from me, which means we have to be understanding of each other to continue having a relationship where we don’t see each other except for special occasions or speak to each other every day or every week. My family, on the other hand, views me as the one thing they don’t understand. They think my decisions to write poetry (especially about my dad when I was working on my book for him), flip a house, adopt many pets, travel as much as I can, grow my hair out, is gross and a waste of time. I hope that answers the question at least a little bit.

What’s your biggest regret in life?

Accepting other people’s truths while denying my own.

How did your father's death affected you and your outlook in life?

My father’s death opened a whole can of worms. I did not have a great relationship with him because I did not see him as often as I wanted. I was led to believe that was a mix of my fault and his lack of interest but since his hospitalization and then death I have come to learn another side to that story. To make a long story short I missed out on having a dad because I blindly believed people that were trying to deceive me or were not well-informed. Now, I make my own informed opinions and if I am going to believe people I need to be able to prove what they’re saying with evidence to trust them. Also, now I feel as if I’m able to stand up for myself more.

Does pain help to create life-changing art?

Wallace Steven says, “Death is the mother of beauty” in his poem “Sunday Morning” and I don’t think there is a better way to say it. Art is expression and expression is driven by great emotion. I’m going to quote another amazing poet, W.S. Merwin, “why do people turn to poetry? Poetry is—and this happens in war-time and in private crises in people’s lives. People who don’t normally read poetry, start reading poetry. They’re hoping that it will express something that they can’t express.” Humans have created a system of symbols (numbers, letters, words, so on) using small mouth noises, which are designed to fulfill our needs. When we are hungry we ask for food. When we are sick we ask for medicine. And because of this, humans have grown plentiful and over populated the world. But while this system of symbols obviates the procedures of barter it does nothing to justify natural phenomena, which can’t be explained with words. I can describe sunlight shining through leaves but in no way can I recreate it, or the loss of a loved one, or the deep fulfillment of a happy relationship. When humans want to express these moments of great emotion they turn to art because they know their feelings are inexpressible. Art and inexpressibility live as a symbiotic couple. If I could just tell you what it is then why should I bother writing a poem? But at the same time if people didn’t learn or take something away from

a poem then why would they read it?

You mentioned that October is a conflicting month for you, can you explain why and how do you manage the anxiety leading up to it?

October 30 is the anniversary of my father’s death so I do become more solemn during that month but it is also my favorite month of the year, especially after this October because like I said earlier I’m marrying my best friend. I’d say I don’t feel an anxiety so much as a sense of reflection, contemplation, awe, and after this October, joy, which is a nice combination for writing poetry.

Website: https://tatelewispoetry.wixsite.com/home

Instagram: @tplpoetry

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