BLOG & INTERVIEWS

Featured Poet Mary A. Hood

Negative Capability Press will features a poet on our website every month. To submit yourself for consideration, follow the instructions on our Submissions page.


Mary A. Hood

Mary A. Hood

MARY A. HOOD is Professor Emerita at the University of West Florida. She is the author of The Strangler Fig and Other Tales: Field Notes of a Conservationist and Rivertime: Ecotravel on the World’s Rivers and Walking Seasonal Roads. She has published poems, articles on conservation and the environment as well as numerous scientific articles in the field of microbial ecology.


                                                             Egg

                                                 River pebble smooth
                                         larger than prayer beads, smaller
                                    than a talismanthey tell stories. In
                              the Finnish creation myth the earth is made
                           from the shards of a duck egg. In our own modern
                        story which is no myth, pesticides make them thin and
                      fragile. Is this what we know of life on this thin egg-shell
                    of an earth. And why as delicate as it is it keeps going, is a
                    mystery. Yellow-eyed, their centers see our nature, good
                      egg or rotten, hardboiled or soft. With all our questions
                           of what came first, my vote goes to the chicken. Then
                            there’s their placement, all in one basket or all over
                              ones’ own face, occasionally one lays one
                                in public or caches them away in a nest.
                                   If one is too brainy he’s quickly labeled
                                    an egg head and best of all in an act
                                         of contrition they offer themselves
                                            up to be sacrificially
                                              hurled at offending
                                                    events.


Rescuing the Turtle
 
The middle of the road is not a good place to be so I stop
pick up what could be mistaken for a muddy rock
take it to the roadside and point it in the direction of the pond.
It stretches its rubbery legs out swimming in air
and when grounded begins a slow deliberate crawl
to who knows where.

What must it be like to live on the tongue of the earth-
in those soft mushy places where the words
of the wind always blow high overhead
Where with only a little effort you can burrow
into ground’s spongy quilts and pillows
and sleep on and on like a Sunday morning

Where the sky is a physicist’s world
full of dark matter or a monk’s world full of god
never really seeing it but knowing it’s there
Where time is not measured
except in the taste of dandelion leaves
and chicory sprouts and by the way

shadows take form and dissolve into liquidity
Where no matter where your feet take you
it’s home.


High School

Connie Wilson was drum majorette
in white Nancy boots, baton and tall hat.
Like Delacroix’s Liberty she led the school band.

Varsity all-state, dating the most popular boys
she held the leading role in all the school plays
and as featured soloist in the choir

sang the best parts. She drove a red convertible
Mustang, had a full scholarship to L.S.U. and
from a leading family she lived in a house  

columned and prominent on the town square.  
Sometimes it is easy to know why we love
and why rejection comes as no surprise.

Today Connie would be in her 80’s.
Maybe she’s dead, in a nursing home
wheel-chaired, disabled, with Alzheimer’s.

Because time diminishes the differences
among us, takes away all the yearnings
you would think the lesson
would be to stop wanting.


Sue Walker Interviews Mary A. Hood

SBW:  I love the way that the Paris Review situates their interviews, and I know that you have traveled the world – Florida and Mississippi and New York – ventured along the Nile, Ganges, and Yangtze rivers – so suppose we are, this morning, in your favorite place, so tell me, Mary, where are we?

MAH:  We would be in my home, Watch Hill Cottage, in the Finger Lakes of New York on a spring morning with the lilacs blooming and the grape vines just beginning to leafing out and down by the creek, the trillium at their peak. In all my travels, I think the most beautiful place on earth is my home in these lakes and hills.

SBW:  Mary, you make me think of Thoreau – and of the importance of walking. The following is one of my favorite Thoreau passages – care to comment?

"... in the distant woods or fields, in unpretending sprout-lands or pastures tracked by rabbits, even in a bleak and, to most, cheerless day, like this, when a villager would be thinking of his inn, I come to myself, I once more feel myself grandly related, and that cold and solitude are friends of mine. I suppose that this value, in my case, is equivalent to what others get by churchgoing and prayer. I come home to my solitary woodland walk as the homesick go home. I thus dispose of the superfluous and see things as they are, grand and beautiful. I have told many that I walk every day about half the daylight, but I think they do not believe it. I wish to get the Concord, the Massachusetts, the America, out of my head and be sane a part of every day." Thoreau on walking.

