November 17, 2014

Interview w/ Poet Marianne Szlyk

1. Who or what inspired you to write poetry?

I’ve lived in a number of places where local identity is important (or used to be important): New England, Oregon, Indiana, one beautiful and terrible year in NYC, and even Washington, DC, as its poetry scene flourishes within the cracks of this city of transients.  When I was growing up in New England, I spent time in both the country and the city, so both places inspire me.  Music has always been important to me although the type of music I listen to has certainly changed over the years.  I have also come to terms with the fact that I am more interested in character and setting than in plot, so poetry is more natural to me than fiction would be.  Also, it is very hard for me to make terrible things happen to my characters.  In any case, I am enjoying poetry this time around.  I have worked with inspiring teachers (Reuben Jackson and Chris Goodrich), and the poetry communities online and off have been quite hospitable.   Dr. Michael Anthony Ingram and the D.C. Poetry Project have been most welcoming, especially given our different backgrounds and approaches to poetry.  (They are more performative, and I am more of a print poet.)

2. Do you have a favorite place to write?

I generally like writing (and grading papers and so forth) in our not-so-new addition.  It has skylights, a beautiful picture window, a stereo, comfortable furniture, and cats.  I’m not a café writer because I feel too self-conscious; probably I am a suburban homebody at heart.  However, I will do my handwritten first drafts elsewhere, often at a poetry workshop but sometimes in a café or on a train. 

3. Who are your favorite poets, alive or deceased?

When I was younger, I immersed myself in the confessional poets, especially Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton, but I also enjoyed more observational poets like e.e. cummings or William Carlos Williams.  As one of my early teachers (Jane Shore) was a great admirer of Elizabeth Bishop, I have been influenced by her, too.  I am not a rhyming poet at all, but now I admire what Gwendolyn Brooks has done, balancing craft and observation of her community.  At this point in my life, writing about community and place appeals to me far more interesting than writing about self does.  I enjoy the Chinese poets (Han Shan, Li Bo, etc.) in translation although I realize that translation is never the same as the original, especially, as my Chinese students have taught me, when it comes to their culture’s poetry.  John Donne has always been one of my favorites, too, although I must say that I prefer the secular poems to the holy ones.  I also enjoyed reading Yusef Komunyakaa and Daniel Nathan Terry’s poems this summer.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know Felino A. Soriano, Mary Jo Balistreri, and Joan McNerney.  Felino’s work ethic and dedication to poetic evolution are particularly inspiring!  Charles Clifford Brooks III has a fabulous voice.  I have been intrigued by Martin Willits, Jr.’s poems on Celtic astrology.  I have a love-hate relationship with astrology, but I like seeing the Celtic signs’ ties to nature.  And, of course, I’m looking forward to getting to know other poets, especially through Poppy Road Review and Flutter Poetry Journal.

4. What five words best sum up your personality?

Nostalgic, contradictory, reflective, optimistic, close-to-the-vest.

5. Other than writing, what else do you love to do?

My husband and I enjoy going to concerts and plays.  We manage to listen to quite a bit of jazz by old and new artists.  We like eating at small, ethnic restaurants when we can although that is difficult since I really have to watch my weight.  I love walking to work in the morning through the neighborhood.  I love doing yoga, playing pick-up Ultimate Frisbee with the over-40 crowd, and going to the gym as I would not be around today without either.  I love exploring new-to-me neighborhoods in Washington, DC and elsewhere.  We love spending time with our cats Callie and Thelma. 

6. What are your current, and/or next projects?

During the school year, I am focused on teaching, but I take time to work on my blog-zine, The Song Is… promoting it, recruiting new poets, and coming up with different contests.  The fall contests honor Thelonious Monk and singer-songwriter Gene Clark.  In the spring, the contests will focus on women in music as well as swing music.  I am open to suggestions as long as they don’t involve me listening to music I dislike too much. 

This fall I’ve also published my first chapbook, Listening to Electric Cambodia, Looking Up at Trees of Heaven, with Kind of a Hurricane Press (Barometric Pressures Authors Series).  I want to promote it a little more, especially once the semester is over. 

When I return to writing over break, I would like to revisit some of the themes that have inspired me.  The Camel Saloon recently published a series of photographs from Newfoundland, a place I’ve never quite made it to, and I’d like to respond to a few more.  I would also like to put together a second chapbook with some of the poems I’ve published recently, but this chapbook will be more focused around either geography or music.

I am also open to different themes and inspirations.  Poetry must keep evolving as the poet’s life evolves.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting interview. I ran across your name in a Google search of my name, Catfish McDaris (you spelled it McDarish, but that's okay) I'm glad you like my story from Blue Hour enough to teach it. I know Russell at Camel Saloon and sort of know A.J. I'd like to get in touch, I'm on face book.