JUNE FEATURE INTERVIEW: POET, ARTIST AND PEACE ACTIVIST CAT CATALYST
May 29, 2013
Tuck Magazine: Many of your poems are infused with matters relating to the human spirit and the state of humanity. Do you consider your spirituality to be your primary muse?
Cat Catalyst: Poetry and Art for me is a spiritual practice and a social responsibility.
‘The good artist is wise,
God is in his heart.
He puts divinity into things.’
– (Mayan Saying).
To me this means that the poet has the ability to communicate deep and meaningful truths in a simple uncomplicated way that the general public at large can understand. The poet synthesises and translates strong emotions with lofty ideals. It is a language of the heart that speaks to the soul.
My primary muse, as is traditional with many poets or song-writers through the ages, is ‘Love’. Or in my case spiritual and emotional evolution, as a way of aiding the next step in humanity’s awakening, working through the lower emotions in order to open to ‘Loving Kindness’ as a way of life, a philosophy of life, enabling man and woman kind to work together as co-curators of Planet Earth. Loving and caring for Planet Earth as an extension of ones own self-love and self-care in the same way we are urged to ‘Love one another as thyself.’
The problem is that no body loves or accepts themselves in this day and age as everyone is so separate and disconnected from them selves, from each other, from the natural world and from spirituality, and so therefore what most people are projecting is ones own self-loathing, denial, and insecurity. An absence of self-care.
Love has to come from within, otherwise its needy, competitive, controlling and co-dependant. And self-love is not to be confused with a narcissistic self-absorbed obsession, no, activating the heart-center is all to do with being able to accept the Self as it is, right here, right now, with all ones imperfections and flaws, guilt and shame, (as well as ones strengths shining brightly), as a simple honest acceptance of what is, and therefore cultivate an ability to accept others, just as they are, with all their imperfections (and also their strengths), for in the evolution of the soul there is no hierarchy.
Carl Jung says: “The best political, social and spiritual work we can do, is to withdraw the projection of our shadow onto others“
This is about training the mind to stay in the present moment, to drop all judgments, let go of attachments to desired outcomes, to honour the innocence of the body, (and the innocence of all living beings and creatures), to see through the charade of separation, to see through the illusion of materialism and personal gain, and become Conscious. For everyone and everything has a right to be here. (Although Love also requires firm boundaries, it does not mean subjugating oneself in the process).
When interviewed by Lily Cole, British sculptor Anthony Gormley postulated that if we carry on as we are, the Human race faces extinction within the next 300 years and I tend to agree with him on this. I would even go as far as to say it will take much less time than that, for once the delicate balance of the eco system becomes unstable, plundered by Capitalism, pollution and war, the process will rapidly escalate. Much of our prosperity and peace is dependant upon climatic stability.
If Planet Earth, and the survival of all Her creatures and beings are to have even a chance of a future as Nature intended, then we have to work together as a whole planet, a whole Earth, and a whole community, with no divisions, for there is no where else in this solar system to go, we have to learn to take care of our only home, to stop crapping on our own door step, to learn gratitude, humility, compassion, non-personal love, and work together in order to move forwards. At the end of the day, it’s everyone or no-one.
Training the mind begins with the breath. The breath connects the ever-present internal dialogue of the mind with the innocence of the body. It allows for space, calm and observation away from the incessant inner chatter. If one feels like saying something in response to a thought just take a breath instead. If ones mind offers up a judgement, just take another breath. The over rationalising neurotic logic of the ego will begin to dissipate and this in turn will lessen the pressure on the emotions to react. (I call it the push-button effect). A mind that is not trained can really torture and torment a person by turning ones inner dialogue into a habitual inner tyrant. How one treats ones inner self is how one treats another. The trick in this instance is to turn ones inner tyrant into ones inner best friend.
Meditation is a wonderful tool for calming the mind and the emotions, and is something that I think should be taught in all schools everywhere as a necessary survival technique. It can help kids into adulthood to cope with over exposure to the media, from being seduced by the advertising aesthetic, brain washed by TV crime and Hollywood, social networking addictions, combat computer games, peer pressure, gangs, bullies, etc, especially at such early ages.