MAH: “There is probably no other activity that affords us the ease of connecting mind, body, spirit and place” (from Walking Seasonal Roads). In the craziness of today’s world, it seems walking in nature brings a certain peace found nowhere else. But Thoreau did not see nature as an escape from the real world but as a rejuvenating force that might allow not only enlightenment but the energy of activism to make the world a better place.

SBW:  You are variously described as a biologist, botanist, ecologist, poet, historian, humorist, conservationist, grand story teller – and you are also Professor Emerita at the University of West Florida.  How do all of these aspects of Being define who you are?

MAH: The qualities of a scientist are to clarify, to understand the inner connections and to find and express truth. In my roles as scientist, ecologist and poet, I think those are the qualities that characterize my work.   

SBW:  What poets / writers have been of particular import to you?

MAH: My favorite poets are Sylvia Plath and Mary Oliver, plus my friends, Edward Dougherty and Margaret Reed.  Ithaca writer, Diane Ackermann, and Iowa writer, Mary Swander are some of my favorite writers. Of course, they all write in very different styles about different things but what they all do is write with clarity, craft and skill.  

SBW:  What are you currently reading?

MAH: I am currently rereading Chris Authors essays.  His Words of the Grey Wind and several other collections (Irish Nocturnes, Irish Elegies, Irish Haiku, On the Shoreline of Knowledge) contain some of the finest essays written today. Some of his passages raise goosebumps, some make me want to weep and some bring such deep pleasure.    

SBW:  Where did you grow up and where did you go to High School, College, Grad School?

MAH: I grew up in a small town near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, went to school at Southeastern Louisiana College and LSU, did post-doctoral work at Harvard Medical School and Cornell University. My roots are in the south, the deep south, the Louisiana south but my intellect and sense of ethics probably comes from the northeast.

SBW:  In one of your poems, “High School,” you contrast youth and old age.  Connie Wilson had everything – but old age is the ultimate robber. I think that the diminishment that age brings is one of the more difficult adjustments—and you make me think of Shakespeare’s
Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness, and mere oblivion, Sans eyes, sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything. Since a true “fountain of youth” has not yet been found, how do we make the most of what we have while we have it—instead of “wanting” – what was and what we cannot have?

MAH: How beautifully expressed! In Buddhist philosophy, it is believed that desire is what makes us suffer.  While diminishment certainly comes with old age (and it is so very challenging), I hope the poem also raises the issue of how hard it is to control desire and how foolish many of our desires are.

SBW:  I love your poem titled “Egg” in which you bring together all aspects of “egginess.”  The poem is a concrete poem. Comment, if you will, about form in poetry? Free verse seems to be more prevalent than formal verse – sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, etc.  Should poets be learning and mastering craft?

MAH: I try to write formal verse as often as I can.  Free verse is easy, the formal forms are not but they provide disciple and open the mind to a sense of the complexity of language. Some of my favorites are Elizabeth Bishop’s villanelle, “One Art;” Theodore Roethke’s quatrain, “My Papa’s Waltz,” and Marie Ponsot’s tritina, “Living Room.”

SBW: I love the poem, “Rescuing the Turtle,” especially the final lines:  “Where no matter where your feet take you / it’s home.”  Having travelled the world—and having lived in Florida and upper New York, how do we make wherever we are a definitive home?

MAH: I think to make Home requires effort. It doesn’t just happen without understanding our need for safety, love, beauty, connections, i.e., all those qualities that make us good people; then to go about creating that kind of environment.  I have traveled in some very poor grimy places in the world and discovered that community and connections can make up for the worst poverty.       

In my latest book, Sanctuaries: Parks Preserves and Places of Refuge in the World (still looking for a press) I write about protected lands (over 60 refuges) in 20 countries where people have made Home (or habitat as the term for home is in the biological language) for rare, endangered or threatened species in an effort to protect earth’s biodiversity.

Thank you very much for being one of Negative Capability’s featured poets.

