You are sitting beneath the shade of a coral curtain. The curtain was created by ‘we’ hand-strung ornaments, balanced from sandy trees in the Far East. In the Western hemisphere of the world ‘I’ stretch out my legs on a plush Ikea perch, making sure to check if ‘I’ have enough. Carbon dioxide cartridges for my home made sparkling mineral beverage, for example. Take a step away from the romanticization of these images and ask yourself the following. Does patriarchal structure and commodification depend on its cultural configuration? How does self and subjugation interplay in the conversation? Does identity depend on its soil? We converse today with Maria Garcia Teutsch: a writer whose journey in this interview begins as a young girl planter of wishes.
Teutsch now, self-ascribed as “southern-protestant-pacifist-radical-chicana-feminist-super-pussy-take-no-crap-offa-nobody-no-how-type-of-writer,” is a well-traveled poet, mother, wife, teacher, community builder devoted to “helping artists get their stuff out there.” We speak to her about America’s open markets and how language is “shaped into the image of its maker”. The message is not always easy for readers to digest because of the origin of the earth. She admits, “part of the beauty of poetry is that I can break language down and let it do the work.” Here we glimpse how revolution occurs every day, pronounces and obscures the inscriptions of our cultural framework, and how we learn to respect the nuances of that glass of water.
Teutsch’s most recent work, the focus of this profile, The Revolution Will have its Sky, is the recent winner of the 2014 Minerva Rising chapbook competition. The collection contemplates existential notions of the self. She tells us, “we little beings do all we can to change the world, and the effort is worth it, but don’t confuse good work with importance.” The focus of this book is about “women as subject, object, and ruler.” Here we “invert the social order and in the end, the madame becomes queen. Queen of what? The social order is still patriarchal, the war machine still goes on, but the revolution, well, that may have just begun.” Let us applaud and take part. In the revolution.
Maria Garcia Teutsch is a poet and editor. She has published over 20 journals of poetry as editor-in-chief of the Homestead Review, published by Hartnell College in Salinas, and Ping-Pong journal of art and literature, published by the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California. She teaches poetry and creative writing online. She serves as president of the board of the Henry Miller Memorial Library.
photo credit : Debi Lorenc : http://debilorenc.zenfolio.com/
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?
My first inspiration came at age 3 or 4. I wanted to write a letter to god to see if I could get a pony because my father’s stone agenda did not permit the getting of ponies for young girls. I knelt in the back yard with my mother’s silver spoon, dug a hole and planted my letter. What I knew about god at that point was that when you died you were buried and then shot straight up to god’s presence. I figured my pre-literate letter would also find an audience in the divine presence. Still waiting for that pony. Then in fourth grade I became infatuated with Helen Keller, Elizabeth Farnsworth, Anne Frank, Susan B. Anthony and finally, Emily Dickinson. I still love Emily Dickinson.
2.) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?
Every woman who has struggled and come before me has inspired me. I loved Anne Frank early on, also Sylvia Plath. I realized the power of the written word through Anne Frank’s diary. Sylvia Plath taught me how to see. Anne Sexton, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, these women shaped my poetics. I also love Lillian Hellman and Anais Nin. Then Patti Smith and Laurie Anderson. These were all my early influences, some kick ass women, no?
3.) How has your own work changed over time and why?
Well, I have been writing seriously since the 6th grade, so it’s gotten a lot less sappy. Like most beginning writers, I used to only write when I felt depressed, or when the muse arrived on my doorstep. Now I don’t have time to wait for anyone, I just write when I have time. I try to be disciplined and write at least once each day.
4.) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?
I have definitely been influenced by music. I can be listening to Radiohead on my way to work and compose an opera which comes out as a poem. I listen to Beethoven and fragments of scenes flow out of me. I love physics, actually married a physicist, and the world of the sciences definitely influences my understanding of poetry. If I am writing a poem about water, I research water vocabulary. I read reports by hydro-geologists. If I am writing about birds, I read up on their habitat. I love the specificity of language. I almost always do a bit of research when I write. I am also influenced by plays. I love to create worlds, scene by scene.
5.) What are your plans for the future?
I have spent a large portion of my life supporting other artists. Most of my spare time and energy have always gone into helping artists get their stuff out there. I serve as EIC of two literary journals, The Homestead Review and Ping-Pong journal of art and literature. I also serve as president of the board of the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, California, which is a cultural arts center. I have reached a point now where I am willing to pull back and focus on publishing my own work, spending the time I need to write, edit and publish my own stuff. I have never felt an ego-attachment to publishing, I mean, two of my biggest heroes saw very little published in their lifetime: Emily and Anais. I think it’s easy to get published these days. In an interview I did with Alice Notley she said, “there are a lot of people out there calling themselves poets.” I think this is true. I don’t write to be published, that will surely come after I die (ahem), I write because if I didn’t I’d spontaneously combust.
I recently won a chapbook contest for an obscure group of poems, The Revolution Will have its Sky. Heather McHugh chose my book. Now that’s kind of cool. I like her poetry a lot. So there’s this community out there that I love. It’s part of why I write, to enter into this often insane conversation with likeminded individuals. So I plan to keep writing, publishing, and also publishing others, but in a different capacity than as EIC of two journals.
6.) What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?
