February 4, 2014

Chapbook Interview with Martin Willitts Jr.

1.  Tell us about your latest poetry chapbook. 

“Before Anything, There Was Mystery” published by Flutter Press, is based on my knowledge of creation myths and star constellations from around the world, rune and tarot readings, knowledge of gemstones, and Celtic and Egyptian astrology. My book takes these old beliefs and deep knowledge, and I try to place them in a modern context.

World myths were based on observation and putting a context outside of human knowledge and influence. In other words, the multiple Gods “did it”.

I had a comment once that my poems tend to put the reader into the scene. I hope that the reader will see themselves in one of the astrology readings, or see the “hidden meanings” contained within creation legends such as why men have to let women keep their secrets, or enjoy the old-as-time Chinese constellation story of two lovers doomed to be separate, but rescued by love. 

2.  What was the inspiration behind it? 

I am interested in Jungian constructs and I am an oral storyteller. I tell these stories from memory. I used to tell these stories in schools and libraries. I used to be a Children’s Librarian. As I grow older and as I have fewer opportunities to tell these stories, I am forgetting more of these stories. These stories are at a risk of disappearing. I decided to place some of them as poems.

Not all of the stories have translated into poetry. Some of the story/poems have appeared in my chapbooks and full-length books over the year. I never placed them together. These, however, were written within the same period.

I write series of poems, all at once. This was one of those series. Only one poem was written separately from the rest. I wrote the rest of the poems in a day, and then I left them aside for a while. I am such a fast writer that I rarely have time to revise. I frighten poets when I say that I rarely revise. I revise as I write. Every once in a while I work on a poem that is struggling. I toss a lot away.

3.  What would you like readers and other poets to learn from this chapbook?

The original myths and beliefs have a deep psychic connection to the archetype. This means that the stories resonate because they explain on a sub-conscious level some deeper meaning. This primeval memory is the basic human rational for those things we do not know but understand, like love, grief, tragedy, a journey, a sacred wish, why the stars are in the sky, etc.

I provide several ways of looking at your astrological signs, and maybe one of them summarizes yourself.  I provide foretelling in many different ways, but I do not believe in them. I call them entertainment value.  But they describe human traits and therefore many people will see themselves in the readings. What I also give is the opposite meaning, because the opposite can also be true.

I also hope that a person will search for the original story of the constellations or astrology or tarot readings, etc. These are legends that are disappearing. Many of these stories are no longer in print.

4.  What advice would you give to a novice poet? 

Poetry is not easy. I have been writing a long time and I am still finding my way. I still get rejection slips. I still have doubts if my poems are any good. I am still unknown. If you have a thin skin and get mad when some magazine rejects your poems, then you will never make it. You will struggle until you look at your poems objectively.

I have judged national contests. I was a co-poetry editor for a national magazine.  I have my own small poetry printing company (http://willetpoetrypress.com/). I would reject poems or manuscripts, and sometimes I would get hate mail accusing me of rejecting their great poem. Perhaps it was great but I did not like it, so I rejected it. Poetry is purely subjective. I usually tell writers that just because one magazine rejected their poem, perhaps there is another magazine or publisher who will accept their poem. However, sometimes some poems are so terrible, I want to tear my hair out.

Get to know the magazines before sending. Read the submission rules. Realize that some editors see hundreds of poems and they can only take 5 or 10 poems.

I consider myself fortunate to get a single poem published. I feel blessed when I get a whole manuscript accepted. I am surprised anyone likes my poems, so I am a terrible judge of my own poems. I was published a lot from 1974-1982 and I stopped cold. I started again in 2001 and I have hundreds of published poems, winner of 3 national individual poetry awards, published 6 full-time collections including a national contest winner, over 20 chapbooks including a national winner, and appeared in over 20 anthologies, and I am still amazed that anyone likes my poems.

By the way readers, I have been sending poems to Sandy, this editor, a long time, and she is one of my favorite editors. This includes any of the magazines she has had online. If a person wants to send poems, I recommend her and Poppy Road Review.

5.  Thank you for joining us today.  How can we reach you?

Thank you for having me, and for putting up with me over the years. It is always a pleasure.

I am easily found on the internet by searching “Martin Willitts Jr, poetry”. I have a Facebook page, a LinkedIn page, and I have a publishing website. You can find some of my books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I rarely open email from people I do not know. I’d like to think that I am a pretty open person so if someone did contact me I would probably respond. If I recognize your name as a poet from Flutter or Poppy Road Review (and I will), then I would especially love to hear from you. Mention one of Sandy’s publications and it is the secret password. 

You all have a great and wondrous life.  

Martin's latest chapbook, Before Anything, There Was Mystery, is available for purchase at Lulu.com.  Click on the title above to preview it. 

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