Today we are pleased to feature poet Maria Martin as our Authors Talk series contributor. Maria discusses her poetry’s subject matter and how it has evolved over time.
When she started writing Maria wrote “almost exclusively” about herself. Eventually she felt that she had exhausted her subject matter, that she “didn’t know how to write.” Maria ends her talk by explaining how prose poetry opened up her writing and how “Slow” is a turning point for her and her work.
You can read “Slow” and three more of Maria’s poems in Superstition Review, Issue 19.
Compression is achieved by leaving things out — useless details, obvious emotions. This is why I prefer espresso. Its blackness tells me there is just enough water. Consider the following maxims and observations on writing to be fifty cups of espresso:
On the need to write every day: No one can shoot a nickel off the back of a galloping ox with just one bullet. The most one bullet will get you is a dead ox.
On mistakes: There is a kind of progress we make when we trip and fall forward.
The eye can see only by continuing to blink. This is an argument for stopping work when a poem gets stubborn and ceases to improve. Time in a dark drawer is always time well-spent.
The critic has the blueprints, but the poet builds the palace.
On my former aversion to prose poems: I used to think of them as mules — sterile hybrids. Now, I see the prose poem as a euglena — that cutthroat survivor with a foot in two kingdoms.
There are works that I’m ashamed to have not read, and there are those that merely embarrass me. This is the difference between the greatness of the past and the enthusiasm of the present.
Certain scenes are awkward because the characters don’t play well together — they are like dolls of different scales pushed into the same tea party.
The painter with chopped-off hands will learn to sing better than the writer with inherited pitch.
A good book should stay with you at least as long as your average tick bite. Reading it should make you itch.
In a forest, the best poets think of axe handles and violins.
On revisions: Don’t treat first drafts too preciously. Nobody carves a log before pushing it into the fireplace.
Distancing yourself emotionally from the subject matter of your stories is important. But there’s a point at which the faces grow indistinct and we cease to have any stake in who dies or falls in love.
On the popularity of confessional poems: The mirror always answers.
The painter would make different choices if he began instead with a black canvas.
On poems that refuse to get finished: It can be like carving your initials into the sea or digging up the shadow of your favorite spruce.
I’m the kind of person who takes more pleasure in the novel he burned than he does in the novel he’s trying to finish. The former, at least, provides a good anecdote at a cocktail party.
On the critic who tries to advance the careers of his friends by writing favorable reviews they don’t deserve: The dog is the planet to his fleas.
On the charge of strangeness: The world is my materials. I won’t apologize for my materials.
On ambition: Climbing the mountain doesn’t bring the stars any closer.
Extra syllables at the end of a poem are like a squeaky piano stool as the final notes of a symphony try to evaporate.
The dictionary is an anthology of one-word poems, footnotes included.
A sonnet is a jail that lets us in.
On the influence of dead poets: The wake of a swan continues long after it has taken flight.
Trusting a poem is our first mistake. Living as if we had not read it is our second.
That a poem means is more important than what a poem means.
On obscurity: Poets in America are fourth magnitude stars, and everyone’s night vision has been ruined by sitcoms and football.
On the growing number of people claiming to be poets: The tiniest flowers have no fragrance; America is full of tiny flowers.
When I was young, if a poem wasn’t about being with a woman, it was about being apart from a woman — and all the great merits of either circumstance.
On writer’s block: We need not fret about our occasional lack of inspiration. The guitar player needs to take a day off to let his calluses thicken and heal. A man needs a nap before screwing his woman a second time.
On reading the lines I wrote when I was high: After the sunset, the pollution goes back to looking ordinary.
Stories either start stable and become strange, or start strange and become stable. The ice is always melting or hardening.
In defense of sonnets: The piano is an old instrument, but we can play new songs on it.
On the charge of prettiness: Yes, the bell of the tulip is pretty, but it cannot rise without some dirt beneath it.
The critic concerns himself with the parts of a poem the way a disreputable mechanic wants every piece to shine and be new. The poet simply wants the goddamned car to move.
Nature poetry should be more than verbal postcards. In any glorious arrangement of mountains, we must find at least the shadow of a man.
The poet transmutes the world into sound the way a bluejay turns trash into a nest.
Don’t let your admiration of traditional forms override the notion of suitability. If the form doesn’t correspond to the subject, the poet will be accused of trying to fit a puppy inside a ringbox, of delivering a diamond inside an aircraft carrier.
The will to criticism: It’s just the urge to have answers at a particularly severe cocktail party.
We like listening to known liars. It’s the pleasure of hoping they’ll trip themselves up. A poem must proceed with the liar’s bravado. In this sense, a poem should leave the reader frustrated.
On failed poems we can’t stop revising: There’s nothing so steady as a half-sunk canoe.
On finding no one to publish a poem: It feels like a five-dollar bill with too much taped and missing.
The worst poets treat their poems like puzzles — something merely to be figured out. In the most dire cases, they withhold several pieces, hiding them in their breast pockets, forcing us to come to them with questions we would rather not ask.
Poems can fail in two ways: boredom or confusion. Boredom stems from too small a grasp — the ordinary sand grain in the palm of a hand. Confusion stems from extravagance — the attempt to palm a city. Given the choice, I prefer my poems to fail always by confusion.
On self-promotion: A car can rev its engine just as loud whether the trunk is full of gold or horse shit.
We are awestruck by actual sunsets, but embarrassed by their photographs. This is a proof that some beauty defies translation.
On the need to take a break from the daily routine of writing: If a garden goes untended long enough, even the weeds come into flower.
During the initial draft of a poem, when we are knocking on every door we come across, there is that moment when a peephole goes dark, and we know that the door must be kicked in.
