Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Interview with Somerville Poet Anna M. Warrock: A poet who speaks 'From the Other Room'

Anna M. Warrock's publications include the chapbooks From the Other Room, winner of the first Slate Roof Press Chapbook Contest; Horizon; and Smoke and Stone. Her work appears in the anthology Kiss Me Goodnight: Poems and Stories by Women Who Were Girls When Their Mothers Died, Minnesota Book Award Finalist, for which she also wrote the introduction. Besides appearing in a number of literary and multidisciplinary magazines, including Harvard Review, The Sun magazine, The Madison Review, Phoebe, and Poiesis, her poems have been set to music, performed at Boston's Hayden Planetarium, and permanently installed in a Boston-area subway station. She has taught poetry in classes for the elderly, high school students, and adult education, and held seminars on understanding grief and loss through poetry. She lives Somerville, MA. I talked with her on My Somerville Media Center TV show-- " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."

Interview with Somerville Poet Anna M. Warrock: A Poet who speaks ' From the Other Room'

Interview with Doug Holder

Doug Holder: First off—you are a long time Somerville resident. Your husband Robert Smyth ran a bookstore here for awhile, and founded the Yellow Moon Press. How is it for a creative person to live here in the Paris of New England?

Anna M. Warrock: I have been here well-over two decades. It is a wonderful place to be because so much is happening here. I fully credit the Somerville Arts Council with the plethora of programs they run and produce. There is a very active writing community here—with a lot of good reading venues.

DH: Somerville has a great history of small presses—I can think of Aspect magazine, Dark Horse , Boston Literary Review and others.

AMW: Indeed. I know Aspect magazine folded—but the iconic Zephyr Press—once based in Somerville is still around—run by James Kates.

DH: Your poems mingle light and shadow—Frannie Lindsay opined that your poem have a calmness—that facilitates truth.

AMW: I have been to a number of poetry readings in the past year or so and I find that a good poem tells the truth. You recognize the truth in a poem that works. There is such disarray in the public discourse these days that I need to search for the right balance. Emotional calmness will help you find a grounding in truth.

DH: What do you say when you hear the “truth” in a poem?

AMW: I don't say anything to myself. I feel grounded.

DH: In your poem  "The Salmon go All the Way to Death" you deal with the salmon going up stream—to mate—to die—the cycle of life they are part of. There is a tragic aspect to their mating and death, as well as a beauty.

AMW: I am not sure it is a tragedy. We are all part of this cycle of life and death. There is a lot of discussions about what is a good death. We also discuss how under the circumstance of illness how do we treat dying. We are participants in the cycle of life and death—poetry can illustrate this for us.

DH: You are obviously aware how inanimate objects can have a powerful presence. In a poem in the collection you personified a set of glasses that marked the absence of your late mother. How did this come to you?

AMW: That poem began as a sense of absence. In writing the poem I was sort of stuck—so I returned to the glasses. In some way those glasses function to evoke that sense. I never force a poem—this poem came to me.

DH: Your new collection “ From the Other Room” from the Slate Roof Press has wonderful production values.

AMW: Yes, I am very lucky. My book won their chapbook contest. The press is a collective like Alice James. You become part of the press for three years. It is a great, collegial experience.

DH: You have done work with the elderly—high school students, as well as health professionals.

AMW: Yes...the most moving experience I had was at the Somerville Hospital where I worked with a group of health professional—people who worked in settings where death is commonplace. We had fifteen people—from different wards. We read from the anthology “ Kiss Me Goodnight”--that deals with women coming to terms with death—the early death of their mothers ( like my own). We used poetry to look at the grieving process. This group created valuable and insightful dialogue.


The Salmon Go All the Way to Death

They are fish. They live in the cold ocean,
breathe water, eat other fish.
They in turn are eaten. What do they know?
They know they are salmon and where
they were born. They live in the cold ocean,
but when it is their turn to die, when it is their turn
to return, they know what to do.
They remember where they were born,
exactly where they need to go.
And they go. The female salmon stop
roaming the ocean, eating other fish.
They leave the endless deep and turn
toward land to find the river mouth
that spit them forth. They enter the mouth, 
go upriver. The female salmon travel together.
The male salmon leave the cold ocean,
the eating of other fish. They seek
the mouth that spit them forth
from the land’s constriction, and enter.
They go back guided by the memory.
They go to make the memory
continue in their way. They go to make
the salmon continue in the old way.
They swim upriver, leap the falls.
The river narrows. Swimming is harder.
The salmon push between rocks, against water
to the shallows where they were born.
They go to the heart of the land. There they meet
and agree. The female waves her body
and lays her eggs and moves off. And the male
waves his body, sprays his seeds and moves off.
Then the female and male salmon die.
In the shallows, having given birth
to eggs and seeds, a promise to their memories,
they die. The salmon go all the way upstream.
The salmon go all the way to death.

.....From Warrock's Collection  From the Other Room

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