Constellatory impressions of self, need “[agents] for energy [shifts]” in relationships. Maureen Alsop is a poet who sifts through the “imprints, subtle accumulations of a personal, yet collective landscape.” She expresses, “The YOU I refer to is always multilayered. You, the stranger. You, my father. You, deceased. You, who go on living. I know you; you know me/ not. You are whispered of. You am I and I am you.” And here, the “fractal patterns in nature suggest,” interpersonal relationships “theoretically [as] institution [are] easily a miscarriage. Relationships are powerful”. We manifest self-reflections of choice motivated in life. This energy is an “act which, in consequence, forces a form of ‘self as installation.’ I am a walking, breathing relic of my departed tribe.” We are subtle accumulations; relics of our past, present, and transformative future tribes.
Maureen Alsop, Ph.D. is the author of, Mantic (Augury Books), Apparition Wren (Main Street Rag), and several chapbooks, most recently a blade of grass made bare by its own anatomy (Blue Hour Press), Luminal Equation in the collection Narwhal (Cannibal Press), the dream and the dream you spoke (Spire Press), and 12 Greatest Hits (Pudding House, pending). Additional chapbooks include Nightingale Habit (Finishing Line Press) and Origin of Stone. Maureen is an associate poetry editor for the online journal Poemeleon and Inlandia: A Literary Journal. She presently leads a creative writing workshop for the Inlandia Institute, the Riverside Art Museum, and The Rooster Moans.
1.) What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?
I don’t think I desired to be a writer; I sort of couldn’t help it. Favorite writers have not changed for me. I still love and return to D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Porter, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemmingway, T.S. Eliot, Larry Levis, and many other writers. I also like reading random sources for ideas, books on symbolism; the Bible (though I’m hardly religious) is a great source text. There are some beautiful poems and language in those testaments.
2.) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career? Too many to name…
3.) How has your own work changed over time and why? I used to obsess on narrative aspects of poetry. I think this was because I was keenly aware that I was a “closet anti-narrative anarchist.” I still believe that poetry is often sacrificed to fiction. Eventually I figured out how to wed my antithesis. I worked at that to some satisfaction (narration). It’s like learning a technique. Not that I’ve mastered narration, but I understand it’s mechanics well enough, respect the human tendency for story, and appreciate my own way of thinking. Now I can allow the structure of my poems to fall away just enough to see where my poem’s scaffolding supports it’s own rawness.
4.) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how? I’m highly visual. So visual imagery whether it’s a physical landscape I am standing in, a film, a painting, these effect my psyche and shift my approach to language by inexplicable means. I remember experiencing some “writer’s block” (which I don’t really believe in) a few summers ago so I decided to watch every Ingmar Bergman film I could lay my hands on as a source to write from. Very little writing trickled out, but recently I shared a poem with a friend and she felt that the poem was a reflection of Bergman’s Persona. The association shocked me. I believe in the power of the subconscious. Let your subconscious do the work and shut the thinking brain off. Be ready to write, always. I also have a steady awe for physicality. Getting into myself physically and also ‘getting out of the way of myself’ is a revelatory prowess. Physical practices: breath-work, bodywork, meditation are increasingly as important to me as my writing.
5.) What are your plans for the future? I’ve heard the phrase, “if you want fear, create a future.” In this transitional era, I’ve started to create a few projections—mostly finger-puppet shadows on a blank tableau. My intimations rework themselves without reference. Hawk’s flight-patterns frequently crowd my evenings.
6.) What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?
The New Yorker article indicating that women writers are less likely to be published than their male counterparts was extremely discouraging. Yet in our country, probably more than any other, we have more writers than we’ve ever had. I’m not sure really what to make of technological changes and trends. Movements are vast and rapid. Opportunities create optimism—our culture seems to promote both of these qualities in equal balance. Poetry circles have small drains in which to swirl/channel. I guess my view would be “do what you want to do, work at it, expect nothing, try to enjoy the process.” I don’t see any other choice or barrier beyond one’s own determination to grow. Maybe I’ll adapt a masculine pseudonym and watch my readership multiple (joke).
7.) Who are promising women writers to look at in the future? Hillary Gravendyk, Sarah Maclay, Amy Schroder, Elena Karina Byrne, Farrah Field, Bethany Ides (performer/artist), Louise Mathias, Carolyn Guinzio, Nicelle Davis, Lily Brown, Bronwyn Tate, Julia Cohen… there are many
8.) If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be? Anyone who writes poetry probably lives in an atypical reality; one’s imagination, self-possession, the requiescat ability to filter environmental influences, these are potent manifest allies. Call me crazy; call me Ishmael.
