Melissa Reeser Poulin grew up in a United Church of Christ church in southern California where there was a strong focus on social justice and community. Her parents didn’t identify as Christians, but they wanted Poulin and her sister to be exposed to the church. Poulin says church and faith weren’t a very big part of their home life but she enjoyed being a part of a church during her childhood and was very curious about God and Jesus from a young age. “For me, church meant hanging out with other families, singing beautiful music, hearing stories, making art, and doing things to be of service to others.”
When she was in high school, she stopped going to church because she had a hard time grappling with what it meant to be a part of a church, be in community, and love others within a tradition in which people used the Bible and the church to hurt each other. She had a lot of shame and anger about the church but was still hungry for God so she ended up trying a lot of different practices. After a season of attending Buddhist meditations and reading about the spirituality of yoga, she ended up back in church. She says, “I was working on a farm and struggling with intense feelings about my purpose. I also had a lot of guilt and energy I didn’t know what to do with, but when I went back to church I felt so much better. It was what I needed. I needed to be with other people. I needed God. I needed to wrestle with the complexities I had turned my back on when I was in high school.” She came to a place where she could hold the contradictions and understand the church is made up of flawed human beings who are also beautiful and made in the image of God. Poulin and her family are now at an Episcopal church where she feels very much at home.
Solitude and walking have always been very centering for Poulin’s faith and writing. She wants to incorporate a meditation practice because she thinks it would help her feel more grounded in her faith. She says, “I feel like my faith practice right now is very messy. But most of my life is very messy. I feel close to God in the thick of everyday normal life like when I want to yell at my kids and I need God to give me patience.”
Poulin’s writing journey feels very connected to her faith journey. She started writing poems when she was a child. She says, “I was eight or nine years old and would sit outside on the front porch with my little spiral notebook and write. That was how I connected with God. I wrote poems and stories all the time. Writing helped me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself.” She appreciates that her parents took her seriously as a writer. They gave her a huge book of Emily Dickinson poems when she was 13 years old that she says she “lugged around very importantly.”
When Poulin went to college, she studied creative writing. She experienced some burnout during that season because there was a heavy emphasis on publishing—especially for poets—and that didn’t translate into making a living. After working at several different jobs, she returned to writing poetry and earned an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University. After her daughter was born, she began writing more prose and now writes a mix of personal essays and poetry. Her first book was published with Finishing Line Press in January. Rupture, Light is a chapbook, a short collection of poems and can be ordered here.
Because Poulin’s children are so young—her daughter is almost four years old and her son is sixteen months old—she doesn’t have a whole lot of free time. And most of the free time she does have is currently allocated to studying for an intense anatomy course that’s required for her acupuncturist training that will begin this fall. The writing time she does have has to be very scheduled. She tries to write for a couple of hours each week while a sitter is with her kids, and she’ll try to squeeze some writing in during their nap time or after they go to bed at night if she’s not too tired.
Poulin’s children provide a lot of creative inspiration for her. She also finds inspiration in the natural world and science. Some of her favorite poets are Carolyn Forché, Mark Doty, Alice Notley, Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, and Emily Dickinson. One of her favorite prose writers is Brenda Miller.
When asked how her faith and writing are connected, Poulin says, “I think I write because of God. My writing doesn’t really feel connected to anything else. I write because I have questions about faith and because I’m trying to find out things about myself and the world. I’ve been given this need to write, and I’m following it. Writing is a very central part of who I am. The perspective God has given me is expressed through writing. And even when I can’t write, that’s still who I am.”
Melissa Reeser Poulin is the author of the chapbook Rupture, Light (Finishing Line Press, 2019) and co-editor of Winged: New Writing on Bees (Poulin Publishing, 2014). Her poems and essays appear in Entropy Magazine, Writers Resist, Coffee + Crumbs, Hip Mama, Relief Journal, and Ruminate Magazine. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two children. You can learn more at melissareeserpoulin.com.