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Jon Andersen, writer

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Jonathan Andersen is the author of Augur (Red Dragonfly Press, 2018), which was awarded the 2017 David Martinson-Meadowhawk Poetry Prize and named a Connecticut Book Award Finalist. Other books include The Burden Note, (Meridian Prize, 2014), an English/Serbo-Croatian chapbook, and Stomp and Sing (Curbstone Press/Northwestern University Press, 2005). He is the editor of the anthology Seeds of Fire: Contemporary Poetry from the Other U.S.A. (Smokestack Books, 2008).

Stomp and Sing book cover


He has been a featured reader throughout the eastern United States, the United Kingdom, and Serbia, including at the Ledbury Poetry Festival, the 49th International Festival of Literature in Belgrade, and the 42nd Smederevo Poetry Autumn. His poems have appeared in print and online publications, including Blue Collar Review, The Café Review, Chiron Review, Connecticut Review, Counterpunch, Exposition Review, Freshwater, HeART, Here, North American Review, The Progressive, Rattle, The Worcester Review, and others.

For 12 years he was a high school English and special education teacher, and since 2008 has been a Professor of English at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Danielson and Willimantic, Connecticut. He and his wife, fellow writer and educator Denise Abercrombie, live in Storrs, Connecticut, with their two sons. (Bio courtesy of

This interview with Jonathan Andersen was conducted by email with Here intern Daniel P. Carey, Jr. in March/April 2018.

Daniel P. Carey, Jr.: How did you first get into writing poetry?

Jon Andersen: I trace my interest in writing poetry-or compulsion to write poetry-way back to experiencing the music of words in my mother's voice as she read to me and my twin brother Phil. Sometimes, I still get into writing poetry by reading it or listening to it. If I haven't written in a while, or if I'm struggling to write a poem, spending time with the work of others returns me to the craft. Songs were important, too. When I was in high school, I knew many songs that spoke to my experiences, but I didn't know any poetry that addressed or came out of working-class life. Then I went to UConn and met the poet James Scully who introduced me to a whole way of writing and thinking about writing. He also always finished comments on drafts of my poems with people to read. So I'd find them-this was before Google and the internet-in the fourth floor of the library. Most groundbreaking for me then was reading Jim Daniels's now classic first book Places/Everyone. Here was poetry with time clocks and fork lifts and layoffs, and all the sadness and stubborn vitality of economic struggle. It was a revelation.

Carey, Jr.: Your poem in Here, "Krymuninlees," references your father as a frequent figure in your writing. What advice do you have for those looking to write about their parents?



Two mornings after declaring, glass

of wine raised in firelight, that I would not write

any more poems about my father,

I slide open the barn door, squat down

to replace the three-decade-worn tines

of the Troy-Bilt M8, the eight-for-eight

horsepower he bought with I still don't know

what money. I tilt the tiller forward.

It looks bowed in prayer. Each tine, hardened

steel, hooked right or left like the business

end of a scythe, comes off with the loosening

of two bolts, falls and clatters, ringing

briefly on the ground. I think I'll remember, but

quickly lose the tricky offset pattern-sixteen

blades in four opposing gangs of four, pointing

toward and away from each other by turns:

by the time I have them all replaced, locknuts

cranked down hard, anticipating

years, the stall is filled with sun and the new

tines gleam. I groan to stand and exclaim,

unthinkingly, krymuninlees, startling myself

with a word my father used to say, its exact

meaning I never thought to ask.


Andersen: Above all, I believe we need to avoid the seductive delusion that our art is more precious than the lives it includes.

How to write about parents and loved ones is a complicated and inevitable question for most poets. There is no firewall between life and art.

My father was loving, highly intelligent, passionate, and quick to let loose a roaring laugh. He was also a human being, which meant he had his struggles and foibles. In 2012, when he passed away, he was grappling with Parkinson's Disease, which was very likely the result of Agent Orange exposure, and PTSD. He was a casualty of the Vietnam War fifty years on. I have tried in my writing to pay tribute, even when he was alive, without romanticizing, and without violating his privacy. I'm not sure I always succeeded.

Relevant, too, to your question is the distinction between writing on one hand and publishing or sharing on the other. There is very little that should not be written. The question maybe is what to share? Ultimately, each writer has to answer this in his or her own way. You have a responsibility to yourself, to your truth, and your art, but life isn't all about you. How does your writing and sharing affect the person in your life who's also your subject? What's your motivation? If you're praising, are you unfairly romanticizing? If you're publicly registering a cathartic grievance, is it just? Is it worth it? Are you writing and sharing to discover and render an important truth, or to avoid difficult conversations with the person you're writing about? And I don't care how precocious you are, these questions are not easy for you to address as a young writer. (I'm using the general "you," here-I don't mean you, Daniel.) It takes time to understand our parents, to hear them in their own language and see them clearly in their own time, and when or if we finally do, it's often too late.

Please note, I do not raise these questions and cautionary notes to dissuade writing about loved ones and family members. For example, Linda McCarriston's poems about abuse at the hands of her father is a major contribution. Ultimately, we have to take on such writing, though not in every instance.

Carey, Jr.: What do you find most rewarding about being an English professor at Quinebaug Valley Community College? In what ways have your students influenced you and your writing?

Jon Andersen: There are many poets who are not teachers, of course, or poets for whom teaching is a necessary nuisance, and they can still be great poets, but for me, personally, I am compelled to write in ways that speak to resilience and growth, and I can't think of a better profession to inform and inspire that project. I am very aware of how incredibly fortunate I am to have not only steady, full employment, but to have such deeply meaningful work. I see students at the college working very hard, often balancing their own jobs with parenting and their studies. I see them putting everything they have into giving themselves the best chance to make their lives not just more stable, but fuller, more rewarding. Also, I need to point out that I am a teacher long before I am a poet. In fact, I'm sure I've said many times when first meeting or telling someone about myself "I'm a teacher," but I don't think I've ever said "I'm a poet."

