Previously on the blog, I interviewed Mary Ann about her book ‘How We Fare’ – published by Black Moss Press in April 2016. It’s been just about two years since then and I am happy to share with you that Mary Ann’s next book of poetry is launching ONE WEEK FROM TODAY! And, in fact, it’s a ‘new and selected’ collection, which in poetry-land means that your career is long and lush enough to create such a book! Mulhern has been consistently published since 2006 when her first book of poetry entitled ‘Touch The Dead’ was published. ‘All the Words Between’ is Mary Ann’s eighth book of poetry. What a career! Like many of her books, ‘All the Words Between’ was published through the Editing & Publishing Practicum at the University of Windsor. Included in this post are many goodies I’ve received from Mulhern’s ‘team’. I hope you enjoy them! Information about the big launch is after the interview – so please, enjoy the conversation and the goodies – and join us at the launch next Wednesday!
VS: How did you feel when Marty approached you about a “collected works-new and selected” What did this mean for your career?
MM: I felt honoured by Marty’s request! This is such a privilege! I think this book will highlight the best poems published thus far. I’m hoping people will purchase “All the Words Between” , and also some of the original books. This is definitely a big plus for my career!
VS: Do you get nervous/anxious before a poetry event or guest lecture? How do you handle “nerves?”
MM: Fortunately, I do not get nervous before a poetry event. Luckily for me, I entered public-speaking contests in high-school, and I won some of them! Also, I was a teacher, used to “speaking”. Marty Gervais coached me before the launch of “ The Red Dress”. This gave me added confidence. Susan McMaster also gave me super advice, for example: read the title of a poem and pause before you begin reading the poem. I find this to be very effective.
VS: How do you decide what to wear? Will you treat yourself to a spa day on your book-launch?
MM: Each book is different and requires a different type of dress. Of course, for “ The Red Dress” I wore a lovely red dress by Simon Chang. I still have that “red dress” and wore it recently to a special dinner. For “Touch the Dead”, I wore black. For “Sleeping with Satan” I wore colour! Colour was forbidden in puritanical Salem. For “ When Angels Weep”, I wore black. This was such a difficult book to write! The lives of the little girls abused by Father Charles Sylvestre have been so harsh – so profoundly marked. One woman asked the question: “What would my life have been if this had not happened to me?” Of course, for “ Brides in Black”, I wore black. The same is true for “ How We Fare”- Actually this was another Simon Chang. For the launch of “ All the Words Between”, I have a new red dress! Can’t wait to wear this one! No, not a “spa-day”- but definitely, nails and hair!
VS: When did you figure out your reading voice: how did you build your confidence to share/read your poetry the way you do? It’s very natural and it feels like your always sharing a story.
MM: As I mentioned above, public -speaking really helped. So did a teaching career! I love “a story”. I’ve learned much about narrative poetry from Marty Gervais, who is a master story-teller. Any audience will relate to a good story, told with confidence. I really try to do this.
VS: What book or books are you reading now?
MM: I’m reading Patrick Lane’s “ Deep River Night”. This is such a great story!
VS: What writer, alive or not, would you love to walk with by the riverfront? What would you talk about?
MM: I’d love to walk with Margaret Atwood. I’d talk about her books, “ Alias Grace”, “The Handmaid’s Tale” and” Selected Poems” by Margaret Atwood. She has also written a fascinating book on “writing” called “ Negotiating with the Dead”. She says talking about “the dead” may seem somewhat peculiar, but , she says, “writing is peculiar.”
VS: When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up? Do you feel like a “grown-up?” Do you think there’s a correlation between living creatively and feeling age?”
MM: I “played school” when I was growing up – I was usually “the teacher” – and that “happened”. Yes, I feel like a grown-up – I think my “convent days” were filled with “reality” in terms of loneliness and convent life often made me depressed. I knew I could never make final vows! The decision “to leave” was life-changing but I didn’t care how difficult it would be to adjust. I just knew that I’d do “okay”, and, I have! I have great respect for nuns who stayed. Oh yes, I think there’s a strong correlation between living creatively and aging. There’s so much joy in the process of writing, that I think it has a “youthful effect”. I know that I’m not “25” any more, but I certainly don’t feel “old”- nor do I ever want to feel that way!
