August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
Interview with Maria Jastrzębska by Agata Sematovic.
A-Gender – Author Page
1. To start with I would like to ask you for how long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing ever since I can remember. Even before I could read or write I ‘wrote’ as a child. I’m not entirely sure why I chose poetry, perhaps it chose me.
2. Have you ever considered writing something except poetry?
When I was first writing I didn’t think of myself primary as a poet and I tried my hand at some short stories. At some point poetry took over and now I am mainly a poet. Although I have written a play/literary drama which came out of some prose poems. I’ve also written prose poems and am interested in the border between prose and poetry. I also started translating poetry a few years ago and got hooked on that. Plus I’ve worked as an editor and enjoyed that.
3. What was the most affective poem you read that made an influence on your writing?
At school I remember reading Walter de la Mare – softly silently now the moon… – I loved the sounds and the images. Then a bit later I discovered poets like Herbert and Yevtushenko and also there was Plath.
4. Yes, Plath makes an influence on everybody. Considering the publication of your work what was the first poem you had published?
I can’t exactly remember but my early work was published in feminist journals and magazines such as Spinster, Spare Rib, Writing Women etc. It didn’t occur to me to send anywhere else and I felt alienated from the male dominated cannon.
5. Maria, tell me please what is your favorite form or mode of poetry to write?
I tend to write free verse poems but I also enjoy trying out other things. Recently I had a go at terza rima and I can tell you it was hard. But I had great fun during it.
6. As a poet what do you enjoy the most in poetry?
I find writing poetry both empowering and magical. The transformation of raw material. I love how you can surprise yourself while writing. I love the puzzle of trying to make a poem come out in the right shape or sound. It’s so exciting.
7. Do you have any regrets?
I wish I started taking myself seriously as a writer sooner and had had the time and money to do so. In a way it took a long illness to make me see I needed to be writing more.
8. I think this is a common question which is asked quite often but I’m sure lot of people is wondering where do you find you motivation or from whom?
I have some really good poetry buddies and that helps to keep me going. I’m also fortunate enough to have been and to be mentored by some fabulous poets. I still carry on going to writing workshops and both like and need that stimulus.
9. That’s great. Do you have any specific poets that made an impact on your writing?
Poets I read when I was growing up made a massive impact. The series ‘Penguin Modern European Poets’ was wonderful back then. Also lots of poets in translation eg. Tua Forstromm. There are also some non-poets like Toni Morrison etc.
10. How much does publishability affect what you write?
It’s hard to say. You’re certainly aware of it as a poet and of course there’s a pressure to have a continuous ‘profile’, which is time-consuming. Sometimes you worry about it and other times you say ‘what the hell’.
11. When and where do you write?
Generally I write in my room which is a cross between bedroom and study. Also when I’m traveling. The newness of a place makes you look at things differently. I also can start writing in the middle of the night. Like everyone else I really value having uninterrupted time. I like to walk and think as well. Living by the see is good for me. Being in nature has always helped to keep me sane.
12. The next question I’m about to ask is probably the one what all writers ask themselves. How do you avoid clichés?
You can’t – they have to come out. The trick is to spot them and then weed them out. Sometimes you can’t see them yourself so it helps to have good experienced readers and editors. The more you read the better you get at it. You think you’re being highly original but actually a hundred other contributors to the journal you’re submitting to have come up with the same image!
13. At what point do you decide that a given poem is finished?
Hmmmm… sometimes if there’s a deadline for submission so I have to send it out, usually once it’s been published somewhere, but even then… Or when you’re so sick of it you can’t bear to look at it anymore!
14. Regarding the ‘I’ll be back before you know it’ poem, can you retrace your thought process when writing this poem?
I think I had recently been to Warsaw and visited a dear old friend of my father’s so that was in my mind – about their youth together. I’m also interested in the juxtaposition of present and past. Well, juxtaposition generally but that one in particular.
15. How about your ‘Woman Warrior’ poem? How did you bring the idea and inspiration in this poem?
This came out of a correspondence with the editor of Mustn’t Grumble, an anthology published by the Women’s Press. We had a whole discussion about grief and anger in writing about disability which appears in the book. I was disabled by a chronic illness ME which I had for many years at that time. I had been a Women’s Self Defence teacher for many years before and had an awful lot invested in my physical strength and prowess. It was very tough for me to come to terms with losing that and I was hugely aware of how society marginalises anyone who isn’t seen as normal/healthy/productive etc. In others the illness was bad enough, social stigma, isolation made it worse.
16. So you’re a true warrior, Maria. Talking about anger your poem ‘Europa’ is an angry poem, isn’t it? Do you think poetry like this can make a difference in the 21st century?
Yes, I think it’s important to remember the past, especially some of the more overlooked things – I’m thinking of the persecution of gay and ‘socially deviant’ people in the Third Reich for example, so I hope it makes a difference that I write about it.
17. And finally, I would like to ask what advice you would give young writers to encourage them to write poetry?
Cross many borders, literal and non-literal, external and internal. Take risks. Talk to people. Open your heart. Read loads and read aloud. Avoid ivory towers. Play. Go dancing. Work your socks off and most importantly never give up.