Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Eastern Connecticut State University Students Interview Maria Mazziotti Gillan
Maria’s visit was sponsored by the Eastern Writers Guild, the Eastern Visiting Writers Series, and the English Department.
The interview is reproduced here via easternct.edu
What is your advice for novice writers who have trouble exposing what’s in their “cave”? Is there anything you personally have done that makes it easier to bring what lies in your cave to your own poetry?
Maria Mazziotti Gillan
My advice is to imagine that you don’t have to show anyone what you’ve written if you decide you don’t want to do so. I suggest that as you move toward the cave, you write whatever comes into your mind, and when you get in the cave with its more complicated emotions, you try to turn off the critic in your own head, that voice that says “Why would anyone want to read what I’ve written?” Instead, try to imagine that you’ve opened a door inside yourself that frees you to write about even the most painful and difficult experiences in your past. You will be so surprised at how much lighter you feel once you’ve been able to shape these experiences into words. Whatever you do, please do not stop to correct your writing or to worry. You need to let the words flow onto paper. Later, you can go back and revise.
You’ve said before that you find most of your inspiration in your own personal life. When writing, is it ever difficult for you to reflect on personal experiences?
Yes, it is difficult, but it’s also wonderful. I’m a little shy, and I write in my poems the things I could never say to anyone else in person. It’s a way of reaching out to other people and a way of forming a bridge between us.
Was there ever a time when writing your truths and exposing your true self in poetry made you want to put the pen down for good?
I’ve written since I was a little girl, and I never want to put my pen down for good. Writing has transformed my life in so many ways. I am grateful for it. Sometimes when I read what I’ve written, see how vulnerable I am in my writing, I get terrified. Once I’ve shared the poem with an audience, though, I’m happy that I did not let my fear stop me. I hope you won’t, either.
You talk a lot about the “crow,” or the forces that judge and condemn our writing. What about the inspirations? Who/what inspired you to write poetry?
Those wonderful teachers in PS [Public School] 18 in Paterson, NJ, who read poems and stories to us inspired me to write my first poems. The more I read on my own, the more I read poetry out loud, the more I fell in love with the way language sounded, the music of it. I wanted to write myself. I try to listen to the way I speak, to the voices of my neighborhood and my friends, and I try to incorporate these people and places into my poems. Sometimes the smallest thing––a snippet of overheard conversation, a look of desperation in someone’s eyes, light glinting on water––inspires a poem to start, and I don’t try to control with my mind where it’s going to go from there.
In your talk given at Eastern, you mentioned that the most beautiful thing about this country is our diversity. What is it about our diversity that is beautiful? Does American uniqueness have an impact on our/your writing?
I think our diversity is what makes us such an amazing country. Everyone comes from different cultures, and each one brings something to add to our strength and versatility as a people. Yes, diversity is very important in my own writing. It’s also important in the work I’ve done for other writers by creating the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ, and the Binghamton [NY] Center for Writers, by editing anthologies and a journal [the Paterson Literary Review], and by organizing readings and conferences on issues that emphasize our diversity as a people.
Poetry is an under-appreciated art form in American culture. How can we get others involved? How do we get people to listen?
I think that writing poetry that is clear, direct, and about what it means to be human is the way to increase audience. I think reading poetry on the radio is an amazing way to reach a great number of people. Poetry needs to be honest and to tell a story, so it’s important that we try to set up readings in the community, at a cafe, in a bookstore––anywhere we can get people to come and listen. It doesn’t matter whether you are a new poet or more established. You can set up a reading or read at an open reading. If we love poetry, I think it’s our responsibility to get others to love it, too.
You’ve published 20 books now. Can you share with us how you continue to find the courage to write?
At this point, I’ve been writing for so long, I really need to write. I can’t help myself. Yes, sometimes we all have shameful experiences that it’s hard to write about, but I find the experience hurts less if I can write about it. I might end up crying when I’m writing a poem, but it is so much a part of the way I live my life that I can always talk myself out of being afraid.
How do you feel about the magazines that would not publish your poetry due to your narrative style?
As Lucille Clifton said, there are many rooms in the house of poetry. My poetry does not fit the style of every magazine, but I don’t like the poetry in some magazines. I try to send my work to journals that I like to read, journals that publish poetry that moves me to laughter or tears. I don’t like poetry that is all language and intellect; I want poetry that has a beating heart.
Do you have any words of advice for young writers that would like to be published one day?
Yes. Be tenacious. Never give up. Keep reading all the books you can, go to poetry readings, and write as many times in a week as you can. Send work only to magazines that publish work that speaks to you. That gives you a chance of being published. Even if you’re rejected, put the poems in another envelope and send them out again. Make your submissions neat and don’t send more than five poems at a time. Wait a year before you send poems to that journal again. And remember: Never give up.
Maria's Official Site is at MariaGillan.com. Her latest publication is the poetry and art collection, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets.