WEB WEDNESDAY – MARK WINDHAM
Today we have the privilege of highlighting yet another impressive Poetic Asides poet, Mark Windham. We met Mark during the November 2011 Chapbook Challenge, which also happened to be the first time he had ever posted poetry online. He has since been published at Postcardshorts.com, has had a poem in the inaugural issue of the Misty Mountain Review, stories and poems in two issues of a local publication (The North Georgia Writer), and one of his poems was one of five winners chosen for the dVerse Poets / M:P MAG competition. Phew! It amused me that Mark prefaced all of that with “Publications are pretty limited thus far.” I’d say this accomplished in approximately five months is something to brag about!
When asked to share a poem Mark feels best represents his style and spirit, here is what he disclosed to me: “My writing is evolving so much that I really cannot define a ‘style’ that fits me.” He ended up providing three poems, each representing a different aspect of himself or his writing. He said I could choose one, but I decided to share all three of these pieces of Mark with you.
Mark’s poems follow, each preceded by a short exposition.
MARK: “[The first] is more about who I am, and an example of playing with form.”
my little girl
is kissing my cheek
up on tip toes to reach.
or my son stretching to prove
he is nearly as tall as me.
Both a bit taller than yesterday.
It happens again whenever we kiss,
up on your toes, arms around my neck,
putting us right at eye level,
and I know that I love you
more than I did before.
I watch them growing,
holding you close
and my heart
MARK: “[The second] is representative of the kind of piece that I typically like the best; it blends fiction with poetry to tell a story, define a place, create a character and it usually has a ‘dark’ side to it. A lot of my work has a darker element to it; this one does not go too far that way. That would not be appropriate for a garden. This also first appeared on Poetic Bloomings for the ‘old’ prompt. It has since been online at The Book Times as well.”
I visit him when I am in town –
sometimes I think he knows me.
He is always in the basement pool room,
though to him it will always be ‘billiards’.
He doesn’t play anymore; arthritic hands
cannot hold cues, blurry eyes will not line
up a shot on the faded red felt of the table.
A tear by the side pocket marks his last shot:
table light broken, dust on waiting balls.
Old black and whites of him are on the wall,
from his heyday Grandma used to say.
Dark hair slicked back, wingtip shoes.
I remember watching him dance
around that table when I was small,
amazed at the shots he would make,
the depth of concentration, flash of his eyes.
I never placed significance on the highball
always in his hand, or on the edge of the table –
brown liquid and ice. Everyone of age had one.
Now the glass is the first thing I notice,
clenched in fingers that seem to have been
gnarled to the task. He drinks always, but not a lot.
He is usually watching TV – news, weather,
I don’t think it matters – but he pays attention,
just a little more, when I put on the Hustler,
smiles at every rack break and salutes Fast Eddie
with a raised glass when he orders J.T.S. Brown.
MARK: “[And finally], because I love being able to say a lot with very few words; short, clear, concise and conveying bigger meaning.”
Black and White
not nearly so
nor he as
MARIE ELENA: Such diversity in style, feel, and content. I’m happy you shared three poems, Mark.
Tell me about your writing aspirations. I didn’t realize you write not only poetry, but short fiction (which I will share a sample of momentarily).
MARK: Discovering the online poetry community has sparked a fascination with the craft and art of poetry. There is a world of talent, information and community that I was unaware of a few months ago. It is very motivating. I find myself wanting to learn more and try different forms and styles and ideas and, and, and … Write!
I think everyone that puts a blog out there has some aspiration to be published. I have started submitting some work and have the starting point for a chapbook in place. I don’t know if there is a longer manuscript in the future, but I like the idea of it.
I also enjoy fiction writing a great deal. I have posted several flash fiction pieces and have completed a couple of shorter (250-word range) stories. Walt’s introduction to Flashy Fiction has provided several fantastic prompts. I do have a full-length piece in the works that poetry has (pleasantly) distracted a bit from, and several story ideas waiting for time to devote to them. I am planning to have a first draft complete this year.
MARIE ELENA: You briefly alluded to your blog, which is entitled “Awakened Words.” Such a poetic name! I love to hear how people go about naming their blogs. Will you please share your inspiration?
