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Balancing Poetry, Scholarship and Parenting

Lori Gravley
Heather Christle and Chris DeWeese with their daughter Harriet

Chris DeWeese is a Creative Writing professor at Wright State University, and Heather Christle is a poet who has taught at several area universities. Two and a half years ago their daughter Harriet was born. Poet and Community Voices producer Lori Gravley spoke with Heather and Chris at their Yellow Springs’ home about how they overcome the challenges of raising a child while doing deeply introspective work.

Chris and Heather are parents, poets, and professors, trying to balance it all

"I used to come and wake him up in the mornings because I would wake up before him and write a poem and then come wake him up because I was excited about it, but now we all wake up at 6 in the morning so it’s no longer relevant," says Heather.

Poetry does take a different kind of attention, you step into the world and you live in it and then you step out of it - but how does it work in a family where two people need to be stepping in and out?

"I think we’re still figuring that out," says Heather.  "We’ve only been doing this for just under two years now.  The first year I think most new parents find is just a kind of tornado of time passing."

"It can be hard when you haven’t written for a while," says Chris. "I think the first couple of times when I had a period of not writing for a while or not writing anything that I liked for a while, you become afraid that you’ve lost it somehow and that it was something you only had access to for a little while. I grew up playing classical piano and if you don’t practice for a long time, you can feel like it’s just gone from your hands. You just have to kind of take it on faith that it will come back when you haven’t done it for a while."

During the school year when there are papers to grade, lessons to create, and students to mentor, Chris and Heather have found ways to wrap their love of language into their family life.  They’ve discovered that though sometimes the work may suffer, the pleasures of family life with a child make the struggle to remain creative and attentive even sweeter.

"We just recently got some letter magnets for Harriet," says Heather. "And so Chris and I have been playing around. We’ve been making phrases on the fridge just seeing like what can be arranged, what kind of bizarre sentences can you create out of this constrained set of letters.  Or the other night, we were writing in our family commonplace book one word at a time back and forth, trying to create a record of our day collaboratively.  Even when we’re not able to make work that would appear to be officially poetry, we’re finding ways to make it present in our lives." 

"I think the joys are everywhere, and as far as making space to have a partner who’s creative, I would really not want to have it any other way because my life is so much richer," says Chris." 

"One of the great joys of parenting alongside another poet is that we both get so tremendously excited about the language that is emerging from her, some of which you can hear right now maybe," says Heather.  "I had this tremendous moment of witnessing her make her first metaphor.  She was eating an apple that had a slice cut away from it and she was pointing at the white flesh of the apple and she said 'Moon,' and then a few days later she was pointing at the reflection of the light bulb in the toilet and she said 'Moon' again.  And knowing that I could share those moments with Chris and that he would immediately understand just what made them so incredible was a great source of joy."

Heliopause, Heather’s latest book, was just released in paperback from Wesleyan. Chris’s latest book, The Father of the Arrow is the Thought is available from Octopus books.