Poet and author Mary Mackey’s new collection of poetry, Sugar Zone, has just been released and she has graciously agreed to an interview. I have chosen to break the interview into three segments to allow time to consider her responses and open dialog between Mary and you. She and I both hope that you will join in with comments.
One of the poems that really touched me, The Drowning Boys, has been reproduced in the sidebar. I’d like to thank Mary for allowing me to post a poem with an ending stanza took my breath away.
Lisa: Why did you decide to mix English and Portuguese in some of the poems? Weren’t you concerned that this would put off readers who didn’t speak Portuguese?
Mary: The majority of the poems in Sugar Zone are in plain English, but I love to play with language, I love the musical sound of Portuguese, and I wanted to surprise and delight my readers, so I decided to write some poems that contained Portuguese words. If you don’t speak Portuguese, the trick is to ignore these words or treat them as if they were a chant or an incantation. I have made sure that every poem in Sugar Zone can be read as if it were written only in English. I proofread all the poems that contained Portuguese words twice: once with the Portuguese and once without it—so each of these poem is really two poems. On the other hand, if you do speak Portuguese or any other Romance language like Spanish, you’ll be treated to subtle levels of meaning which enhance and deepen the poems. Almost all the poems that contain Portuguese words are in the first section of the book and some of these only contain a word or two.
Lisa: There’s a mysterious character named Solange who appears in many of these poems. Who is Solange and why is she showing up all the time?
Mary: Solange is meant to be mysterious. She may be a goddess or a powerful witch, a muse, a lost lover, perhaps even an incarnation of the my own wilder side. There’s a spirit-like quality to her. Solange is unpredictable, full of passion, not afraid of danger. She takes crazy risks. She’s very much her own woman. She’s a survivor. Solange walked into the poems out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting her.
Lisa: Poet Dennis Nurske has compared you to other “visionary poets” of exile and displacement such as Henri Michaux, Sharon Doubiagio, and Lorca. Is this a fair comparison? Are you a “visionary” poet? If so, what does that mean?
Mary: I believe in coherence, reason, and craft, but I also think of myself as a visionary poet because much of my writing is inspired by visions, hallucinations, dreams, and brief glimpses of a world very different than the one we usually see. Many visionary poets (like the French poet Rimbaud) get to this state by using drugs and alcohol. I don’t use drugs; I don’t even drink. But ever since I was a small child, I have run very high fevers. When you run a fever above 105 degrees, you see things other people don’t see. You stop feeling sick and miserable and start feeling ecstatic. Perhaps it’s only Nature preparing us for a painless death, but having a very high fever gives you something that resembles a religious experience. I’ve found parallels to what I’ve experienced during such fevers in the writings of mystics like Saint John of the Cross and Saint Theresa of Avila. As with all mystical experiences, you can never really put what happened in words, but I keep trying. My previous collection of poetry was entitled Breaking The Fever. In it, I also wrote about fever visions.
Such visions show up in my novels too, but not as often as in my poetry. For example, I wrote three novels about the goddess-worshipping cultures of Old Europe (The Year The Horses Came, The Horses At the Gate, and The Fires of Spring). All three contain dreams, rituals, mystical visions, and other kinds of direct contact with the Divine. I also teach courses in Women’s Visionary Film, and Women’s Visionary Fiction and Poetry.
Thanks Mary; Part 2 to follow.