What are your
thoughts about reading your poetry in Cobourg at the 3rd annual POW! Festival?
I'm really excited about this fantastic opportunity to introduce my poetry
in Cobourg! Every audience brings a unique response, and I relish that
novelty and excitment!
Please tell us about your most recently published book and also
a little about any other books you've had that "saw print."
My latest book Sleeping with Satan- Salem Witch-hunt, 1692, was
published by Black Moss Press, November, 2010. I've been asked to read
at Summer Solstice, June 21, 2011 at an outdoor setting with several members
of a witch-coven in attendance. Also, I hope to read at the original court-house
in Salem Massachusetts during the 2011 tourist season.
I've also written The Red Dress, about life in a convent in the
sixties, Touch the Dead, about growing up in a cemetery house,
and When Angels Weep about the Father Charles Sylvestre priest
Touch the Dead, and When Angels Weep were both short-listed
for the Acorn-Plantos Award.
At POW!, do you plan to read pieces from your book (or books)?
Do you plan to read new, unpublished work
I may read a few new poems, but plan mostly to read from my four books.
How would you describe your poetry?
I would describe my poetry as spare, hard-hitting, and acessible. People
say my subjects and images are "dark". Narrative poetry allows
" a story," which may indeed be somewhat dark. It is my hope
to present readers with issues they would not ordinarly consider or ponder.
People don't like to think about realities such as death, priest sexual
abuse, and the oppression of women, but nothing will change unless someone
writes about these issues and puts them "out there".
A person who
has never composed a poem is likely to think of that as something of a
magical or mysterious process. Is it possible to explain that process
There may indeed be "some magic"- I like to think that of writing.
However, the magic is assisted by knowledge of the craft of writing. This
requires writing courses, extensive reading of good writers, and attention
to details such as image, line, form and voice.
Years ago in a poetry workshopping group, I was witness to the following
A novice poet breathlessly proclaimed, "I don't know how to write
formal poetry. All I know is -- my poetry comes from deep inside me, it
shows how I'm feeling at the time, it comes pouring out of me unexpectedly,
once it starts I couldn't stop it, even if I wanted to, and when I see
what I've produced in front of me, I can hardly believe it came out of
me but it's colourful and it's something that has never been seen before!"
Without a moment's hesitation, a woman I had not greatly admired until
that very moment said, "You know, everything you just said also applies
In my opinion, her retort captured something in a simply perfect way.
Nonetheless it is true that sometimes a poem just pours out of the poet
and when the initial product is viewed, the surprising conclusion is,
"That's it. Amazing. I don't have to re-work that at all. Even if
I did, I would not make it better." Can you tell us about one of
those moments happening for you?
I've often experienced a kind of "high" while writing the "bare
bones" of a poem, but I must go back and edit ,and also ask for the
enlighenment of "another pair of eyes" - someone who may not
see this poem as "magical" but as needing more work.
I read about Farley Mowat, the amazing Canadian novelist, who was asked
by a student, "How do I become a Writer?"
Mowat replied, "Son, write a million words and throw half of them
The student responded: "But how do I know which half to throw away?"
Mowat replied: "Son, that's what you have to learn.
However, what I describe above is rare. More commonly, any piece
that a poet initially scratches out needs work. There will be re-writes,
scrunched up pieces of paper, polishing, editing, moments when the poet
recoils in horror at how weak this creation is and sets about strengthening
it. Can you tell us about those moments?
First of all, these are indeed "rare moments". Perhaps one poem
I can point out is the poem "Confession," page 52 in "The
Red Dress." This poem was written from a "core experience"
of shock and dismay that something as private as virginity had to be reported
to a religious superior. I saw this as a violation of one's interior life,
and, I think my writing was poignant, clear and strong. I don't think
I made any changes.
It is said that
all artists create their art in part for themselves and it is born of
a deep inner howl that cannot be denied expression but, whether one chooses
to admit it or not, such creation is also in part for an audience. Do
you think our audience influences what we create, even if it is only a
sub-conscious tailoring we do to make things fit?
I like to think that I write from my "core experience" - for
example, in the convent, as a very young woman, I experienced intense
loneliness and isolation.
The irony of the convent was that it housed five-hundred women, none of
whom could be friends. One young sister remarked: "Here we are never
alone, never together."
In my view, her words captured exactly what was happening behind those
forbidding and imposing walls of religion in the sixties - a decade of
incredible social change.
When I wrote The Red Dress, I was greatly influenced by the "desert"
in which I wandered as a young, aspiring nun. I think that in the process
of writing, "the audience" is present in a distant, silent way
- and the audience indeed has a subtle influence, but the over-riding
force exists with "the howl," as it is so well described in
Would you say it is true that poets should know various set-forms
of poetry and have a conscious awareness of poetic device, even if they
then choose not to follow them or employ them? Is that an archaic ploy
to ensure that writing poetry remains an elite activity?
First of all, the poet must learn the craft, and that includes awareness
of set-forms of poetry and poetic device. That knowledge needs to be there,
even if the poet does not employ set-forms or poetic device.
I'll use the example of the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. He designed
homes and buildings that were beautiful and "open." He did not
use walls unless absolutely necessary for support. However, he had studied
classical architecture. Out of that study came his own unique creations.
I think the same can be said of the poet - one needs an understanding
of "the history" - that includes form, image, line and voice.
I need to know something about "iambic pentameter." I also require
an awareness of metaphor, and simile and assonance. These are all part
of 'the craft." In narrative poetry, I most likely will not choose
to use rhyme, but metaphor and simile and assonance can be very useful.
On no, it is not an archaic ploy to ensure that writing poetry remains
an elite activity. Rather, it assists the narrative poet to achieve fresh,
new images - to create a unique voice that the reader seeks and desires.
The POW! Festival rides along from year to year on the notion that
poetry should not be relegated to an existence as "a niche art form"
which an average person doesn't care about and never will care about.
Some poets think that notion is so idealistic as to be silly. They might
be correct. Others agree with us. How do you respond to that?
Oh, I'm with Walt Whitman all the way - a book of poetry in everyone's
pocket! As a beginning writer, I was greatly influenced by this wonderful
Very often, after a reading, people will say to me, "In high school
I hated poetry - never understood it - but I understood your poems and
really liked them" Most often, they buy a book!
In my view, this is the essence of success as a poet - to "reach"
someone who has always had a "bad taste" from poetry, and to
change that to something positive, enriching and hopeful.
Wendy Morton, a poet from Victoria, successfully organized "Random
Acts of Poetry" over the past seven years. She involved hundreds
of poets across Canada to simply "read a poem" to people on
the street, in the work-place, in stores, schools and restaurants. I was
involved with "Random Acts of Poetry" during five of those years
- the response from "ordinary" people was amazing!
In Wingham, Ontario, the day after I'd read a few poems from The Red
Dress, two women stopped me on the street and said they'd never liked
poetry, but loved The Red Dress. What an affirmation!
When I read in Hamilton a few years ago, a man came up to me with a copy
of Touch the Dead and said, "I love this book."
I'll never forget that - to me that's what poetry is about - a connection
with fellow human beings that goes way beyond a greeting or a handshake
- something meaningful, helpful, lasting.
Mary Ann Mulhern's Bio