I'm also convinced that writing helps me to be a better teacher, and teaching helps me to be better writer. Trying to revise and improve my writing means that I am presently aware of what my students feel when they come up against the wall of their current level of ability and have to work through it. And when I am crafting a piece, I have plenty of role models for how to keep at it.

Carey, Jr.: Your forthcoming book, Augur, won the 2017 David Martinson-Meadowhawk Poetry Prize. What can you tell me about this new collection of poems?

Jon Andersen: It takes a while for me to see how poems might come together as a collection, so that they're more than just a heap of poems. In order to figure out how the poems I had been writing might be gathered into a coherent whole, I reread them many times looking for ideas and images to emerge as the most significant and thematic. I was especially interested in the thematic suggestions I hadn't intended, or hadn't intended to be so central. Stepping back to notice connections in a body of your own work is always really interesting and gratifying. The most striking thing that I noticed across what I had thought of as poems very disparate in terms of form and content, was the attempt to make sense of a destabilized and dangerous world where the easy personal and political answers are usually wrong. I found myself again and again trying to "decode" the meaning of situations. It was the job of the augurs of ancient Rome to decode natural signs, especially the feeding or flight habits of birds, to advise officials as to whether or not it was a good idea to engage in certain actions, like proceeding into battle, for example.

One thing I feel strongly about, that I hope comes across, is that having a high priesthood to tell us the meaning of things and to point the way is exactly the wrong way to go. Of course we need to pay attention to scholars and people who have expertise in certain fields, but if we're serious about giving people power, we all have to read the signs.

Once I had this as a working concept, the idea became generative. I started to write towards that idea and to see holes in the book that needed addressing.

Bessy Reyna

photo credit: Susan Holmes

Bessy Reyna is the author of two bilingual books of poetry, The Battlefield of Your Body (Hill-Stead Museum, 2005) and Memoirs of the Unfaithful Lover/ Memorias de la amante infiel (tunAstral, A.C., 2010, Toluca Mexico). A chapbook of her poems, She Remembers, was published by Andrew Mountain Press in 1997. Her Spanish language writing, published in Latin America, includes a poetry chapbook, Terrarium (Instrucción Programada de México, 1975), and a collection of short stories, Ab Ovo (Instituto Nacional de Cultura, Panama, 1977). Her poetry can be found in numerous anthologies, including El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry, In Other Words: Literature by Latinas of the United States, The Arc of Love: Lesbian Poems and The Wild Good. She is a contributor to Gathered Light: The Poetry of Joni Mitchell's Songs (Lisa and John Sornberger, Eds. 2013) and Penelope: Antologia de Cuentistas Centroamricanas (Consuelo Meza Vasquez, Ed.)

Born in Cuba and raised in Panama, Bessy is a graduate of Mt Holyoke College and earned her Masters and Law degrees from the University of Connecticut. For nine years she was a monthly opinion columnist for The Hartford Courant and was a frequent contributor to Northeast, the Sunday magazine of the Hartford Courant. For several years, she conducted radio interviews with poets appearing at Hill-Stead Museum's renowned Sunken Garden Poetry Festival in Farmington, CT. Currently, she writes an arts-and-culture page for the Hispanic newspaper Identidad Latina and an opinion columnist for A former Master Teaching Artist for the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism, she is a frequent lecturer and guest artist at colleges, libraries and museums. She has performed her poetry internationally; taught writing workshops in many venues; and served as a judge for poetry competitions, including the Connecticut Book Award for Poetry.

Bessy's awards include First Prize in the Joseph E. Brodine Poetry Competition and artist award grants from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism and the Greater Hartford Arts Council. She is the recipient of the Connecticut Center for the Book Lifetime Achievement in Service to the Literary Community Award (2009), the American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education Outstanding Latina in the Literary Arts and Publications Award, the Pioneer Award at the Inaugural Diversity Awards presented by the Vice Provost for Multicultural and International Affairs at the University of Connecticut (2006), a Living Legend Award from Saint Joseph College Department of Social Work, and the One Woman Makes A Difference Award from the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund (2007). In 2001, she was named Latina Citizen of the Year by the State of Connecticut Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission. In 2012, she was one of ten women honored by the CT Women's Hall of Fame. Bessy was inducted into the Immigrant Heritage Hall of Fame (IHHF) in 2017. (Bio courtesy of

This interview between Bessy Reyna and Here student intern Courtney Botteron was conducted via email in February/March, 2018.

Courtney Botteron: You mention in an interview with the Long River Review that your love for poetry began in the fourth grade in Cuba, after a teacher selected you to recite "Los Zapaticos de Rosa." What is it about the poem that ignited your love for poetry?

book cover

Bessy Reyna: That poem was written by José Martí, one of the most revered writers in Cuba who fought and died for the independence of Cuba from Spain in 1895. As a young child, it was a great honor for me to be selected to recite that poem in front of the school. The story is very compelling: Pilar, a rich girl, gets a new pair of shoes and goes to play in the sand and the mother admonishes her not to get her shoes dirty. Time goes by and the girl comes back barefoot. A very poor woman holding a sick child in her arms, tells the mother that Pilar gave her child her shoes. The mother, touched by her daughter's gesture, asks Pilar to also give them her scarf and other belongings. In this poem, published in 1889, Marti was giving us a very important message of caring and generosity. It's a very long poem and, even after all these years, I still remember some of the lines. But now, when I look at that poem in translation, it saddens me to see how badly translated it has been. Someone even thought they were "Rosa's shoes" even though the girl's name is Pilar. Others have titled it "Red" shoes. I think "Rose-colored Shoes" is the only correct title. But going back to your question for me, when I was memorizing this poem, saying those rhymes, trying to understand its meaning, it made me realize what a powerful tool poems were to tell a story. That lesson is something that has stayed with me from that moment on.

