an interview with Maria Gillan conducted by Emily Vogel, poetry editor of Ragazine, in April 2011.
On Her Early Poetry
For many years, I wrote poems based in the English literary tradition and I was anxious to hide behind language, images, and literary references. Then when I was 40, my first book was published, and a graduate school professor said, “You know, it’s in this poem about your father that you find the story you have to tell.” Then I thought, well I don’t have to be an English Romantic Poet, maybe I can be just what I am – a wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, grandmother, an Italian American – and write poems from those perspectives. I began then to write more directly and specifically about events and people in my own life, and to be as honest as I could be about what my life was actually like. It took me a long time to have the courage to write with honesty, specificity, and directness. Gradually, I made my language plainer and plainer in an attempt to lessen the distance between myself and my reader.
Advice To Emerging Poets
The advice I give to emerging poets is that they have to get rid of the crow in their minds, the one that tells them everything that is wrong with them. The crow will try to stop them from descending to the deepest places inside of themselves, the place I call the cave, where all their memories and experiences, good and bad, reside. The cave is where they have to have the courage to go, if they are going to write, if they’re going to be honest enough to search for the stories they have to tell. It is in specificity that we find the universal, rather than the other way around. The mind does not control the poem. It is the old woman or old man who lives in our bellies, who helps us to be wise truth-tellers. We need to learn to trust that inner voice, and not to depend on the intellect to guide us.