Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Mary McCarthy

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following poets, local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.


Crazy Odds

Mary McCarthy

Mary tells me “Since the end of my nursing career I have written thousands of poems, often one or more a day, and it has been an astonishing journey. The discovery of writing communities on the internet, of poets international and of all ages, has become a constant source of entertainment and inspiration. I have had work appear in many print and online journals, and have two electronic chapbooks
Crazy Odds, available on Amazon, and Things I Was Told Not to Think About, available as a free download from Praxis Magazine online”

The Interview

1. What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?

I was always a voracious reader, and in high school discovered and fell in love with the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, and Yeats. The music of their language was like an enchantment, magic I could revisit over and over, a sort of secret treasure. Going through the trials of adolescence, and my first episodes of what would be a life long struggle with depression, I started to write my own poems, finding this a way to clarify and explore experience. And it was fun.
3. Who introduced you to poetry?
That would be my mother. We watched the Hallmark productions of Shakespeare on TV–I most clearly remember Macbeth and The Tempest.  This was when I was about 10 years old. The first book she ever gave me was Hawthorne’s Twice Told Tales, and we bought Shakespeare’s plays in editions found at the local thrift shop. So, after nursery rhymes, my next experience of poetry was Shakespeare–again, magical, beautiful language, a world of words far from my everyday experience, and yet speaking directly to the core of what it is to be human.
4. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Not really that much aware. Plath, Sexton, Piercy, Clifton, Rita Dove, Dorianne Laux, Mary Oliver, Jan Beatty–many of the women poets among the contemporaries that I most enjoy. I also like Galway Kinnell a lot, as well as others, but I don’t feel their presence as dominating.
5. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t really have a daily routine, although I read and write for a good bit of every day. My process of composing doesn’t involve writing until the last step. It is usually begun by a few words, an image or idea that snags my attention, then there is a process of meditation, or maybe rumination, where it’s all working in the background for a while–maybe hours, maybe days. And when I sit to write it all comes at once in an initial form, that I then work to polish and refine. Or tear down and rebuild.

6. What motivates you to write?

All the usual culprits–emotion and experience, grief,  anger and delight, sometimes just the urge to play. And the need, not to state truths, but to discover them. Sometimes I write to find out what I think. For me all the joy is in the process itself, nothing else measures up to creating something with words.
7. What is your work ethic?

I’m a hard worker, not a slacker, but not a drudge. I don’t believe time is ever wasted, and work should also be joyous and fun. I cant remember ever being bored. Ever.
8. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

First, with the beauty of their language, and then the beauty of their spirit. They inspire and challenge me to reach for the best I can do, to do it in my own way, not as an imitator or copier, and to be  scrupulously honest in both what I say and how I say it. And they all: Dickinson, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Whitman, Hopkins, Thomas, Eliot, Yeats, Rimbaud, Baudelaire–taught me to delight in language itself, in the music of words and the dance they do with meaning- the sense and sensuality of words, the stuff of poetry.
9. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Jan Beatty, John Guzlowski–two examples out of many, but exemplary for their dedication to telling the truth, both personal and universal, and for their mastery of language conveying, and really embodying that truth.
10. Why do you write?
Because I can’t Stop writing. It’s how I find out what I think, who I am, and what is happening. It’s how I both explore and address the world.
11. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
By writing and reading. There is no other way. No lesson, no formula. Read everything and write every day.
12. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
No big projects, just trying to keep writing part of my daily life. Lately have been enjoying Ekhprastic writing, something fairly new to me. I have two electronic chapbooks, and sometimes think about trying to put together a full length manuscript, but don’t feel particularly pressured about that. I’m not building a career, or a legacy–in the long view none of that will last. I’m very centered in and focused on the present, and most days, that is enough.

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