Janeen Pergrin Rastall, 59, from Michigan, USA, is a poet and for this issue of the ASLI magazine Janeen submitted a poem tackling the subjects of abuse, self respect and the empowerment of women.
Janeen is the author of In the Yellowed House (dancing girl press, 2014) and with work having appeared in: The Raleigh Review, Prime Number Magazine, Atticus Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Heron Tree, The Fourth River and other publications, Janeen is a creative writer on a mission. In 2015, Janeen was a finalist for Poet Laureate of the Upper Peninsula. Wayne State University Press (2013) and Border Crossing (2014) nominated her for the Pushcart Prize.
So we were very keen to interview Janeen and find out her thoughts on our campaign “mental illness, health and recovery” as well as find out what motivates this inspiring poet to tackle the harder issues in her work, here is our interview:
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
I saw a woman on the Lake Superior beach writing initials and a heart in the sand. She erased the heart. I began to imagine this woman’s story.
The surf lays out featherless wings
and sanded birch limbs,
pieces once bound by ice.
Does a wave batter debris into something better?
A woman goes to the lake.
shorts and t-shirt taunt early May,
faded welts dapple wintered flesh.
She carves the sand with a stick,
draws two names inside a heart.
In an hour the beach will be blank.
She has predicted this end,
tasted it on his menthol tongue,
felt it in each whorl and callus,
every knuckles’ edge.
When waves encroach, she snaps
a photo with her phone.
She will not stay
to see her name sucked back with the sand.
What is your process when creating?
I wake up between 5-6 AM and stay in bed reading and writing until 9AM. The rest of the morning, I use to revise, edit and submit my work.
Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?
So many poets inspire me, in particular Dorianne Laux, Catie Rosemurgy, Tomas Tranströmer and William Stafford.
Who inspires you in general?
I am inspired by the woman of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who work so hard and are so stoic through times of financial and physical hardship.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
Some of the causes closest to my heart are Women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and Gun Control.
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
I believe that creative work can inspire people to endure, to have hope, to create their own work and to express their dreams and despairs in a positive way.
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in anyway and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
I hope that my work in particular resonates with women that I have seen and met. I hope my words let them know they are not alone and that it gives them strength and confidence.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
I am currently working on three chapbook manuscripts. I have a collaborative chapbook Heart Radicals with authors Les Kay, Sandra Marchetti and Allie Marini Batts coming out in Feb. 2016 from ELJ Publications.
The following question are about mental health:
Can you tell us about your own experiences with mental illness?
My father was hospitalised for depression when I was 13. He had undiagnosed PTSD from his wartime experiences.
How does your artistic /creative expression help you with your mental health?
My writing, in particular my fiction, is the place I use to express my fears and worries. I write down my imaginary boogeymen and sorrows. I feel free and happier each day that I write.
Have you ever experienced being stigmatised or marginalised due to your mental health or have you seen this happen to someone else?
My father’s battles with PTSD, his hospitalisation and EST therapy were a source of family shame. He struggled with people’s perceptions of his health after he returned to work.
Have you ever received treatment for mental health and if so, what was it, did it help and was it private or state funded?
When I was working and supporting my family, I needed therapy but felt that I could not afford the time or co-pay costs.
Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?
I think it has improved but there is a long way yet to go.
How do you feel your Government in your country helps people with mental illness and could they do more?
Oh so much more could be done in the U.S.
Have you ever had any creative therapies as part of your treatment, did it help?
No but my father did. His art therapy was the key to his wellness. He used painting and carving throughout his life to battle his PTSD.
What made you want to get involved with ASLI’s MENTAL ILLNESS, HEALTH AND RECOVERY CAMPAIGN?
I love the ASLI website and magazine.
We at ASLI want to de-stigmatise diagnosis labels within mental illness so that people treat others and their own mental health label as that of a diabetic or any other chronic “physical” illness, as we know the brain is physical and this would further improve stigma and marginalising mental illness. How do you feel about diagnosis labels?
I think that all illness has mental and physical components and should be treated as conditions that can be diagnosed and described similarly.
Everyone within ASLI is affected in some way by mental illness, with our MD having several chronic mental illnesses and other members either caring for or dealing with mental health issues. Would this make you think twice about working with ASLI? And does this make ASLI “less professional” in your opinion and if so why?
I am delighted to be working with ASLI. I admire the work and beauty that ASLI has created and the hopeful messages that ASLI gives to the world.
If you would like to find out more about Janeen please follow these links: