Monday, April 23, 2007

Molly Lynn Watt: A poet who sheds light on "Shadow People"

Molly Lynn Watt: A poet who sheds light on “Shadow People”

Molly Lynn Watt, the gregarious host of the popular “Fireside Reading Series” in Cambridge, Mass. has recently released a collection of her own poetry “Shadow People” published by the Ibbetson Street Press of Somerville, Mass. Poets such as Fred Marchant (Director of the Poetry Center of Suffolk University—Boston), and Eva Bourke, the author of “The Latitude of Naples,” and an elected member of the Aosdana in Ireland, have praised her new collection. Watt has been a long-time educator of kids of all ages, she has been involved with educational publishing, and she writes personal essays and articles for a number of magazines. Watt with her husband Dan Watt and Tony Seletan produced a CD: “Songs and Letters of the Spanish Civil War.”

Doug Holder: You have been a writer in one form or the other for most of your life. You came to poetry late however. What took you so long?

Molly Lynn Watt: I am a very late comer to poetry. I accidentally came to it. I signed up for a career in memoir writing, but I didn’t get in. My back up course was poetry. It was at Harvard Extension. So I went to a poetry course, and I haven’t stopped since. This was about five years ago.

I did write poetry in college. We had a literary magazine and I had poems in it. But then… you know… I got pregnant, had to work, I was a single mother, etc... didn’t have the time.

DH: Can you talk about the CD you completed that consists of recitations and songs from your husband’s parents love letters during the time of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s?

MLW: It turns out there is such a thing as “reading theatre,” but I didn’t know there was such a
thing. My husband’s father was in the Spanish Civil War. This was before Hitler, and World War ll.
The idea of fighting a fascist like Franco was a strong one. George Watt, my father-in-law, went over to Spain like a lot of young men. He was a political commissar in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. He was a Communist when many people were. His wife Ruth was a pacifist and activist. They had quite a marvelous correspondence. We found the letters just recently. We had both sides of the exchange. Ruth was a wonderful writer. My husband didn’t know anything about his mother because she died when he was born. We sat down and read all these letters and wrote up an exchange. We had a friend who researched all the songs of the period, and we have been putting on a show with the songs, and produced a CD.

DH: How did you come up with the title: “Shadow People” for you new poetry collection?

MLW: I had to have a title. So while I was sifting through my manuscript I was looking for a good line… a good title. When I thought of the poems in the collection I thought of the “Shadow People” who are psychological tied to us. There are a lot of Shadow People in my head … some are ghosts. People who are on the fringe, like the man I wrote about sitting in the Cambridge Common.

DH: Can you talk about your long involvement with the “Civil Rights Movement”?

MLW: Someone asked me once, “When did you first get involved in civil rights”?
That took me back. But I remembered in the second grade during World War ll my parents had me walk a little Japanese girl to school and back. They didn’t make a big deal about it, but I realized that was a strong thing I did. I protected her from the taunts of kids. I remember too that I was chauffeur-driven to school with the only Black family in town. I realize now my father was taking a stand. He was a minister. In fact Andrew Young was one of my father’s students. My father worked with many Black ministers from the South.

I was sent to boarding school and I had a Black roommate and I didn’t think a thing about it. But she was turned down as a roommate by everyone else.

I worked in 1963 at the “Highlander Educational and Research Center,” which provided Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King with citizenship training. It was located in Knoxville, Kentucky, and designed for adult education. I was directing a work camp for voter registration workers. Both Blacks and Whites were housed there. As a result we were all arrested and the place was burned down.

DH: Do you think poetry can transform or be redemptive?

MLW: I think poetry allows you to get in touch with things that are buried. It is helpful to look back at our experiences and reframe them in ways that are helpful for us and others. The poet Fred Marchant told me that I needed to mention the incest in my family if I was to become a true poet. So I wrote a poem dealing with that subject. Now I am able to mention incest without a great deal of trepidation in my work.

DH: What is the poetic life for you?

MWL: I guess it is when you are actively writing poems. Everything that happens seems to be a possibility for a poem.

Doug Holder

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