Diana Raab is an award-winning poet, memoirist, blogger, and author of eight books, including two memoirs, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal and Healing with Words; and four poetry collections, Dear Anais: My Life in Poems for You, The Guilt Gene, Listening to Africa, and Lust. She has a Ph.D. in psychology with a focus on transpersonal psychology. Her forthcoming book, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, will be released in 2017 by Loving Healing Press.
Diana is an advocate of writing for transformation and empowerment, and teaches workshops and speaks worldwide on this subject. She’s a regular blogger for Psychology Today, PsychAlive, and Huffington Post (Huff50). Her website is: www.dianaraab.com.
Debby Bacharach: Your most recent poetry collection is called Lust. Some of these poems are about deep and abiding love, and some are about the hot flash of lust. What do you consider the relationship between the two?
Diana Raab: I believe that love and lust are closely connected, and the relationship is a powerful one. From a religious perspective, lust has been equated with sinful behavior or an intense desire for gratification. I don’t believe in these negative connotations. I believe there’s an intimate connection between lust and love and that there has to be lust if there is love. I also believe that lust can turn into love. My sense is that lust does not only pertain to intimacy, but it can also pertain to a zest for living. To have lust is simply to have passion.
DB: Sex is a very difficult topic to write about. In some poems you use technical language like “fallopian tubes,” and in others, metaphors such as “tasty juices of your manhood.” How do you find the diction for your poem?
DR: That’s a great observation! My earlier career was as a registered nurse, and my first work was a self-help book on difficult pregnancies, resulting from my being confined to bed rest for all three of my children, so that might be the reason for my technical vernacular at times. When writing, I am accessing both sides of my brain. I also think that merging technical language with metaphors offers a different perspective and sensibility for readers.
DB: You often have the poem’s title slide into the first line, becoming one sentence—for example: “RIP ME/From the darkness which envelops.” I love how this technique leads me into the poem, and I feel it matches the subject matter because so many of these poems are about connection. How do you think the poetic craft connects with the subject matter?
DR: Interesting question. Most of my poems begin with the titles. The title keeps me focused on the subject I want to talk about. Often I divert from the subject, but by the end of the poem, I am usually led back there; thus, there’s the connection.
DB: You often surprise me in poems, as for instance with the switch in tone in “Your Presence”:
but you are so much bigger than me
and your voice heard
across all peaked mountain tops
And I do not dare step on
your perfectly aligned toes
even though all I want to do
is nibble on them.
Do you surprise yourself when you’re writing? And what do you do when the poems starts heading in a direction you didn’t expect?
DR: Yes, I often surprise myself when I’m writing. Poetry inevitably brings me into a trancelike state. I often engage in stream-of-consciousness writing when crafting a poem. Unlike my prose writing, I simply allow one line to lead into another, having no idea where it will go. Sometimes I reach the end of my poem and wonder, “Who wrote this poem?” It’s almost like entering an altered state of consciousness. I’m hooked on that feeling. During my revisions, I reread the poem and try to connect the ending to the beginning, especially if I’ve gone off on some bizarre tangent.
DB: I’ve noticed snakes in several of your poems, like these lines from “The Wave”:
When we are together
my mind holds an image
of two snakes riding
the waves of desire,
wet and noisy undulations
of overt ecstasy
which enters my room
and without warning
or alarm exits like a flash.
Did it surprise you to have the snake images come into your poems? What other themes did you discover as you put together your latest poetry collection, Lust?
DR: Great observation! It’s funny, because I’m petrified of snakes, but I think they’re a great metaphor for me because I believe life snakes around itself, or maybe it’s about my motto of going to places that scare you. Obviously, sensuality was a huge part of this collection, merging my imagination with the reality of life as I see it. My poetic themes vary depending upon my mood at the time, but I can comfortably say that sensuality, love, nature, family, interconnectedness, and peace of mind have always been themes in my poems.
DB: I really enjoy how your technique, “This is not X,” in “Lightning” creates such anticipation for the reader. You make us wait. Do you consciously think about techniques you want to try with different poems, or do they arrive organically?
DR: Sometimes I wish I was more conscious while writing my poems, but as I mentioned earlier, I enter into a trancelike state, and I’ve accepted this as being a gift rather than a handicap. I rarely think about form when writing poetry. All my poetry is free-flowing, and if it does not flow in this way, then I consider the poem to be a failure. I don’t believe poetry should be forced. So, yes, my poems arrive organically.
