When we first heard Eleanor Perry-Smith reciting her poetry, we were left breathless. There was something enchanting about her words compounded with the way she delivered them; full of emotion, charisma, grit, and beauty.
Eleanor has already penned a children's book, written her first novel (by hand), and has crafted numerous poems and poetry projects. We were thrilled to speak with her about her poetry and eager to show you the video below.
Cinematography by David Grauberger
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey as a writer and poet. How did it all begin?
I grew up in Englewood, Colorado. I went to this awesome little elementary school called Charles Hay where I was strongly encouraged in the arts. My dad was also influential. He often recited long verses from memory while we were hiking or walking to the park. When I got to middle school, I was bewildered and retreated into poetry as a remedy. I wrote tons of poems when I was ten. They’re mostly terrible and I love them.
As a poet, how have you developed from those early years into who you are now?
In college, a creative writing teaching assistant told me that what I was writing wasn’t poetry. It made me want to set myself apart even more, and to explore what makes me different from others. These days, I’m equally interested in what makes us the same.
Does anything else that stick out to you as a formative/challenging moment as you’ve journeyed further as a writer?
Realizing what I don’t want is as relevant to me as my passions. For instance, I had a band for a year. We played several shows and the UMS, but it turned out I was far more interested in writing lyrics alone than making music collectively. Experimenting with a variety of writing has helped me focus on what I care about most. All roads lead to poetry.
What is poetry all about to you? Why do you write it?
For me, poetry is an attempt to speak the unspeakable, which is impossible, but it’s medicinal to try. It’s a timeless method of recollection and preservation. I write for catharsis, for fear, for joy. Poetry is my first impression and my last resort.
What kind of poetry/writing projects have you done and what are you currently working on?
Over the summer, I wrote my first novel, which I’m typing and editing this winter. I also wrote a rhyming children’s book called Hedy and the Secret Shoes, illustrated by Chloe Heglin. I’m currently communicating with a publisher about that project, which is exciting.
Next year, I plan to publish two volumes of poetry. One is called Revelry and Rhyme in which I pair photographs I took with verses I wrote throughout the last decade. The second is a very personal project called Dunbar’s Number. It’s based on the work of anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who determined the average number of stable social relationships humans can maintain – about 150 people. So I’m writing 150 poems inspired by those relationships in my life.
I’m also filming more poetry videos, which has been rewarding. They provide a performance experience for those who don’t typically attend poetry gatherings.
Steward - Written by Eleanor Perry-Smith, Penned by Jake Weidmann
It also looks like you’ve done some pretty amazing collaborative work with Master Penman Jake Weidmann, what did you guys do together?
Jake is a dear friend. A while back, he wanted to create a maritime piece, but instead of penning something traditional like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, he asked me to write a new poem in that vein. It’s called Semblance, and he turned the words into calligraphic waves. We loved the outcome. Later, we collaborated on a portrait of a Northern Arapaho Native American called Steward where my words adorn the headdress.
Can you explain a little bit about your poetry writing process?
I have this gigantic sketchbook that I hunker over cross-legged on the ground like a third-grader. I scribble out the lines until I arrive somewhere that feels right. Then, for performance pieces, I speak them aloud as much as possible throughout my day so I can fine-tune and memorize. It’s important to me to present them from memory.
Your poems have a melodic/musical element to them, which is noticeable when I’ve witnessed your poetry readings live, but how would you explain the rhythm and tone of your poems to those that haven’t had a chance to hear your poetry?
My performance poems are songlike. However, instead of lyrics serving the music, my melodic projection is there to bolster the words. Not everyone is designed to feel emotion from words alone, but if I can emphasize sound and use assonance effectively, then I have a greater chance of inspiring a listener. I believe it creates a more robust experience than me looking at a page and reading downward.
How does your sense of place affect the way you write, if at all?
It depends on the type of writing I’m doing. I’m sensitive to stimuli, so if I need to focus, I stay home. When I write poetry for performance, I like to be completely alone and speak the words aloud as I write. If I’m just free-associating in my journal, I can be anywhere with anyone.
Do you connect to Denver’s poetry scene at all? How does living in Denver affect your writing?
I co-edited Zephyr Press short fiction and poetry journal, which introduced me to some great people. That project ended last year, and now I’m making efforts to reach out more.
I value Denver’s inclusive spirit. Growing up here has allowed me to cheer for artists I’ve known for years, and watching them flourish is incredible. I’m glad I didn’t leave.
Where/how do you find inspiration to write? Any other artists out there that inspire you?
For me, inspiration is its own animal. It comes when it wants, not when beckoned. Although, art is often a trigger. A painting, song or film will ripple and affect me until, next thing I know, I’m overwhelmed with a case of the feels.
Countless artists of all varieties inspire me. To name just a few; Dan Eldon, Nina Simone, Robert Service, William Morris, Beryl Markham, Graeme Base, Gary Grice, Mary Ruefle, and locals Daisy Patton, Evan Mann, The Made Shop, and Richard Froude. I’m also deeply inspired by all the people in my life who make things they care about.
What kind of music are you into these days?
I’ve been on a Jackie Opel bender for weeks now. He’s like the Sam Cooke of the Caribbean.
What kind of tips would you have for any novice poets out there looking to develop their poetry writing?
I don’t believe there’s such a thing as an expert poet. Sure, experience often begets a certain caliber, but a little kid’s poem is every bit as valid as Keats or Pound if it comes from an honest place. That said, your poetry matters – to how many people is irrelevant.
Also, I don’t recommend entering contests. If you’re still gaining courage, a contest will likely crush your spirit. Don’t submit your work anywhere until you can do it unabashedly with full knowledge that you will continue to write regardless of the outcome. You don’t need anyone’s permission to be a poet.
Anything else you’d like to add?
If you’re a poet, or an artist interested in collaboration, I’d love to hear from you and learn about your work. I can be reached through my website www.ep-s.com.