by Nick Reilly
Tara Pohlkotte is a published poet, author and award-winning blogger. Her latest stand-alone work is a collection of essays and poetry surrounding motherhood called Dreamcatcher. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Services: Marriage and Family Therapy, and is a volunteer grief group facilitator. She teaches podcasting as an Artist-in-Residence teacher at Renaissance School for the Arts. She was recently awarded the Future 15 award by Pulse Young Professionals Network as an acknowledgement for professional and philanthropic work done in her community. Tara was kind enough to sit down with UT Blogger Nick Reilly via an internet connection for this brief interview.
UntitledTown: How did you come to writing as creative expression?
Tara Pohlkotte: I’m a pretty textbook introvert. I observe. I listen. I love to process life later after having had time to digest it. Even when I was super young I always had a book in hand and when almost as young had a compulsion to try to contextualize what I had lived and experienced back again through writing. In fourth grade my teacher was the first person outside of my family to recognize this about me and really encouraged it.
By sixth grade I was attending young authors’ conferences and after the terror of having to be in a room full of other kids I didn’t know, I was so charged by knowing that there were people out there who tried to taste life through words like I did. Life and growing up got in the way of pursuing writing a bit. It was after I had my children that I found myself drawn back to writing as a way to articulate this new experience and as a way to navigate back to myself.
UT: Who are some of your favorite storytellers?
TP: Oh, man. This is tough. This is like asking to pick a favorite kid. Some known-named storytellers I love are Maya Angelou, Thomas Hardy, Walt Disney, Mary Oliver, Nat King Cole and Johnny Cash. In my own personal life my brother and son are hands-down able to spin a web of wonder with the best of them. I adore the teens I get the pleasure to teach, especially the at-risk teens that pull no punches and tell the biggest stories in only a pocketful of words. My favorite storytellers are those who find a way to tell the truth, even if they have to fabricate fiction to do so. I believe that every person is a natural born storyteller. Everything we choose to reveal… everything we keep hidden. It’s all part of our story.
UT: How has your background in family therapy and human services informed your writing?
TP: These to me are interwoven in a way that is hard to separate. Both my schooling and my craft are after the same thing: the art of humanity. Of examining what it means to be human without judgment and looking for ways to honor that experience. During my Master’s I dedicated a lot of research time to studying why stories are so fundamental to being human and how telling and listening to stories truly creates connection. That scientific background led me to step into what I already knew: that we could benefit from creating story space back into our communities and daily lives.
UT: Being involved with so many different projects, how do you make time for writing? What is your process?
TP: I haven’t perfected the balance yet. I doubt I ever truly will. But I can always tell when I haven’t written in a while. I get physically and mentally out of sorts. Writing has become so much a part of my processing technique that without it, I kind of get lost. So I carve out time for it. I try to write right away in the morning. That doesn’t always happen. If I don’t get it in then, I’m writing along with my students. Or in the school pick-up line. Or on the back of a grocery list. I have a notebook and a book on my person essentially all of my waking hours. Writing this out now, I feel a little neurotic and wonder if I should take a look at that. Ha. See? Writing helps me understand myself better.
UT: What is Storycatchers? What is its aim? How did it come about?
TP: Storycatchers is a nonprofit that I started three years ago now dedicated to encouraging, instructing and giving a platform for the stories in our community.
We host monthly live storytelling events based off a loose theme, hold workshops, do school programs, and go into businesses teaching the art of story. We also hold pop-up recording booths where people can come in and have their stories recorded, and we have a podcast to showcase some of the stories we’ve captured along the way to name a few of the ways we try to nurture story in our community.
The aim of Storycatchers is to create meaningful connection through stories believing that we all have stories to tell. It came about as I started my writing career and people would come up to me and say something along the lines of, “If I were a writer, this is the story I would tell…” or somehow discount their own voice and authority as someone who could “tell” that story. I began to see the need to create a space where people, from the neighbor next door to the traveling author, feel as though their story mattered and is worth telling. I started testing the waters of the community by offering free writing workshops, then moved into having pop-up recording booths at things like Mile of Music and finally about a year into it thought that the community was warmed up enough to embrace live storytelling nights. That first night we had 14 storytellers and almost 70 people who showed up to listen. 23 events – 309 stories and over 2,300 audience members later, I’d say the community has shown up in a big way.
UT: What has been the most rewarding part of running Storycatchers? The most difficult?
TP: For me, the most rewarding part of running Storycatchers is getting to witness people finding their own voice. That can be quite literally, sitting with a fourth grader as they hear their voice recorded for the first time, or it can be sitting in the back of a packed room watching our oldest Storycatchers teller at 78 tell their story the first time publicly. The most rewarding moments are getting to bear witness to both the telling but also the audience and community members who take these stories and make them into magic.
The most difficult is finding the time to dedicate to all the powerful stories and opportunities that come our way. We are a fully volunteer-run organization, which means love and belief in our mission is our currency, while time and not having endless resources are our greatest inhibitors.
UT: What is the most memorable moment that has occurred during Storycatchers Live?
TP: There have been so many great moments. One event sticks out in my mind though. It was our “Voices of our Mental Health Community” event where the night started with (at that time) our youngest teller, an 11-year old, talking about being bi-polar and being followed by 12 other individuals who shared their story. Not only were the stories raw, real and so necessary, but for me that was the night when the community (who came out past capacity and had to be turned away due to fire code) recognized that telling our stories is more than just entertainment, it’s necessary and a powerful tool to create true community.
UT: What advice would you give to any young writers just starting out?
TP: My advice to any young (or new) writer is what I constantly have to tell myself. Get out of your own way. So often we doubt, pause, or wonder if we’ve said it just right or have the “authority” to say whatever it is that we thought. Getting to the quick of things most often means paying attention to those first brief flashes of thought. Summer smells like tar? Put it down. Worry about making sense out of it later. Show up. Pay attention. Write it down. The rest, the craft, skill and finesse, like all things comes with time and work. Do the work. Find the wonder.
For more information on Storycatchers events and getting involved with them, visit their website: www.storycatcherscommunity.com. If you’d like to see Storycatchers in action, there will be a Storycatchers – Live event at UntitledTown. It will take place Saturday, April 21 at 8 p.m. in the KI Convention Center. This event is FREE and open to the public. To participate as a Storyteller, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tara Pohlkotte will take part in two panels on Sunday, April 22. The first, from 12:00 PM to 1:15 PM at the Neville Public Museum, will deal with hybrid forms of writing (eg. blogging, graphic novels, podcasting, musicals, etc.). The second, from 4:00 PM to 5:15 PM at Titletown Brewing Company, deal with using social media to build your brand as a writer.