Botteron: I really enjoyed your poem "Sunday Afternoon Naps," which appeared in the inaugural issue of Here: a poetry journal. You seem to write a lot about personal experiences. Do you ever find that difficult?


Sunday Afternoon Naps

Sunday afternoons while my parents slept

I waited crouching outside their bedroom door

for that moment when Mom would stop speaking softly,

the bed springs coils stopped squeaking,

and the snoring began.


I spent hours studying Dad's habits:

I knew I was in real trouble

when he took his glasses off and placed them

on the dining room table before he scolded me.


I also knew that on Sundays before their nap,

he hung his pants by the belt loop

on the left ear of the chair closest to bedroom's door.


I would open that door just enough for my hand

to reach into the pants' pocket

and gently, quietly remove the car keys.


Outside the building the red and white Chevy Bel-Air convertible

was like a magical vision among other cars parked on the


It was my chariot,

My Pegasus.

It was freedom,

It was rock and roll blasting from the speakers.

It was daring life to meet death at the Boulevard Balboa.

It was what I waited for all week.


Reyna: Not really. That poem reflects, in particular, how I used to take my Dad's car (without his knowledge) and drive around with my friends always on the verge of getting in real trouble if he found out. I also think it is important for women who loved cars the way I did as a teen (and even now) to write about it. Cars should not be, and are not, something that interests only men. There are others of my poems in which a car is an important element or frames the narrative.

Bessy Reyna

photo credit: Susan Holmes

Botteron: At what standard did you hold yourself to when you realized you were going to be studying at Mount Holyoke College? Were you nervous or did you know in your heart that you were up to the challenge?

Reyna: I was a university student living in Panama City, Panama, when I applied for a scholarship to the USA. I went to lots of interviews with the selection committee there and wasn't sure I would get it because being very opinionated. I started arguing with some of the members. Turns out that really impressed them and I was chosen as a candidate. Their recommendation was circulated among several colleges in the USA and I was very lucky that Mt. Holyoke selected me. I had NO IDEA where Holyoke was or that MHC was such a prestigious and academically rigorous school. I was accepted as a junior in their International Student Program. Much to my surprise, I was the only one from my group invited back by the college for my senior year. I was also selected for the Honors program and, even though I had never studied in English before, I graduated Magna Cum Laude. MHC in so many ways gave me permission to be an articulate, intelligent, and educated woman--traits not always supported in the Latino environment I grew up in. I had never experienced such intense friendship and generosity from people like my classmates, college administrators, and even Bertha, the lady in charge of the kitchen who was worried I wasn't eating enough. My dissertation was based on research and a project involving children with dyslexia, which in 1970 was a new field of study. I carry MHC in my heart. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for that scholarship which opened so many doors towards my future.

Botteron: Do you believe in inspiration? If so, where does that information come from?

Reyna: I believe in being ready to absorb the world around us, instances, like an image, a photograph, stay in your mind. My poem "Lunch Walk" was inspired by walking by a man "who sounded like maracas." I could almost feel the poem developing as I watched him. On the other hand, my poem about high school classmates is fictional, imagining what they might be like so many years after. We didn't have "reunions" in Panama, so I have lost track of them by now. I was at the El Tercer Ojo, a really cool restaurant in Granada, Nicaragua. There was so much going on that I started keeping notes. I still have to write that poem.

Botteron: I also admired your other poem published in Here, "Route 99, Fresno, CA, December 27, 2015." I found the story within the poem very powerful and disturbing. I think it also makes an important political statement. What do you see as the relationship between politics and art?


Route 99, Fresno, CA, December 27, 2015

He was alone at 6:30 that morning, when the cold

forced him to keep one hand inside his pocket,

the other tightly holding his lunch bag.

He was alone while waiting for his ride to work.

He was alone hours later when he woke up

at the hospital, not knowing how he got there.

Not knowing why that car with white men inside

slowed down when they saw him.

Not knowing why they started shouting obscenities

and yelling "Why are you here?"

Not knowing why, as he tried to cross the street,

the car accelerated towards him,

the front bumper hitting him, making him fall on the pavement.

Not knowing why those men rushed out to punch him,

Not knowing why those men rushed out to kick him,

Not knowing why those men rushed out to spit on him.

Earlier that morning, before he left his house,

he had kissed his children and his wife,

combed and rolled his beard, carefully coiled his hair,

then, reverently, tied his turban on his head.


Reyna: I grew up in a tradition of "political poetry." Many of the best-known poets in Latin America: Pablo Neruda, César Vallejo, even Sor Juana Ínes de la Cruz, with her defense of women's rights in colonial Mexico, are poets we read, who said important things. Since Trump's "election," the level of hate crimes has increased tremendously. I support organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU. Reading about cases they brought to court, I decided to try to write poems in the voices of the victims. "Route 99" is based on a horrible incident in which the victim was represented by the SPLC. I have drafts of other poems like this one. I think it is my responsibility as a writer to present these stories. I have a poem dedicated to Spec. Armando G. Aguilar, Jr. He was a young Latino veteran who committed suicide, one of the thousands who have done so since returning from the wars. I was reading an article in the New York Times and found his name. I started looking for articles or mentions of him in other media. Sometimes, that's how my mind works, connecting dots.



