Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Maria Mazzenga

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers 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.
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Maria Mazzenga

I write poetry, fiction and historical non-fiction from my home in Arlington, Virginia. I studied journalism and broadcasting as an undergrad, then, not ready to jump into the so-called real world, I hurried into master’s and doctoral programs in U.S. History in Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.  After receiving my doctoral degree in U.S. history, I spent the next several years teaching history, first in Richmond, Virginia, and then, with library science, in the Washington, D.C. region.  In addition, I work as an archivist, curating educational websites and exhibits using cool archival stuff.  Non-fictionally speaking, I have published a range of historical works, specifically focused on ethnicity, nationalism, and interfaith relations, as well as articles on digital curation and archival marketing. As far the fiction and poetry, I have most recently published poems and prose in Eyedrum Periodically, JUMP, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, The Amethyst Review, and Chronos.  I’ve served as poetry editor with JUMP and at the Open Arts Forum, venues for modern poetry.  With my partner Roger Doyle as artist, I have written four books of poetry, “Wrecks,” “Poems of Yellow in Gray,” “The Lot of Sisyphus,” and “At Home in the Pen.”  Additionally, I have one completed novel, “Go Lightly,” and another in the works. You can find information on publications available via Amazon in the Books section of the site, or just check out samples of my poetry and fiction at http://dropdownworks.com/

1.    What inspired you to write poetry?

I’ll call it “tiny hallucinations,” which I draw from an article I recently read on hallucination and the construction of reality.  Scientists have theorized that in our attempts to assimilate reality to systems of belief built on old information, some of us hear, see, or feel things that we experience as not our own.  In other words, some of us might lose track of how certain sounds, images, and feelings actually come from within us, and perceive these as hallucinatory.  It’s not an original concept, Julian Jaynes suggested this in a model of inner speech theory decades ago; namely that there have been circumstances in which people hear voices that are not their own, but that this can actually come from one’s own consciousness.

What interests me about this concept of “nonclinical hallucination,” as these scientists call it, is what they might mean for poetic imagination.  When I was young, like many children, I sometimes saw things that I thought others saw, until I found out they didn’t.  Like a white rabbit in the yard.  Or distinct patterns in a wall, or indeed, snippets of sounds I thought I heard but that others didn’t confirm.  Perhaps it was these subjective happenings that led me to start writing poems.  For me, poems always begin as a fleeting barely perceived thing that can seem like something else or that was in fact, nothing one could pin down in the objective world.  The perception of a rustle in some creepy bushes.  A glimpse of a nonexistent crow in a bare, thick-limbed tree.  Phantom raindrops on the skin on a cloudy day.  This seems to be training ground for willing the images poetry relies on into existence.  Today, the gait of a particular person walking down the street, morning light on a tiger lily, a radio blaring out of a car speeding by can for me turn into poems that may or may not have to do with the original image.

2.    Who introduced you to poetry?

My ninth grade teacher, Miss Keane, had our class write haiku poems after reading several.  She submitted mine to a journal called The Catskill Review in upstate New York and they published it.  From then on, I wrote and read poetry.

3.    How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

In high school we read Emily Dickinson’s “I heard a Fly buzz” and I was stunned that this woman writing over a hundred years earlier could write something that could have such a mysterious and immediate effect on me in so few words.  We read others as well, but it was that poem in particular that intrigued me most because of its music, and because I thought she was so brave for imagining what it was like to be dead.  So, I was aware of her and reading her made me seek out other poetry, such as that of Poe and Frost.  It wasn’t until later that I sought out the poets of the twentieth century.

4.    What is your daily writing routine?

For me, poems come when, if you will, I brush up against the world.  That means that I generally don’t get up and start writing poems, though I do write in a journal most mornings, and occasionally a poem will evolve out of a dream I had the night before.  For the most part, poems show up when I am out walking, or traveling to work via train or car.  I write them down in my journal, then revise them later on.   Then I will usually wait a day or two and do a final revision, I don’t do a whole lot of editing after a week, as I feel I’ve lost the poem’s personality after that.

5.    What motivates you to write?

A craving to assert my own thinking and expression.  A refusal to accept what I see as a heavily programmed society.  Social injustice.  The unlikely beauty of the natural world.

6.    What is your work ethic?

I feel I have an obligation to put words to paper in my own way on a regular basis.   I am actually trained as a historian, I am an archivist and I teach U.S. History in Washington, D.C.  So in addition to writing poetry, I also research and write history.  I write fiction too.  So I am pretty much writing something all the time, which is good, because I start to feel disconnected from my own thoughts if I am not writing.

7.    How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I mentioned Dickinson earlier… her clipped style and willingness to approach what I considered profound and sometimes disturbing subject matter still inspires me.  My training as a historian of the twentieth century led me to the Beat poets, particularly Allen Ginsberg, who I admired for his ability to write thematically capacious poetry that wove broad political and social themes into its lines.

8.    Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I participated in a several poetry forums, Poetrycircle, JUMP, and Open Arts Forum in the last couple of years, and I found extremely sharp and imaginative poets there: Tom Riordan, Dan Flore III, Trish Saunders, Jenn Zed, Jordan Tretheway, Paul Brookes, Wren Tuatha, Ton Romus, and many others.  What I appreciated about reading and sharing work with those poets and artists is that I could read drafts of their work and comment on them and watch the works change, or allow the poet explain why they didn’t want to change their work.  I also grew a lot just from their critiques.  Good critique accelerates development, of course.  As far as poets I don’t know, I’m partial to Louise Glück, both for her commentary on poetry and her poetry itself.  I find her poems fluid and I like her subject matter.

9.    Why do you write?

To know how I think.  To record my personal history.  I also am lucky to have a brilliant visual collaborator who happens to also be my spouse!  Roger Doyle is a visual artist and sculptor whose work easily inspires me to write, as he usually has a quirky take on whatever he approaches.  We have done four art-poetry books and one art-novel together and are working on more.

10.  What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Talk about being a writer less than you actually write!  Live a curious life.

11.  Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I have three books of poetry with art by Roger now available at Amazon: Works of Yellow in Gray, The Lot of Sisyphus, and At Home in the Pen.  I will also have a novel called Go Lightly with illustrations by Roger available soon.  We are working currently on a book called Alien Drabbles that should be finished by late 2018.

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