VS: What would you love to travel to so you could write there?”
MM: I think I’d love to travel to Ireland again. So many writers come from Ireland. My mother’s village by the sea has so many “stories”.
VS: What is your biggest fear when it comes to your writing life?
MM: I fear that someday “ the muse” will leave me for too long a time. “The muse” makes me happy – that’s such a plus!
VS: What is your definition of success?”
MM: I feel success whenever a reader tells me they “love my work”. And fortunately, that has often happened. Naturally, I’d like to sell thousands and thousands of books! What writer wouldn’t?
BOOK LAUNCH INFORMATION
WHEN: Wednesday, April 4, 2018
WHERE: Fogolar Furlan, Canada Hall – 7pm – 10pm
Books launching: All the Words Between by Mary Ann Mulhern and Ask the River by Denis Robillard
Facebook event page – Please let them know you’re attending!
Here is my blurb for ‘All the Words Between’:
Here is an interview with Mary Ann and one her team members, Sarah MacEachern. It is thorough and shines more light on Mary Ann’s writing process, practice and talents! Enjoy!
All The Words Between
Inside the Mind of a Poet: An Interview with Mary Ann
Mulhern Interview by Sarah MacEachern
When did you start to identify yourself as a writer?
Not until after my third book and when I was shortlisted for the Acorn-Plantos award for my second book, Touch the Dead; I thought that was pretty good. So now if I meet new people and they ask me, “What do you do?” I say, “Oh, I’m a poet.” Five years ago, I wouldn’t have said that. It is so interesting how it evolves.
What is the best thing about being a writer? The worst thing?
I think the best thing is being able to connect with readers! This is really quite amazing to me. This is especially evident after a reading when people come and talk to me about poems they especially connected with. I really pay attention to what people have to say. They have experiences they want to share and I greatly value this.
I guess the worst thing about writing is to send out poems and have them rejected, either by a rejection letter or by silence.
Do you have any advice for young, aspiring poets?
I totally believe in the advice I received: “If you are going to write, you must read!” Read a variety of work – novels, poetry, newspapers, political commentaries, etc. Thus, you’ll discover the style of really good writers and learn to recognize your own unique style or “voice.”
Three books on writing that I would recommend to beginning poets are: Negotiating with the Dead (Margaret Atwood), On Writing (Stephen King), and Ford City Anthology- Essays on the Craft of Writing (D.A. Lockhart, Editor).
What is your writing process like? Do you have any routines or rituals?
I find that outdoor activities, like walking in nature, sometimes bring ideas for poems. The mystery writer, Joyce Carol Oates, runs 8 km a day. She claims that physical activity connects with creativity, and the plots for most of her mystery books come to her while she runs.
I always have pen and paper on the train. That’s how the poem Black Towers came to mind. This is also true of coffee shops – I always have paper and pen.
Very often, ideas come from reading other poets- for example, Rupi Kaur. I love her short poems, how they impact the emotions. She has such a powerful way of expressing emotions around relationships.
Sometimes, a poem comes from paying attention to a conversation. That’s how the poem Ashes came to be written. This was from a conversation I overheard on an
How long does it take an idea to become a finished poem? How do you know when a poem is finished?
Sometimes, it takes very little time. I like to sit at the table in the kitchen and write. Of course, any poem needs editing, or “another pair of eyes.” I can usually “feel” when a poem is finished. [My publisher, Marty Gervais] always says you don’t need to “hit people over the head”- leave the poem without repeating yourself.
How many of your poems do you throw away? Why do you discard the ones you do?
Oh, there have been lots that never see the light of day. I often keep them in a binder. With experience, you can usually tell when a poem isn’t going to impact anyone. Sometimes I have another poet look at poems that I “doubt,” and usually, those poems really don’t work. No worries- that’s how I learn. Poetry groups or salons are really good for this. Other poets have positive ways of letting you know a poem is not as good as some others you’ve written.
Many writers say that they begin a poem with a feeling in mind, an emotion or a thought that they want the reader to be left with, while others say that they begin with an event or an image that inspires the work. Do either of these resonate with you?
