Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Q&A with poet Bella Mahaya Carter

Today we’re welcoming Bella Mahaya Carter, author of a new poetry collection, Secrets of My Sex.

Hi, Bella! What can you tell us about Secrets of My Sex?
Hi Lori. Thanks for hosting.
Secrets of My Sex is a collection of 71 poems written in simple, straightforward language. The narrative style appeals to a broad range of readers, from those who have never read (or liked) poetry before, to the most ardent lovers of the form. Each poem stands alone, but is linked to the whole. The collection reads like a memoir or novel, creating a portrait of my intimate experiences as a girl, woman, wife and mother. When I was writing it, I imagined that this book would appeal mostly to women, but I've received a tremendous response from men as well. They seem hungry for candor where women's sexual experience is concerned. Many people--both men and women-- have said this book liberates them, and helps them accept themselves (and their sexuality) more fully. I received an email recently from Peter Levitt, a wonderful poet, who had this to say about the poems: “There is a human tenderness in them, a way of seeing/experiencing the world, that loves it, and proposes that love as a way to heal what has been hurt.” In the end, it's all about healing, acceptance, growth--and of course, love.

Tell us about your revised definition of ‘good’ and how this is expressed in your work.
I have redefined the word "good" to mean that which is truthful and authentic; that which inspires growth and heals. This is what I tell people who ask if what I'm writing is pornographic: my intention is not to arouse, but to understand, release shame and evolve as a divine being having a human experience. I hope the poems in this book are distinct and powerful, that they convey aspects of the feminine as well as the masculine. And I hope readers recognize themselves in these pages, that the work illuminates moments, conversations or events in readers' lives that may have been relegated to dark corners. I try to be bold and intimate, honest and loving as I celebrate the remarkable journey that is our lives. What is "good" is saying "Yes" to myself and my creative process--and the need to say "Yes" to one's self is like the need to bathe--it has to be done on a regular basis. I hope that my doing this inspires others to do the same.

What was your goal with dividing the book into four sections? How do they signal a shift in themes or, perhaps, the development of the feminine?
The sections created a way for me to organzine the material. Every poem I wrote fell into one of these four categories: Girl, Woman, Wife, or Mother. They represent a natural progression of life experience, and each section builds on the previous one.

On your website, you have a quote from Anais Nin. What other authors do you admire?
My favorite poets include Sharon Olds, Molly Peacock, Billy Collins, Charles Bukowski, William Blake, Anne Sexton, Pablo Neruda, and Sufi poets, Hafiz and Rumi. I also love prose written by Isabel Allende, Barbara Kingsolver, Dorothy Allison, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and many others.

You also write fiction and non-fiction. How do you balance all of your writing interests?
I don't balance them--they balance me! I find it helpful working on several projects simultaneously. If I'm stuck on one I go to another. The important thing is to keep writing. Sometimes I need time and space away from a piece in order to gain perspective and clarity. My poems are narrative, so fiction and creative nonfiction don't seem like much of a stretch--it just depends on how much territory I want to cover. A poem can be about something miniscule; an image or a moment. It can even tell a story, but its scope tends to be small. When I have something larger (or longer) to express, it usually takes the form of fiction or creative nonfiction. When I was growing up as a dancer, my teacher encouraged her students to study various techniques: ballet, modern, jazz, flamenco. She used to say, "a dancer is a dancer is a dancer," which meant that properly trained dancers should be able to perform many techniques, because each one is a tool that enables greater artistic expression. Those were the days when Mikhail Baryshnikov blew everybody away dancing Twyla's Tharp's "Push Comes To Shove." It's the same with writing; each genre offers the writer a different tool and expands possibilities for creative expression.

You studied dance at Juilliard. How does your education in performance play a role in your writing?
Well, it definitely helps when I give readings, which is part of what I do as a writer. I'm comfortable and at home on stage or at the podium. Readings are performances on one level, but also I've had to learn how NOT to perform--how to be centered and grounded in my heart and in the truth of my words--and let them speak for themselves.

Where can readers learn more about you and your work?
My website has writing, photos, video, interviews and more: Please stop by for a visit. Books are available on my website, through Bombshelter Press and also on Amazon.

Thanks, Bella!
Thank you, Lori.
Thanks for stopping by for today's Q&A!


  1. Thank you Bella for letting us peak into the hidden crevices of our sexuality through your courage to expose your personal journey.

    I love love love your redefinition of the word "good" to mean that which is truthful and authentic; that which inspires growth and heals.

    Here's to a fully expressed joyful Good Life.


  2. Great interview Bella- Thank you for your open honest, candid, expression of the female sensual sexual nature!