Sitemap   |   home  |  interviews  > interview with marc widershien

INTERVIEW WITH MARC WIDERSHIEN

MARC WIDERSHIEN

Describe the room you write in.

That's an interesting question since I have written in many rooms and places since I began- from my mother and fathers' house in Dorchester to Sycamore Street in Roslindale where I live with my wife, D'Anna and three cats. Mark Twain considered cats to be superior to humans-which might explain why he had 19 of them in his home at Hartford, Connecticut. The center of the room is occupied by the computer where I do most of my work now. It is very easy to do research in a pinch since I can use search engines to steer me where I want to go. For example, if I do an historical poem, I need to have my details accurate. Often, when I travel, I make jottings in a sort of sketchbook and sometimes use a tape recorder. When I come home to my modest but functional office on the second floor, I type out all the notes. Maybe weeks later I will look at the work. Notes give you a mental outline; the mind has a way of remembering and assembling these jottings into something that has the potential of coming into shape. They help me get in touch with my own feelings as well. In my expanding room which is about 11x14, with calendar, photos, a music stand, and other materials of an ontological nature. I have my overstuffed file cabinet, papers, music spread all over the room. My life is an endless joust with paper which I try to recycle. As for drafts, if I kept them all I would be buried under. The hard part is letting go, and "deselecting" material: another way of saying throwing things out. I was actually a research librarian in Beacon Hill for seven years. My happiest times there were when I could sneak off some poetry in my free moments. What good is a job if you can't write on breaks or when nobody is overseeing you? I wrote many Beacon Hill/Back Bay poems when I worked there. Finally, I have never been on a formal retreat and probably would come up wordless should I hole myself up in a cabin for two weeks. We have to create our own quiet spaces at times. So I must say wherever I write is my room.


Talk about your book, The Life of All Worlds. This book is about memories and so much that you experienced growing up in the Boston area. You started writing these poems after your Father passed away. Discuss your emotions writing this book. How long did it take to write?

It was another lifetime. Those were the emotions of a 27 year old grieving for his lost world and at the same time, celebrating it. They were memories at the time that sprung out of me like a jack-in-the-box, due to the trauma of losing my father very unexpectedly. He was 64. Living in California at the time, I had no idea how awful his condition really was. When I spoke to him by phone some two weeks before he passed, there was a lilt in his voice. Gone was the gravity of so many years past. He was buoyant, and I was a little taken aback. He died on May 27, 1970 at the age of 64.

When you have such a sudden emotional upheaval like that, your world opens up in some ways. That's what occurred. My mind expanded and I began to see things in a more cosmic sense. But I had glimmers of another world, a way of looking at life's experiences in a wholly different way. Sometimes we need to be shaken to the core if we are to grow. Thus the title, The Life of All Worlds, a translation of a Hebrew phrase. I began writing the work in 1971 and finished it in 1973. But it was never quite completed until 1999 because I was so preoccupied with the editing. That is when I sent the bowdlerized manuscript to Doug Holder and Richard Wilhelm of Ibbetson Street Press. I will always be grateful for that opportunity. I have literally made a living from this lyrical memoir about growing up in Boston, directly and indirectly. I am astonished how life can work. My father dies in 1970, and I am approaching him in age and still presenting that part of my past in the present.

You were interviewed by one of my favorite newscasters: Liz Walker, Channel 4 (Boston). Talk about your experience being on TV.

It was great! Liz is highly community-oriented. She is also an ordained minister. It was taped in one go at the station. Everything was timed down to the second. She wanted me to read a 19 second passage from the book. I read for 21 seconds, then 20, and finally 19. Now she was satisfied and ready to go on the air. It's all done in a highly efficient manner. The interview can be found on my website under www.marccreate.com. My last experience on Channel 4 had been as a five year old in a show called Bosco Roundup Time. As I twisted my head to the right, wondering why I didn't get any Bosco like the other children, the camera caught me. At home, I was told that all anyone could see was the back of my head.

Discuss your other books, Middle Journeys and Poems of Survival.

Middle Journeys was mostly finished by the early 1980s and published in 1988. It was a book of poetry that celebrated the past and looked forward to the future. It was like a Janus figure. I was thinking of Dante's Nel mezzo del camin di nostra vita (In the middle of the journey of our life). I was accused of eulogizing too many people and places, but that's part of growth. And a poet must grow not only in his work, but in his life. Thus, I try never to write the same poem twice. From there I moved on to Poems of Survival which was published in 2006, but actually finished 20 years ago. In the latter book, written during the Reagan/Bush era, I saw that survival had many meanings. I wrote a poem called "1984", and said to myself, "It doesn't feel like 1984." Now in the Fall of 2007, it feels just like 1984 where the populace believes it's free but is actually more under the thumb of its oligarchic rulers than ever before. Every poem or even every book has its time. I think in my three published books printed years after the poems were written, I had two advantages: time to rework the pieces many times, and time to present the work at the apropos occasion. It is nothing I planned, but that is how it worked out. The object is to write good poems. If they are good today, they will be good tomorrow. I know I am a bit naive to say that, but I have plenty of company who will agree with me.

