In a departure from my standard style of introduction, I’m going to begin with a Short Line Acrostic, as penned by our guest, about our guest.
The marvelous and ravishing (love that!) Margo Roby showed up on our doorstep approximately six months ago. Though she is a gifted poet, she does not plant her poems in our garden. Rather, she posts our prompts to her blog. Walt and I appreciate this act of generous “others” promotion more than we can express. It is an honor to be included in Margo’s weekly parade of prompts, and it is our pleasure to welcome her as our Web Wednesday guest of honor.
MARIE ELENA: Margo, of the guests we have featured so far on Web Wednesday, you are the only one whose poetry was not familiar to me. I had a grand time becoming acquainted with your talent. Please share with us a poem you feel best represents you as a poet.
MARGO: The poem I chose is, perhaps, the most representative of the style most foreign to me, but that I most long to write in. My poems are tightly edited, controlled, structured, like my thinking. That is not to say this is not tightly edited, controlled and structured. It is, but the thinking and the initial writing were attended by a freedom I have great difficulty in attaining, if ever. I find it difficult to make metaphorical leaps and to let my writing go when in the draft stage, and envy the many writers who can. The speaker is not me, but the poem is who I am.
If Once I Wished
[After Granger’s the letter I]
I wonder what if death were nothing
a waking to snowfall
ice comes undone
Eighty springs beat through me in whispered floods.
The end of my life sounds a retreat
from a time where my mind lives and the sun shines
and the days seem forever.
Once I sang
of hill and sky of earth and sea,
plucked a stalk of grass
and took away the ocean in a shell.
I thought that grown-up people chose
and flew as high as Icarus,
an idle visitation.
I tried to live small
a girl waiting for her lover
when love was gone like a breath
and I was alone then looking at the picture of a child.
I wish that I were so much clay. A fragment.
I wish I could remember the first day.
I wish I had the voice of Homer reaching through the years.
I wish I knew the names of all the stars.
I wish I lived in a peddler’s caravan no known destination
and wonder what I mean by sanctuary.
I am tired of being a woman
considering the outnumbering dead.
I will not be inhabited.
I want my house with open doors
as I wait for him who restores my fingertips.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow
and walk, a prisoner to the road.
I walk by the seashore facing against the wind.
I walk out into the country at night
through a snowfall to the hill where he and I were young.
A blanket of stillness surrounds me
and the loamy black earth lies fallow
under a rime of frost.
The moon glances off the surface
and I know
all my life
has led me to this winter
when my body will sleep
beneath the cold, black earth
and tomorrow will be as dust.
Life shines sweetly near my winter moment.
Published in Waterways, June, 2011
MARIE ELENA: So beautiful and deep a poem, it is hard to move on. Please forgive my lack of segue…
Several of the poets we have interviewed have been teachers. After 19 years, you retired from teaching in order to focus on your poetry. Please tell us about this decision.
MARGO: At the age of 38, I began teaching at the International School in Jakarta. Because of the people I met there, I learned I could sing and was part of a community presentation of The Hallelujah Chorus. Mother had always told me I was out of tune, so I stayed quiet; I became the lead actress for the local drama group, having never set foot on stage because of stage fright; and I discovered I had some small gift for writing poetry.
From the beginning, writing poetry has been almost a physical need, but as I grew older, the time and energy needed for teaching and for writing began to tell on me. I stopped writing, and that led to my losing my view of the entire world as a subject for poetry, and that led to a deep unhappiness, although it was a while before I realized how unhappy I was. It took a long time to slide into the pit, and a while to claw back out.
I began to mention in conversations how nice it would be to be able to retire and write. Two and a half years ago, my husband said it was time we came back to the United States [after twenty years in Jakarta] and time we tried being a one salary family, so I could rediscover my writing.
We have been back a year and a half. I miss my students; I miss my colleagues, dear friends all; I do not miss marking, or being a counselor–something else I had a knack for, but what a drain on energy and the emotions. I love being retired from teaching. I look at the world through poetry eyes again and I write. I smile a lot. And I feel joyful.
MARIE ELENA: You were quite serious about focusing your energy on your poetry, as you commit approximately four hours per day, Monday through Friday, to your craft. Do you feel that time commitment is necessary for anyone who is serious about being a poet?
MARGO: Finding a balance in my new life has been a bit of a seesaw. I discovered I am not a writer who sits down and works for four hours, but I do think much time needs to be invested, if one’s goal is publication, and yes, if one is serious about being a poet. It cannot be a here and there thing. Partly, my time is spent in research of print and online magazines, finding ones that suit my poems, keeping track of deadlines, and above all, submitting work — surprisingly difficult to do. The rest of the time is writing.