Paul Martin

Paul Martin with Eastern student Lily Vu in 2015

Paul Martin's new chapbook of poetry, Mourning Dove (winner of The 2017 Jessie Bryce Niles Chapbook Contest), will be published by The Comstock Review this spring. He is the author of a full-length collection of poetry, Closing Distances (Backwaters Press, 2009), which was twice a finalist in the National Poetry Series, along with five previous chapbooks, Green Tomatoes, Walking Away Waving, Morning on Canal Street, Rooms of the Living, and Floating on the Lehigh. His poems have appeared in America, Boulevard, Commonweal, 5 AM, New Letters, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, River Styx, Southern Poetry Review, The Sun, and other journals as well as in the anthologies Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania and Carrying the Darkness: The Poetry of the Vietnam War. He has received two poetry fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Prairie Schooner's Glenna Luschei Award for his poem "The Radish." He has been honored by the Pennsylvania Council for the Book and currently lives with his wife Rita in Ironton, Pennsylvania.

Four of his poems appear in the inaugural issue of Here: a poetry journal.

This interview between Eastern poetry student Daniel P. Carey, Jr., and poet Paul Martin took place via email in March 2018.

Daniel P. Carey, Jr.: What first got you started writing poetry? Who were your early influences or teachers?

Paul Martin: I don't think we're fully aware, at least I'm not, of what starts us writing. I have no memory of a classroom teacher inspiring me. I do recall reading and immediately being drawn to Carl Sandburg's poems about blue collar workers--construction workers, railroad men, men who worked pick and shovel as my father did, and recognizing a world I had never encountered in poetry. And we had a record of him reading his work, which opened a way of understanding his poems that I listened to over and over again. But well before that, without my knowing it, I was l drawn in by the language, powerful imagery and rhythms of the Catholic church: the Stations of the Cross, for instance, when Christ falls the first time, when Veronica wipes the face of Jesus, when Jesus meets His afflicted mother. As a kid of nine or ten, I was powerfully struck by those images and the ensuing meditations. That, along with the litanies we chanted in church, their parallel structures building rhythms that cast a spell. And then there was the clacketing past of the trains just behind our house.

Carey, Jr.: Do you have a favorite poem? What in particular do you look for in another poet's work?

Martin: Well, of long poems I always return to Walt Whitman, especially when lilacs are blooming or on Memorial Days when I read "The Wound Dresser" or any other time when I open the book to a random page. What short poems I love and sometimes memorize keep changing with the years and my circumstances. They don't have to be great poems, just poems that express the sorrow or mystery I happen to be feeling, which is why I like to have them in memory so I can call them up. One day I feel nothing's more moving than Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill." Or "Easter, 1916" by W.B. Yeats and Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Dirge Without Music." And then I pick up Jack Gilbert's books or Wendell Berry's "The Peace of Wild Things," James Wright's "A Blessing," Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "The Pennycandystore Beyond the El," "Those Winter Sundays" by Robert Hayden and any number of poems by Czeslaw Milosz, Seamus Heaney, and Philip Levine. So no, I guess I don't have a single favorite poem. It's these and others too numerous to mention that I keep returning to, largely for their being grounded in the senses, their sense of the sacred in the familiar. I'm not enthusiastic about the abstract.

Carey, Jr.: Your poem "Slopewatching" in Closing Distances (Backwaters Press, 2009) introduced me to a different method of reliving my own family history. Its words reemerged when I heard Seamus Heaney's "Digging" some five years later. Do you find that your father's life inspires you to live your own differently? In what way does the "squat pen" rest "snug as a gun" in your fingers?

Closing Distances book cover

Martin: I don't know how many times my father told me to "eat those books, so you don't have to slave like me." As a kid, I was aware of his having to work pick and shovel and crowbar in freezing winds and scorching sun. We got the schooling he so much wanted but didn't receive, since he was the oldest of eleven and was forced to quit at an early age and support his family. So whenever I felt a complaint coming on as I prepared to teach my classes, I remembered my father and realized how good I had it, teaching books and discussing ideas for a living. In my writing, I try to honor him and his values and those of the ethnic, blue collar families in our town, partly by going to the room almost every day, whether I have a poem going or not. It's important to show up, to keep at it, even when nothing seems to be happening, so when inspiration comes I'm there at the desk. Like him, who had to be vigilant in his slope watching, I hope to pay attention to my life, to what's going on around me. I think Kerouac's gravestone reads "He Honored Life." That's a good way of putting it.

Kerouac gravestone

Carey, Jr.: In George Hamilton IV's song "Abilene," the speaker longs for the ideal town of Abilene, Texas. In your poem by the same title I cannot help but get a similar sense of subtle longing for a land just out of reach. Were you cognizant of the parallel when you wrote this poem and what do you think "Abilene" says about love and aging?

Martin: I knew that song from early on, and it came back to me when my brother requested it be played for his wife, Marguerite. It's a common longing, isn't it--the desire to return to what we imagine as a perfect past? Though it's not very useful. But my brother and his wife, Marguerite, weren't blind to the difficulties of those early years and their growing family. Nevertheless, they were young and healthy and enlivened by the rich culture. The attraction to those years grew stronger as age, with its accompanying frailties, came upon them. Just as another brother's earlier years grew to be "golden" as his muscles wasted away.



for Marguerite and Mike

Without her knowing, he calls in a request

to the station that plays old cowboy tunes

each Friday night, so when the DJ says, "Now

here's a song for Marguerite from her husband, Mike,"

her confusion turns to surprised delight,

and he joins her in laughing and singing along

to the radio before he helps her up the steep stairs­

into bed in the hard country of old age

and sickness, so distant from the endless, bright

horizons of those early years in Texas,

the fiery food and music and colors the song

gives back to her as she sings to herself in the dark.


