Saturday, October 10, 2020

Somerville Poet Mark McKay / Writes a Poem A Day


 I have trouble writing a poem a month, at best. But everyday since 2017, Somerville poet Mark McKay has posted a poem on Instagram, and has developed a large following.  I had a chance to catch up with Mark via the Internet.

You have lived in Somerville for 2.5 years. How has it been for your creative life?

Living in Somerville has really kickstarted my creative life - at the beginning of my concerted efforts to write in 2017, I was living in the suburbs and relying on my own imagination to concoct and coax stories and poems from previous life experience. The vibrant art community and more urban setting in Somerville has changed the way I approach my craft, providing inspiration in everything from organized events, art shows, recognition of artists to the street art and ways that residents feel free to decorate the outside of their homes. Since moving to Somerville, I’ve also enrolled as a student with a painting school (Katherine Martin Widmer School of Painting) - being part of such a welcoming community and the prospect of learning a new way to express myself is one of my very favorite things. It’s so inviting and surprising every day just to walk the streets, community paths and observe the community’s active approach and appreciation of the arts.

You started a poem project on Instagram , where you have been posting a poem every day since Jan 1, 2017. What was the germ of the idea for this?

I began this project in 2016 in honor of National Poetry Month (April)- titling it “mckaystoryaday”. I have never considered myself to be a “poet” but have always engaged in correspondence and short story writing so wanted to contribute something literary to such an important celebration of the written word. I chose Instagram because I felt that words were not well represented there, that breaking up the format a bit with writing instead of photos would help my writing to be noticed. I have since found that Instagram is home to MANY poets and storytellers, a wonderful vibrant community.

My contributions in 2016 were infrequent, as I had not yet decided to make this a continuing project. Beginning in earnest on January 1, 2017, I vowed to keep it up as long as I could manage, changing my format from a fully formed “story” to conjuring images and feelings, hoping to challenge the reader to use their own imaginations to fill in those gaps...

Your poems are haiku-like--short snippets--that capture a moment in time. I also noticed you have short love poems that seem to be addressing an object of your affection. What poets have influenced you?

I have always loved the haiku form since it was presented to me in grade school English class, and through the years, I feel that reading such masters as Matsuo Basho have influenced me my whole literary life. Occasionally, I will visit and write in the traditional haiku form, I find that I reach for that form when I am in need of a calming influence - there’s just something both natural and mystical about it in my mind… I have since been introduced to many wonderful poets and poems I had missed, but honestly cannot say I have been directly influenced by them - my own words just feel they come from inspiration found reading short stories by my favorite authors like HG Wells, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury and John Steinbeck.

As for addressing the object of my affection via the poems, I try to write with universal themes and simple scenarios that anyone can relate to - we all desire to reach the heart of someone with our art, I am no different...

Has writing become more essential to you during the pandemic?

Absolutely essential. Prior to this, I felt that I was sending these missives out as a blanket, hoping they would find a sympathetic reader. Now I feel that they are direct communications - a cry, arms opened to receive those who need, statements of intent & purpose, arrows to the hearts that need it. It also allows me to visit places and people in my mind that are not accessible during these times, a measure of much needed sanity.

You told me you started a fanzine in the 80s and 90s, which will be compiled into a book in 2021. Can you give us more details about it?

I worked in a copy shop in the late ‘80’s and was challenged by a friend to create a fanzine of the collages and short writings I had been doing while there was downtime. It was not intended to be circulated, but just as a fun project to share with the folks in the shop, but it was enjoyed and I was urged to continue. The cut and paste nature of it felt fantastic, and at the time I was discovering abstract art and particularly fascinated with the Dadaist movement from early in the century - such fertile ground! I wanted to contribute and having an outlet totally under my control was such a rush. I was able to create four issues (and many unused pieces) which became more literary-based as I went on and felt better about putting my writing in front of people. I read back over them a few years ago and did not dislike what was created so I decided to compile all the pages and write a book around it, discussing everything from the social climate at the time, my personal experiences and words of explanation for some of the more “esoteric” pieces included. Still a work in progress, but I will indeed self-publish the completed project in 2021.

You were a drummer for a number of years , then you switched to high tech. Was that because it is hard to make the daily nut as a musician?

I was deeply involved in the Boston Punk scene for a few years before deciding that there were not enough drummers to go around, so I bought myself a kit and started to teach myself to keep a beat. Some friends from High School were just breaking up their band, and I had achieved some basic proficiency so we formed a new band called Slapshot in 1985. We were able to keep this running for many years (they are still going, though I am long since retired from performing and playing) and travel extensively throughout the US, Canada and Europe, made several records and sold a few t-shirts. It was never about the money, so we always maintained day jobs to allow us to fund travel and band expenses. I’ve always loved how technology can keep people and ideas flowing, solve problems and connect us, so a career in this field was a natural fit. It’s not my passion, but I have a deep respect for the positive aspects that it can add to daily life.

Have you ever played the drum break for " Funky Drummer" by James Brown?

If you ever have the chance to check out any recordings I made with Slapshot, you will realize that - although I have a deep appreciation for music of ALL sorts - I was NOT built to be a virtuoso on my chosen instrument! So no, have never tried it (but indeed LOVE JB!).

How long will this poetry project go on, or will it never be finished?

Coming up on four years of daily writing is so much more than I hoped to accomplish and I’m driven by the positive feedback from readers which still both boggles my mind and warms my heart. There are times when it feels like a project of this length has run its course, that I have nothing more to say - but then I find a thread deep in my mind or heart that I feel encompasses everything that I am - giving me strength and resolve to continue for another day. I am trying my hand at some longer form writing, but have enjoyed this shorter format and feel very comfortable here… In short, there are no plans to stop.


under dim streetlights, 

hands pushed 

deep into pockets - 

the sting of habit

the absence of purpose...

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