On inspiration: Sometimes, the girl is brought out of the marble by a single hammer tap.
On our steadily fragmenting culture: At the rate things are going, someday even Jesus will require a footnote in the Norton Anthology.
On ambition: I won’t be content to be called the American Shakespeare. I won’t be satisfied until Shakespeare is known as the English Rafferty.
Lisa Mortensen is a third year Imaginative Writing major at ASU.
What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities? Reading Series Coordinator—I set up Superstition Review’s three readings for the semester.
Superstition Review: How did you hear about Superstition Review and what made you decide to get involved?
Lisa Mortensen: My Fiction 288 professor announced to our class about the possibility of working with Superstition Review. I was super excited to work on a project which promoted literature and art, not to mention the enthusiasm I had about being part of a publication which is created by undergraduate students of ASU.
SR: What are you hoping to take away from your Superstition Review experience?
LM: After working with Superstition Review I hope to take away the knowledge and experience necessary to work for a publishing house as an Acquisitions Editor.
SR:Describe one of your favorite literary or artistic works.
LM: Although I have specific authors in mind when I think about my favorite literary works, I must take a moment to talk about three genres that have recently demanded my attention: The Short, Prose Poetry, and Flash Fiction. At first glance, or read, it would be easy to call these genres simplistic, because of their length. However, a closer inspection reveals thoughtful and careful word choice, where quality of word takes over quantity. The powerful words, images and thoughts of the narrator are coming at you so quickly that your attention never wanders or strays from the piece. The effect is like being in the moment with the narrator when the surprises and twists come along, as well as the reader themselves feeling vulnerable to the raw emotions that come along with those experiences.
SR: What are you currently reading?
LM: In keeping with my newly found favorite genres, I have recently read and highly recommend Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “Volar,” Brian Doyle’s “Two Hearts,” Denis Johnson’s “Crash While Hitchhiking,” Russell Edson’s “Dinner Time,” and Luisa Valenzuela’s “Vision out of the Corner of One Eye.”
SR: What is your favorite Superstition Review section, and why?
LM: I am rarely able to narrow down any choice to just one, therefore I have two favorite sections of Superstition Review and they are the fiction and art sections. The fiction section is my favorite, because the content comes from a variety of authors who offer up memoir, short story, and essay. The art section is also my favorite due to the gallery’s assorted collection of art and artists from around the world. I also appreciated the bios and headshots that went along with each author and artist.
SR: Who would be the Superstition Review contributor of your dreams?
LM: For the fiction writing portion that would be Toni Morrison, and as far as art goes I would love to see more collage artists featured.
SR: What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?
LM: Art or Fiction Editor
SR: Do you prefer reading literary magazines online or in print?
LM: Until recently I would have said that I prefer literary magazines in print. However after a recent assignment that had us review several online literary magazines I now appreciate the convenience of locating articles of art and literature online. There isn’t the delay of snail mail or money spent on gas to retrieve the latest literary works. Which leads me to my other appreciation of online literary magazines; they are very eco-friendly!
SR: Do you write or create art? What are you currently working on?
LM: Recently, I’ve combined my love of writing and art and created a collage called, “Élan Vital” which is made of words and pictures. I am an Imaginative Writing major at ASU’s Polytechnic Campus, therefore I am always creating pieces of fiction, mostly on demand. Nevertheless, I actually enjoy both writing fiction and drawing in my spare time. In fact, this is only the second semester where I haven’t taken any art classes since high school.
SR: Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?
LM: I have adopted two children, one from Ethiopia and another from the US foster care system; so much of my spare time is spent with them. However, in the precious moments that I have to be child-free I enjoy riding motorcycles, traveling, having book club discussions, going to concerts, theater and art shows, singing, yoga and spoiling myself with an occasional spa day.
SR: What is your favorite mode of relaxation?
LM: My favorite mode of relaxation is meditation, for sure. Since I have a hard time shutting my mind off, I grab my headphones and go sit in a darkened room while I listen to soothing music or Emmett Miller’s meditation MP3s. I’ve also found that shutting down my cell phone for an hour works wonders too.
SR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
LM: In 10 years I definitely see myself as a credible and published author. I also see myself owning a publishing company and teaching Creative Writing to be used as a way of therapy. I realize that this is a lot to accomplish, but I think 10 years is a reasonable enough time to attain all of my goals.
Haley Larson, a Superstition Review poetry editor, comments on her experience with Ray Gonzalez’s poetry.
When new work from Ray Gonzalez landed in the hands of the poetry editors, we were beyond eager to feature four of his new poems in Issue 3. Gonzalez, a professor in the MFA Creative Writing programs at the University of Minnesota and Pine Manor College, is the author of numerous collections of poems, essays, and short stories. For more of his bio and impressive achievements, join us for the launch of Issue 3 on April 20th!
Among his new work, we’ll have the opportunity to experience the subtle and tumbling momentum of Gonzalez’s gift with prose poetry. We will lose ourselves among snow storms, beards, chest hair, starry plains–all in the crisp language that shapes Gonzalez’s imagery and often sorrowing metaphors. From “Three Snow Storms” we get a taste of this collective craft:
because ground is
marked only once
for men with
The white storm
pushes me into
the canyon where
the poetry of shadows
Age, art, their entangled rapport–we are fortunate captives riding out the three storms of this poem.
One more teaser before your return on April 20th, we present to you a small excerpt from “Photo of Pablo Picasso with His Shirt Off.” Poets and artists take note, “The hairy look of genius gets in the way.” We invite you to join us for more from Ray Gonzalez!
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