Story by Gina Malone | Photo by Joye Ardyn durham
Elizabeth Meade introduces herself this way: “I’m a vibrant poet with a great appreciation for being alive. I am an enthusiastic explorer and student of life living with compassion, a cat named Camilla and Cerebral Palsy.” She will be among the area poets reading works at Asheville Wordfest this month.
Born prematurely, Elizabeth weighed just over a pound when she came into the world. Since then, she says, “I’ve been determined to thrive and shine my light.” She began writing poetry at the age of 13 when she started losing her ability to walk. A friend had pointed out her love of words and her observance of the world around her. “Writing poetry has given me the freedom to express my heart and the joy to play with words,” Elizabeth says. “It has allowed me to more deeply process life experiences with all of my senses and to gain insights into who I am beyond the physical.”
Elizabeth came to Asheville about three years ago from Maine. She was seeking a warmer climate, better wheelchair accessibility and a creative community. “When I saw the mountains, felt the vibrant, eclectic flow of downtown and tasted the vegan-friendly food, I knew this was a place I belonged,” she says.
When asked to name poets she enjoys reading, she says, “Favorite poets that immediately come to mind are Mary Oliver—and life. I love to read the poems in everything life has created and offer my own translation.”
Besides writing, she spends her days doing jigsaw and crossword puzzles, attending Jubilee! Community, exercising and being outdoors interacting with people and the world in general. She has plans to become a volunteer tutor with the Literacy Council of Buncombe County and would like to participate in more poetry readings and to publish a book of her poems. She has had work published in the literary magazines Kaleidoscope and PANK and has participated in the Our VOICE Survivors Art Show, Queer Girls Literary Reading and last year’s Asheville Wordfest.
“In my opinion, poetry is one of the greatest teachers of who we are as human beings,” Elizabeth says. “In our daily lives, it is easy to lose sight of the depth, complexity and common struggles of the human experience. Poetry sheds light on this, which can encourage people to open their hearts to one another.”
It is a means, too, of bridging divides, she says. “Once someone is given the opportunity to see or hear a new perspective, to witness someone else’s heart, mindsets can shift. It helps if poetry is offered in an accessible manner.” This is true, she believes, even if someone has a mindset against poetry as a means of expression. She recalls a time when she shared her words at an open mic event. Afterwards, Elizabeth says, “an audience member approached me and said that she normally hates poetry, but liked mine.”
Elizabeth is a poet who moves audiences with her words, says Laura Hope-Gill, founder and organizer of Asheville Wordfest and director of the Thomas Wolfe Center for Narrative at Lenoir- Rhyne University Asheville. “There’s a magic to her poems that escapes all the terms people use to tame poetry.”
In her poetry, Elizabeth says, she often finds her words focusing on “the beauty, the interconnectedness and the extraordinary in ordinary life. I’m moved to write any time my heart opens, whether from joy or pain. I’m moved to write when I pay attention to nature and the aliveness of the present moment.”
Elizabeth Meade will be among the poets reading during Asheville Wordfest on Friday, April 13, at 8 p.m. at Lenoir-Rhyne Asheville’s Listening Room at 36 Montford Avenue. To learn more, see story on page 80 or visit avlwordfest.com.