Meg represents a lot of things, for me. One of the least important, but the one I tend to feel the best about on days when I don’t feel great, is the fact that even though I’m not exactly the best at picking out people who are truly special, I knew almost instantly after meeting Meg one time, and hearing her poetry, that she was a special artist, and more importantly, a special person. It is an incredible privilege to be in an artistic community where you know that you’ve had your time, and someone else should have theirs. Hosting, and being the face of a night can give so much to the host, and it is something that truly special, and truly caring people should experience. I created Pen And Palette Poetry in 2009, and built it from a night where me and maybe three other people were just messing around for an hour, to a night where a wide range of new and established voices pack the house. When I decided to step down as host last year, with a wedding and move on the horizon, I had two options as a replacement host. Meg, and a a handful of other people in case I couldn’t convince Meg to do it. There are people who have gifts beyond the brilliant art that they’re capable of. Meg has a personality that people rally around. It’s natural. It doesn’t matter to them that she also writes incredible poetry. She could do literally anything and have the same impact on the community that she does, because she truly believes in making community spaces wherever she is. So when I handed the night over to her, it was one of the most confident decisions I’ve ever made, in a life where I can hardly decide what to eat during the course of a day. You don’t think anyone wants to be the host after the host everyone knew/loved (or in my case, tolerated), but Meg was born for the role. I’ve watched her confidence grow as a host, person, and artist. And all of this is to say nothing of her poems, which really do a lot of heavy lifting around family, activism, and tragedy I love listening to Meg’s work, or when I get an email from her, asking if I’ll look over a poem There’s no greater happiness than seeing someone breaking through, repeatedly, even when you know they’ve still got so much potential. Meg is going to absolutely bloom. I can’t wait.
I mostly want to talk about the way you interact with the local scene here. Of the local poets I’ve interviewed, you’re the one who is newest to the scene. But you’ve also been around almost as long as I have, or maybe just a year less. I remember when I first saw you read at Writer’s Block. There are open mic poets, and then there are open mic poets who you can tell have been a bit seasoned before hitting the open mic. And I felt like you were the latter. What caused you to venture out and really bleed into the community?
Actually, I began exploring the Columbus poetry scene after a break up. I was sitting at home one night, thinking “No. I’m not going to do this. I’m not going to sit around and mope alone. I’m not going to go mope publicly and in an appropriate fashion.” That’s probably not completely true but I do remember wanting to go out and do something by myself for myself and I wanted it to be something that scared me. And poetry did that. It still does. But it’s the best kind of scared and it just so happens that the people I’m doing this with are really beautiful and kind and supportive.
The way you write about your mother really resonates with me, as someone who also spends a lot of time writing about my relationship with my mother. I think there can be a very real bravery in processing grief on stage. What is your relationship with that? With allowing people into that very personal bit of yourself?
I’ve never really known any other way to grieve. Even in high school, writing has served as the best therapist. I have no dark, quiet corners to cry into. Those don’t help me the way they might help other people. But writing has always been an outlet. Whether it’s kept in a journal and never seen again or something I perform on stage, writing has been the thing that’s made the process a little easier. Plus I’m a really bad liar and the whole “Oh no, I’m fine” thing has never worked. Instead, being able to write about not being fine, about missing my mom, about being sad that she isn’t here has been the best therapy of all. And what’s even better is that I don’t feel alone on stage when I perform a poem that hurts to do. Opening that part of myself up is easy to do when I’m surrounded by extraordinary and caring human beings.
You’re growing, as a writer and a person, quickly. I would venture to say more quickly than many poets on our scene, with the exception of a handful (Besty, Zach, The Sons all come to mind). What do you do in order to challenge yourself as a writer, and what corners are you looking to turn next?
Recently I’ve had a minor upswing in poems and my biggest challenge has been putting poems aside that aren’t ready. I have two filed away that haven’t become what I want them to be and it was a really difficult decision to set them on a shelf because they’re ones I need to work, you know? But I started to hate them the more I worked at them and realized that wasn’t at all what I wanted. So I’ve decided the next time I bring them out, I’m going to try different styles. A couple friends and I have started getting together every couple weeks to sit down and critique each other’s work and so far it’s been incredibly helpful in challenging my style. Actually, after the most recent meeting we had, I talked about a poem I ended up slamming with at the Writing Wrong’s grand slam a couple days later. It was kind of a surreal experience for me, and one that made me realize how I’ve grown as a poet in the last year. To have the confidence in myself to do something like that.