Carey, Jr.: Your writing is a reconstruction of your past and specifically your neighborhood growing up. How does where you came from inform you and your beliefs?

Main St., Walnutport, PA

"Main St, Wpt." (

Martin: Well, I spent much of my life in a classroom, far removed from the hardships of the kind of work my father and people of the towns I grew up in performed. They worked on the railroad, in steel mills, in factories, in mills. I may not have fully appreciated what it meant to work as they did. "What did I know, what did I know/ of love's austere and lonely offices?" says Hayden's speaker in "Those Winter Sundays." But I worked summers in an orchard and in a mill, enough to know I didn't want to spend the rest of my life doing that. Now, more than ever, I appreciate their work ethic, their getting up to the job each morning, their sacrifices. And while there was a certain rigidness, suspicion about people and ideas outside of that environment, my father came down hard on us if we expressed any hint of racism or prejudice. Maybe because as a young immigrant he was mocked and laughed at. It helped that he was a reader, spending some of his small salary on books, so that expanded his world and, in turn, ours. In addition, those towns had the Lehigh River and a canal where I spent my summers swimming, roasting potatoes and generally carrying on out of the sight of adults. That river and canal show up again and again in my poems, as do the hard-working and hard-living characters of those places. So it's that world my poems try to re-inhabit.


Walnutport bridge"Lehigh Canal, Near Slatington, PA" (


Uploading Coal

"Uploading Coal from Canal barge" in Paul Martin's hometown of Walnutsport, PA (


Carey, Jr.: "Literature," published in Here's inaugural issue, seems to encapsulate the layered complexity of human communication. Was a specific event the genesis of this poem or does it speak to a greater "truth" that can be found in poems, as well as daily life?



Pausing, the dental hygienist hands me water

for rinsing, and asks, after I say I taught English,

"You didn't teach literature, did you?" wincing

at the word and recalling the teacher who called on her

after each poem, asking, "What does it mean?"

causing her to throw up her hands in exasperation

as she does now, staring at me in disappointment,

as if I were the one who embarrassed her

in the classroom silence and turned her against poetry.

Before I have a chance to side with her,

she's bending over my open mouth,

picking and scraping with what feels like

a new determination and distance

in place of the easy way we had between us,

a warm, olive-skinned woman who told me stories

about her early marriage, her way of cooking

beans and rice, her difficult, teenage son

killed in a car crash, and how,

as he left the house, she almost

told him she loved him, her voice catching

as I lay under that lamp's bright light with nothing,

really, to say, though I offered a few garbled words

that spoiled the fullness of silence.


Martin: The poem grew out of a conversation I had with a dental hygienist whose son died in a car accident. So the story began in the truth of her experience with her son and with poetry in high school, but I hope it ends with another truth: sometimes, after powerful words are spoken, we need to resist the urge to fill the silence with words. Silence is sometimes the best way to absorb and honor what has just been said. But a person doesn't have to fully understand a poem to be moved by it. Without our being aware of them, imagery and rhythm can move us deeply. Of course, analyzing a poem opens it to understanding and deeper appreciation, but you don't do that by asking immediately after a poem is read, what it means. That makes students feel they're outsiders, that poetry is about messages. Let the hearers feel the poem first, experience it. That's what poetry wants to do, not to tell the truth as much as to have us experience it. A couple times in my teaching career, after a poem was read aloud, I allowed for an extended silence and then quietly dismissed the class, just to make that point. Later we talked about how the poem affected them and where in the poem it did that, which can lead to understanding of form or technique.

Carey, Jr.: Writing is often a practice in perseverance and patience. In what ways has your writing process challenged you and what advice would you have for others who similarly struggle?

Paul Martin leading workshop

Paul Martin workshopping Eastern student poems, 2015

Martin: Anyone who writes struggles, whether it's trying to find the ending of a poem or waiting for the next poem to arrive. So much of writing is waiting, just waiting, and that's hard. I sometimes think I've written myself out and that's that. A well-intentioned friend might tell me, "Oh, it'll come," which I never believe. But I keep going to my room, reworking older stuff or trying to build on notes or observations I jot down as I go through my day. But sometimes nothing's working and I feel pretty desperate. The creative process is essentially mysterious. Part of the process over which we have control is going to the desk each day, reading, paying attention to our lives.

Carey, Jr.: In "The Mulberry Tree," also first published in Here, the speaker, "scrapes bird shit off the picnic table" as the poem cascades naturally into a father surrounded by the silence of another day without a letter from his war begotten son. I am curious: what people, ideas, or emotions inspired this poem?


The Mulberry Tree

Scrubbing purple bird shit off the picnic table,

I remember Mrs. Matusik cursing the birds

that splotched her freshly hung wash,

threatening to lop off the limbs

above the clothes line as she collapsed

a billowing sheet into her arms

and carried it back down to the cellar tubs.

Her husband sat in the shade

of the glossy leaves, sipping the sweet wine

he made from last year's berries

as he waited that June for his son's next letter

from burning Germany, silence

widening around him as he studied

the bees moving from stain

to stain in the grass around his feet.


Martin: We have a mulberry tree in our yard, and "wiping bird shit off the picnic table" is what comes with having a mulberry tree. Doing just that reminded me of the older couple described in the poem, though I'm not at all certain theirs was a mulberry tree. But as a kid I frequently saw the woman hanging wash and her husband sitting in the shade of the tree drinking wine. When I thought of the word "shade" and saw the sheet on the line as a shroud, the poem started coming together with stains on the ground, the father hunched over seeming to stare at them. It was those leaps of imagination that startled me and opened the way to the poem, which is not altogether historically accurate. But that exactness is not important to me.