DB: I never assume that the speaker is the poet, but did you have any concerns about revealing too much about your own life as you wrote these poems?
DR: Poetry is about the story, and as poets, we have the license to access our imagination as much as needed to convey our message. People get too hung up on fiction versus nonfiction, rather than focusing on the story or narrative that is being shared. I have no concerns about revealing the intimate parts of life. I’m exposing human emotions and images, expressing what many people feel but are unable to bring to the page. I’m happy to do this, and during the creative process, the line between reality and imagination is often blurred—and there’s nothing wrong with this. My hope is that my candor will inspire others to be just as open.
DB: One of my favorite poems in the book is “Two Worlds,” where the speaker wishes to live in both the mundane and the passionate. In which world do you write poems?
DR: I enjoy offering the reader two different perspectives, such as the mundane and the passionate. During my writing, I navigate between both worlds, allowing the creative process to follow its own path and to unfold as it desires. This is the freedom of creative endeavors.
DB: For me, this book felt like a story told in poems. Did you initially conceive it in that way? How did you end up writing it?
DR: I did not conceive the book before pulling it together. I don’t see Lust as a story told in poetic form—there is no beginning, middle, and end. They are poems that have been collected over the course of the past 15 years. I finally decided to pull them together into a collection.
DB: Several times the speaker mentions her aging body, and a grandmother talks about the importance of sex. What do you think of the relationship between lust and aging?
DR: As we approach middle age, we become more and more cognizant of the aging process. Lust was published in 2014, the year I turned 60, so aging was up front and center in my radar. My beloved grandmother was a model in Austria, so her appearance was very important to her. In a sense, I agree with what she used to say, which is that you feel the way you dress, and that if you dress sexy, then you’ll feel sexy. She taught me that before going out, you should always look good because you never know whom you’ll run into. My grandmother committed suicide when she was 61, the age I am now, and I have often thought about how far I am from being ready to end my life. There is so much more I want to accomplish and offer the world.
DB: In the poem “Thank You,” the speaker is terrified of leaving the lights on. Was it hard for you to leave the lights on in these poems?
DR: I am a breast-cancer survivor, and in 2001, I had a mastectomy and reconstruction. This has made me very aware of my physical imperfections. For the first few years after my surgery, I was extremely shy and embarrassed about my altered landscape. I did not want to expose myself or have the lights on during intimacy, even with my husband of more than 40 years. However, now, 15 years after my diagnosis, I’m much more comfortable with my physical appearance, and yes, I do leave the lights on more often. I’ve learned to accept my new landscape and am grateful to have been cured of breast cancer and to be thriving in all aspects of my life. My scars are constant reminders of the fragility of life, as well as how much I have to live for.
DB: I know that you facilitate workshops in writing for transformation, and that in particular, you’ve taught one called “Writing for Lust.” How do you open yourself up to writing about lust? How do you help other people write about it? What has been the response to the “Writing for Lust” workshops?
DR: While I have written a lot of lustful or sensuous poetry, this workshop was really about writing deeply and passionately. Writing lustfully does not necessarily mean you’re only writing about intimate moments; it can be about writing passionately about anything—from romance to cars to travel to animals. It’s about getting the reader to hear what moves you and what makes you feel most alive. In my workshops, when trying to get others to write lustfully, all I do is ask them to think about what makes their hearts sing and then have them write about it in a very deep way, digging down to their emotional truths. To do so, I encourage stream-of-consciousness writing.
There was a great amount of interest in this workshop, and I believe it is because, for the most part, people want to tap in to their unconscious mind but are unsure how to do so, and my techniques and writing tips very often help them.
DB: We’ve been talking a lot about lust (no surprise), but I’d also like to connect back to your work with transformation. How does poetry transform you, and how you do see it transforming readers?
DR: Transformation may be defined as a dramatic change in an individual’s physical or psychological well-being. Poetry transforms, because if you write about a particular event in your life, you can have revelations about it that can lead to transformation, always keeping in mind that the deeper you go into the subject being discussed, the greater the chance of transformation. Others can be transformed by your words if your story resonates with them or if they have navigated similar journeys. Ultimately, healing, transformation, and empowerment are all parts of the same path—leading to self-awareness, self-discovery, and growth.
Visit Diana’s Website: dianaraab.com.
Pick up your own copy of LUST: Poems (available on Amazon and Audible. Poems read by NY Actress, Kate Udall).