I have several goals set for myself this year. The first of which is attending Nationals as an observer and supporter. I want to meet incredible poets, hear beautiful poems and learn as much as I can. Then, I’m gunning for IWPS. Again it’s to meet and hear and learn but by this time, I want to be on the same stage.
One thing that we’ve talked about before, and one of the reasons I picked you as the future host of Pen and Palette Poetry (which we will talk about later) is how effective you are at bringing community together. Whether it’s poetry based, or whether it’s just for games at your house. You have a way of connecting with people that really draws them in. And it’s really been a joy to see your confidence grow in that gift. How natural is that, for you?
Thanks, Hanif!! Community has always been a really important part of my life. My parents made it a point for my brothers and I to know we were a part of something bigger than ourselves. My mom was a special education teacher so whether we were giving up toys for her classroom treasure box or volunteering, we were reminded that we were creating a sense of belonging by taking care of others. That’s a lesson that’s really resonated with me in my adult life and something my partner and I strive to provide for our friends. We want to take care of the people we love and we want them to know it everyday.
Early on, the best advice I got about writing poems was that anything in my poems could happen, because they’re MY poems. It helped me get very comfortable with imagery, especially since I was coming from a place where imagery wasn’t frequently used. I like how bold your work is, in this respect. You aren’t afraid to take risks when it comes to daring an audience to visualize you, like literally you, as something that you’re not. It’s unique, for me, in the best kind of way to have you drop these things into narratives that are extremely personal. Can you talk about your use of imagery, and how it relates to how you view yourself through your work?
I really like the challenge of attaching a very specific image or fact or idea to someone or a situation in my life. There are certain images that will always be the same in my writing. My dad is always a redwood tree. My best friend is usually referred to as some summer month. I have a poem about my family and we’re all hedgehogs because of a social psychology theory. I’m usually a weird animal. I was in a biology class in college when I professor was talking about the anatomical structure of a cephalopod. And instead of taking notes for a midterm I ended up writing a poem about why having three hearts would seriously suck for someone with an anxiety disorder. There is so much that I struggle to explain just by being human. (Anxiety, grief, dancing to Amy Winehouse, being stupid in love, working in a group home) So in a weird way, it’s easier to describe everything by making myself anything other than a person. It helps me process what’s happening in my own life by writing about it as if it’s not. Does that make sense? I hope that makes sense.
So, when I decided to step down from hosting Pen and Palette, I ran through the options I had for people I wanted to take over, and you topped the list. I remember in the early days of P&P, when it was just me, and like five other people, and none of us were REALLY writing poems, and it was just some bullshit that we did on a Thursday. Now, obviously, it is much different. I give you a lot of credit for the shift in the night since I left, clearly. Not many people can step down from somewhere, and see no drop-off in the following weeks/months. How were you able to come in and maintain the level of the night so effectively?
Honestly, I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit.
I appreciate that but I can and should say the same to you, though. That night is so radical and it mostly has to do with the people you initially drew in, the relationship you established with Short North Coffee House and the impact you’ve had in the poetry scene. I just came in as another socially anxious poet with a microphone who’s super stoked to be a part of all this. I am constantly thankful of the crowd who attends Pen & Palette. They are so gracious, so giving and so supportive of one another. I’m really lucky to spend time with them every week. Plus they listen to me tell weird stories and keep coming back. It’s pretty affirming.
Also, you’re in an interesting position. Our scene does not have a lack of women’s voices doing fantastic/necessary work. That said, there aren’t many women leading weekly shows. A poet came through here once and told me that if we wanted to see young women finding their voices/being more open to get up on stages in rooms that are, sometimes, male dominated, it would go a long way to have women hosting/organizing/as the face of shows. You now do a dope job leading a fairly successful night, so I’m wondering what your thoughts on that idea are? This concept of your presence being an inspiration for voices?
