Interview with Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Maria Mazziotti GillanThis interview with Maria Mazziotti Gillan is the fourth in a series with the featured poets for the 2013 Massachusetts Poetry Festival (May 3 – 5 in Salem).  Each interview is accompanied by a poem, featured in the left column under “Poem of the Moment.” Maria’s poem is Public School No.18, Paterson, New Jersey

From your perspective, what does poetry contribute to a satisfying life?
Poetry contributes to a satisfying life because it teaches us how to be human and to treasure the connections between ourselves and others. I find that it’s comforting for me to read poetry and to open that door into someone else’s feelings and life; I hope others feel the same way about my poetry. I have poems that I’ve memorized  that I carry with me in my mind; when I’m upset, I recite the poems I love aloud to myself.

What got you hooked on poetry? How old were you then?
I grew up in a home where English was not spoken so when I went to school, I was happy to learn English and to listen to the teachers who read poems and stories aloud to us. I came to love the music of English, to respond to what it made me feel and think. I was seven when teachers read to us, and I started to write poetry of my own about that time. My first poem was published when I was thirteen, and though it was awful, it was very exciting to have it accepted for publication.

What spurs you to write? Do you write daily?
I write every day. I’ve been keeping a journal since I was thirteen, and I start to write about something I’ve read or something I’m feeling, and before I know what’s happening I’m writing a poem. I write a great deal, but some of it goes into my failed poems file, which at this point in my life is very large.

In the last ten years, how have you seen poetry change?
I think there has been a deep division in American poetry between narrative poets and language poets. These are two very different poetic traditions, and there are battles going on between the two camps. I always think it’s wonderful that people care deeply enough about poetry to fight over what it should be. I am solidly in the narrative poetry camp, and at the same time, I can love surreal poetry and language, sound focused poetry, although I no longer write that type of poetry myself.

What do you find most interesting about a large poetry get-togethers, such as the Massachusetts Poetry Festival?
I think large poetry gatherings like the Mass Poetry Festival are wonderful because they create excitement about poetry. It’s like a  big rock festival except it’s celebrating words and feelings and story. It is not an academic exercise but rather a joyful celebration of the way poetry can move ordinary people to laughter or tears.