However, I write whenever and wherever I am struck by an idea. Once struck, I work at a poem for however many hours it takes — with me, as I process slowly, turning a draft into a tightly edited poem can take days.
MARIE ELENA: Oh, how I can relate to the slowness of editing, and difficulty of submitting. Though I’m not glad to hear you struggle as well, I’m glad I am in good company.
Again regarding retiring to focus on writing, was it your intent to use your poetic talent to earn income? If so, how is that going for you, and what pointers do you have for the rest of us?
MARGO: Hah! And that is said with a smile and bubbling laughter. If one wants to earn income as a poet, become a Hallmark card writer. I’m not sure even nations’ Poet Laureates earn an income from their writing, certainly not enough to not have another income. And, that is part of what makes things difficult for a writer: they have to have an income producing job. We won’t even go into the time and energy needed for taking care of partners, children, and houses. And, all the time, the need to write gnaws. And then the need to publish.
MARIE ELENA: The title of your blog, Wordgathering, seems quite appropriate to me. In addition to your own poetry, you find where others are prompting this “word gathering,” and promote those sites. Fantastic! How did you come up with this idea?
MARGO: My blog is one of the things I had to learn to balance, as it does take time, but it is time given lovingly. When I started last September, I had no idea how much a part of my life it would become, and an important part at that. I went back to look at my first few posts [over on Blogger — they refused to come with me] where I am trying to discover the form the blog would take. It took me until January to know how I wanted to structure it.
From the beginning, it was about connecting with other writers and finding a place in the poetic community. I am, by choice, a solitary person in my three dimensional world. The online poetry community has given me a place to belong and so many friends. I had no idea… but, back to the blog’s format.
I wrote, October, a year ago: Monday makeovers or maybes – where I might revise small parts of poems, or layout the week; Tuesday trials – ways into writing a poem, which will consist often of exercises, starters, taking apart forms; Wednesday wishes – submissions or links to places wanting submissions; Thursday thoughts – ruminating, or sharing poem favourites of mine; Friday fixes – wrapping up in some way. That is where I started.
I followed a number of blogs, in the early days. A couple provided useful links to check. Eventually, I noticed that many writers in the community I was discovering, went to several prompt sites each week, something which must take a lot of time. I wanted to provide a place where people can come, check the different prompts, and decide where they want to go, or not go, in any given week.
However, I did not want to keep people from those blogs, so I had to learn a way of presenting the sites so that people had to go there to read the whole prompt, if what I said piqued them enough. I think I have that worked out with all but the single word sites.
MARIE ELENA: It truly is a fantastic idea, and you seem to have perfected the process. How do you decide which sites to include?
MARGO: By following the crowd. I kept running into the same people posting and commenting, so I started going where they went. Now they are my friends, and many of the links I provide are places they showed me. I keep an eye and ear out for new places. How do I decide? I make me the acid test. If I think, Neat! then I will probably include that site.
MARIE ELENA: Believe me, Margo, Walt and I are very thankful that you include us. Besides generously providing a list of prompt sites, in what other ways do you try to propagate the poetic craft? Do you have suggestions on how the rest of us can help in this regard?
MARGO: Every Tuesday, I present an exercise. I don’t include it in my Friday posting, at first because I am a modest person at heart [yes, tongue placed firmly in cheek], but then because I usually take it beyond a prompt to a full-blown writing exercise where I include [but don’t necessarily tell my readers] different techniques to focus on. For a while, I posted my thoughts on an aspect of poetry, every Thursday. I had not yet learned to stretch things out and ran into a period when I wasn’t sure what else to write. I considered going through poetic terms, but another site is doing that.
I always offer the option to my readers to ask me about something, to give me a topic. I will happily write on anything to do with writing.
You ask how we might all help propagate the craft: ask questions, offer topics, share new sites, especially where the craft is talked about, be a guest writer on the blogs that are set up for such. I think that last could be fun and bring out many opportunities to learn and to grow even closer as a community. If someone knows they have a talent for an aspect of writing and also know they can talk about that aspect, go to one of the bloggers in the group and say: I would love to talk about x_____. I think it would fit with your blog. Think about it. If someone reads a book on the craft, they can give a review. If they find a new site, they can give a review. If they find a number of useful links, they can…
And, interviews. Interviews are a wonderful way to make everything I wrote above happen [and they are fun, from both sides].
MARIE ELENA: Excellent suggestions! And yes, interviews are GREAT fun!
Margo, you have shared your poetry at a fascinating site: Origami Poems Project .
Here is one I particularly like from your Color Palette collection.
