Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 25 Nov 06 10:54
I do think poetry matters. If a reader connects with a poem at the right moment, the experience can be life-changing. For example, at certain critical times, reading and writing poetry has been the only tool people have had to protest against injustice and evil. In part, this is because poetry is often ambiguous enough to slide by the censors. It's interesting to note that some of the people who have taken poetry most seriously are dictators who fear its power. Stalin, (who had been educated in a monastery and who knew the power of the written word) sent many of the greatest Russian poets of the 1930's to the Gulag prison camps where they died. For instance, in 1934 Osip Mandelstam was arrested for writing a short poem critical of Stalin. Released and then re-arrested, he was last seen alive reading the poetry of Puskin to ordinary criminals who were so moved by it that they drew aside to give him a warm place by the bonfire (thus putting themselves in danger of freezing to death). In other words, there are people who have cared about poetry so intensely that they were willing to die for it.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 25 Nov 06 10:55
As for the question "have my poems changed me", I have to say no, because the change took place in the creative moment *before* I actually put words down on paper. I write poems because I have been changed; they are the results of my own transformation, not the transformers. My goal as a poet is give my readers access to the changes I have already experienced.
rubi (rubicon) Sat 25 Nov 06 11:14
Of course, the poem is the result of a change, not the cause. How interesting. And, I'm thinking of the way nursery rhymes were really once political statements, sung in the street.
rubi (rubicon) Sat 25 Nov 06 11:25
Lets take a little turn in a different direction. Could you describe for us your ideal audience.
Cupido, Ergo Sum (robertflink) Sat 25 Nov 06 13:04
>I write poems because I have been changed; they are the results of my own transformation, not the transformers. My goal as a poet is give my readers access to the changes I have already experienced.< This brought to mind the idea that "the pen is mightier than the sword". A further thought: have transformations associated with writings had bad consequences and, if so, does the writer have any culpability?
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 25 Nov 06 17:09
My personal take on culpability is that it depends on intention. If you write something intended to arouse hate and cause violence, then you are guilty. If, on the other hand, someone takes what you wrote and changes in ways no one could have reasonably predicted, then I think the writer has no part in the guilt. For example, someone taught Hitler how to read and write when he was little Adolph. I'm sure this transformed him and that he never would have risen to power if he had been illiterate, but the teacher is not to blame. This is a mundane example, but I believe it holds true all along the line. If Charles Manson, a nut case if there ever was one, hears a Beatles song and decides it is a sign from God that he should slaughter people, I don't think that makes the Beatles accessories to murder. That is not to say that there may not be some border-line cases, but in general the key lies, as I said, in intention.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 25 Nov 06 21:34
My ideal audience? Actually, I don't want an ideal audience. I want a varied, human audience with all the strange, individual quirks that make people complex, interesting, and unpredictable. I want a hundred people to respond in a hundred different ways.
rubi (rubicon) Sun 26 Nov 06 09:17
So that would be your idea, that hundred different surprises brought on by your poem. perfect! Looking at your interests and influences. What poets did you read as a young person? When you were a kid, did you memorize any poems? What poets do you read now? What influences you now? Who are you reading now?
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Sun 26 Nov 06 09:58
IJWTS that I wish I'd had either one of you teaching poetry when I was in school. Your obvious love of the medium and your deep and insightful understanding of both the process and the product are so helpful.
asparagus before librarians (katecat) Sun 26 Nov 06 16:20
I am sorry I disappeared from this topic over the holidays, but catching up has been delightful, reading everything at once. I realy look forward to hearing Mary's answer abouther influences, and who she reads now.
Caro (rubicon) Sun 26 Nov 06 21:25
<scribbled by rubicon Sun 26 Nov 06 21:28>
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 26 Nov 06 22:14
When I was a small child I got a strong dose of "Mother Goose" combined with Methodist hymns. Later I found out that some of the "Mother Goose" poems were disguised political protests (as I believe Pamela pointed out earlier). Later I read and memorized almost every poem A.A. Milne every wrote. (Sometimes I still mutter to myself: "A bear, no matter how he tries/Grows tubby without exercise . . . " a sentiment far ahead of its time). So I liked rhyme, rhythm, covert politics, and wit from the get go.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 26 Nov 06 22:14
By the time I was ten or eleven, I was mad about the romantic poets. I memorized a lot of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron; and then (after I started taking French in the 7th grade), Verlaine, Rimbaud, and Baudelaire. In college, predictably, it was T.S. Elliot and crew. The last two things I read were Jorie Graham's "The Dream of the Unified Field" and "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." As rubi knows, I'm also crazy about the poetry of Kay Ryan.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 26 Nov 06 22:16
I get a lot of idea for poetry by reading prose. Right now I'm reading "The Stone Woman" by Tariq Ali and several books on the Civil War.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 26 Nov 06 22:19
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 26 Nov 06 23:16
(sorry about that scribble. For some reason 115 was a completely blank post)
Allegro ma non tofu (pamela) Mon 27 Nov 06 07:47
May I say how much "Blue" tickled me? It's a lovely little story, told as concisely as can be, with that superb, generous ending.
rubi (rubicon) Mon 27 Nov 06 08:35
Poetry coming into you from so many sources. No wonder your poems are so chock full. And what other influences. What childhood experiences influenced your poetry?
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 27 Nov 06 09:16
Thanks, pamela. I am honored that you are tickled.
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 27 Nov 06 09:23
Jane Hirshfield is another major influence on my work. I love her images, lyricism, deft turn of phrase, the depth and complexity of her apparently simple poems--just about everything about her work, actually. I'm also particularly fond of Cyrus Cassell's "Beautiful Signor." Once again, it's the lyricism and visual images of the poems that keep me coming back to reread them.
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 27 Nov 06 09:30
As for childhood influences, I have to say that the time I spent on the family farm in Western Kentucky was a huge influence. There is a lyric, metaphorical quality in every-day rural Southern speech that has a lot in common with poetry. My grandfather used to say strange, cryptic things worthy of the Delphic Oracle. For example, if a joke was funny he'd exclaim: "That's hotter than a tree full of owls!" When my sweet-natured Kentucky grandmother learned that I was getting divorced, all she said was: "Someone's going around in a black overcoat with a white stripe down the back." It took me a few seconds to figure out what she meant. Metaphor was the coin of communication south of the Ohio River.
rubi (rubicon) Mon 27 Nov 06 12:14
Those are hilarious! I could read a book-load of them. If you don't mind, could you answer some questions related to publishing your poetry? Breaking the Fever is published by Marsh Hawk Press, a publisher based in New York. What brought you to this press? How did you get your manuscript accepted by this press? And heres a question that all beginning writers ponder. How did your get your first books of poems published?
Donna Odierna (strega) Mon 27 Nov 06 15:57
I just heard you read on Cover to Cover on KPFA. It was wonderful!
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 27 Nov 06 16:11
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Mon 27 Nov 06 16:40
You were great, Mary!
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