Charleen Heidkamp Interview, with Davon Loeb
In your biography, it states that you're a student at the Marine Maritime Academy. So how might that schooling be different than more traditional "academic" learning? And does that difference infiltrate your writing or reading of poetry?
The level of “academic” learning I have faced at Maine Maritime Academy has surpassed anything else I have experienced. In fact, within my first year there, I struggled to stay afloat in the calculus and chemistry classes that I was required to take for my major. Since then, I have recovered, and surpassed my academic expectations but it takes constant vigilance. In my opinion, MMA is equally demanding of academic learning and hands-on learning. Classes such as Ship Handling and Terrestrial Navigation, for example, each consist of a lab and a lecture. Both of these courses include mathematical concepts that may not be expected just by looking at the names of the courses. Attending this academy has left me with far less free time than I have ever been accustomed to having which actually inclines me to read more poetry, as opposed to novels, since books of poetry can be started and stopped more frequently without hindrance to their continuation. However, it has impacted my writing by mostly preventing it. I write much less frequently than I aspire to with an average course load of 18 credits, my work as a resident assistant, and my involvement in clubs and organizations on campus. I often find myself scrawling concepts into my notebooks in hopes of expanding on them when I find more time, and then never finding the time until I have breaks from school.
In an age of overwhelming and pervasive information and technology, do you feel disconnected or unplugged from the world while at sea? If so, how does that distance affect your work?
Even when I am just attending Maine Maritime Academy, I feel disconnected from the world simply because Castine is so tiny and isolated. The nonstop-bustling nature of this academy leaves little time to stay updated with what is actually happening in the world or even to catch up with friends and family. When I am actually working on a ship, it does not feel much different. The first time I ever entered Canadian waters on a ship, I became hyper aware of this disconnect. Looking down at my phone for the time, I realized it would not be good for much more than that. In my work, I rarely had the time to think to use that kind of technology, anyway. If I wasn’t working, I was either eating or sleeping before my next watch. In the absence of technology, if I am presented with free time, I will spend it reading or writing poetry. Over this past summer when I sailed on the U.S. Brig Niagara across Lake Erie, I drafted many new concepts that I continued to work on through August and into September. I don’t go anywhere without a notebook. I need to write genuine feelings down when they occur in order to be able to recreate them through my work in the future.
Your poems, "I'm Just a Deckhand" and "Growing Up" seem to occupy the same space, whereas one poem is a response to the other. How do these two poems ask and answer what home really means to the narrator?
These poems have components of examining two places I have called my home. Within these settings, I have had entirely different and unmatchable experiences. It is clear in my poetry that no matter what I am seeming to write about, it boils down to the people. What does home really mean to the narrator? Well, when you choose to live a life of constant travel, I think you have to carry your home in your chest. The home you have is the home you find in the hearts of others. The warmth found when surrounded by people who love and value me is the true home I have experienced throughout my ever-changing environment.
This is your first publication. I am so delighted you've trusted your work with us. Nonetheless, where do you see yourself as a poet now, in comparison to pre-publication? And what do you see in your future? What changes, if any, do you feel or expect to experience?
This being my first publication gives me a foundation to further build upon. I am exceedingly proud to have made this kind of progress in this facet of my life. I have been writing poetry since I was eight years old and started writing it more seriously aimed towards the goal of presenting it to others just a few years ago. I plan to continue writing at every inspiration I have and to collaborate with the ideas of the people I hold near and dear to me. Pre-publication, I had just started to consider myself a writer but at this point it is not a deniable aspect of my character. Publication gives me the confidence to continue to present my work to others and expect great things of myself and my future. I have to use the momentum of accomplishment to hold myself to higher expectations when it comes to the dedication and output of my writing. In my future, I need to continue to encourage myself to do what I love because even when faced with many adversities, I have been able to turn those experiences into something beautiful through my writing. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
I’m just a deckhand.
The lines you lay never crinkle
the way your face does when I laugh.
Your smile feels like wind in my sails.
your arms look like a sturdy place
I’d feel safe to clip into when I’m aloft.
I admire your strong hands.
I’m jealous of every rope you’ve coiled
simply for the moments it’s spent in them.
Time does not pass the same, here.
We are always so bustling and flush.
Our hands need to be quick and sure.
I said I would not break your heart,
and I surely meant it.
However, you’ve not given me the chance
to prove such a loyalty.
I wish to find my hands
coiled through your hair.
I’d ballantine your sheets
around my legs in a heartbeat.
Who needs time and
who needs a home?
We have the whole world
to paint as our canvas
of sail. It’s a lovely thought
Staying here and
working by your side.
It’s a selfish idea.
Who would it benefit?
How many years have you already spent
finding yourself and
how unfair would it be for me
to want you to find me, too?
I am blessed when the sun goes down
because I can finally see your eyes.
Moonlight has never looked so good
on a Spring night in May
until your smile
glimmered it back to me.
Days from now I wonder how
we’ll work together
to make the whole world move.
Brace the main, I’m steady on helm.
Keep me afloat.
I trust you with my life.
You, and your sure hands.
I lived in the safest home-town for twenty years of my life.
On the main road, churches outnumber bars 3-to-1, but everyone’s dads are still alcoholics.
Everyone’s moms are putting make-up over their bruises, preaching, “Jesus,” but missing mass, knowing it won’t dislodge the masses in their chests.
The boys I chased in kindergarten were the same ones I walked with twelve years later.
The first crush I ever had was on a boy who already knew he wanted to be a paleontologist by age five.
I kissed him once, on the cheek, but he was too busy coloring to notice.
Flash forward fifteen years and he’s going on expeditions and digging up bones
And that’s the thing we’ve got in common; our bones.
You see, the best people are the ones whose passions melt you quicker than their smiles and I’ve met people with passions that burned me alive.
I still have the scars from 3 am ER visits, but the only room fit for such an emergency is a friend’s living room.
Crying on their sofas is still the best kind of health care.
When I think of home, I’ll always remember the sunscreen tears that plagued me every summer.
Hell, they still do. But I remember raking my chewed nails through the grape hyacinths and violets growing in the divot where our pool used to be.
On days when I wish things were simple again, I’m still twisting my tongue in public places and tripping over my heart on my friend’s doorsteps.
The church bells play a familiar song that I’ll never be able to hum.
I remember how it almost drowned out the screaming of someone’s mother down the road.
They would say she needs a chill pill, but the pharmacy was closed because they were remodeling the pizza shop next door.
And that reminded me of how I spent nearly every Father’s Day before I left crying over a list of psychiatrists.
I wonder if there are still people shooting up behind the convenience store.
Either way, that rush to the head and heart is fragile.
Maybe even more fragile than childhood memories.
Have you ever poured yourself onto the beach?
I have. I’ve built these sandcastle walls.
Sculpted every part of me like
an abstract masonry nightmare.
I’ve seen it crumble with the high tide
time after time.
We rebuild ourselves constantly
like old Victorian houses with
falling shutters and
weeping willows invading the plumbing.
We are all fixer-uppers
splattered with speckled paint,
like galaxies flung against the
darkness of the seemingly-endless void.
Our white-picket-fence boundaries trying to contain
the universes colliding in our eyes.