Back in 1966, you met Ezra pound in Italy. What was this experience like? What did you talk about? Is Ezra Pound a big influence on your writing? Who else?

There will never be another Ezra Pound; therefore, there can never be an experience similar to it. In 1982 I published an article in The Boston Monthly called From the Wreckage of Europe-an Encounter with Ezra Pound. It pretty much details my journey from a pensione in Venice to the Blue Sea Coast of Rapallo, Italy where Pound was living with Olga Rudge. I have spent most of my adult life studying Pound's life and work, and have come up with beliefs that the general public still does not accept. Pound did not say much, especially since he and Olga Rudge were flying to Vienna the next day to have his eyes examined. He was starting to lose some eyesight although he did not wear glasses. I never forgot his piercing blue eyes that matched the blues of the Mediterranean. It's hard to put this into context. I carried his mail from Venice to Rapallo. The lady at the pensione Cici in Venice entrusted his mail to me: something unimaginable today. Olga did more speaking than Mr. Pound. It was his presence, his whole being laid out before me which I could instinctively read but not quite understand. As for Pound's influence on me and others, it is incalculable. I would urge all poets to read his ABC of Reading which is still available from New Directions. Pound wrote, "Poetry is form cut into time." He was one of the last literary fathers. It is wrong to vilify him when you examine the whole spectrum of his life. He was a great man and I loved him dearly.

Currently, you teach writing workshops for senior citizens and started a publishing press called Poplar Editions. Your first publication is an anthology that is a compilation of writings from several workshops spanning from 2001-2007. Would you discuss this?

The number will be called The Silver Anthology which will be compilations of work by talented people over a certain age whom I have encountered in workshops since 2002. I was amazed. At times it is easier to work with older people than younger ones. They are fast learners and good listeners. They have also lived longer and are able to confront the essentials. They have mined the past both culturally and spiritually and are often able to apply reason to their experiences and recognize where society is today. When we lose the community narrative, the whole skein of our lives unwind into mindless hedonism even when we don't realize it. The best revenge is to be a good craftsman. We are too obsessed with fame and recognition.

You host a wonderful reading series in Roslindale, MA. How long have you been running this series? What has running this venue been like for you?

I've been running the series since April, 2003. We meet once a month at emack and bolio's on Belgrade Avenue in Roslindale. It has been a learning experience and a fulfilling one .Roslindale still has the sense of community where you know your neighbors and can converse with merchants. There was a need in Roslindale, a welter of talent in various creative fields. But this town or village goes largely unrecognized by the larger Boston community even though it was annexed in the 1870s and was once a mecca for those who wanted to escape the air pollution in Boston.

Our readers are often sophisticated professionals who because they are so supportive of each other and newcomers, it gives me a sense of purpose. Many have used the venue as a testing ground for their work. A number of them have been publishing their work since the readings began in 2003. I am often asked why I don't read my own poetry at the venue. The answer is that it is theirs venue not mine. I just try to structure it best I can. But what I like best is hamming it up at the mike. When I was young they called me weird. Now that I am older they find me amusing.

You play the violin and have worked with numerous composers, one being Aaron Blumenfeld. Discuss the process in having your poems set to music.

Basically, over the years, some composers have asked to see my work. I will give them a large pile, and from there they choose something that they think they can set. Composers need to hear the note when they read a specific word. I have never written a libretto, but one piece called Starting from Atlantis in some 119 sections has had some excerpts set for mezzo-soprano and orchestra by composer Andrew List who teaches in the composition department at Berkley School of Music. I am constantly surprised in a pleasant way because it is fascinating how two minds come together to produce a new work. Recently, Marilyn Ziffrin wrote Three Songs for D'Anna, which used my poetry. That was a hoot, and it was nice to see my wife actually forced to sing my words. Composers are usually very fascinating people. Unlike poets, they have to wait to have their work performed, and they depend on a good performance. I like the idea that a composer will come with a turn of phrase or interpretation that I never thought of. Marilyn's CD was nominated for a Grammy in 2006.

Any last comments?

As Eliot wrote, "Teach us to care and not to care, teach us to sit still." It is extremely difficult to sit still while your own country is out to destroy everyone who gets in the way. This is a bully society, but no people are more bullied than the American people who more and more experience anger and mental anguish. but don't know where it hurts because finding that out would lead to revelations that most of us would rather not have. So most of us wallow in received ideas and propaganda. I think of what Ezra Pound wrote in his Pisan Cantos: "To be men not destroyers." Poetry as Stevens said is the language of fact, but fact not realized before. We need to use art as a way of reaching others just as much as reaching ourselves. The two go together inextricably. All art then is communal. The only way to be a good artist is to strive for excellence through our craft. Another poet, Daisy Aldan, a wonderful friend and talent, and an apt translator of Mallarme, once said that the worst fate to befall a poet is to succumb to "the vanity of fame." I'm afraid that today, the most known poets are not always the best poets. To win prizes and awards is wonderful, but there is something to be said about hitting the right note which according to Igor Stravinsky was his greatest thrill.

 


Copyright  2005-2006  ČERVENÁ BARVA PRESS LLC - All Rights Reserved