Kids become a commercial target audience as soon as they leave the womb. Rapid advances in technology have produced a new generation of ‘kidults’ equipped with smart phones and laptops who seem to have skipped their childhood. Today much of a young persons dialogue is through an electronic device and not necessarily face to face. Yet it is through innocence that an individual learns valuable interactive social skills through the act of play. Meditation can also assist with being able to ‘turn the other cheek’, to not take the ‘bait’, to rise above the ‘limitations of others’ and to stay ‘true’ to oneself.
It all begins with self-love, for when one has self-worth one doesn’t need approval from other people to be ones self, one isn’t dependent upon the appreciation of another, a partner, a spouse, a lover, for validation in order to feel worthy. One is empowered to help others as one would help oneself, to treat others as one would expect to be treated oneself without necessarily expecting anything in return. The vision is for a nation of empowered individuals interacting with other empowered individuals, rather than a nation of neurotic walking wounded behaving erratically, trying to exploit one another out of self-interest.
Tuck Magazine: There is also an activist bent to your poetry that tackles many societal issues we currently face as a species. Do you think a poet has a social responsibility to impart information about their journey through this life as a way of holding up a mirror to the reader?
Cat Catalyst: Yes I believe that the ‘real’ poet, or the ‘real’ artist, those who are motivated by an invisible driving force from within, driven to honour an inner calling, yes, those are the ones whom have a social responsibility to communicate personal insights and truths, although not necessarily as a mirror, for everyone is unique, but perhaps as a sign post, an alternative way of thinking, a seed of suggestion, something which provokes a new thought process, creates new neurological pathways in the brain.
Also identification and catharsis can be very healing, through the sharing of human experience, for one can feel less alone or isolated by ones problems, and perhaps instead of seeing something as a problem, one is able to see certain challenges as a growth opportunity, for it is often only by undergoing a passage to the dark side that one can uncover ones inner pearls of wisdom.
The artist or poet’s process of self-introspection can lead to personal revelation. It is these personal revelations that I wish to share in the pursuit of aiding not only my own spiritual growth but also to be of assistance to other ‘Catalysts’ out there, other agents of beneficial social change and transformation, through the planting of seeds of inspiration and perhaps paving the way forwards.
Actually that’s about the most one can do for another human being. The only person one can change is oneself. The best one can do for another is to plant a few healthy seeds of inspiration, in the hope that at a later date when the timing is right they may germinate, blossom and flower.
And like a farmer tending his crops through the cycle of the seasons, so must ones seeds be watered and tended, through the speaking of ones truth, the walking ones of talk, and leading by example, consistently over time.
Tuck Magazine: In addition to being a poet you are also a painter. Have you ever incorporated your poetry into any of your paintings or vice versa and if so, is the finished product the complete work or can each stand alone as separate entities.
Cat Catalyst: Yes, although mostly I only incorporate text or audio with my digital art. Yes they can stand alone individually too, for example my poetry film ‘Swim’ was screened at the Tate Britain as a poetry film, but it was originally created as a combined backing track and visual projection to perform vocals over the top. The idea was to wear white so that I would blend into the projection and appear to be swimming in the water, however, I have yet to find a compatible venue to test out my creative vision for this poetry performance and so in the mean time it was picked up as an independent film. I would still like to test out my idea one day to see if it actually works.
Tuck Magazine: There are two schools of thought regarding the composition of a poem. Some poets claim that too much editing destroys the soul of a piece while others swear that to labour over a poem, sometimes for days or weeks perfects and polishes it. What is your process for revising your poetry and have you ever written a poem that had no need for revision?
Cat Catalyst: For me each poem is a unique and individual entity and so its birthing process is also individual. There are some poems that come through perfectly intact requiring absolutely no editing at all; ‘Inversion’ was one such piece, although it largely depends upon how transient, or complex a feeling, or an idea is that I am working on. Bringing through ethereal, or emotional concepts that have no words and exist only as feelings can take time to articulate in ones mind before committing to paper. An idea takes work to bring into form, it’s a bit like a sculptor chipping away at an idea until it says exactly what you want it to say, like a slab of marble that invites you to discover the hidden form within, to articulate a complex thought or a feeling, and as you chip away something lovely emerges, a prize of hindsight is revealed, a hidden pearl of wisdom unveiled, some little nugget of truth uncovered… the golden conduit of the muse.
