Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Interview with poet Mary McCormack Deka

My special guest today is poet Mary McCormack Deka. We’re chatting about her new collection of poems, Away from Shore.

Mary McCormack Deka has always wanted to be a writer. When she was little, she invented stories about living in a tree in the forest and making friends with all the animals. She made up stories whenever she was alone—when she walked to school, before she fell asleep. 

Nothing makes her feel more alive than imagination. She’s inspired by everything—oceans and forests, stained glass and kizomba dancing, books and the people who write them.

She released her first book of poetry, Away from Shore, in November of 2016. 

Welcome, Mary. What do you enjoy most about writing poems?
I love the creative, playful state of mind that writing poetry puts me in. I’ll look at a lemon and see how I can turn it into a bell, or I’ll see a potted plant of red chili peppers and think, What if you could transform those into tiny red flowers for a bouquet for a friend? That’s what my poetry’s all about—transformation and imagination. My favorite thing about writing poems is that it puts me into a meditative state where I can draw connections between seemingly unrelated things.

Can you give us a little insight into a few of your poems – perhaps a couple of your favorites?
One of my favorite poems is Fire, and I especially like this last stanza:

“I took him with me,
like a lantern,
into the forest of my heart.
And I forgot
that he was made of fire,
that his touch
could make things burn.”

When I wrote that, I was thinking about how hearts are unknowable and mysterious and vast, like forests, with all their twisting paths and rivers and creatures. There’s so much we might not even discover about our own hearts. When you meet someone, that person introduces you to aspects of yourself that might have been hidden before. That’s how I got the image of a significant other carrying a lantern into a heart that is also a forest. But the thing is, everything else in the forest in meant to be there; it’s all natural. The lantern is the only thing from the outside, and while it brings illumination, it also brings danger. The forest/heart is, suddenly, vulnerable.

Another poem I wrote, Over, talks about a break up through horse imagery, which was fun to write. It’s a sad poem though:

Things trotted along
until that day
when the hours and minutes
reared up around us
and his words—carefully
thought over—
struck me, flung me
from my senses,
dazed, wondering
what had happened,
if there was anything
I could have done.

I was inspired to write about this poem when thinking about how utterly jarring and unexpected it is when someone breaks up with you. Physically, you might not be bruised, but emotionally I think the experience is akin to being thrown from a horse. I used words/phrases like “trotting,” “reared up,” and “flung me” to draw those comparisons. It’s as if time has been going along smoothly—you’re out on a nice horseback ride—and then the next thing you know, time is going wild. You want to just get back on the horse, to go back to how things were, but you can’t. Everything is different. Time might continue, but everything is changed because now you’ve seen that nothing is predictable, that there’s no way to prepare yourself for every eventuality.

One of my poems, How Remarkable It Is, has unusual spacing. (Most of my poems are left-aligned.) I chose to spread the words out on the page to capture how dazed the narrator is, and to give words at the end of a line or on their own line even more emphasis than usual. An example of this is the extra spacing between the second-to-last and last line: “…as if we still feel/ the flesh on our bones.” I wanted readers to linger on “feel,” because after a breakup you’re likely to be numbed, and the very last line drives that thought home—the narrator is so numb she barely registers her own body.

What form are you inspired to write in the most? Why?
I’m most inspired to write free verse poetry because it allows me to focus on the writing rather than the format. When I start working with rhyming and structure, it’s easy to get bogged down. That said, I often create my own forms—such as a poem with stanzas that each consist of three lines. I also pay attention to line breaks, so what I’m trying to say is that there can be rules and structure when it comes to free verse writing, too.

What type of project are you working on next?
I’m working on a fantasy novel right now, which is taking up the majority of my time. I typically have a few projects going on at once, so I also have a book of travel stories and advice that I’m putting together as well as another poetry book—this one with more of a focus on nature, whimsy, and (fulfilled) love.

When did you first consider yourself a writer / poet?
I’ve considered myself a writer ever since I was a small child. I used to make up stories all the time, and then I started putting some of them onto the page. I think you’re a writer if you’ve ever tried your hand at putting your thoughts into words. The difference between good/successful writer and writer, though, that’s a different story.

How do you research markets for your work, perhaps as some advice for not-yet-published poets?
To be honest, I haven’t done much research in terms of markets, not yet. I’m still very new to the publishing world, so I have a lot to learn (advice welcome!). I’ve used word of mouth and social media to start getting information about my book out into the world. I’ve also started exploring Goodreads poetry groups, ad campaigns, and giveaway options. I’ve gone into libraries and asked if they’d be interested in shelving my books. I’ve started writing to books reviewers.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Hmm. I almost always tie my hair back when I’m writing.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a writer, especially a fantasy novel writer. I also thought it would be really cool to know how to live in the woods on my own. So, maybe a forest ranger?

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I’d love to hear from you if you have any more questions for me or want advice or if you read my book and have comments about it!


Thanks for being here today, Mary!

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