Carey, Jr.: "Falling Star" happens in the blink of an eye. How do you use the length and pace of a poem to impart a greater impact on the reader?


Falling Star

It streaked out of the southern horizon

and when it passed above the house

we ran from the front porch

to the back just in time to see

it crossing the field

and go dark.


I didn't dream it, did I--the summer night,

a star falling across the sky,

you and me, the child,

now grown and gone, looking up?


Martin: I'm glad the poem moves in the way I hoped it would, the first stanza being one sentence, a series of run-on lines, moving from longer to shorter to move the poem more quickly. The second stanza moves much more deliberately, two pauses in line one, strong pauses created by commas at the end of the second and third lines and then another pause in the middle of the last line all slowing the poem and conveying a sense of reflection. So it's those very conscious technical matters that help to create the intended effects. It's an enjoyable part of writing, satisfying in a way I couldn't have anticipated when I began writing poems, pretty much finding my own way without any formal training or creative writing courses that would have taught me the intricacies of form much earlier.

Carey, Jr.: In your upcoming collection, Mourning Dove, your poem "Turning Over" opens with a cold car engine and leaves us all with a haunting image of a man staring at his own reflection. How often do you reflect on your father's image and how does that influence your poetry?

Martin: My father's aged face staring back at him is an image that wouldn't have occurred to me when I was younger. It's only my own aging and experience of the world that enables me to see him that way, his surprise at how ground-down he looks, wondering how much time he has left. It's in that context I sometimes see him. Most of my images of him have him carrying a lunch bucket and leaning against a crowbar, but some picture him watching sports, which he loved, and which were for him an allegory of forces larger than the game and its players.

Carey, Jr.: Your poem "Ghost," also from that collection, speaks of the fragile place where those we have lost often find their way back. What advice would you give to someone looking to write about a loved one who has passed?

Martin: The dead always "find their way back," to use your words. In short, they're not dead. My brother, father, mother, grandparents, friends show up regularly in the passenger seat while I'm driving, in the kitchen, or carrying their lunch buckets down the alley. Sometimes I talk to them, ask them whether they can breathe more freely now that they're no longer on an oxygen tank, or I ask for their advice or help. Invite them in is what I do; others, for good reasons, may not want to invite them in. But there's a very old and rich tradition of writing about the dead--to celebrate them, to measure ourselves against them, to have it out with them, to use them as guides.

Carey, Jr.: I have found real catharsis in the reimagining of my past through the creativity of a poem. Has poetry served you in a similar way? How has your time within the body of a poem transformed your life outside of it?

Martin: I've heard writers, some of whom see writing as therapy, use the word "cathartic," but I can't recall feeling that way, purged, purified, after having completed a poem. I'm not comfortable with that word as it applies to my writing. A satisfying sense of entering into discovery, or clarity, yes. And those moments, incrementally, might shape or reshape the way I think and act, especially when I've written quite a few poems on the same subject, as I have about the Lehigh River's place in my life, and my dying brother. Writing's my way of paying attention to the world and to language that shapes the way I understand the world.

Carey, Jr.: As an accomplished poet, what suggestions do you have for unpublished story tellers? Do you have a few practices that helped you along the way?

Martin: I'm still very much a learning poet, trying hard to write the poem in front of me. Rejections are routine, both for individual poems and for books. I'm fortunate to have friends, some of whom are poets, who, over many years, have read my poems and offer always insightful suggestions. That's what I would wish for every writer, especially a beginning writer. Then there's the necessity of reading as much as possible the work of other poets, and going to the desk each day. Writing's full of discouragements but not much else offers the satisfaction, even joy of the moment a poem works out. Ultimately I write because I can't seem to not write, I enjoy doing it, the time alone, the waking to a poem that's making headway, the revising. If it's not enjoyable, why do it? There are countless other interesting ways to use your time.

photo by Mark Hillringhouse

The author and editor of over twenty books and anthologies, Maria Mazziotti Gillan has most recently published Paterson Light and Shadow (poems by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and photographs by Mark Hillringhouse, Serving House Books, 2017) and What Books in Winter (NYQ Books, 2016), a collection of poems. She is the Founder/Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ, and editor of the Paterson Literary Review. She is also Director of the Creative Writing Program and Professor of Poetry at Binghamton University-SUNY.

The following interview between Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Here editing intern Courtney Botteron took place over email in Jan/Feb 2018.


Courtney Botteron: Was your poem "In Third Grade I Fell in Love" (first published in the inaugural issue of Here: a poetry journal) geared to a specific audience or instead for anyone who would listen?

Maria Mazziotti Gillan: Well, I hope when I write a poem that it is clear and direct enough to reach anyone who reads it. I was prompted out of my own need to explain my love of poetry written in English, particularly since I was an immigrant child who did not speak English when I went to school. I wrote it also in gratitude to all the teachers I never thanked for reading aloud to us in English and for making me hear the music of the language when it was spoken aloud. My own parents couldn't speak English and couldn't read to us in English, but those teachers gave me a gift that I can never repay. It's only now, so many years later, that I wish I had written to them to thank them. Of course, now it's too late. But wherever their spirits are, I hope they feel my love for them and my gratitude.

In Third Grade I Fell in Love

with language. The poems and stories read aloud to us

in the dusty classrooms of PS 18 in Paterson, New Jersey,

had a music that lifted me up above the scarred desks,

names, and hearts carved into them

by generations of children bored with what, for many of them,

must have been the torture of hours of sitting still.