9.) The poem “Thumomancy” is titled and speaks to the divination to be inspired, not by God, but of soul. In corporeal form we are asked how the body is an immortal essence of self, foreseeing future events. We reevaluate the connection of body and passing, not from love, but humanity. A squirrel is majestic “constructing snow angels, turning your palms/ skyward, but the gesture/ of your hands were not holy. Tonight the oncoming/ boxcar whistles your unfolding.” Instead of an ideal future utopia the speaker gravitate to a past “you” in the form of a squirrel. Not the most flattering of flittering animals. Here “night has given me an addiction,” an “accident without origin.” An “unfolding” occurs within the soul as it collides with the collapse and ultimate death of the squirrel. Please extend these notions of the unfolding as they occur both in the death of the body of “you” and of the soul. Is the connection to the “other” through death? And if so, why is this poem in the middle of the book?
Well, as much as I have empathy for a squirrel, the little critter was an incidental sideline for the poem, not meant as the sole focal point. Though I am intrigued that the poem may be interpreted that way, and honor that interpretation so let me consider the squirrel… where s/he came from and what s/he means. I do remember one summer in Canada (we had a cottage on Lake Huron we visited annually) that a squirrel shimmed down the chimney, where he became trapped and died. Not a joyous occasion for my parents for sure. I felt that critter’s desperation, imagined myself trapped in the cottage, starving. There were tons of squirrels where I grew up. I could spend hours observing. I remember a painting I created of a squirrel that I was very proud of as a kid. When I moved to Australia, then California, there were no to very few such creatures. They are not my favorite animals necessarily, I’m not a big rodent fan, but I do love animals, so see them as a cousin.
Absence’s force unfolds, as you say, by multitudes. In relation to the poem, based on a divination by the means of one’s own soul, obviously there are some childhood references lurking. The beginning of life on the planet, the understanding of the means for being alive, the illumination of joy and it’s undercarriage/partner, sorrow. Creating snow angels. The sound of a distant train. A dead squirrel. These are all imprints, subtle accumulations of a personal, yet collective landscape. Soul, transgression’s agent for energy’s shift, seems a central preoccupation, thus a centerpiece poem.
The YOU I refer to is always multilayered. You, the stranger. You, my father. You, deceased. You, who go on living. I know you; you know me/ not. You are whispered of. You am I and I am you.
10.) “Epithalamium” is a poem where God is a coughing song embedded into the logos of a young girl. She awaits passively her confinement as she digests the language of His omission. The Epithalamium is a traditional Greek song in praise of a bride and groom on the way to their marital chamber. But the poem has a conflicting sentiment. “The small girl never looks up” as she wants to “kiss someone familiar,” instead “[staring] at a diagonal / scar down the wall,” staring just long enough to see Him. God is a hierarchical king in this ideology overpowering the girl without redemption. Traditional marriage here has no redemption. Does this reflect in your opinion our current marital conversations and how do you believe this logos and song needs to change to empower the partnership?
I love being married, but theoretically marriage as institution is easily a miscarriage. Relationships are powerful. However all these relationships and structures we develop are self-reflections. I do think marriage can be redeeming. In this poem, the speaker comes to terms with her marriage to life, which is also her marriage to death. It’s not exactly a poem one would hear at a traditional wedding, though I like to imagine that (a wedding in which everyone wears black, funerary right?…). The postulate is the question of death rather than marriage. People have a natural fear of death, which in itself is quite natural. The poem is an understanding, a marriage to death; this partnership is not exclusive. Intimate, yes. A profound, awakening? No. Probably equivalent to any other event (even as simple as flossing one’s teeth) signifying we are alive, small epiphanies; the light we cannot hide from is the same.
11.) Death and memory essence in “The Arrival of Memory”. The “soul inside soul wants to talk,” “later this fall will know you were not alive,” and a “voice that won’t drift keeps naming the water a blue afternoon.” In “Necromancy,” (a divination of one speaking to the dead) we read, “what finds you again is you,” “who find love in secret will not know the tremble of the body,” and “your hair will be filled with kisses, larkspur, birdseed. A crown of bees fill the mirror.” Can you please discuss this interlocution with the past, how the soul connects to memory, and where presence and clarity enrich the conversation?
If the soul exists it is transcendent. If we consider soul as life force, what transcends is our ancestral lineage through the mechanism of the body. Our DNA is as delicately positioned for survival, as it is destruction/ completion. Fractal patterns in nature suggest an end to any continuum. The imprint of this poem, as with many of the poems in the collection, Mantic, involved a repositioning of awareness into my father’s psyche. He passed away when I was seventeen, but his life (and unexpected death) resonates in my every fiber. Many of the poems were also written as my mom began to decline. She too has recently passed away. What remains is my animalistic longing to embody their energy; an act which, in consequence, forces a form of “self as installation.” I am a walking, breathing relic of my departed tribe.