The body of a poem will largely arrive with its own structure. I see that like the trunk of the tree and then the minor tweaks and edits are like the branches of the tree, fleshing out the boughs with leaves, and blossom and fruit. Usually a blog post will require two to three days of constant re-reading with some minor tweaking and attention to flow and punctuation, before it feels right.
“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.” – Oscar Wilde
The act of posting a blog, or a poem, online has the effect of objectifying a piece for me and therefore I am able to distance myself without becoming overly attached to it. I try to stay as close to the source of the muse as possible without allowing myself to become overly distracted from the original intent. I think it is important to keep a check on the ego for the desire to impress can totally ruin a poem and turn it into a complete pile a drivel.
Tuck Magazine: Have you ever gone through a period like many poets where you were blocked and felt unable to produce? What ultimately reignited the passion for words?
Cat Catalyst: No not really, at least not yet anyway, for me it’s more about not losing the order of the words as and when they appear in my mind and capturing them in time before the arrangement is gone for good.
Sometimes the ideas are relentless as more often than not they come in the middle of the night and keep me awake into the small hours as I diligently try to commit them to paper or copy paste into a word doc, in an effort to keep up with the express train of thoughts as they race through my mind.
I don’t know why but it always feels like there is an important urgency to it, especially as it can happen so fast. If you are not prepared you can completely miss the whole thing and still be left dithering looking for a pen that works, or a pencil that isn’t blunt or a back of an old envelope to write on.
I used to pull all-nighters regularly and work right though until 8 or 9am in the morning, sometimes never going to bed and working through to the next day, but as I get older I get too tired to keep up with the voice of the muse in my head and so I just say: OK if I’ve had that idea once before then chances are it will come back around again, although sometimes the poignancy is not quite the same the second time around.
I never try to force the words. The words come when I feel I have something particular that I want to say, a feeling to unravel or a concept to articulate. If I don’t have anything to say I don’t write anything. I never know when the next time will be when I am called upon to write but I am quite opinionated so life is always striking a chord or moving me in some way, so I know it is only a matter of time before I shall be required to play the role of the faithful servant to the muse once again.
It’s a magical alchemical process that is completely timeless, of which I shall always be in awe. I have no idea why the muse chose me, especially as I have never been able to spell particularly well, although I have a theory that perhaps it is to do with retaining a sense of humility and honesty. I regard myself as a custodian of the ideas that are bestowed upon me and I am the conduit by which they are able to become manifest. I feel it is my duty to stay as true to the muse as possible.
Tuck Magazine: How do you prefer to write, with pen and paper or computer?
Cat Catalyst: It’s a combination of both. Usually when the idea is stirring within I need to capture it as fast as possible before it’s gone and so I shall use whatever is closest to hand. Now I always carry a little notebook just in case as it is the worst feeling to be having an inspired moment without a pen or paper to hand to write it down, even a paper napkin or an old train ticket is better than nothing.
The iPhone notes app is OK but too fiddly to cope with the rushing onslaught of inspiration when it comes. For those initial stirrings you just can’t beat a good old-fashioned pen and paper to get it down. So the bare bones of an idea usually begins its life on paper and then later I will transfer it to the computer to edit.
When I didn’t have many blog followers I would just transfer the ‘bare bones’ straight into a blog editor online and then keep publishing and editing directly in the blog editor until it said exactly what I wanted it to say, but I cant really do that anymore for as soon as I post a blog now two thousand and something followers will automatically receive a copy of the first draft in an email notification as soon as I click ‘Update’, and so it if its something that is not yet fully formed, or I am not yet happy with, then my subscribers will not see my work at its best and it is unlikely that they will know to keep checking back to view subsequently revised versions.