MARK: I first started putting ‘words on a page’ my senior year in high school. I was blessed to have an English teacher that made the subject of reading and writing poetry interesting. I wrote quite a bit that year, and through my freshman year of college. After that it was very sporadic. I wrote a piece for my wife on our wedding day … and that was about it for a long time.
Several times since then my wife has asked why I did not write anymore. About a year ago she asked a couple of more times, then also suggested that I should write a book. Like any good husband, I started listening (yes, sometimes it does take a while). I put a few words down, which led to a few more. Suddenly, the words were ‘awakened.’
MARIE ELENA: Now, see? A lovely story behind the title! I’m glad you listened to your wife. What are you hoping to accomplish with your blog?
MARK: My original thoughts were that it was going to become part of a ‘platform’ for the book I was working on. Then I became engrossed in the online poetry world and it has evolved into a predominantly poetry blog. I suppose there is still somewhat of a platform motive behind it on the poetry side, but it has really turned into a way to remain involved in this online community I have discovered.
MARIE ELENA: As I ask of so many of my interviewees, do you consider yourself a poet?
MARK: I was discussing the ‘bio’ (the one you are supposed to provide to potential publishers) with someone recently that has provided me with a wealth of advice, inspiration and assistance (whom I met through one of your previous interviews 😉 ). She told me that you call yourself a ‘writer.’ Let others call you a poet if they feel it appropriate. I think that is good advice.
MARIE ELENA: Don’t leave us hanging here … can you share who this mysterious “someone” is?
MARK: I don’t think she would mind. It’s Margo Roby.
MARIE ELENA: I should have known. (Excellent advice, Margo!) And if someone were to call you a “poet,” would you consider it a compliment?
MARK: Of the highest order.
MARIE ELENA: Good answer, Mr. Poet. Where would you say your greatest inspiration comes from, writing wise?
MARK: Like so much of my writing, that is an evolving concept for me. Inspiration comes from so many places. There is family, faith, a news story, morning fog, this online community and all the great writers (people) that participate, a picture, a word … So much. Lately, I have been very ‘prompt dependent’ for my writing. That is good in the sense that it keeps me writing, always tuning the ‘craft.’ I do think it takes away a bit from natural creativity, but I see that starting to flow the more I write and think about writing.
MARIE ELENA: I can understand firsthand the draw from writing fiction to writing prompted poetry, and getting completely absorbed in the poetic community.
So, how much time do you spend writing?
MARK: Not nearly enough! Yet. I have been writing a lot over the last few months, but have not spent near the time I need to on revision and ‘craft.” I try and complete ‘form’ prompts as often as I can. It is good for discipline and increasing knowledge. I also like to experiment with the page; punctuation, spacing, flow, location, white space, etc. So, I guess it is more time than I think.
MARIE ELENA: Actually, I find it can sap much of the day before I know it. What does a typical day look like in the life of Mark Windham?
MARK: Terribly mundane by some standards I’m sure; a full time job, two kids in school, three dogs, track, gymnastics, church, etc. Typical of most families these days, always busy. It mostly revolves around the family though, and we all usually end up on the couch together at the end of the day. Which makes it a good day!
MARIE ELENA: A true family man! Good for you, Mark! What can you tell me about your own upbringing?
MARK: I grew up throughout the southern U.S. Born in Mississippi, lived in Kentucky, Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia. Dad changed jobs a couple of times, was transferred a couple of others. ‘Upbringin’ was probably fairly typical, I imagine. Dad traveled so Mom was in charge at home and had to be somewhat strict, but not overly so. “Wait ‘till your dad gets home’ was not an option; that might be a week or more.
My sister still lives in Virginia, Dad is in Maryland now; Mom passed away a couple of years ago after a long fight with cancer. I ended up in Georgia (Atlanta area) in ’94, met my wife-to-be and have been here since.
MARIE ELENA: I’m so sorry about your mother, Mark. Having both my parents still around (two doors down), I can’t imagine … and don’t want to.
I knew from your beautiful poem Prayer for My Children that you are a dad. Tell me about that. How much influence do your wife and children have on your writing, and on whom you are as a person?
Strap a balloon to your
back and sail across
the skies of your dreams,
then slash the strings
and fall into the abyss
Leave off the mask, show
the world who you are,
no pretenses or games.
Keep your finger on the
button of joy, make time
to enjoy silence.