Well, there are some great writers out there. I love Sharon Olds, Brenda Hillman, Lucille Clifton, Louise Gluck, Alice Notley, Anne Carson, Gloria Anzaldua, Joy Harjo, Kim Addonizio, Diana Garcia, Anne Waldman. I love poetry of social consciousness, or poetry that’s just fucking smart. I write because I want to enter into a conversation with these amazing artists. I want to talk flowers with Louise Gluck, I want to talk about social injustice with Lucille Clifton, I want to talk about pre-Columbian goddesses with Joy Harjo, and about Greek mythology with Anne Carson. I want to beat a drum with Anne Waldman. I see something beautiful in their writing and want to share it, or because I see an injustice and I want to rectify it, or at least cast a light on it. These women have all written words that have changed the world, or at least, their portion of it. Their words matter to me.
7.) Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?
There are too many to name, but let me try. I see thousands of poems a year but some stand out: Christine Hamm, Cynthia Cruz, J. Hope Stein, Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Brenda Coultas, Joanna Fuhrman, Eleni Sikelianos, Matthea Harvey, Laura Kasischke, Tracy K. Smith, Jennifer K. Sweeney, Amy Lawless, and Carmen Gimenez Smith. There’s more, I suck, I can’t remember everyone.
8.) If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be
9.) In your series of worldwide headlines under the title Not a Psalm, each line juxtaposes conversing thoughts such as: “Teenager sells kidney for an IPad.” And “Baby sick, baby sick, baby sick. His father would have given them the finger.” As readers we question how much the language of commodity illusively buries itself into syntactical equations. Often we forget that the language of math and science is built in the marketing of manipulative vernacular. How do you believe the trinity of technology, media and historical structures of thought is built to externalized syntactical structures of speech? Take for example auto correct, which mimics the personal culture of one’s own writing tendencies and learning the pools of our minds. Do these equations change the projection of our thoughts and are they under political and societal influences? What do you believe our capitalist driven ideologies are doing to language and notions of love and intimacy?
Wow, this question is like a dissertation. I don’t think I’m smart enough to answer it, but here goes. I can be a conspiracy theorist when it comes to commodifying just about everything: America makes wars to open markets, corporations are bigger than governments and shape policy etc. I mean, it only makes sense that our very language should be shaped into the image of its maker: Google. My headline poems are difficult for some readers, because they want to talk about what they know about these countries instead of looking at the issues of the poems. It is hard because as an American I also carry the baggage of the industrial war complex on my back. No matter that I am a lefty-pacifist. I travel extensively and have lived overseas, and let me just say, as an American I am often looked at through a narrow lens. Part of the beauty of poetry is that I can break language down and let it do the work. The headlines are real, but what it evokes from me as a poet is something I don’t think about, I just write it down. In the line you quote above about “his father would have given them the finger,” well, that’s a reference to North Korea’s Kim Jung-un. There’s no way a reader of this piece will get that reference, and yet it is there all the same. I remember Bob Dylan saying he doesn’t ever tell folks what his songs mean, because they mean something different for everyone, especially the writer.
10.) The following poem is taken from the same collection, this time under the title “Headlines from the United States”. The poem reads:
Boy Scouts’ say kids safer from abuse in Scouts than at home
in a house
where mothers make
from Scouts’ abuse of mothers
I have been thinking of our notions of self and subject. How self-narration is interconnected to the passions: desire, rage, love, and grief. And to confront these senses, in this case trauma, illustrates how self-subjugation can ignore the passions we seek to face. How do you view self and subject? Can you describe how this prism shifts culture to culture? And do you believe that we are able to alter this cyclical phenomenon?
I view self and subject as object and obstacle. I am quite the existentialist when it comes to the notions of self. Or, like Richard Wright, a naturalist. We little beings do all we can to change the world, and the effort is worth it, but don’t confuse good work with importance. In Asia, where I lived for a number of years, it is “we” in America it is “I.” Total paradigm shift. I am not saying one is better than the other, but it changes one’s worldview significantly. If we want to alter this cyclical phenomenon we can, through our words. Change is always possible.
11.) My last question centers on your chapbook, The Revolution Will Have its Sky. The series of poems are based on underlined sections of Jean Genet’s play,The Balcony. As we traverse from character to scene to character, themes, namely a mirror encapsulates a revolution. The revolution is slighted by the mirror. In “The Brothel Trick” we read, “Time to start over again. / Places a watch between / Her breasts. Jewels are / the only thing that’s real. / Life is a brothel trick, no, / one long funeral trick.” Where does the feminine voice find balance in that of her body in one of empowerment and or subjugation? Is the nature of the mirror argument a patriarchal trap, and if so, how do you believe that we can change the structure of the revolution to empower both the real of the body, of the self, and also how it participates in the cross stiches of culture?
Funny you should ask. I recently won the Minerva Rising chapbook competition for this very collection. Heather McHugh was the judge. When I submitted my manuscript it was with this descriptor: My collection is about women as subject, object, and ruler. The poems are inspired by Jean Genet’s play, The Balcony. My collection centers on women who are the subjects of male fantasy, but who invert the social order and in the end, the madame becomes queen. Queen of what? The social order is still patriarchal, the war machine still goes on, but the revolution, well, that may have just begun. Here’s to revolution in all of its varied manifestations.