 

 

 

Featured Poet Julie Brooks Barbour

Featured Poet Julie Brooks Barbour

Julie Brooks Barbour is the author of Small Chimes (Aldrich Press, 2014) and two chapbooks: Earth Lust (2014) and Come To Me and Drink (2012), both from Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in Waccamaw, Four Way Review, diode, storySouth, Prime Number Magazine, burntdistrict, The Rumpus…

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An interview with Barry Marks

Dividing by Zero cover - designed by megan cary

Negative Capability Press is happy to announce the release of Dividing by Zero by Barry Marks – Birmingham, Alabama attorney and author of the 2010 Eric Hoffer Award Finalist Sounding.

Dividing by Zero is a a riveting volume of poems, stories and narratives that weave a complex tale about a man, Raymond Shaw, who commits suicide and his daughter L. The unique structure, which Marks uses to tell both L. and Raymond's story, is inspired by the Talmud – the Jewish Rabbinic text that contains statements of religious law, case histories and interpretative notes on each page. 

This title is available through your local independent bookstore via IndieBound or on Amazon.com and will soon be available for distribution through SPD (Small Press Distribution).  


Barry, Negative Capability Press is proud to publish Dividing By Zero.  I think a lot of our readers would be interested in learning more about the book, especially your thoughts about the process as you wrote it.  

We don't usually ask this about poetry books, but what is Dividing By Zero about?

 Well, it isn't exactly a poetry book and there is a story. A daughter finds her father's unpublished poems, work he never shared. She resolves to publish it along with a strange narrative he left about his life and her own stories and memories of life with him.

The book combines poetry, fiction and personal remembrances. Did it start out that way?

Yes and no. Years ago, I was introduced to the Talmud, a centuries-old rabbinic text in which each page contains a statement of religious law and case history, augmented with commentary in the margins by half-a-dozen rabbis and scholars.

That seemed to me to be a wonderful way to express something difficult to describe, be it the law or human experience. How can we state the "truth" unless we can see it from many perspectives at once. A sort of written cubism seems necessary to address the mystery of truth.

 As I assembled poetry for a new book, I kept feeling that something was missing and that there should be more than just poems. One day, I remembered the Talmud and it mushroomed from there. I decided I wanted to present multiple points of view, but more than that, multiple modes of written communication, not only poetry and what it can share, but fiction and its allegorical message and narratives with their often flawed perspectives.

The poems are at first funny, then increasingly thoughtful and finally downright somber. Are you saying that this is how life is?

 No. Bear in mind that the conceit is that the poets daughter assembled these poems. In some ways, the order reflects what she saw her father's life and her hopeful belief that he became more empathetic at the end of his life.

Tell the truth, are you Raymond?

I hope not. Who we are and what we are really like is best told by those who love us. Ask my children, especially my youngest daughter.

You say in your preface that none of your characters resemble real people and none of the events described in the book ever happen. Yet you call this a true story. How can that be?

This goes to the heart of the book. As it developed, I realized that I was trying to tell a story not by a simple first or third person narrative, but by the emotions, perceptions and reactions to experiences of the characters.

 If I ask you "what did you do today?" You will say, "I got up slowly,  ate breakfast, was late for work but got there before the boss noticed." But what you experienced was not just those factual events. No one stood behind you saying, "You're up, you are eating, you are rushing to work..."

What you experienced was more like: sleepy....awake...disoriented....hungry... full...anxious... scared....relieved." In fact, it might be more accurate to tell a story about a knight who awakens from a witch's spell, shakes his hunger with food from a basket left by fleeing peasants, thinks himself in a strange kingdom where he does battle with a fire-snorting dragon with a great glass eye, who he vanquishes without realizing that he is in the present and he has done battle with a bus.

 Of course that is a silly story that has nothing to do with what actually "happened" but is it really like what you experienced in many ways?

 Cliché alert: I am asking for your definition of truth.

Would you call this book experimental?  I am thinking here of some of the work published in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing, edited by Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith.  Your book makes exciting use of typography in portraying the worlds of father and daughter.

 When I hear that word, I think of a confusing, boring, book that is either academic or downright impossible to understand. I hope this book is fun, accessible and worthwhile whether or not the reader "gets" what I am trying to do.

 As I assembled poetry for a new book, I kept feeling that something was missing and that there should be more than just poems. One day, I remembered the Talmud and it mushroomed from there.

In the case of your book, I’m sure your realize that from the process form initial manuscript to finished product was not a quick one.  We went through many edits and back and forth exchanges in terms of content and format.  Would you please comment on the revision aspect of editing and publishing?