Driving Southern California
Driving North on Interstate 5
I look out the window of the car
at ripples of bitter chocolate,
cocoa, coffee, burnt sienna,
wheat, gold, amber, straw,
sage and dots of pine green.
Sprawled like a large
the hills’ thick furred pelt
lies creased and textured
like the folds of a Shar Pei.
It’s brown, my brother says
looking out the window.
The imagery is stunning, Margo, and the surprise ending made me chuckle. You mentioned “poetry eyes” moments ago. Do you believe poetic eyes simply see things differently than non-poetic eyes?
MARGO: One of my favourites, this poem. When the book came out, I made sure my brother got a copy in his Christmas stocking. The answer to your question, is yes, sort of. I think writers do see things differently, but I think we see things differently because we write. We open our senses and say: Come on in, World. Our brains are set to What’s out there to write about? mode. I don’t think writers put up as many barriers as non-writers against things that distract, that take time, that might be an emotional drain, and yes, that makes us quite vulnerable.
That is not to say that non-writers can’t, or don’t, see these things. But, I don’t think they stop and give time to them.
And, it [Origami Poems] is a wonderful project, isn’t it? The poets who thought of it and run it are wonderful to do this for the poetic community both in Rhode Island, where the print copies are distributed, and online for the rest of us.
MARIE ELENA: Absolutely, Margo. They are well worth a peek. I particularly appreciate their how-to on creating your own origami poetry book, and the video on folding said book.
Now, when did you begin writing poetry, and what prompted you to do so? Do you have a favorite poet?
MARGO: !992–a date engraved on my consciousness. I might have gone through life never writing a single poetic syllable. I would not have known that I missed writing. The thought horrifies me, even if I would not have been aware.
I started teaching fairly late. I was 38. I had never gone through a teaching program. But, the school seemed to think my majoring in English and publishing some articles on Plains Indians were fine credentials. I had a wonderful teaching mentor my first year, and took to teaching with joy. Except for teaching the analysis of poetry. I knew nothing about poetry, other than my favourite poet was, and is, Robert Frost.
My second year, a new teacher, James Penha, editor of The New Verse News, arrived. He had been teaching for a long time, but what I was interested in was that he was a poet [among many other things]. I knew he was going to teach the Creative Writing class, and soon after he arrived [we were instant friends], I heard that he was going to focus on poetry the first semester. I asked if I could take the class with the students. My theory was that if I could figure out how poetry worked, I could teach the analysis of poetry. Turns out I was correct.
The unlooked for bonus: I had a talent for writing poetry, and by the end of the semester, a hunger. To go back to the question about seeing things differently: What I said.
MARIE ELENA: On a personal note, you are a military wife who traveled extensively with her husband. Please briefly tell us where you have lived, and if you found this transient life to be exciting, or did it quickly wear thin? Did it offer fodder for waxing poetic?
MARGO: We spent twenty years in the military lifestyle and the traveling never wore thin. But, I was raised with a love for travel and for new places. Growing up in Hong Kong, our home leaves were every third year and six months long. We spent three months traveling through Europe and three months in the States. Our postings overseas did not take us to that many places (Greece twice, Malaysia, and Jakarta), but we took advantage of where we were to visit as many places as we could.
No fodder. I was still many years from knowing I wanted fodder. Looking back that far and being sensory specific is not easy.
MARIE ELENA: You also spent a great deal of time in Hong Kong. Please tell us about that as well. Were you born there?
MARGO: Ahhh! And then there is Hong Kong, where I am so overwhelmed with sensory imagery that I have not been able to capture it successfully in a poem. Yes, I was born there and lived there for twenty years. I’m not sure there could have been a more perfect place to grow up. I lived in a Hong Kong where the tallest building was seven stories, where smog was unknown, where I could go anywhere by myself, at any time, alone.
My memories are so vivid that I could write a volume of poems, if I can find a way to push Hong Kong back to a distance where I can view it. Haven’t been successful so far.
MARIE ELENA: If we could know only one thing about you, what would you want us to know?
MARGO: You told me that I could replace, or not answer, one of the questions, if I wished. You will be amused that this is the question that threw me. This is harder than the, ‘If you were on a desert island and could take one thing,’ question.
Having now spent more time on this question than all the others combined, I am at: I adore pugs.
No, I didn’t think you would let me get away with that, although, given it’s pugs…
MARIE ELENA: Pugs it is! And I bet you didn’t think I would post that, wink-wink.
Thank you for giving of yourself to the poetic community, Margo, and for granting this interview. It has truly been a pleasure. I hope our dear “Bloomers” will visit your blog, and take advantage of your prompt parade.