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Sometimes, I Stray Deliberately…

Sometimes, I Stray Deliberately…

This week has been an exhausting one for me. I’m sure most of you who read this blog (where the hell are you, anyway? READ MY BLOG.) can relate. It’s my last year of college and suddenly the “What are you thinking of doing after school?” question we all dread from relatives as, say, freshmen, has become this terrifying reality. I’m 21, and somewhere somebody decided that this is the age I’m supposed to know how I’d like to spend the rest of my life. I hate that person. At my school, most people can say something like, “I’m on my way to being a doctor,” or “It’s law school for me.” And then I have to follow that with some variation of “I want to teach creative writing,” because I’m not sure I’m brave enough yet to simply say, “I want to be a poet, okay?” because most reactions I’ve gotten from that involve horrified looks or some variation of “How will you ever make money?” Poetry doesn’t make money. I’m plenty aware of that. Sometimes, self-fulfillment is more important. I’ll figure out the cash later. Anyway!

One woman has filled me with hope for the future this week, and that is the wonderful poet Marge Saiser, who I interviewed about her poem “Mercury in Retrograde” (which can be found on my personal blog by clicking the poem’s title), love, & being a female poet. I was so excited to interview Marge especially, because I got the lovely opportunity to watch her read a year or two ago at my school. Here’s our chat below.

Deanna: I’ve been really excited to interview you for a while now. Last year, I was lucky enough to hear you read from Beside You at the Stoplight at Creighton, and certain poems were so beautiful they gave me chills. I quickly realized that you had the magical gift for taking the perhaps “worn out” concept of a love poem and totally revitalizing it. When you started writing poetry of this nature, was it daunting? Were you scared that love was a cliché subject?

Marge: Watching Bill Moyers’ DVDs of the Geraldine R. Dodge Festival, then attending those festivals in person, attending a couple of Sharon Olds workshops, these things tend to shore up one’s courage. Love in my house does not fit the cliches, and that’s what my friends say, too. Maybe real life is the antidote to starry-eyed cliche. If you show me in your poem how love truly behaves in your life, that’s fascinating to me.  Jonis Agee in Road Trip says we must be able to write anything.  Not necessarily publish it, but fearlessly put the truth on the page no matter what.

Deanna: Admittedly, I had to look up what the word “retrograde” meant in order to better understand your poem, “Mercury in Retrograde.” Science isn’t my forte, but from my understanding retrograde represents two planetary orbits spinning in opposite directions. This reminds me, somehow, of how we are constantly thrust forward towards the future and drawn back to our past memories—and how others often connect, drift past us, and leave lasting impressions. But of course, poetry is subjective. Any clues on what this poem means to you?

Marge:  I’d have to say, Deanna, that science is not my forte either, but the image of the little dark spot of a planet (Mercury) superimposed on the face of the sun (you have to get to the observatory at the right time, of course, to see it), that image stuck with me.  It made me think of a bird’s eye view of the dress the lover threw to the ground in the field. Even the sound of “retro”—that makes me think of looking back. In the poem, the speaker’s looking back at a love that is no more. There’s yearning and distance in the poem, and distance is such a part of the solar system.

Deanna:  I can tell from your many awards and publications that you have been writing poetry for a long time. Probably many aspects of the “poetry world” have changed throughout your career—things like online literary magazines becoming more prominent, internet submissions being favored over “snail mail,” etc. Even I have seen these changes in my lifetime, and it can be overwhelming for me when hard copies of books seem so much more loveable. Are these or any other particular changes easy to adjust to or discouraging?

Marge:  Adjust we must. One of my chapbooks is titled “Moving On” and I think I should make that my motto.  Maybe you and I are extremely lucky to be alive at this time because we have it all: both hard copies and online. One thing I am grateful for is that I can type in a few words of a poem I sort of remember and I can probably get hold of that poem on line.

Deanna:  Out of curiosity, might you name some of your favorite poets, poems, or collections? I can’t help but think you would have excellent recommendations for all of us searching for new reading material.

Marge:  I do enjoy the work of Dorianne Laux.  Some of my favorite poems this week are: “Gate 4” by Naomi Shihab Nye, “What He Thought” by Heather McHugh, “The Pomegranate” by Laura Madeline Wiseman, “For an Anniversary” by Adrienne Rich, “From an Italian Postcard Factory” by Margaret Atwood, “Little Girl, My String Bean, My Lovely Woman” by Anne Sexton, “To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy. My favorite anthologies at the moment are Cries of the Spirit and Claiming the Spirit Within.

Deanna:  I see that you once helped choose poems for a publication of women writers from the Great Plains. Women like you, Liz Kay, and Jen Lambert serve as an inspiration to young female poets like myself. As a successful woman, do you believe that there are differences in a woman’s writing experience as opposed to a man’s? Was it more difficult for you to become established because of your gender?

Marge:  Yes, and yes. I could—or someone could—make an entire study of this. Many undoubtedly have. I am not a good source to lay out exactly what differences women deal with and to what degree. The main thing is we deal with them. I have felt very discouraged at times. Lucille Clifton told of a woman throwing all her poems into the furnace. The woman was her mother and Lucille never forgot that moment. I am grateful for great teachers, notably William Kloefkorn. I give tons of credit to the women I write with and to The Backwaters Press.

Deanna:  On that note, another poem of yours that I remember was one that was entitled “Mammogram,” and it spoke of that uncomfortable time (in, might I add, a witty and hilarious way). Do your poems often speak to these and other tough experiences that we as females must endure?

Marge:  Oh yes, “Mammogram.” People like that poem and ask for it. It’s playful. I need to hear and to write poems about everything in everyday life. I want to read, study, and write poems that tell the truth, edit those poems fiercely, and publish some of them.

– Marge Saiser has three full-length books from The Backwaters Press. She has co-edited Times of Sorrow/Times of Grace and Road Trip. Her awards include several Nebraska Book Awards, awards from the Nebraska Arts Council, and an award from the Academy of American Poets. Her poems have been published in Prairie Schooner, Platte Valley Review, Chattahoochee Review, Field, burntdistrict, and The Untidy Season.


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