This book was in many ways a collaborative effort, which is how the editorial process should work. After talking to you and seeing your comments, I rethought the format (there were four elements at one time, instead of three) and at a couple of points, had to ask myself what I was really trying to do. Even when I disagreed, rethinking and responding to challenge made it a better book. 

Part of the challenge was the fact that the format demanded synchronization of poems, stories and narratives. I didn't want them to be too close. I did not want the narrative to explain the corresponding poem or what was going on as one or the other was written. Remember that this is L. assembling her father's work and her own and I didn't want it to look contrived. Nevertheless, when a poem was deleted or replaced, I often had to reorganize the narratives and stories around it.

 I have to tell you a funny story. Just as I thought I was done, about 6 months ago, I read a book on Maxwell Perkins, the Scribners editor who guided Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Lardner and others. While I didn't fancy myself one of those guys, reading about the torturous rewrites, and passionate arguments made me feel terribly guilty. I put the book away for a month, came back to it and dropped, moved or revised 30% of what I thought was perfect. 

Emily Dickinson is dead.  We can’t sit back and assume that even after we cease to be, someone will pull poems from our dresser drawers and gift them to the world.  How important do you think social media and marketing is to the poet today?

 It depends on what the poet wants. Once again, I'll turn to the book. If we want to be Raymond and put our work in drawers, then we deserve what we get out of it. If we care enough to want to share, if we want to be really serious about doing our best, then having it read is important. 

Sure, you can get carried away. I detest social media and marketing my work sometimes feels degrading. But when I read to an appreciative audience, I can see what works and what doesn't and really hear myself for the first time. When someone I don't know writes to me or stops by a reading and gives me feedback, I feel less like a strange little man hiding away scribbling and more like an artist true to both his craft and his humanity. OK, that was inflated, but if we don't get our work out there we risk being Raymond.

Now, Barry, what next?  Do you have thoughts about what directions you want your writing to take?  

Of course, I have a couple of dozen new poems, one or two of which are pretty good. ( You know, the book contains less than 10% of what I wrote during the period since my prior book was published). I may do another book of poetry in a couple of years.

I'm still toying with the idea of a book that combines poetry with experience/commentary/prose - perhaps more directly related than DBZ and more Talmudic. It would take a lot of work and I would want a serious, action-heavy plot. I have the first chapters and/or outlines of several novels I never got around to.

On the other hand, I'm working on a chapbook of minimalist, visual and funny very short poems. Really stupid stuff. I may let that part of my brain take over for a while!

ALLEN BERRY REVIEWS MELISSA DICKSON'S SWEET AEGIS

In Sweet Aegis, the latest collection of poems by Melissa Dickson, the poet breathes new life into classical mythic characters; turning carved marble into flesh, and inviting them down from their pedestals, to walk among us and give account of their lives to the amazed reader. Dickson challenges us to gaze, unflinching, into the eyes of one of Greek Mythology's most infamous monsters, and find within them, not the horror we have come to know, but a misunderstood creature twice victimized.

Through Dickson's writing, heroes and villains are drawn into the cold, often unflattering, light of modernity. Here the crime of Poseidon against the young maiden in the temple of his sister Athena is tried in the court of poetic discourse. The maiden, victimized by a deity and cursed by the goddess she cried out to for rescue, is at long last allowed her testimony. The brash youth who slew Medusa, thus securing his fame and his place in the pantheon of heroes, is revealed to be more braggart and opportunist than icon. The estranged father, who left his infant daughter in the keeping of the goddess and Medusa's two sisters, present their victim's impact statement to the jury of readers.

Dickson's poems challenge use to look deeper into the life of one of our deepest cultural myths. To gaze upon the monster whose history we have scarce considered, and in doing so, reverse the spell as the reader's stony heart begins to soften toward this much maligned creature. Gazing into the eyes of Dickson's Medusa, we experience not terror, but sympathy for her as victim rather than dread of her as a villain.

Sweet Aegis is a powerful work, casting a modern light on a classic myth. Heroic tale becomes modern allegory as the famous and infamous walk through the contemporary south. Once you have read Sweet Aegis, you will never look at Medusa and her contemporaries the same again.