Hello, beautiful people. I am ecstatic to be interviewing Carolyn Martin today. Carolyn is the author of four poetry books, poetry editor for Kosmos Quarterly, and book review editor for the Oregon Poetry Association. Her poems have been featured in numerous literary magazines, journals, and anthologies. Today, I wanted to talk to Carolyn about her publishing journey, her recent work, and any advice she has for new poets. Here’s what she had to say.
Tell Me About Your Most Recent 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 next title – although I wasn’t sure what it meant. This book is different from my first three in that I 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, arrange and rearrange others’ 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.
What Inspires You to Write Poetry?
The blast of joy I experience when I’m writing and the simmering hope that someone will read my poems!
As a Smitten contributor, You Explore Love Between Women. Do You Think There is Enough Diverse Representation Out Now? If No, Why Do You Think This is? Do You Think LGBTQ+ Representation is Important?
Since I follow a number of sites that publish calls for submissions, it’s been inspiring to see how many journals today make a point of saying they want work by under-represented populations like POC, Native Americans, or the LGBTQ+ community. Any way we can make good art more diverse and accessible is a way to heal wounds, foster understanding, and make the connections essential for a peaceful, healthy planet.
How Does Your Identity Play Into the Poems You Write?
I didn’t come to grips with the fact that I am a woman who happens to be a lesbian until I was in my late 30’s. Consequently, I didn’t think about my sexual identity as a defining element in my work – although over the years I did write love poems to and about women. These contained – I hope – themes essential to any loving relationships. Even today, I’d rather be thought of as a good poet who just happens to be a lesbian.
Are You Working on Anything Right Now?
Yes. A new collection called The Logophile’s Notebook. It’s a series of poems inspired by the “Word of the Day.” Imagine poems with titles like “Superannuation,” “Brachyology,” and “Blamestorming,” and references within poems to “rewilding,” “terraforming,” and “divagating.” It’s a fun venture!
What is Your Favorite Poem?
That’s a hard one since I have trouble narrowing down anything to one favorite, much less poems. I can share some of my favorite poets: Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, Billy Collins, Natasha Trethewey, and Wislava Szymborska.
That Your Wrote?
Like many poets, I think of my poems as my off-spring – and who would want to select only one and leave the others feeling slighted?
What Was Your Publishing Journey Like?
I didn’t start to write poetry until I was twenty seven. At that point I was an English teacher and a Roman Catholic nun. I combined the two into an early poetic goal: rewrite the Bible from the point of view of a woman. My first published pieces were persona poems about the likes of Sarah and Issac and Martha and Mary. Over the years, I’ve added to that initial group but also moved on to tackling family issues, recording travel adventures, and playing with nature.
I didn’t publish my first book, Finding Compass, until 2011 when I was 67. I realized at that point I had years of work sitting in a computer and I needed to get it out into the world. Since then, The Way a Woman Knows was published in 2015, Thin Places in 2017, and A Penchant for Masquerades in 2019. Since I’m aware of time passing quickly; I hope to get the next book out in 2021.
What Advice Do You Have for Poets Trying to Break Into the Business?
1. Read, read, read – but not only good contemporary poets. Read the recent masters who have stood the test of time like Frost, Yeats, Whitman, Dickinson, Bishop, Williams, and Eliot. We are standing on their shoulders and they provide us with themes and techniques we may want borrow and expand.
2. Network, network, network. Go to readings, take a class, join – or create – a critique group. However, recruit people into your group who are knowledgeable about the craft of poetry. You want to spend time with poets who are already good writers and know what good writing is. Although it may be fun to hang out with those who will applaud everything you write, that may not be the best use of your time.
Was There Ever a Moment in Your Writing Journey When You Wanted to Give Up? How Did You Get Through it?
Whenever I hit a fallow period and couldn’t write, I thought I’d never write again. These times could last for weeks or months – and that was discouraging. However, once I realized there was a rhythm to my writing life, I was able to ease in and out of these blank-page times with less angst. What I substituted for writing was gardening, photography, all kinds of crafts. It was essential to me to keep creativity flowing in some form. I believe we create or we die.
Is There Anything Else You Would Like to Share?
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 my poems. I couldn’t make them up!
Thank You So Much For Your Time. Before I Go, Where Can We Find You?