VoiceCatcher: A Cairn of Artists
by Naomi Fast
As Robert Frost knew, “poet” is not the career to pick if you like your paths well-traveled. Like many artists, I first faced the unconventionality (Read “magicality”!) of my “career choice” when it did not appear on college entrance applications or SAT sign-up forms. It’s true that every poet pretty much plows her own way and, most of the time, that’s part of the fun. But I’ve been uncomfortably stuck, too. When I needed a good next career move, all I knew to do was submit, submit, submit. Luckily, during one of those times, I submitted to VoiceCatcher.
In early 2011, after I’d been published in two volumes of VoiceCatcher and served on the editorial team of a third, Board President Carolyn Martin invited me to read my poetry live on a KBOO radio program with two other poets. (The link to this show is still available here.) As we nervously warmed up, laughing and talking in the green room, I had one of those dizzying moments of realization: I had surpassed what I’d thought possible for myself when I first chose to be a poet. A huge part of the moment was the connection I felt with the other women around me – poets, editors and board members – who, through the thick and thin of their lives, wrote. And kept writing. As the women read their poems – several of them focusing on unique and painful challenges of motherhood – I felt grateful to be not only a poet amongst these women, but also a listening witness to their words.
It’s not a moment I could have dreamed up my junior year of high school when I first declared to myself I’d be a poet. I’d been writing poems since grade school and had studied the greats like Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Blake, when Ms. Manak, my AP literature teacher, introduced us to Sylvia Plath. While savoring Plath’s vivid imagery and fascinating emotional landscape – Plath was the first woman poet I’d studied in depth – I decided then and there: My career goal would be poet, even though on all the college entrance exams I bubbled in lawyer or psychologist.
While working through those, “If a train is traveling at 50 mph and a spotted dog is racing alongside at 25 mph, when will pigs fly?” questions on the SAT, I couldn’t imagine my poetry career would include such a satisfyingly rich community of colleagues. That’s the thing about VoiceCatcher: The volunteers who make up the editors and board are artists, understand artists, and want to help make your voice be the next one heard on someone’s car radio one rainy Portland night. We who make up VoiceCatcher were you once, shyly sending that first manuscript out in a manila envelope or online; never expecting that beyond the possibility of being published, we might also have the chance to read in front of an audience, become an editor of a literary journal or teach a writing class; never expecting we’d feel befriended, nurtured even.
VoiceCatcher is, simply put, a cairn along the trail, consistently helping women mark important milestones in their careers as artists, letting us know we are right where we should be, and amongst company. Without Carolyn’s invitation, I wouldn’t have realized that KBOO moment. And if I hadn’t submitted my poems, I wouldn’t have received that invitation. It’s moments like those – the unexpected Yes! in response to the poems or art we’ve offered to the universe – that affirm and support our choice to become writers and artists. Now that you’ve encountered VoiceCatcher, pause and rest at the cairn as long as you like. Leave a stone on the pile when you travel on.
Naomi Fast was an assistant editor of VoiceCatcher6 and has been published in VoiceCatcher4 and 5, Dogwood: A Journal of Poetry & Prose, Ghost Town Poetry, edited by Christopher Luna and Toni Partington, and other literary publications. She is a professional copywriter as well as an adjunct professor at Portland State University, where she has taught theater appreciation and script analysis. She is frequently heard singing to herself while riding her bike.