MARK: Family is everything; first middle and last. They drive actions and decisions, schedules … everything. I met my wife, Kathy, in ’95 after moving to Atlanta. We both worked in the restaurant industry at the time. I was a manager for a national chain and doing very well career wise. After we got married I examined the lifestyle and decided that a change in career was in order. The late nights, weekends and holidays was not going to be what we wanted for our family.
My wife and children are definite influences on my writing as well; whether it is inspiration and content, or as editors and filters. My children are at such different stages of life, and. they evoke different ideas and concepts and ‘words’ My oldest daughter is 20, lives out of state, and is going through the growing pains of becoming an adult and dealing with those decisions. My youngest is nine and still daddy’s little girl. My son is 13, growing rapidly into a teenager, and all ready to be a man.
You will find all four of them throughout my writing here and there.
MARIE ELENA: So would you say family motivates you more than anything else?
MARK: Family and faith are foremost. That is what gets you through the day, makes you want to be a better person, influences your decisions, provides motivation, etc.
MARIE ELENA: Absolutely, Mark. Absolutely!
Another thing that influences decisions, provides motivation, and can make us better people is adversity. It seems everyone goes through difficult times. What would you say is the most difficult trial you’ve been through, and what did you learn from it?
MARK: Most Difficult? Always a fun topic. 😉
Going through the death of my mom was obviously difficult, but I think the fact that she had been fighting for so long provided a modicum of preparedness. Prior to that, we had gone through the failure of a couple of businesses. That was brutal. My wife and I had been self- employed for several years, running a successful accounting/consulting practice. So, naturally, I made the decision, against my wife’s wishes, to start another business with family members. We then compounded the problem by opening an additional unrelated business. Both of these failed miserably and we were forced to close them. The emotional and financial strain that followed created the biggest stress that my family has ever been through. What did I learn? A few things. First, listen to your wife! Second, don’t take on more than is reasonable; some sacrifices are not worth it. Third, never, never, never (did I say ‘never’?) go into business with family. Money has the potential to ruin any relationship.
MARIE ELENA: Such a shame, isn’t it? But so true.
Finally, Mark, if there was only one thing we could know about you, what would you want it to be?
MARK: I think I outlined that fairly well in the other questions. Family is first; a husband and father is who I am before anything else. As far as writing goes, what I put out is still evolving. I am probably more curious than anyone to see where it ends up.
MARIE ELENA: Thank you so much for giving us a glimpse into the man behind the poetry, Mark, and for blessing us regularly with your words!
I’d like to end on a different note than I usually do on Web Wednesdays. I’d like to share with you an engaging short fiction piece Mark wrote for Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday.
Two Kinds of People
After Daddy went to work for the ‘lectric company we started having dinner a little bit later during the week. Momma always insisted we eat together, so we did not start until he got home. Sometimes that meant reheating everything but she never complained. At least not while I was around.
One night I heard them after I went to bed. Momma did not sound happy.
“I don’t understand why you are the one that always ends up staying late. Aren’t there other men that can do the work?”
“Sure there are,” Daddy answered. “But it is usually overtime and we could use the money.”
“I know that, it just seems to be happening a lot lately. I miss you being around during the day; coming in for lunch.”
“Well, I miss that too, but we both know that farming was not paying the bills anymore. It should pay off in the long run. The bosses notice. When it comes time for raises and promotions I am hoping to be at the top of the list.”
Momma did not sound convinced. “That is how it should work, but you are too humble to toot your own horn. You know what they say: there are two types of people in this world, those that do the work and those that take the credit. And the first group is less populated.* Just make sure you are getting the credit for the work.”
She was fond of that phrase; ‘two kinds of people.’ She used it a lot to teach lessons. I remember asking her one Sunday afternoon why we were giving our food away. I was confused because she was always telling me to clean my plate and not be wasteful and we did not have food to just throw away.
She stopped what she was doing and looked at me for a minute before answering. “Well, Bobby, there are two kinds of people in this world; those who put themselves first and those who put others first.** We always want to be part of the second group. The Miller’s are going through a tough patch and we can spare some of what we have. We will not go hungry.”
Momma always made sure you knew which group she thought you should be in. So far, she has always been right.
*Indira Ghandi (in some variation)