I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast
It looked like a pancake, but it was creation flattened out—
Just as an egg is both egg and ingredient, we are both part and whole.
Scroll down to hear from poet Melissa Studdard and filmmaker Dan Sickles about Buddhism, poetry, and Aguas Buenas.
Interview with Melissa Studdard
by Rosemary Davis, Motionpoems Citizen Journalist
Melissa’s poetry, fiction, essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in dozens of journals, magazines, blogs, and anthologies, including Tupelo Quarterly, Psychology Today, Connecticut Review, Pleiades, and Poets & Writers.
Melissa is the host of Voices & Views, a video podcast that VIDA anticipates launching in the fall of 2015. They’ll call attention to a plurality of voices by interviewing an array of writers about their work, vision, and concerns, as well as topics at the forefront of publishing activism. They’ll also interview editors, publishers, series curators, anthologists, awards committee members, and other people playing roles within the literary community.
In addition to writing, Melissa serves as, an editor and interviewer for American Microreviews and Interviews, and a judge for the monthly Goodreads ¡Poetry! Group contest. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is a professor for the Lone Star College System and a teaching artist for The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative.
There is something very authentic and primal about this poem — the simplicity of a meal (or our lives, or a moment) in connection with the universe. Was that your intent?
I wanted to convey that if we paused at almost any moment in the narrative of being, we would find both the mystical and the mundane, connection and solitude, complexity and simplicity. You’re right to add the parenthetical “or our lives, or a moment.” It’s not about the pancake or the meal; it’s about the pause. It’s about the fact that we are all microcosms of the divine, and, therefore, yes, connected. Even more than simply connected, we are one. Just as an egg is both an egg and an ingredient, we are part and we are whole. The egg is both being and becoming, as we are. To pause in the moment is to access the magic that is always there, waiting.
What is your connection to Buddhism, and in particular Thich Nhat Hanh, whose name you invoke at the top of this poem?
Just yesterday the funniest thought popped into my head—that perhaps Thich Nhat Hanh has been my greatest teacher, even though I’ve never met him in person. His ideas and stories resonate deep and long for me. They make me want to slow down and pay attention to everything, to crack open and let in the pathos and beauty of the world, in its own language. As you can imagine, that makes writing (and life!) immeasurably better.
My connection to Buddhism is a little more complicated. I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist, though I might say I practice Buddhism. Because I learn from and respect many world religions, I don’t feel comfortable saying I’m committed to a specific tradition. However, my thoughts and actions are most influenced by Buddhism.
How does it feel to hand over your words to another artist in a different medium? Did you trust? Were you open to the results?
Initially, for about a split second, I was nervous. I thought: What if they do something silly with it? But I’d seen Motionpoems films already, and I thought every single one of them was terrific—so, that fear began to quickly dissipate. It dissolved completely after I researched Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini and found Mala Mala. After that, I felt certain that something beautiful was about to happen.
Did you speak with the filmmaker Dan, as part of the collaboration? Describe that experience.
I only spoke with him afterwards, when I met him in a Twitter conversation about the film. It was like bumping into an old friend after about a decade, or meeting a pen pal or sperm donor (I imagine). I was like, “Dan Sickles! Is it really you?”
Have you seen the Motionpoems film yet? If so, what is your response to their non-literal interpretation?
Yes—I’ve seen it. I love it! In fact, it is specifically because they avoid the predominant metaphor and related images that they are able to so skillfully tease out subtext. I felt much more understood than I would have if they’d simply shown someone eating a pancake and drinking tea. By pairing the textual imagery with this new visual imagery, they further elicit the sense of creation, sustenance, and elemental divinity at the heart of “I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast.” Rather than timidly toeing the periphery of the poem, they brave the thick inner brushland and cut new paths back out. That is as it should be. They’re not here to merely represent my poem. They’re here to create a new work of art.
Interview with Dan Sickles
by Rosemary Davis, Motionpoems Citizen Journalist
Dan Sickles is a director, actor, and writer living in New York City and Paris, France.
His first film, Mala Mala, premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival in 2014 to widespread critical acclaim. It focuses on the lives of nine transgender-identifying individuals living in Puerto Rico, and their fight for equality and personal fulfillment.
As an actor, Dan is mainly known for his theatrical work, most notably as Hamlet in the 2012 production at Theater 80 in downtown Manhattan, and Konstantin Treplev in The Seagull at Columbia Graduate. His film work includes Moritz Stiefel in the upcoming Spring Awakening film adaptation, and a recurring role in the hit web series High Maintenance.
He has contributed articles for Gawker, The Huffington Post, MTV, and Indiewire. He has spoken on the burgeoning transliberation movement at the American Embassies in Ankara, Turkey and Kiev, Ukraine, and his work is on permanent display in the Contemporary Art Museum in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
His production company, El Peligro, has been honored by the Social Media Impact Awards and Amnesty International for their approach at socially-conscious storytelling.
Have you had any previous connection with poetry? Could you relate to this poem? How?
I really enjoy poetry. The obvious poets come to mind: Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Frank O’Hara, Bukowski, Maya Angelou. I return to them constantly depending on what I’m looking for. I’ve always admired the specificity of the medium. For a while, I lived with Soren Stockman, a young poet, in the East Village, and it was a wonderful, magical time. I’m also a huge Shakespeare nerd; the economy and honesty of his words will always deserve the praise they receive.
My way into this poem was an experiential familiarity. It’s an articulation of a moment of utter presence, where a mundane activity provides a portal to divine contact. The poem is elemental, and speaks of nature, life, and death. I wanted to aid in an ethereal, celestial experience of Melissa’s words through film, to inspire a feeling rather than a literal interpretation.
What was the first image you thought of after reading this poem?
The first image I thought of after reading the poem was a shot of the entire planet floating in space. Ultimately, that inspiration boiled down to this idea that size, a juxtaposition of micro and macro shots, and fluidity/liquidity in camera movement were the basic ground rules for how we approached production.
Describe your role in this film. You’re listed as a producer. Tell us what this means in practical terms.
I’m listed as a producer, but I directed the film as well. The job essentially boils down to making the film happen, seeing it all the way through.
I was in Puerto Rico for the premiere of my last film, Mala Mala, which we shot on the island over the course of three years, and that’s when we shot this, the day after our premiere. I was after a particular tone expressed in the poem, which I felt could be best represented by the raw, dense, natural landscape in Aguas Buenas and surrounding towns outside of San Juan.
How did you get your start in the business and what is your favorite genre?
I started in “the business” as an actor, and fell into production about 4 years ago, just before I began directing my first film (Mala Mala). I truly love all genres, it’s the substance of the film that takes precedent for me when deciding what I like.
Learn anything new?
I’m always working to simplify. In my life and in my work. This project was an attempt at further working to convey something with enough suggestion for familiarity, but enough distance for subjective interpretation. It’s about working to find that sweet spot, every. single. time.
Former independent filmmaker, Rosemary Davis made her living in video and film production working in 22 states and Europe on projects. She received an MFA in Writing in 2007, and has written poetry, memoir, essays and travel since 2000. Her work has been published in such literary journals as Brevity, Views from the Loft, and Minnesota Literature. Anthologies include The Best of Farmhouse Magazine, Out of Line – Searching for Peace and Justice, Seeing the World through Women’s Eyes – A collection of poems inspired by the UN 4th World Conference on Women – Beijing, China, and the Open 2 Interpretation book series.