This interview is an exciting one for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve never interviewed a poet before! I decided to open my interviews up to published and unpublished authors, but I want to keep a healthy mix of all different types of writers who are in various stages of their writing careers. Another reason this post is exciting is that I met Carolyn through my time as a fiction editor for VoiceCatcher journal where I was later on the board and managed their social media accounts. I love this connection because it really introduced me to a wonderful and giving community of women writers. Anyway, I’m happy to have Carolyn on my blog so let’s hear more about her.
From associate professor of English to management trainer to retiree, Carolyn Martin has contributed poems and book reviews to publications throughout North America and the UK. Her fourth collection, A Penchant for Masquerades, was released in 2019 by Unsolicited Press. She is currently the poetry editor of Kosmos Quarterly: journal for global transformation.
You’ve published four poetry collections so far. What makes the fourth different from the first three?
A Penchant for Masquerades is different for two reasons:
First, rather than having a manuscript in search of a title like I had in Finding Compass, The Way a Woman Knows, and Thin Places, I found a title for this fourth collection first and it challenged me to write the book.
A few years ago, I read this quotation by Isak Dineson: “Truth is for tailors and shoemakers … . I, on the contrary, have always held that the Lord has a penchant for masquerades.”
I knew immediately this was my title – although I wasn’t sure what it meant. The poems are attempts to find that meaning.
The second difference is that I had discovered new forms to write in. For example, several poems contain not one word of my own except for the title (i.e.,“Ten Variations on the Fifty Most Quoted Lines of Poetry” and “90+ Titles Appropriated from Poetry 180 Hosted by Billy Collins”). What fun to cut-and-paste and arrange and rearrange words into something new!
Then there are paratactic poems: poems that are a series of aphorisms that can be read in any order (i.e., “Prologue,” “Spoiler Alerts).
Both forms were new to me and added a broader and deeper dimension to my work.
Is there a difference between writing prose or poetry? If so, what do you think it is?
I spent most of my 40-year working life writing prose: business books, magazine articles, keynote speeches, workshop materials. Today, I occasionally write in prose via book reviews and a blog. And, while all these prose writing experiences are valuable, I’ve discovered that poetry is the way my mind interacts with the world – in images, rhythms, sounds, and intensities of language. So I’ve settled into the joyful challenge of translating experience into as few words as possible. My aesthetic is found.
In a comment by Sting, “All my life I have tried to find the truth and make it beautiful,” and in Galway Kinnell’s statement, “To me, poetry is somebody standing up … and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” My poems attempt to find beautiful truths as I grapple with the complexity of being on earth right now. Being me, I couldn’t do that in prose.
Everyone wants to know about a writer’s practice or discipline as if there were some silver bullet that would prompt their own success. What’s your “silver bullet”?
Here’s my secret: there is no “silver bullet.” At least, I don’t have one. Perhaps, it’s my age – going on 74 — and the fact that I don’t write to make a living, but I’ve taken the pressure to produce off. If there’s another poem published somewhere or another manuscript trying to be born, that’s fine. If not, I’ve had a good run. My mantra in my blissful retirement years comes from a Spanish proverb: “It is beautiful to do nothing and rest afterwards.”
Anyway, after years of discipline, it is very freeing to create days in the shape I’d like them to be or, perhaps, to let days shape me. I live a charmed life!
Where do you find inspiration? Or who inspires you?
In the first stanza of my poem “A Few Words on Inspiration,” I write:
It happens this way: the day collects stuff:
a squirrel in rigor on a cottage stone,
chem trails staining summer’s sky,
a white spider on the TV screen.
Every day is filled with sights, sounds, smells, perceptions, feelings that are grist for poems. If I can stay away from the computer long enough and stop the noise inside and out, I collect stuff.
Among famous poets, I’ve been influenced by Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats, William Carlos Williams and Elizabeth Bishop and have written poems that reference their work. Among contemporaries, I love Billy Collins, Natasha Trethewey, James Wright, Kay Ryan, and Wislawa Szymborska. Likewise, a number of my poems arise directly from their work. Also, they help me in my search for new approaches and forms that keep my work engaging and fresh.
Finally, this goes without saying: Local teachers like John Brehm, Sage Cohen, Cindy Williams Guitiérrez, Kathleen Halme, Annie Lighthart, Andrea Hollander, and Paulann Peterson have inspired so many poems throughout my four collections that I’ve lost count. There’s nothing like being in a workshop with a brilliant teacher and dedicated students who inspire one another
The bottom line? There are possibilities for poetry everywhere if you’re attentive to them. They’re waiting and wanting that attention. If you don’t grab them, someone else will!
Do you have any advice for someone who may be going through a hard time in their writing (might be due to personal issues not related to writing, but still effects writing)? What keeps you going through tough times?
Be gentle with yourself. There are weeks – and sometimes months – that I don’t write. These are my fallow periods and I’ve learned to respect their rhythms. When writing dries up and I feel like I’ll never write a poem again, I find other creative things to do: gardening, painting, creating greeting cards and jewelry, whatever. Anything to be creative.
See, I believe we create or we die, and one type of creativity leads to another to another to another. Of course, when you’re not writing, you’re reading and observing. You’re keeping files of new words, quotations, snippets of conversation you’ve overhead: all gems that may sparkle when the time and energy to write returns – and they will.
Is there anything else you would like to share with me/ the world?
This may sound counter-intuitive, but writers should spend some time writing about what they do not know. Science, art, music, cosmology, world religions, etc. offer images and ideas that will enrich anyone’s work. I remember reading articles that claim the sun rings like a bell, that North America moves closer to Japan by three inches each year, and that there’s a species of frog that listens with its mouth. Each of those images delighted me and worked their way into poems. I couldn’t make them up!
Find more about Carolyn here: www.carolynmartinpoet.com