Sometimes, an “event” resonates with me. Poems in The Red Dress, Touch the Dead, When Angels Weep, Sleeping with Satan, and Brides in Black are all inspired by events- many of them personal, some of them historic.
That was especially true of the poems in How We Fare. For example, [Trayvon is about] the murder of Trayvon Martin, a black, unarmed teen, who was walking home with groceries when he was shot by a man who had no provocation, except that Trayvon was a “black boy with a hoodie.” Racism in the USA is extremely prevalent, now even more so with Trump as president.
Your poems share a lot of stylistic qualities. Do you aim to maintain a certain writing style or does it just happen as you write?
I’d have to say, “It just happens as I write.” I never did set out to have a certain style of writing. I certainly can see that my poems are sparse with words, and impactive.
Maybe this stems from my preference for shorter poems. When I see more than one or two pages for one poem, I have to say that I can easily lose interest after the first page. I really believe that the modern reader has a shorter attention span and, as a poet, you’re going to be more successful with shorter, more intense poems.
One of the greatest strengths of your poetry is its consistent narrative. How important is it to you that your poems tell a story?
This aspect of my poems is essential to me. I always want to “tell the story.” I find that most people respond very well to this! A lot of people say, “I never liked poetry, but I really like your writing!” I guess they don’t label my work as “poetry.” I’m fine with that!!
I just know that if there is no story, there will be a very scant audience- no writer wants that! I think that Walt Whitman, who wrote Leaves of Grass, is the all-time poet who wanted a book “in every pocket.” Walt wrote for “the ordinary man.” Hopefully, I write for “the ordinary man and woman.”
How was writing poems like the ones in The Red Dress or Touch the Dead, which were inspired largely by your own experience, different from writing poems like the ones in When Angels Weep or How We Fare, that were inspired by others’ stories? Which was more challenging?
Poems inspired by my own experience were somewhat easier to write.
Poems in When Angels Weep were much more challenging. I was responsible for being faithful to the experience of women whose lives were forever impacted by the sexual perversions of a Catholic priest. The women were concerned about where I was coming from: “Did I get it?” That question stayed with me, also. I think that when the book was published, and we invited many of the women to the launch, they believed that I truly identified with their trauma, their efforts to overcome the hardships they endured because of the incredible betrayal they suffered, not just from Sylvestre, but often from their own parents and teachers as well. I’m still in touch with some of the women.
Poems in How We Fare were not always easy because of their grim topics, such as war, forced marriage, racial hatred and famine. Fortunately, there are some poems of hope, such as An Apple Shared.
Did you experience any backlash from the Catholic community because of your work?
I did put some restrictions on the convent-related poems because I did not want to embarrass the community. I originally included a poem on use of “the discipline,” a type of whip that nuns sometimes used on bare flesh as “atonement for sins.” When I withdrew the poem, my publisher was disappointed, but he accepted this.
I know that after When Angels Weep was published, some of my friends, who are strong Catholics, distanced themselves from me, and that continues. Most however, recognized that a court of law does not rely on “hearsay.” Sylvestre went to the Kingston Penitentiary because he was in fact, guilty.
What is a poet’s role? Do they have one?
I think poets have always had a role as “sounding boards” in society. Consider the poem In Flanders Field. That poem continues to resonate today. It connects the dead with the living in a way that makes us consider our responsibility to those who’ve made the sacrifice of their young lives!
I think of the senseless loss of young life in US schools over the proliferation of guns, including assault weapons! Two poems in How We Fare resound with this: Another School Shooting and Guns at School. It is encouraging that students across the US are protesting the NRA and demanding more gun laws.
William Blake, the “revolutionary poet” who was writing during the industrial revolution in England, wrote poems that really resonated with that society, and in many ways, with ours. He referred to religion as “mind-forged manacles.” That phrase greatly influenced me then and now.
I’ve already mentioned Walt Whitman, the “poet of the people.” I think that as a poet I have a responsibility to try to resonate with my era and to try to make people think about issues they perhaps would prefer not to consider.
My hope is that my poems will contribute to prevention.