For me, in my shy skin, the spaces in the school

meant for recess or gym were terrifying,

but inside the classroom, I loved

the books we read and the ones the teachers read to us.


At home, we spoke a southern Italian dialect

whose accents brought Italy to 17th Street.

But outside, I was in America.

I was always slightly wary that I wasn't American enough.


In the classroom, I learned that English had a different kind of music,

one I could move to as if I were dancing.

I loved the poems that repeated themselves in my brain.

After I memorized a poem, I could carry it with me,

as though I had slipped it in my pocket

and could slip it out whenever I was alone and afraid.


My parents could not read to us in English,

but those teachers, all the ones I never thought to thank,

opened the door into a world removed from my Italian family,

its aroma of tomato sauce bubbling on the stove,

of rosemary and mint growing outside the back door,

bread baking in the oven.


The world those teachers gave me was one I wanted.

In books, I could find the way

to leave the skin I was born in,

the constraints of my immigrant world,


and entered the place where language

lifted me up and carried me away.


I hope this poem speaks to other people who also learned to love the way the language sounded when read aloud and learned to speak through writing when they couldn't articulate what they felt inside to have conversations as I could not, because I was so shy.

Botteron: In that poem, you say that "The poems and stories read aloud to us in the dusty classroom of PS 18 in Paterson, New Jersey, had a music that lifted me up above the scarred desks, names and hearts carved into them by generations of children bored with what, for many of them, must have been the torture of hours sitting still." Could you say more about what you mean by "music" there? Is there a danger that fewer will hear that music today because of all the distractions around us, such as the constant temptation of social media?

Gillan: When I say music, I mean that in a poem, there is a kind of interior music that carries you along- at least it's music that I can hear. Certainly, Italian has its own kind of music because it is my first language. I will always love the sound of it; but English opened so many doors for me and led me to worlds I could not have imagined when I was a child. If you close your eyes and you listen to a point where out loud you hear a rhythm and a sound, it helps you to memorize the poem in order to carry it with you. For me, even when I revise poems, I have to read them out loud to hear when the sound falls flat. It helps me to revise the poem. I also find it helpful when working with my students, to assist them with revisions, if I read the poem out loud so they can hear where it goes off.

There is a constant temptation today to spend so many hours on social media. I think it's not just that we don't listen to poetry being read out loud, but that we don't read. I would suggest to students who are not particularly fond of reading that they might want to get audio books and listen to them in the car. The more you get to hear the language, the more it becomes a part of your body. The more it becomes a part of that instinctive place where poems come from, the more you will be changed by the writing and by what the writer is trying to tell you.

Botteron: Near the end of your poem "Moll Flanders, Zia Louisa, and Me," also first published in the inaugural issue of Here: a poetry journal, you say, "The world does not need to know; it only wants to pretend nothing is wrong, nothing is wrong." Is this poem based on a true experience? If so, how did learning this about your aunt impact you?

Gillan: Yes, the Moll Flanders poem is based on a true experience. My aunt and uncle lived upstairs from us on 17th St. in Paterson, New Jersey. My aunt always put on a brave face. She was so full of life and laughter, but part of that was a smokescreen to hide what was really going on in her life. Knowing that made me realize that so much is hidden in our lives because we are afraid to let other people know about our suffering. In fact, if people really want to know about the good that poetry does for us, it is that poems allow us to peel away the layers that we use to protect ourselves, the masks we wear because we're afraid. I learned from my poems how painful it is to keep so much hidden.


Moll Flanders, Zia Louisa, and Me

Ah, Moll Flanders, of all the characters

in those novels I read when I was still young and in grad school,

it's you I remember,

flamboyant, sensual, in love with life.


You always looked for the "Main Chance"

and I, who can barely remember a name

five minutes after I hear it, remember yours.


I knew you were self-serving, but I loved

that you never lied about it,

that you never made excuses for your behavior,


and I imagine you trying to make your way

in 17th-Century England, where a woman on her own

would have been vulnerable and afraid.


You remind me of my Zia Louisa,

that woman who married four times,

that woman who wore

a tan-colored corset with lace stays

that had to be pulled tight to hold in

her large breasts and belly,

that woman who loved to dance the tarantella,

her whole body exhilarating

in moving and stomping.


And though I know Moll only through a male writer's portrayal,

I know Zia Louisa from my childhood,

knew her from watching her move

like an iron-sided battleship through life,

past three dead husbands and onto a fourth,

handsome, elegant Zio Guillermo.


They lived in the small apartment above us

on 17th Street in Paterson, New Jersey.

My mother told me that in the night she'd hear

Zia Louisa crying, but in the morning

she'd come down the back steps,

her cotton dress stiff with starch,

her lace handkerchief tucked in her sleeve,

and she'd be smiling and laughing.


She never told my mother

what sorrow she carried hidden in her sleeve.


The world does not need to know;

it only wants to pretend nothing is wrong,

nothing is wrong, and you are mistaken

if you think you heard wild sobbing

in the night.


Botteron: Do you ever fear that you will run out of childhood memories to write about?

Gillan: Actually, I don't think I'll ever run out of memories to write about. Our lives are so layered, so full of the people we've loved and lost, the times that we miss, the things we regret. The older I get, the more I remember and I try to keep those details as though they were pressed flowers in a book and I use them in my poems to bring a time and a place or person back to life.

Botteron: Do you believe in inspiration? If so, what people or experiences have impacted you the most?

