The Colorado Poet, #27, Summer 2014

Interview: Mary Crow

Addicted to the Horizon
(CW Books, 2012)

Bob King:  Mary, your fifth book is about “travel”, in a way but there’s something else at work here. You do give us vivid images of different places but your language seems to move into something deeper than mere travel, recording something more personally important than exotic local color. The main theme, of course, is contained in your title. How do you take your title and this approach to the horizon that avoids the approach of the tourist-poet
or the great-places syndrome?

Mary Crow: For me, the horizon symbolizes something beyond the beyond I can see, something wondrous with both the human monuments we have constructed out of our ingenuity and artistry but also the ruins we have created out of our narrow mindedness and menace. I’m fascinated by the ancient idea of the Seven Wonders of the World, which are all in ruins, many

already in ancient times fallen or defaced.

The Taliban blew up a giant Buddha laboriously hacked out of a stone wall. The marble columns of Green temples were carted away to be used in other constructions. For me, the horizon refers to the physical world and to the world of the imagination, the world of the spirit. It beckons with the promise of discovery and adventure yet also the certainty of disillusionment, corruption.

I have a hunger for the place you can’t get to from here.

To quote my book, I have a “hunger,/. . . for the place you can’t get to from here.” This is the place beyond the personal, beyond egotism (“beyond the I-am”). There the self discusses options and presents “arguments for solitude” in the
search for a proper “self-shape.”

BK: One of the themes I feel inside many of these poems is a matter of relationships, of absent ones, of past ones. Men are referred to (a violinist, “the most beautiful man,” the “you” who’s not there at the top of a Ferris wheel) but not autobiographically, not focused upon. Again, there seems to something else at work here that’s different from someone being in a foreign place and feeling nostalgic about someone. There’s an especially poignant moment in a poem where “You dip into / and out of the crowd, flitting across / a roomful of strangers. The rest of your life.” Your reaction to this?

MC: As the cliché has it, we all die alone. Yet we all also seek connection to soften that inevitability. I’m interested in how relationships seem to promise kindness; they too often deliver cruelty. How can the act of love become an act of rape? How can the family be the site of abuse? The Couple can be a symbol of forces played out in society—whether it’s made up of two friends or two lovers (homosexual or heterosexual). At least so it seems to me, and I am interested in exploring the concomitant issues, the solitude of the artist, unrequited love, the longed for ideal, etc.

BK: “Does language transform?” you ask in one poem. In another, you note that “travel a form / of extinction / unravels speech / into atoms…” How do you experience language and the writing of poetry while in non-English countries. And, of course, you’ve translated  Orozco, Teillier, and Juarroz, so how does both your experience in travel and in translating poetry affect your poetry in English?

MC: Yes, language transforms. Certainly learning a foreign language is a direct experience of that transformation in which another language seems almost to produce another you.

A similar kind of transformation goes on in a language native to its speaker. What we choose to say/write can be our attempt to discover truth or our attempt to hide behind lies. But this statement is an over-simplification; so many forces, internal and external are acting on us that, often without our awareness. And we embody so many selves talking at once.

BK: You have available a range of style regarding the line. In one poem you can use a standard longish English line (“for we kept clambering up, past rammed earth, / walls stuccoed and white-washed, while doors- stayed closed and we kept on wearing our bodies/). In another, you can use crisp short lines (“What little cap? / What woman’s coat?/ Listen to that church bell / complaining about the time.”). In another every double-spaced line is a single sentence. In another, the lines are double-spaced but the enjambment runs on.  What’s your sense of how you choose the rhythm and form of any particular poem?

Form seems to me to be inherent in poems to some degree. After I draft a poem, I try to discover that form. 

MC: Form seems to me to be inherent in poems to some degree. After I draft a poem, I try to discover that form. Lineation and rhythm express mood, personality, idea. I think I’m trying to use form to convey these things to the reader.

BK: One poem is titled “Linear Perspective,” another “Flying Perspective,” Another “Depression Perspective.’ These make me play with the varying levels of the word “perspective,” from the most obvious physical one to the emotional/intellectual meaning and maybe beyond. What do you do with, or think about, this word perspective?

I seem to be writing poems in series in recent years: prose poems, Alma and Gustav Mahler poems, love poems.

MC: I seem to be writing poems in series in recent years: prose poems, Alma and Gustav Mahler poems, love poems. I wrote the Perspective series in a burst several years ago, and I think they express, or most of them, a kind of bitter mood I was in so that the word “perspective” takes on, for me, a tone of irony.