Heather Bell: Regret or Something More Animal
Written by Liam Sweeny on July 30, 2020
We join author Heather Bell, who’s book, Regret or Something More Animal, is out in stores now from CLASH Books.
RRX: I’m a fiction writer by trade, which means I spend my time trying to put emotions, including pain, into a life. But I’ve recently had time to write about something painful in my life. Your book, Regret or Something More Animal, is a poetry book about love, divorce, and the road between. Can you tell us about your time on this road?
HB: It’s generally hard to think about, but what else do we do when we face hardship but to write our way through it? I was married for ten years to an abusive man. I have two kids from this marriage and it got to a point where I knew his behavior would affect my children as they got older. It’s a big squiggly mess, if you had to draw it on paper. After my divorce I fell down the stairs in my new house I was renting. And I clearly recall crying, not so much from pain but from the knowledge that no one was going to hear that tumble and come see what the sound was.
Poetry was always a contentious divider in my marriage as he felt I wrote and published awful things about him. But what else is there to write? I used to wonder. Do better and I’ll write better things. In my CLASH book, I often see it as this harbinger of justice but also this diary of pain. Along the way I met my current partner Dan, who is a large furry bear sort of man. He’s the sort of person who quietly picks you up off the floor when you are crying and asks no questions until you are ready. The poetry about him felt like a nest, a place to put my brain when it needed to feel goodness.
I wrote a lot in my marriage alone and at night as it was such a contentious act. Now, I usually can even write quickly on my phone while having conversations with people. It’s like being in a cave, lost, then suddenly someone removes a boulder blocking the entranceway and you are free. And freedom is hard to deal with when you’ve been locked away so long. So yeah, write your way through it. It’s where the clarity lives.
RRX: I’ve always marveled at how poetry can at the same time bring out deep truths to the reader while being presented in forms that take hold of language and, basically, twist it into a balloon animal. How do you balance the form of the art and your own expressive need?
HB: My need for? I mean, when I write I usually sit with a phrase or idea for a bit then just work it out. For me I hear the sounds in my head and determine placement and such but I also have my undergraduate degree in writing so I of course also have my professors in my brain yelling about lineation and structure. Also I tend to write off and on. Through turbulent times or turns in which I feel deep emotions, I write constantly. When I am stagnant or have no “new” issues in my life, I won’t write for months on end. Which I have always found interesting: my periods of absolute joy create no writing. My periods of absolute sadness, shame, even new love- I will create. That doesn’t mean new love isn’t joy, of course, but there is a deep contentment in a settled relationship wherein I simply allow the beauty to happen rather than try to decipher it through writing. So you could say I am perhaps at my worst, emotionally, if I am writing.
RRX: Marriage is so ingrained in our society as an ultimate life goal, like a thing to check off – house, good job, car, marriage – like a sign that you’ve come into the real world from the fantasy of youth. Yet almost fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Do you think societal expectation is a “third partner?”
HB: Yes, I think we romanticize it. I am unsure if I will ever get remarried. Both my partner and I were married previously and it ended in divorce. I know our children would like it, but I feel like it’s only because they also see that societal expectation. As though a piece of paper and a different way to do your taxes solidifies love. However, I have been blessed that they (I have two kids and he has two kids) on their own have expressed that they feel they are siblings and we are a family. Maybe I am cynical, but that piece of paper never made me more loved or happier when I was married, so I know it won’t now. It helps with clarity- that love is a choice regardless of whether you say a couple words in front of a crowd. Whenever I make choices now I think to myself what would my children think of these choices? And am I showing them the way to find themselves and find how to love in this world? They all joke around that at about midnight every night I sit down and we have story time. I tell my stories, they tell theirs. We all listen. And by “stories” I mean tell me anything you want. I’ve learned a lot and I think they have too. They will ask for stories about my partner, which they usually find hilarious (he’s a silly sort of man!) but also quite serious when I tell them about how he protects me from anything that I was hurting from. They, in turn, tell me stories about things they have recovered from, have experienced, etc. And because we are a blended family, I always learn a lot as I know I am not always around. Stories are how we get to poetry. Poetry is how we translate love.
RRX: So let’s look into the past and the future for a second. What else by your hand exists? And what is on its way to existence? Are you strictly poetry, or is fiction (or non-fiction) in the mix? How can our readers keep up with Heather Bell?
HB: I have done a short fiction chapbook in the past but it’s no longer available. To keep up with me I suppose just google my name and poetry? I write sort of on and off again, so nothing very consistent.
I feel like we all artistically have other interests. I love plants, my house is covered in them, the outside of my house is covered in them. They bring me solace when the world is so easily changeable.
As for non-fiction: isn’t that also my poems? Maybe sometimes. We all write our way through disaster as best we can. Long form never works too well for me. I tend to think of a book of poems as my long story.
I’m a writer and I’ve always been attracted to horror (although writing it is another thing altogether!). Just the idea that darkness is always at the corner of your vision.