The Habitual Poet: Maureen Alsop
Saturday, April 2, 2011 at 10:41PM
Lalanii R. Grant in The Habitual Poet

Installment #56

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The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to: 

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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?

A: Books seem to fall all about me; I don’t need to search very hard.  I love my handmade books from Cannibal Press, and also my closet full of self made books even from when I was a child.  Ephemeral, rare, old books.  Books with torn corners, lead pressed books or books with old library dust jackets.  Also any books that seem forgotten or discarded are my friends.  I like to think of books in multiple dimensions, as living organisms where I can feel the press of language, the scent of mold, strong spines.


Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?

A: Each page is more sun worn than the last.


Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)

A: On the john, in the bath, in bed, in the car, at my desk, anywhere I go except at the movies where it’s dark, I generally have some book or pages or poems on me somewhere or another…


Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?

A: Returned to some old friends and thinking about letters… Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Thomas McGrath’s Letters to Imaginary Friend, Thomas James Letters to Strangers, Matthew Henriksen’s Ordinary Sun.  And a handful of journals recently arrived in the mail (what luxury!)…


Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?

A: Light on Yoga, and my friend, photographer, Linda Troeller’s Self Portrayal, Chelsea Hotel Atmosphere, Healing Waters and The Erotic Lives of Women.


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Q: When, where, how do you write, and why? (i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)

A: Any time the right words come, which can often be the wrong time…while falling asleep, driving, during a meeting etc. Lately, I am especially inspired to listen while my mother speaks, and have been recording her on video as well as in notebooks.  I have scraps of paper all over the place.


Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?

A:  It all varies based on my time, energy, and inspiration.  That said, I have a running commitment with two friends from my MFA days at Vermont College.  We post three poems to each other on every full moon; come hell or high water I try and stay up with that.  We’ve been consummate with this exchange for at least five steady years.


Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?

A:  I revise as I write.  Language is liquid.


Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

A: The timer on my Easy Bake Oven goes off. Of course.


Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?

A:  Always.  The entire world, all of life is an invitation.  Each person you pass on the street can be a new friend, each moment is the opportunity for a new experience, writing requires closing off as much as opening up.  There are many many invitations, events, travels, an entirely parallel life that is subjected when one chooses to write.  Of course writing offers it’s own adventure, and keeping the energy open to write is a wonderful outlet for one’s life force.


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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

A:  There is no system.


Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?

A: I’m always shocked by quick responses, and recently (was it yesterday?) received a quick thumbs up/acceptance from Barrier Island Review for a poem.  Thank you Rebecca.


Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?

A: Usually I will be struck by something I read whether it’s online or in print and then will be spurred to send my work to that journal.  I like it all.


Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)

A:  No comment.


Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?

A:  I remember a suitor in college created this beautiful little hand mirror for me once.  He created these little papery birds and etched a sweet line about flying behind the glass. 



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Practical considerations


Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?

A: I delineate my writing from my daily work.  I’m sure there is some sort of subconscious impact, but I don’t really care to analyze it.


Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?

A: Well, my significant other is the most generous and supportive man I could imagine.  He makes me coffee each morning, listens to a poem when I occasionally ask him to, and has a great curiosity and passion for life, so is always generous in his zeal.  His multi-fold occupation, his being a great human being, affects my momentum, love, and appreciation.


Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?

A: Probably.  I don’t know if “couldn’t” is a word I would ever apply to myself.  “Wouldn’t” or “didn’t” is more likely.  Generally I aim to enjoy writing, which means exploring language without pressure.


Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

A:   I tried one for the first time this year.  I guess it’s a good idea.  Increasing consciousness is always useful.


Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)

A: Suffering? Ouch. I’d prefer not to.



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Random nonsense


Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)

A:  I’m working on the trifecta: transcendence, transformation, and transgression.  In no particular order, all at once in fact.


Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:

a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address

b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed

c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)

A: d.) Do none of the above; instead you: Do all of the above, crying throughout the entire experience.


Q: If the best medical specialists in the world told you that if you didn’t give up your poetry habit today you would die in six months, would you get your affairs in order or would you leave that up to your family?

A:   Affairs are always messy.  Goodbye sadness (Tristeza)!


Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?

A: O. It’s the most beautiful, complete, primitive… so natural & surprising. O!  Oooooo!!!  Plus it is the foundation, the root, and the universal sound of beginning… as in OM. Owl, Oceanic…. Oh my my.


Q: Finally, what piece of advice would you most like to share with our readers? (This can be on writing, the writing life, or anything else...)

A: Be faithful to your imagination beyond all.


Maureen Alsop is the associate editor of Poemeleon Online Journal. Her poems have appeared or are pending in various publications including: Agni, New Delta Review, Tampa ReviewBarrow Street, Typo, Cafe Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, and Texas Review. Her poetry has been thrice nominated for the Pushcart Prize; she is the recipient of Harpur Palate's Milton Kessler Memorial Prize for Poetry, Eleventh Muse' Poetry Award, and Bitter Oleander's Francis Locke Memorial Prize in Poetry. She is the author of two chapbooks, Nightingale Habit, and Origin of Stone; her full collection of poetry, Apparition Wren was recently released from Main Street Rag Press. 

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