July 25, 2014

Interview w/ Poet Mary Jo Balistreri

Who or what inspired you to write poetry?

I had been a concert pianist and harpsichordist for most of my life until in 2005, my youngest grandson died. He was seven and I couldn’t find a way to transcend grief. Music for the first time was not helpful. My daughter, a published writer, suggested writing, and she actually sat with me for encouragement. Why I chose poems is still a mystery, but I did, took a workshop and then began going to classes, etc. In retrospect, poetry provided the container that interpreting music did not.  It also gave me a way to give witness to this child’s life, and to be true to his spirit, of celebration. He loved his life. So I would have to say that the initial spark came from a seven-year-old boy.

Do you have a favorite place to write?

I write longhand at the kitchen table on a yellow legal tablet. I watch birds at the feeders and also on the small lake we live on. They are my inspiration. When I’m in Florida, I write at the beach at an open window with the sound of the surf my background music.

Who are your favorite poets, alive or deceased?

My favorite poets change but ones with staying power are Rilke, W.S. Merwin, Denise Levertov, Elizabeth Bishop, Olaf V. Hauge, Rolf Jacobsen, Tomas Transtromer, and Robert Cording. Recently, I have enjoyed Mary Szybist, Andrea Hollander, and the ghazals of Ghalib.

What five words best sum up your personality?     

enthusiasm, tenacity, spontaneity, determination, and compassion

Other than writing, what do you love to do?

I like reading, gardening, walking, and spending time with art

What are your current and/or next projects?

I am working on a book of personal essays and also putting together a manuscript for a 4th book of poetry.

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