Danusha Laméris ’89 
Author and poet

Q: How did you come to be a poet? 
A: My first memory of poetry as a kid was walking along Dover Beach in Barbados with my mom, my granddad, who was a writer, and his poet friends who were reciting poetry in their gorgeous Caribbean accents. It was a beautiful day surrounded by white, powdery sand. I remember feeling almost intoxicated and thinking, “Whatever this is, I want this.” Added to that, my mother, who was a scientist, had a photographic memory and knew everything she’s ever read before by heart. When I was younger, she would go around the house reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets, or we’d be stuck on the Bay Bridge in traffic, and she would recite Tennyson. I didn’t realize anything unusual was going on, to me that was just weird stuff your mom does, but that definitely influenced me. 

Q: How has your inspiration for your poetry changed
over time?
A: I like to think that each writer, and probably each artist, has their primary irritant that drives them to create their work, and then has a primary solace that they tend to go to in the process of creating their work. I think my irritant has definitely been grief. I had a lot of losses in my life of people very close to me, so that’s probably my initiating subject matter, and I think the solace I tend to go toward is beauty. Whatever happens, there’s still beauty. 

Q: You have a second book of poetry coming out this year. What does it feel like for you to publish your work when it feels so personal?
A: There’s definitely a component of anxiety and mild horror because you think, “My parents are going to read this!” Or, the feeling that I’ve revealed something about my humanness that is somehow more terrible than someone else’s humanness, and what if no one loves me? I think that’s always the risk in writing where you’re really striving to say the deepest and truest thing that you can. You have to take that risk, showing your underbelly, showing your flaws. For me, showing your failings are really important parts of being a poet, because if not the poets, then who?

Q: Can you talk about your process for creating your poetry? How do you take that idea or inspiration and put it on a page?  
A: There’s a poem I wrote called “The Watch.” I had given my husband a watch for his birthday and one day saw it sitting on the dresser. It almost gave me a chill. I made a rough note to myself about it, and let it percolate, asking myself, “What does this remind me of? What is this about?” And then I remembered when my brother died how his wife showed me the Ziplock bag that the coroner had given her. All of his belongings that were on his person were in this Ziplock bag. The rings he wore, his watch, his glasses. I knew that’s what the chill was. A watch is mortality. It keeps time and it keeps ticking after your heart stops. Then I also remembered my grandfather, my father’s father, was a watchmaker. All of that comes in. It’s kind of like being a fisherman. You have this net, and you just allow it all to accrue meaning and imagery. 

Q: You touched on the feeling of taking risks with your poetry. Where else do feel like you take risks in your life?
A: I feel like I’m taking a little professional risk now. In this past year I started a radio show, and I started an organization that runs events and is connected to that radio show. I have no background in radio or in running events. It’s called The Hive Poetry Collective. It’s local to Santa Cruz, but we also podcast it. I thought all I really have to do is put together a cast of characters that can host, cohost it, we’ll learn together, study, get better as we go, but this is our passion—it’s all poets. I’m also writing three books, only one of which is a book of poetry. The other two are a collection of critical essays and a book of personal stories. It’s really fun, but also a totally new thing. 
I also realized years ago that I wasn’t making new connections with people and it was hard to sustain connections that I had. I decided to just tell anybody who I wanted to get to know better, or that I already knew and wanting to see more of, that I would be at a certain location every Friday from 1-3pm, and just see who shows up. In the beginning sometimes no one did and I would just sit there by myself for hours in an outdoor café area in Santa Cruz. I felt really dorky. And other times things would happen. People would drop in. A girl I knew from when we were kids back in Berkeley, my yoga teacher, his friend—it’s just evolved. It’s been two and a half years now and it’s an official thing called Friendly Friday. It’s a salon really, where I hang out with people who are now my friends, but they are people I would not have known. I don’t think people realize how much of a risk it felt like for me, but it’s really expanded my social circle and my life. 

Q: Thinking back to your time at College Prep, what stands out for you?
A: One of the things that really stays with me is that I made a great group of friends and we are still in touch. I also think about certain classes I loved, especially my English classes, and the intensity of sitting around a round table and learning to speak up in a group when I was a shy person. I started writing during my time at College Prep. I definitely thought of myself as a baby writer, a burgeoning writer, and it had a lot to do with my English teacher at the time, Art Ward. Also, during Intraterm, a visiting poet named Tony Hoagland agreed to teach a little class of poetry. He was funny and so smart, and went on to become one of the most well-known poets in America. His work has really inspired me to try other genres and to write essays because he did a lot of that as well as being a poet. 

Q: What advice would you give to current CPS students?
A: I would say find the things that make you love to be alive and trust that the river will carry you exactly where you need to go. It could be just the strangest thing, whatever it is, but you love it. We think so much about wanting things to work out perfectly or to have some perfect life, but I think that what we really want is to have a rich and interesting life with meaningful relationships and fun.
 

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