FLYER Q&A: Meet Julia Paganelli Marín, creator of Bee Balm Arkansas

Fayetteville-based poet and teacher Julia Paganelli Marín speaks at Pearl’s Books. (Courtesy)

Fayetteville-based poet and teacher Julia Paganelli Marín is the creator of Bee Balm, a community writing experience named after an Arkansas flower. Marín has hosted writing workshops geared towards new and returning poets all over Northwest Arkansas, most recently at The Graduate Hotel and Pearl’s Books.

Marín’s chapbook Blush Less was published by Finishing Line Press in 2015, and her writing has appeared in The Journal, Zone 3, Passages North, The Comstock Review, BOAAT Journal and more.

Talking with Marín at Little Bread Company, it’s easy to see why she’s an effective teacher.

She’s able to effortlessly bring poetry into the conversation and help you recall your writing and favorite poems.

Keep up with upcoming workshops and readings by following Bee Balm on Instagram.

Hi Julia. Can you give us the history of Bee Balm Arkansas?

Happy to. Bee Balm Arkansas is a community writing experience. Most people, myself included, have had a writing or art-creation experience where they made art, someone told them it was bad, and they struggled to try again. Bee Balm Arkansas is a place to try writing again.

Bee Balm Arkansas also descends from all the generous literary traditions that were given to me by Fayetteville – Matt Henriksen’s Poetry Orgy, which became the Open Mouth Literary Center, the MFA in poetry at the U of A and the wonderful faculty there, Nightbird Books, Dickson Street Bookshop, and now Pearl’s Books – and so many others. There’s a river of literary goodness coursing underneath Northwest Arkansas, and I’m grateful to share in it.

You’re working with AMMPlify NWA on their May 6 show – what are you working on? How has it been working with new collaborators?

I’ve got a few things in the works for AMMPlify! One of the things I’m most excited about is that we’re working with Avery Lee from The Phlegms to do an intimate songwriting workshop. Avery is so talented and I’m stoked to hear them talk about their craft.

Collaborating has been so much fun. It’s great to connect with folks who have different energy and strengths than you, imagine something together, and bring it to life. We have so much talent in NWA – writers, artists, film makers, dancers, musicians – and it’s amazing to create as part of this community.

You’re reading at NWA Book Fest on April 1. How does it feel to be a part of their inaugural event? What will you be reading?

Oh man, I’m so excited. I’m especially excited to meet people and talk about poetry. I’ll have a booth there, so come say hey, anyone reading this! I’m working on a poem about that Jurassic era giant lacewing they found on the side of Fayetteville Walmart, and I’m hoping to have that done in time. Otherwise, I’ll be reading some stuff from my manuscript and my chapbook, Blush Less.

You regularly host readings at Pearl’s Books, what’s the last book you bought there that you can recommend?

I love this question! I just finished reading If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio, a novel about a group of theater kids at a private college in 1997. Bonus: it’s rife with the juiciest bits of Shakespeare.

Also, shameless plug! I now work at Pearl’s and have started ordering hot new poetry books for the shelves. Come by!

Who are the poets you read the most, and why does their work continue to affect you?

Ada Limón is the U.S. Poet Laureate and a must read. She’s so skilled at perceiving and evoking the natural world (Foxes! Forsythia! Scorpions!). She reminds me how we’re alive among all other beings. Giving attention to that connection helps me to be kinder.

Jack Gilbert is another poet I love. There are several poems in his book The Great Fires that continue to mystify and reaffirm me, read after read. One of the lines I think about all the time is from his poem “Tear It Down”: “We find out the heart only by dismantling what / the heart knows.”

How does it feel to work with first time poets? What’s the biggest challenge of helping someone write their first poem?

It’s such a treat. A lot of people have a special memory with a poem that they love – one they read in elementary school or high school. Or folks used to write angsty poems when they were teenagers (I definitely did too). I find poetry to be a spiritual, reflective practice though. Even when a person is writing for the first time or the first time in a long time, they’re usually drawing on important ideas and feelings they already have.

I think the biggest challenge of helping someone write their first poem is just helping them let go of the idea that it has to be perfect. I find that poetry is a place to be human rather than a place to be perfect.

Do you keep a writing routine?

I kind of go through cycles when it comes to writing. I journal 2-3 times a week, pretty extensively, to just work out whatever’s going on in my own mind. Often when I’m writing poetry, though, I’ll draft extensively for two weeks and return to my poems a month or so down the road to really tackle revisions. I try to think about all the gentleness and kindness I cultivate in my life as being part of my writing practice and vice versa.

This is a regular question that I’ve never asked a poet: Are you a dog or a cat person? Do you have a favorite poem about a dog or cat?

I can’t help but adore a cat – especially the fluffy ones with little tufts on their paws. There’s this weird, amazing cat poem by Christopher Smart about his cat. It’s kind of a religious poem from the 1700s where he talks about how close his cat is to God plus he praises all of his cat’s little cat habits. If you’ve never read it, you’re in for a treat.