Dark times pass: a conversation with Lisa Marie Basile

LMBLisa Marie Basile has worked as a creative writer in poetry and prose, an editor for multiple venues, and a journalist, on both sides of the page, in unlike styles, bringing something of herself to each role.

“I’m so fortunate to have been able to work creatively in my personal and professional life, for the most part. More often than not, I’m allowed to let my personal voice shine through, and I’m so grateful. I think I bring poetry to all of my work. As an essayist, I try to keep a sense of liminality intact. Language that sings. The fluidity. The shape. In my nonfiction book, Light Magic for Dark Times (September 2018), which is a book of practices for regeneration, autonomy, creativity, resilience, glamour, sex magic . . . I approached it similarly: Make the reader feel something. Let the language dance a little. How do I describe what the poet does? It’s hard! I think I will work on a thousand different writing projects in my life, but all of them will have the bones of the poetry. Hard to shake.” 


U.S. politics seemed to take mass consciousness by surprise this year. A popular club called The Resistance sprang up instantly, with a name seeming to imply an unavoidable stalemate rather than an alternative. I didn’t want to fight or surrender, that stuff seems like old news. Why not call it the Transformation if that’s what you’re after? I wondered. Why not do the opposite? In my interpretation, combining literary creativity with magic involves expanding possibility in art and life by writing a better way into being, then living it out. It’s that thing Einstein said, the theories of Robert Anton Wilson, Marshall McLuhan and R. Buckminster Fuller. “Just Say No” was a previous example of the same species of unempowering aphorisms. Whether or not she was likewise affected in this case, what’s her personal method of bypassing roadblocks like political slogans in life and writing with magic?  

“I hope to answer this question. It’s a big one. I believe that resistance, empathy, awareness and compassion go hand in hand with creativity. To create, at least for me, the voice and tone and mood of a story, essay, or poem, I must inhabit and be inhabited by the world we live in. I must understand (to the extent I can–by watching, listening, osmosis, activism) the fear and trauma and reclamation and celebration of the world around me. I think a lot of artists are like this, but I also think non-artists think like this too. To live is to be aware, to speak out, to learn, to listen. The government must think we’re actually stupid if we are going to go or stay silent. We are not. What happened to this country is an abomination, but I can’t say it’s surprising. That’s why we have to keep speaking out, through art or otherwise. For me, simply wanting to create beauty or be inhabited by a state of beauty, is a resistance. Beauty can be ugly, too. But creating, making, sharing–it’s something good that we have, or still have, and that helps to counteract the violence, oppression, and loneliness of the world around us. That’s a form of magic. Putting energy to word. And word to energy.”


To posit the existence of any item, object, or concept in one’s imagination is the crucial first step to its becoming. This may refer most strongly to a particular kind of writing. Once you write something down about yourself, you’re accountable for it. It greatly effects your relationship to the people and things in your life, in effect putting you in the driver’s seat as author, and is an extremely helpful resource in navigating this system. Visualization of the desired outcome is a primary magical tenet.  Spell casting. It’s a way of expressing energies otherwise frustrated, and I’m grateful for what it provides. Making a fortune at this stuff might be a lost cause in today’s increasingly illiterate market. These days, most born readers get degrees, and a lot become teachers to support their writing habits. I got an MFA in Writing and am finally starting to think about teaching myself. Basile studied English and psychology as an undergraduate at Pace University and received a Masters in writing from NYC’s The New School. Which events in her experience at the New School, also the alma mater of Kerouac and Ai Weiwei, seem predictive of her current experience?

“I met some talented folks at the New School. My professor Jennifer Michael Hecht gave me a true glimpse into the writer’s life and soul, and I will always be grateful to her. I really valued my time with her. The rest of my MFA experience was okay, bordering on lackluster. I went into extreme debt to do what I could have done for free at writer’s meetups and literary readings and performance groups and free events throughout the city. And with FAR greater diversity of voice *and* without the homogenization of it (not that this happened to everyone–it did NOT). I recognize that for many people the MFA experience is incredible, but for me it was a premature, immature thing for me to do, especially being that I lived in NYC. It predicts my current state of thinking: Art, creativity, community, knowledge—these are privileges, privileges I had. Another privilege is the grad student who can afford grad school and doesn’t have to work or go into debt. I didn’t have that experience. There are lots of variables, and all of them encounter privilege and ideas of how we engage with what’s around us as creatives. For me, the classroom setting didn’t engage me. I wrote my worst work in grad school, I think. But once I left, it’s like I finally figured out my shit. That said, I respect everyone’s story with their MFA (or without an MFA!).”

Fairly stated. I was never a very good student, and wouldn’t have been able to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts without my parents’ financial assistance. In retrospect, I could probably have reproduced the overall effect of grad school on my growth as a writer at various workshops and writing groups in Denver, but I’ve never been much of a joiner.  Going in without much more of a plan than satisfying my parents’ ambitions that I graduate college, I was grateful to receive academic credit for my writing habit, and ten years after finishing grad school, I’m finally starting to think about teaching. I caught a few of her recent social media posts  on “imposter syndrome,” unfamiliar phrase to an ostrich like me, which seemed to equate to self-doubt. Am I reading her right? I wondered. That’s how I felt before addressing Daniel’s class in Santa Fe last April. Was it perhaps a necessary defining rite, a hurdle to be overcome by anyone making a serious effort at becoming beyond their apparent limitations? But the idea of it being a self-made psychological complex, or merely an unnecessary delay, seemed tantalizing. Could it be somehow both? I wondered. Had I already answered my own unschooled question somehow just by wondering?  She set me straight. “Imposter Syndrome is a well-known psychological pattern or way of thinking that suggests a person doesn’t buy into their own worth or value or talent and consistently fears that they’ll be ‘found out’ to not be good enough. I think people experience it because of trauma and internalized pain–from school, parents, society. I think it’s actually neither–not a necessary defining rite (it’s not necessary) and also not a delay. One can be productive and fulfilled by still be freckled with imposter syndrome, I think. It’s the quiet voice. It’s the voice you listen to or ignore or sometimes let in but also sometimes disavow. But for many people, it’s just sitting back there, a shadow self, a byproduct, a quiet hum. Most of the people I know who experience it are beyond talented and wonderful; it goes to show that maintaining a level of imposter syndrome is probably just natural. The ego checking itself, maybe? Or maybe it’s just a shitty thing that happens to conscious beings who think too much? I just let it pass.” 



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