Now I try to work as much of it as I can in a word doc before transferring to the blog, but inevitably there are still a few tweaks once it is up. I don’t think I can actually avoid that. The online tweaking process usually lasts for one or two, maybe three days max after it has been posted, although in a few rare cases it has taken as much as week before I was completely satisfied.
When I worked in IT I learned that the attention span of ones online audience is just two clicks and then they are gone, which is unfortunate for me, as its not until I actually see my work on the computer screen and I know its live that I can really get into the meat and flesh of it. Somehow it initiates a process that once started I cant stop until its finished. That’s the alchemical and timeless part of the process I mentioned earlier. For I seem to remain in one long continuous never-ending present moment for however long the writing and editing process takes, even if it takes three days it still feels like ten minutes to me.
Tuck Magazine: All indie writers are innovative and I suppose part of the motivation is to stand out from the crowd. You are very adept at social media and have taken healthy advantage of the various ways to market your art and for many emerging writers the vast internet terrain is daunting. What have you found to be most challenging aspect of getting your poetry out there and do you have any advice for those who are new and trying to attract readers?
Cat Catalyst: I left a career as an IT contractor to focus on my art and poetry and so I was well equipped with a broad understanding of multi-media, web design and the usefulness of the internet, so for me it was a fairly natural process to utilise my IT skills as I would any other skill in the creative process. It is fortunate as I haven’t needed to employ anyone else to do it for me and so I haven’t lost anything in the translation as I have had complete creative control of how my work is presented.
I would say anyone in the arts and humanities pretty much needs to have a web page or an online profile of some sort these days to represent them selves in the virtual world, as it acts like a digital business card. Writers should definitely keep a blog and have some sort of cross feed to notify their readers of new posts.
For me the Internet is a way of making my ideas accessible. Unlike most other authors I am not precious about my ideas as I have so many of them and they all feed into each other. I need to get them out pretty much as soon as possible in order to make room for new ones otherwise they are backing up like crazy causing a massive bottle neck in the creative process.
Tuck Magazine: I found what you are doing on SoundCoud to be uplifting and socially conscious in a beautiful and artistic way. You are donating a significant portion of the money earned through the sale of your spoken word tracks. Do you feel part of the answer to many social ills could be found if there was more work being done between those within the arts community and social causes or does this risk polluting the free thinking of art with political bias?
Cat Catalyst: No I don’t think it pollutes the world of free thinking art with a political bias, because there are so many deserving causes out there that require our attention, such as homelessness, deforestation, the protection of children, animal rescue, refugee displacement, family mediation, women’s refuge, etc., and I think that if by association my work can raise awareness to any one of the underlying reasons for why they have become a problem in our society then it can only be a good thing. Addressing the causes rather than the symptoms equals prevention rather than cure. Although I feel any sort of awareness is better than no awareness.
Also, when I used to organise ‘Catalyst’ events they would usually be fund-raisers for various causes or charities or had various themes like the use of ‘recycled materials’ in the exhibits, or ‘Unity in the Community’, bringing groups of people together in urban environments. I have never really been motivated by personal gain, money was never my primary concern, call me a dreamer but for me ‘Love’ is by far more valuable, and by far the most important quality to embody, embrace and understand more deeply. Actually it’s the only key to personal freedom in a society where the minority inhibits, limits and controls the majority.
In the English language there is only one word for ‘Love’ when in fact love has many different faces and forms. In India there are seven different words to describe Love and still that is not descriptive enough. I think perhaps that only having one word in the English language for Love gives the illusion that perhaps it is simple or easy, or that perhaps it is ‘old hat’ or ‘hippy dippy’, when in fact it is one of the most evolved and elevated concepts of behaviour that one can embody in waking Life. And once this concept is embraced and understood, it then becomes the road less traveled and one of the most challenging paths in life to walk, for keeping the heart open in the face of adversity is one of the hardest challenges to champion and overcome.
“…For to evolve through Love,
Is the greatest spiritual teaching on Earth,
From personal, through transpersonal,
To unconditional and Universal,
A conscious choice everyday,
There really is only ‘One’ way forwards,
Excerpt from: Holiness of the Heart (2010)
Read the original interview in Tuck Magazine