Gillan: Yes, I believe in inspiration, but I think that inspiration comes not because you ask it to, but because it wants to. I think you have to sit your behind in a chair and you have to allow yourself to write. And it doesn't have to start out as a poem. It can start out as a journal entry or just random notes and suddenly, before you realize it, the muse arrives and brings you a poem almost on a silver platter. It's a wonderful thing about poetry, that it comes to you when you are least deserving.


photo by Molly Shanahan

Kileen Gilroy is a 7th-grade English teacher at Lincoln Public Schools (RI). She teaches mindfulness techniques, creative writing, and experiential learning opportunities that advocate for students finding their own voices in traditional classrooms. She recently earned an M.A. in Holistic Leadership from Salve Regina University. She is also a graduate of Eastern Connecticut State University.

Kileen's poem "Many Lives" appeared in the inaugural issue of Here: a poetry journal in 2017.

The poem is reprinted here in its entirely and is followed with an interview that Eastern student Courtney Botteron conducted with her via email in January 2018

Many Lives
by Kileen Gilroy

My boss, who was once
the best at what I do,
with a jean jacket, long ponytail
and metal bracelets stacked up
strong arms that flip bottles
and pour shots of Maker's Mark to fishermen
coming from the Point
with their pockets full of cash
from dragging scup and squid
below the ocean's belly,
tells me, between a drag from his cigarette
sticking to his bottom lip,
that people like us,
who do what we do,
live many lives.

After I ride my horse,
take my dog for a walk along the ocean shore,
and finish applying for another teaching job,
I step behind the bar at 5 o'clock
with ripped jeans just grazing the tops of my thighs
and a ribbed tank top showing just enough
of my belly button ring--
a dangling arrowhead hanging
between trouble and desire.

I see the way you look at me,
thinking you might want to stay for another,
get to know me better,
kiss my soft mouth,
or ask me to dance
because you like the way I move as I shuffle
between steps and your salty words,
knowing how your wife would kill you
if she knew who you really were.

You ask me for a shot of Wild Turkey Honey,
and I step to the left,
reach the top shelf on my tippy toes,
drop the shot glass on the bar top,
pour with my right hand,
take your money with my left,
let my fingers move free on the computer screen.

Maybe, just maybe,

I'll pull back my hair
and wink at you.


Botteron: Was your poem "Many Lives" geared toward those freshly out of college or towards any audience who would listen?

Gilroy: Like all of my work, "Many Lives" wasn't geared towards any particular audience. I write more as an expression of myself and experiences. If the audience can relate to the content or the work resonates with them, that's a bonus in my mind. I write with intention, but I also believe in not attaching expectations or outcomes to the work. However, "Many Lives" is a special piece to me because of the many layers it has and its power to connect with audiences of all walk of life.

Botteron: Your poem "Many Lives "discusses your job as a bartender right out of college. What emotions from this poem are you hoping are portrayed?

Gilroy: The emotions of piece are more prominent in some areas, yet also hold a common thread throughout. The poem begins with the conversation with my boss, which always felt more like the "father/daughter" talk you have when you are trying to figure out the next step. At this point in the piece I was feeling complacent, frustrated, and really unsure of my life path. Despite trying to keep myself active and inspired, I still ended up at the bar every night. Sometimes in life, we have to do things or live many lives before we really find where we are meant to be. However, the poem shifts from this slow impatience towards action and the present moment, where I leave my authentic life and enter this world where I have a persona; the light and dark sides of me. I believe the final emotion is intuitive--knowing that something is not truly you, but playing the part anyway and taking on that role. The poem begins with a sense of powerlessness, an uncertainty of the future, but despite that shows strong emotions towards the end as the speaker takes back power with confidence and seduction.

Botteron: What advice do you have for Senior English majors who are scared about their futures?

Gilroy: My advice is it's okay to be scared. You never know the ways the pen and creativity will manifest. It's important to stay true to the craft, but also not solely invest in just your writing. Explore the other ways writing can be used in careers--collaborate and involve yourself in projects and, once you accomplish something, always look for the next step, the next level of growth. It's good and healthy to reminiscence. I loved college, but I never truly wish I was back there. When we wish we were living in the past, to me, it is a sign to look inside the self, see where you are in the present and where you are going; that's my gauge. The other piece of advice is whenever you are given an opportunity, no matter how small, take it and also understand that you have to make your own opportunities, especially in regards to writing.

Botteron: When was this poem composed? What in your mind demanded it to be written?

Gilroy: This poem really came to me. I composed it out of nowhere when I hadn't written in a while. I had another piece that was part of a gallery exhibit in Wickford, RI, and I just felt compelled to write this and share it that night. There are some poems I have worked years on, and then there are others, like "Many Lives," that just come to me. I've been really lucky, but at the same time, to me it is just an affirmation that poetry has always been a natural part of me.

Botteron: Do you believe in inspiration? If so, what customers from the bar inspired this poem and do you still think of the impact they had on you?

Gilroy: I 100% believe in inspiration, and more so, believe in staying inspired. Inspiration can come from an influential person in your life, but also one conversation with a stranger. Always stay open to the words and lessons others have to teach you. I always feel like everyone says something so poetic at times, they don't even realize it; I keep my ear open to this and when I hear something, I write it down. Those were real words from my boss that really stuck with me.

This piece wasn't just about one person who came into the bar, but one of the many scenarios I have experienced. Whether we are the patron, the boss, or the bartender, we all are living and have lived many lives. The bar often only shows one of them, or maybe there is only room for one to take over. I was also inspired by the True/ Authentic Self and the False Self, the light and dark aspects of who we are and this idea of "shedding" past lives to evolve. It reminded me of reincarnation and our ability to always begin again and not stay confined in where or who we currently are. My customers still have an impact on my life, positive and negative, large and small. Some are still my friends, and some are lessons in life. This is one aspect of my experience, but this poem has also ignited a spark in me to continue to work with the other facets surrounding this topic.