Friends and Neighbors: Marcia Pelletiere heals with art
By GWEN OREL
In “Friends and Neighbors'” we spotlight interesting Montclairites doing interesting things. Some of them you might have heard of, others you might not. Answers have been edited for space. Got someone you think we should write about? Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcia Pelletiere (Pell-a-teer) is a singer and poet. In 2005, she put out a record with her poems set to music by musicians she had worked with in New York. She is a co-founder of the a capella group The Accidentals. In 2006, she was rear-ended by a Mack truck and suffered a mild traumatic brain injury. Then she began using her creative work “as a way to remember myself,” she said. She published a new collection, “Crown of Hornets,” and began giving presentations about her injury at Walter Reed and the Montefiore. In the presentations, “An artist’s journey of recovery from mild traumatic brain injury,” she talks about how her creative work helped her recovery, and her good and bad experiences with the medical profession. In 2013, she went back to school to get a degree teaching English as a Second Language, and taught for awhile. She sings at First Lutheran Church as a soloist, and is working on a new CD. She can no longer drive, and uses EZ Ride of Montclair. She and her husband moved to Montclair from Jersey City after her accident, on the recommendation of a neuropsychologist, who said “you guys are artists, you have to be around creative people.” For more about Pelletiere, visit marciapelletiere.com/
Why is the book called “A Crown of Hornets?”
Because that’s what it feels like.
When did you know that poetry was helping you get better?
I didn’t know if I’d ever write again. I was singing, but I lost all emotional connection to music, which is quite scary for a singer. They tell you when you have a brain injury, forget who you were. Find out who you can be now. And I really had no idea. I didn't know what was going to come over the bridge into my new life, and what wouldn't. And at some point, I started getting these images, for example, the image of being in water and everything just floating away from me. I would reach out for something and it would just float away. My thoughts were like that. So I thought, that's interesting. This image comforts me somewhat. People don't understand brain injury from the inside out. And my book is an attempt to immerse the reader inside a brain injury. My presentation is an attempt to give the audience a sense of the inner workings or the sense of isolation and disorientation.
So how did the writing help you?
The images were a little bit like handholds along the way, because after another six months I got the image of myself in water, but there was a little bit of land where I could put a thought, and it would stay. So I could tell my neuropsychologist, now I'm feeling this and this is how it seems. And then I realized if I never get well enough to really write again, effectively, I can still observe what's happening to me. And, you know, because you lose a lot of meaning. I lost my textbook writing job in English as a Second Language, because I couldn't process all the information.
I'm trained to observe. And I thought if I ever get out of this, I can report on this experience. So that sort of we're all doing this really in the poetry is reporting as best I can through the medium that I have been given.
Were you able to continue with your groove after you got hurt?
I did continue. New music was very hard. Music I already knew was easier, much easier. It was kind of already booked into my brain. I had trouble holding it, like remembering a pitch from two bars before. I had a lot of trouble tolerating the sound of our voices even in rehearsal. So there were a lot of issues. I had trouble going to rehearsals. My back would start hurting.
But the group is like a family. They really pulled me through.
How did your brain injury affect your relationship to your husband, and to other people?
Just horribly. It’s as if you can’t advocate for yourself. It was pretty rough to get help. I didn’t relate to people. I didn’t feel that anyone could understand what was happening to me. I wasn’t talking much for a very long time. I would forget my address, my phone number, sometimes my name. I could seem like I am today, and then I would sleep for two days. I was nauseous. I was throwing up for months almost daily. So it's really terrifying. And that's sort of why I'm moved to try to help other people now.
Do you feel now in 2020 that you've sort of recovered what you've lost?
Except for the things that probably won't come back. I have some memory issues. I won't have the same kind of memory of this interview that I would have probably before.
How has your music changed since the accident?
When I came home from teaching at Bloomfield College, after I got my ESL degree, my back would be out and I'd be in bed with my laptop and I just started writing music in Garage Band. And that began a whole thing where I started having friends read the poems over the music. So I made these, which now are part of my presentation, the videos. I crawled my way back out through different media. I painted as a girl and I used those.
The music definitely has changed. Working in Garage Band, I did more digital music. I normally was an a cappella singer. No equipment at all. So that changed a lot.
This is probably one of the more important things I could say is that when you feel like you’ve lost everything you know, and then you recover it, it becomes very precious. So I don’t take anything for granted.
MEET THE NEIGHBOR
Hometown: Brookline, Mass.
Hobby: Learning languages. Italian at present.
Beach, forest or mountains: All.
Favorite vacation spot: Southern Italy.
What do you want for your birthday, which is when? Keyboard, May.
Favorite drink: I love water.
Favorite dessert: Key lime pie.
Last TV show watched: “Master Chef, Italia.”
Book I’m reading: “Clear Eye Tea,” by Mary Bonina. It’s a book of poetry.
Favorite song at the moment: “Talk to me of Mendocino” by the McGarrigles.
Song that makes me groan: When we’ve had to sing “You Are My Sunshine” at the end of a concert, it’s just one time too many.
If I weren’t a poet/musician I’d be: Someone who works with animals.
I want to meet (alive or dead): Barbara McClintock, the scientist.
Nobody knows that I: now like to go to the gym.
Job fairy wish (you can only wish for something related to your job): Recording. Work recording all the time, singing.
from "A Crown of Hornets"
PIANOS IN THE LAMPS
warp in the gap
where treatment tables
roll past rows
of shimmering marines
Twenty forty sixty times
they pin me down
they pin me down
they pin me down
by my blue wings