Feature Poet:
Leila A. Fortier

Leila A. Fortier is a Pushcart Prize nominated poet, artist, and photographer residing in Okinawa, Japan. She is a member of the Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honor Society; pursuing her BFA in creative writing through Southern New Hampshire University. Her sculpted poetry is often accompanied by her own multi-medium forms of art, photography, and spoken performance. Known for her contributions to humanitarian causes through the arts, selections of her work have also been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, and German in a growing effort to foster cultural diversity and understanding through the voice of poetry. She has most recently initiated the venue Poetic License to support other writers through book reviews, feature interviews, articles, and inspiration. Her work in all its mediums has been featured in hundreds of publications globally in print and online. Numinous is her second book of poetry newly released through Saint Julian Press. A complete listing of her published works can be found at: www.leilafortier.com

Soul-Lit’s intern, Alexandra Vojtila, interviewed Leila Fortier for this feature.

Soul-Lit: After reading many of your poems, I notice that there are infinite times that water is being referred to or compared. What is the significance of water to you? Does this have anything to do with your move to the island of Okinawa, Japan where you are surrounded by water?

LF: First, I am really impressed by your advanced research and thoughtful questions. Thank you. It is an honor to share some insights into my journey and work as a writer and artist.

Yes. The theme of water is a strong theme within my work. Interestingly, my earlier work drew more upon the element of fire. For me, this was a process of evolving spiritually. I have a very fiery personality by nature, but this element used to consume me to the point of excess. I burned with such intensity that I was prone to self-destruct. I had no inner peace because I was driven by my quests and self-imposed expectations that could never be appeased. Nothing ever felt good enough. I did not even know at that time in my life that what I really needed was peace.

When my husband first met me, he told me I held so much water. I actually got mad and didn’t speak to him for a while because I thought it was a sign that he did not know me. I was ALL fire! How could he not see that? But he knew me better than I knew myself to recognize that quality in me that would eventually spill through. The symbolic play of water in my more recent work is a reflection of how I have evolved physically, mentally, and spiritually. Water flows. It does not resist. It adapts to any environment. It survives because it moves with change. Fire burns until there is nothing left. Fire can bring about great energy and change but it is not sustainable, and there is no peace within the burning.

The element of water is the fluidity of being fully present. I have always found peace by being near water, but never identified it within myself until a few years ago. When I realized I had nothing left to fight, nothing left to prove—that the spirit dwells within me and my potentiality is limitless and therefore nothing to stress over, I found peace and harmony within and without. Okinawa has indeed, been a great facilitator of that sense of serenity. Okinawa has gifted me the time, space, quietude, and infinite beauty to truly discover myself. The whole evolution of fire to water is captured in my latest book of poetry, Numinous published through Saint Julian Press.

Soul-Lit: Speaking of Okinawa, how did you find yourself journeying from your small hometown city of Marquette, MI (also on the water) all the way to this beautiful island? Did your poems reflecting your journey change at all on the way?

LF: It is very interesting that you draw the connection to Marquette, Michigan. Ironically, I was born there, but have no memory of that time since I was just an infant. My mother moved us to Vermont shortly after I was born and I grew up between Vermont and New Hampshire. I have always been drawn to water, as I mentioned, and as an adult tried to live near lakes and visit oceans. The journey to Okinawa is a pretty sweet love story between my husband and me. He had courted me for approximately three years. At that time in my life I was still consumed by fire: my fierce independence and distrust in love. But my husband was patient despite my resistance. He finally accepted a job to work here in Okinawa as a counselor for the Department of Defense. It was likely the best decision he ever made, because it was a wakeup call to me to come to my senses and get over my fears. As long as he lived one state away from me, I could stall and stall. His decision to move to the other side of the world (literally), made me realize I could not bear to be without him. I said “Yes” to everything. My husband likes to joke that he turned my never into forever. We have been married over six years now and our time here in Okinawa has been the happiest of my entire life. Our marriage and journey to Okinawa definitely shifted the tone of my writing from the intense burning and insatiable quest, to a sense of peace, fluidity, and fulfillment. I am blessed to have such a rich life of experience.

Soul-Lit: The formatting of your poems are beautifully centered and laid out into patterns, pictures, and designs. Does this formatting take place after your poem is completed, or is it a natural flow of you writing that evolves as each poem is formed?

LF: This is an interesting question for those that are familiar with my work. Many times, there is the assumption that I premeditate the designs of my poems, but this is not the case. It is very important to me that the words of the poem; the content comes first and foremost. The forms are a spontaneous manifestation is only born after the poem is complete. Ironically, the abstract shape of the poems often lends to the emotive properties of the poem, but assumes no definite form such as a chair or a tree. Emotions tend to be fluid and abstract, and therefore, so are my designs. But to premeditate the shape or design would render the process merely a gimmick, and the quality of the writing would be compromised. I always begin my process by writing the poem in standard lines and stanzas, flushed to the left. After I am satisfied with the voice of the poem and know that it is complete, I begin to shift the lines around without any preconceived notion whatsoever. I literally feel my way through the process. It is a very Zen-like process—a meditative art. I do not feel in control of the end result. I let the poem guide me. I am always a bit surprised and elated at the finish because I do not feel that it came from my design, but from the poem itself.

Soul-Lit: It is noted that your other forms of art, such as photography, paint, and jewelry are often paired with your poetry. What inspires you to blend your hobbies?

LF: All of these endeavors: poetry, painting, and photography, and spoken performance are artistic expressions. In my mind, it seems entirely organic to merge the content as different facets of the same story or inspiration. Art forms naturally converge, strengthen, and play off each other. If I were a dairy farmer, this trade would not be compatible with manufacturing shoes. But I find harmony in merging my art forms and expressions as branches from the same tree. It feels like a natural process and progression that lends dimension to the work, making it more accessible to different audience’s aesthetics.

Soul-Lit: With favorite authors such as Rilke, Lorca, Mirabai, and Octavio Paz, all of whom were earlier poets and widely spread across the world, you must connect with their sense of travel and exploration. Who are some of your favorited modern day poets and what draws you to them? Could it be their diverse culture and wandering soul that draws you to them as well?

LF: Goodness. I have so many inspirations, it is difficult to keep track. Modern day poets that inspire me are many of my writer friends and colleagues I have come to know over the years: Melissa Studdard, Diane Frank, Kristen Scott, and Dom Gabrielli to name a few. Yes. These writers also possess that gypsy/nomad quality. We are wanderers and collectors of exotic experience that translates into our spiritual and emotional understanding of the world, humanity, and ourselves. Truly, the travel industry should hire poets to do their marketing. I have been inspired to travel by so many poets old and new. Even if you can never make the journey to the places they have been, somehow, you feel that you have experienced the most intimate of adventures with them.