Poet Shaindel Beers isn't a person who is easily categorized, labeled or placed neatly in any sort of box.
"Thinking back, there could probably be about 50 movies of the week done about my life," Beers said.
Beers was only halfway joking as she chatted last week with radio host Emily Harris of Oregon Public Radio's "Think Out Loud." The Pendleton poet, an English instructor at Blue Mountain Community College, is working on a book of poems based on drawings by children in war-torn regions such as Sudan's Darfur region.
Beers can relate in sort of an esoteric way. Her childhood was full of another kind of tumult. Beers grew up dirt poor in rural Indiana with parents she says walked the fine line between genius and insanity.
Her mother, Beers said, spent a month in jail after wielding a gun during a family dispute. She once pulled a knife on Beers' father. She kidnapped her two daughters one summer and fled to Texas.
The same woman earned a master's degree in secondary education, taught as an adjunct college professor and wrote a local history book.
Beers' brainy, sometimes-abusive father grew up in a rough Brooklyn neighborhood of Jewish immigrants. After he was discharged honorably from the military for mental illness, he worked erratically, hosting a Bible radio show and serving in a prison ministry. When the poverty line was announced each year, he eagerly calculated to see which side of the line the family's meager income fell. He read voraciously and played competitive chess.
"He was really smart, but sort of out there," Beers said this week, as she relaxed with a latte at Great Pacific Wine & Coffee Co.
Though the family was poor, each of the four children was expected to take dance lessons, play a musical instrument, read stacks of books and express their thoughts in writing.
One day when Beers was 4 or 5, her mom instructed her two daughters to fetch their favorite stuffed animals and get in the car. She spirited the girls away to Texas for the summer, stopping in random places for the night.
"One person we stayed with was a total stranger," Beers said. "Mom just saw an old lady on a porch with a border collie and asked if we could stay there."
Thinking back, Beers credits her crazy childhood for providing a steady stream of material for her poems. Her first collection of poetry, "A Brief History of Time," published in January, contains forays into Beers' rich inner world.
Beers said she penned her first poem in elementary school after the death of her puppy. An adult cousin shot the dog, which had likely been sampling a deer carcass hanging for processing on her great-grandparents' property. Beers found out about it from her sister who'd heard it on the playground.
"I was devastated," she said. "I went home and wrote a poem about it - it felt like it was the right thing to do."
After high school, Beers left her tiny Indiana town and entered another world when she became a student at Huntingdon College, an elite private college in Montgomery, Ala. Many of her new friends drove luxury cars, wore designer clothing and had servants at home. She remembers one young woman's ostentatious, sky-is-the-limit wedding.
"She'd always wanted a snowy wedding so they brought in a snow machine from a ski resort in Colorado and made snow," Beers said. "It was unbelievable and crazy to me."
Poetry, Beers said, has helped her process all the crazy twists and turns in her life and figure out what is important and what isn't.
These days, life is good for Beers. Her poetry is getting noticed. She is the editor of the online poetry magazine Contrary. She is in a solid relationship with her husband, Pendleton contractor Lee Herman. And her clear eyes come alive when she talks about her latest book project - "The Children's War."
The project arose after Beers came across a collection of drawings by children in Darfur. The drawings reflect the children's fears and hopes. The pictures mesmerized Beers and she admits to becoming somewhat obsessed. She searched for other drawings created by children of wars in both present and past.
The images both saddened and intrigued Beers.
"I don't think people realize that 60 percent of civilian deaths during war are children," Beers said. "They didn't choose to have a war. They are just born where they are."
She started writing verse that reflected what she saw in various images. When she sent some of them to her publisher, Salt Publishing, they offered her a book deal.
As she journeys on, Beers called poetry a kind of addiction, a way to deal with her strange and different early life.
"Writing - it's a way to process what happens to you and sort of a way to escape," she said. "If you tell all your secrets, none of them can hurt you."
Her current book, "A Brief History of Time" is available at Armchair Books, Pendleton Center for the Arts or the Clarence Burke Gallery. For signed copies, contact Beers directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beers will appear at a book signing from 10 a.m. to noon on Sept. 12 at the Book & Game Company in Walla Walla.