BLOG & INTERVIEWS

An Interview with Poet Maureen Alsop

A self-portrait.

A self-portrait.

Negative Capability Press has had the pleasure of working with poet Maureen Alsop, also an editor at Poemeleon and teacher at the Inlandia Institute and The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative, on her forthcoming book, Later, Knives & Trees, which is projected for release in September 2014. A resident of Palm Springs California, she is the author of two additional books of poetry, Mantic (Augury Books) and Apparition Wren (Main Street Rag), is the winner of multiple poetry awards, and is the author of numerous chapbooks. Though she has recently been busy traveling, we were able to catch up with her for a quick interview.


Interviewer: First of all, congratulations on your forthcoming book, Later, Knives & Trees. What was your inspiration?

Alsop: Because she would not return, my mother. Her light surrendered mine.  So again death: source. Cyclical architect. Home intimated a textural precept, a self-capture. The body’s immersed compression, brush strokes. Myrrh, buttermilk, oak wood— inscriptions travel to the midpoint dissolve as prose.  Expansive: my lack of courage & love's dissolution pressures each boundary.

Interviewer: Do you have a favorite poem in this collection? If so, what is it about that poem?

Alsop: I like the poem "Sanctimony," even though it maintains a slightly accusatory edge. "(Untitled) Bijouterie (1)" as a reflective intermingling of voices within and beyond. "Inviable" is another favorite.

The untitled poem "your soul left slowly" resonates for me as an observational elegy. I wrote this from a sense of being within and outside of the consciousness of my mother in the year before she died. I grew in her presence and appreciate that this poem evolved through those moments when we were together. The landscape throughout that time being internal, personal, private.

Interviewer: I’m sorry about your mother. In my experience, writing can often be therapeutic. Would you say writing poetry has helped you navigate through your grief? Is poetry something you use as a way of making sense of the world/life/your emotions?

Alsop: My mother's death, her process of aging and dying was one source. The other source was a self portrayal/reflection captured shortly after her passing, which offered expansive questions on identity, the boundaries of individuality and dissolution. How we love all which is radiant and fading. When a loved one dies, intimate portions of our lives flake away and travel with them. These relationships and experiences are irreproducible and irreplaceable. Our country, my life at midpoint, the places I grew up are disappeared, and we are close to losing the great generation which my mother was part of. 

Poetry is an innate, natural touchstone, a source for understanding dimensions beyond typical structures of language. In many ways, a primal art, the basis for grief’s expression.

Interviewer: Once Later, Knives & Trees is published, who are you going to give the first copy to?

Alsop: Probably to my husband who is a consummate supporter of my work.

Interviewer: Do you have any readings planned yet?

Alsop: I am hoping to read in Hawaii in November in celebration of receiving the Tony Quagliano Poetry Prize. We will be traveling to visit family in Australia, so possibly in Oz as well. I will also be reading in Claremont, California in the Spring, and will be a resident at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos next year.

Interviewer: Congratulations on your win! You’ve also won the Harpur Palate's Milton Kessler Memorial Prize for Poetry and The Bitter Oleander’s Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award, as well as published two other books of poetry and numerous chapbooks. How does it feel to be a successful poet? Do you have advice for new poets who are just beginning to try to get their work published?

Alsop: I am not a big advice giver, and try to avoid it.  Work at your craft continually. Push in every able direction. Read. Don’t compare yourself to others. Do not balance “success” against typical standards; there really are no typical standards, simply currently accepted understandings. There are no perfections or imperfections.

Interviewer: I must ask: how would you describe your writing process?

Alsop: Fragmented by design as I often have very small patches of time or very limited stretches of time within which to work on a poem. Thus I may return again and again to revise and refine. However poetry lends itself to allowances for interruption, separation, distance. Prose obliged itself as form. For many versions, I removed titles, debated transitions within the collection. Ultimately returned to original structures.

Interviewer: Who are some living authors that you admire?

Alsop: "This is what it's like to live. The shutters bang, the end of my life begins. I am thinking of the black tongue of the king snake... No such Titan ever visited during my days as an aedile.”

From: Norman Dubie; Mark Strand, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, John Ashberry... These are a few lines from a few living poets that float through me. On occasion.

Interviewer: Before we’re done, can you write us a haiku about the room you’re in right now?

Alsop: This is not a haiku, obviously, but a collage of a view that my room gathers:

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Maureen has been working on a series of videos in response to Later, Knives & Trees that you can find here: http://www.yourimpossiblevoice.com/poetry-videos-maureen-alsop/ . Visit her website, www.maureenalsop.com , to learn more about Maureen and to keep up to date on readings, book releases, and other events.