This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
My name is Chelsie Diane and I’m a poet at Poems and Peonies.
My interest in poetry began when I was a little girl. I started writing as a way to disappear from my life. I was raised in a super-fundamentalist Christian household where antiquated things were considered holy, so I was allowed to read old things—old books, old poetry—but I wasn’t allowed to read modern books. So I would go to antique auctions on my farm road and I’d get the free boxes of old books and devour them, starting at age five and six. I would try to write in the margins of them. I still have them all, actually. So I’ve been writing poetry since I could write.
Could you imagine a life without creativity?
No, because for me, poetry is life. Poetry is our deepest depths of feeling. It’s the pearl we all have inside of us and if you dig deep enough to reach it, and you pull it out and hold it up in front of your eye, everybody will recognize it. But you have to dig deep enough to pluck out that pearl or it’s not poetry. If you do reach it and hold the pearl up, then everybody will say, “Me too, me too, me too. I see that in me, that’s in me. I feel that.” So there’s no life without poetry and there’s no poetry without fully living your life.
I have this tattoo on my arm that says, “For the poetry.” And it’s why I do everything I do. For example, I might be thinking, Should I talk to this person? Like last week. I was in Paris and I was sitting at the bar and I was like, Should I talk to this man who’s worked here for 40 years? And I looked down at my wrist and I’m like, For the poetry.
The poetry demands that we live fully. I don’t think you can have one without the other.
“...poetry is life. Poetry is our deepest depths of feeling. It’s the pearl we all have inside of us and if you dig deep enough to reach it, and you pull it out and hold it up in front of your eye, everybody will recognize it. But you have to dig deep enough to pluck out that pearl or it’s not poetry. If you do reach it and hold the pearl up, then everybody will say, ‘Me too, me too, me too. I see that in me, that’s in me. I feel that.’”
What was your first real break and who gave it to you?
My first real break where I thought I could make a living out of doing this? I gave it to myself. It was permission that I finally gave to myself.
I had this relationship in Oklahoma City just a few years ago. I was going back and forth in this long-distance relationship and I remember I was sitting in his living room realizing, I don’t belong here. It was kind of a repeat of a life I had just climbed out of—from a marriage I had just climbed out of. And I said, “I’m leaving.” I went to a hotel and I flew out early the next morning.
On the plane, I called my web developer friend. I said, “By the time I land, I want a webpage up. I want to start teaching. I want to start putting myself out there and I want to make a living from this. And I believe that I can do that.” He said, “Okay.” By the time I landed, I didn’t have a boyfriend anymore and I had a career. I just put out a message that I wanted to teach a class and all of these women said, “Yeah, I’m here for it.” That was my first break—just deciding one day that this isn’t the road I want to be on. Just giving myself permission and getting on it. It all happened within an hour and my entire world changed.
I started traveling the world and teaching a class. Every single month this year, I went to a different country and taught a class, attracting this community of incredible women—poets and people who don’t consider themselves poets yet. Just women gathering to tell their truth. I’m watching it heal them and expand them, and it has done the same for me.
Tell us a wild or unbelievable story.
The most unbelievable story is that I was a married, stay-at-home mom of three children/doctor’s wife in Kansas City, Missouri that had built a three-bedroom house. And that one day, when I was at a hotel where my husband at the time had a medical conference, I just had this thought: I would either jump off the hotel balcony or I would write a poem every single day, no matter what, for a year. It’s the craziest fucking thought I’ve ever had in my life—that it would save my life. I thought, Might as well try it. I came back inside and I wrote a poem. I hadn’t written for years at this point—my soul was pretty much almost completely dead—and I started writing a poem every single day for a year.
I ended up falling madly in love—not with my husband—and I ended up getting a divorce. I ended up moving to California with my three children and I created an entirely new life for myself. I was freelancing and screenwriting and then that turned into this life that I have now, doing exactly what I love. It all started from the poetry—from accessing my deepest truth, my deepest layers of subconscious dreamscape—and pulling it out like that pearl I was talking about and holding it in front of me. And then all these women saying, “Me too, me too, me too.”
That all happened within six months. I had moved to LA and filed for divorce, writing a poem every single day for a year. That’s the most unbelievable story, I think.
What would you say to young Chelsie?
You know, the funny thing is, I have this belief that my higher self has been doing this my whole life: going back in time and telling younger Chelsie what the next right step is. I have this poem that talks about how I’ve become the woman I needed when I was younger. I’ve become her, who I needed to save me. In a way, it’s made me grateful for every single thing I’ve lived, including the trauma, because it’s made me be able to be who I am for all these women.
It felt really lonely except for this voice—the voice of my higher self that I believe would come back and give me messages. My knowing would say things like, “Apply to med school. This will get you free.” And so I did. I got in at 18 and I left the house. Then, after four years, I was like, I don’t want to be a doctor. So year four of medical school, I quit. I went back and got a degree in English lit. Something in me told me to do that, and then to get a degree in creative writing and Brit lit. All of this led up to what I teach now, which is the neurobiology and science of subconscious dreamscape and creativity, and poetry. The crux of that is where my passion lies.
I think I’ve always been going back in time and telling younger Chelsie exactly where she needed to be and exactly what she needed to do. She didn’t always follow it. I wanted to run on my wedding day and I didn’t. But these babies that I have, I’m so grateful they’re here, and those exact babies wouldn’t be here otherwise. I have no regrets. I feel like all of it is for the poetry. All throughout my life, my knowing has been telling myself, nudging myself, Do this. And sometimes I think, Why? But when I follow it, I always look back and I think, Oh, that was why.
“I don’t run away from pain and I also don’t only seek pain for my art. I used to. I used to think that pain was the only place I could draw inspiration from, and it’s not true. It’s the lie that’s killed all the greats.”
What does creativity mean to you?
Creativity, to me, is just allowing whatever god is to you—the universe, an old dog, magic, whatever that life force is—to flow through your vessel. To be open and clear enough in your truth, whatever that truth is, and just allow it to flow through.
There have been times when I didn’t write the poem that Source was wanting to give me because I was distracted or busy. And the next day, I wake up and my friend Amy, who lives across the world, wrote the exact poem. That’s what I believe about creativity: I believe that it’s this waterfall of inspiration pouring on us, and if we block it, then it’ll just pour on someone else and go through someone else. It’s up to us to be an open vessel for it. I believe that the way we stay an open vessel is by being aligned in our own truth, whatever that is.
What makes you come alive?
Poetry is just the telling of everything that makes me come alive. When I’m out in the world, every single day, that’s what I ask myself: Does this make me expand in my middle? Does this person that I’m eating lunch with make me feel like I’m expanding or do they make me contract? It’s a fuck no for everything that makes me contract. So then I’m in a place of alignment for poetry to come to me—for a feeling to come to me.
I don’t run away from pain and I also don’t only seek pain for my art. I used to. I used to think that pain was the only place I could draw inspiration from, and it’s not true. It’s the lie that’s killed all the greats. It’s why Plath put her head in an oven and Sexton killed herself in the car and Hemingway blew out his brains. It’s a lie to think you can only draw from pain to create art. We can draw from joy, too. We have to draw from both, to be honest, because both exist and both are in the path of the person who’s fully living. I believe that I seek the thing that makes me feel the most alive, and sometimes, it’s not joy. Sometimes it is pain. I’m here for all of it.
This interview was conducted on November 2nd, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.