I mean, that’s a really weird concept to think about for me. Because the thing about Pen & Palette is that the community is so undeniably welcoming. It’s like I said before, all I do is talk nonsense in between these awesome poets each week. So the idea that I could be an inspiration for voices is not a way I’ve thought about it before. I agree that having a female voice hosting on the mic each week is productive, but I’m not the one telling the teenage girls I’ve never met to show up. They do that on their own. They’re the ones with the voices. They’re the ones with the bravery to read on a mic when they’ve never done it before. The fact that I get to be the one to hand the mic off to them each week is probably one of the coolest things in the world. Ever.
As a performer, I’ve watched you grow in a really short time, but you’ve always been engaging for me in the ways that I like performers to be engaging. I don’t know how hard you’re ACTUALLY trying, but I’ve always liked that your performance style is loose, relaxed, even funny, in spots. I like that you’re not afraid to laugh on stage. So often, especially in slam, there are so many performers who don’t allow themselves to give in to whatever they feel on a stage, and you do that, so well. What is your relationship with performing like, and how has it changed?
Last year at Writing Wrong’s grand slam I was trying really hard and it showed. This year, something clicked. I realized that there was no algorithm for slam poetry. At least not one that I fit into and when I understood that, I was able to let go of a lot of pressure I had been putting on myself that I think stopped me from being a better poet. I had all these heavy expectations for myself that just didn’t fit into who I am. So instead of trying to make myself into what I saw three years ago on YouTube, I decided to work with what I had. Like, sometimes when I read poems, I sound really mad but I’m not mad at all. So instead of using this weird mad voice (which apparently is my ‘performance’ voice), I worked on being softer. I worked on performing a poem the way I would tell a story with friends. I laugh and cry and sit in silence with my friends. That’s what I did at the grand slam this year and I was really proud of my performance. And that’s all I can really ask of myself.
Who influences your writing? What poets are the ones who push you to develop?
Man. Columbus is lovely place to be born into poetry. I could name so many people who have effected my writing. Rachel Wiley, definitely. There’s the really cool YouTube-ButtonPoetry-Upworthy Rachel Wiley poems and those are all, without a doubt beautiful but there’s this one poem she wrote and I’ve only ever heard her do it once but that’s how good it is. It’s stuck with me for like a year plus. It’s a reference to Yoko Ono. The entire house was done when she walked off stage. Tears. Hugging. Everything. It was such an incredible poem and I went home that night to write and I think I wrote like eight pages without taking a breath. I love poets like that. I love poets who can take down a house in one poem. Jon Sands is like that. Good Ghost Bill, Andrea Gibson, Jeanann Verlee. All those guys.
But I think the poet who most pushes me to develop is Ethan Rivera. I think you know him. Real talkative, glasses, hair for days. He’s ok. Anyways, we’re always talking poems. He’s constantly reminding me to just chill out and write. He’s the first person I send my poems to for edits because I know he’ll tear them to shreds when they need to be. There have been nights we’ve worked on poems over the phone for like three hours just to make them work. And he’s always willing to make them work. Like I said, he’s ok.
Finally, I feel like I have to ask. When you first starting popping in at open mics around the city and reading poems a couple of years ago, did you ever imagine that you would be hosting/running a weekly show?
Are you kidding me?! NO WAY. Up until we talked about it several months ago, it wasn’t even something that crossed my mind. I just figured it’s the way things were. But now that I have this opportunity I want you to know how much I appreciate your trust in me as a host and as a poet. I hope I can do the same for someone else along my way through the Columbus poetry scene.
Meg, thanks so much for doing this. There’s literally no one else I would have trusted with the ship that is Pen and Palette, and I’m so proud of all that you bring to it.
MEG FREADO is a psychometrician for Nationwide Children’s Hospital by day, working with kids with developmental disabilities and is mostly a poet by night. She is the host of Pen & Palette Poetry on Thursday evenings at The Short North Coffee House and was the second place poet of the Columbus Arts Fest in 2013. She is currently in the process of putting together her first chapbook.