When did you write these poems and when did you become aware they would form a collection?
These poems were written furiously over about an eight month period. After trying to title a number of poems “One Last Cigarette” it became pretty clear it wasn’t a single poem I was trying to write.
Can you describe your approach to writing poetry?
There’s a lot of staring at a word or two on the screen or on a piece of paper. A lot of staring, scratching out, rewriting, and sometimes tears. Poetry and I have a lot of stare-downs, with poetry usually winning.
Grief and loss are the focus of One Last Cigarette. Do you feel poetry (writing or reading) can aid the grieving process?
Definitely. Sometimes I read a poem and feel instantly healed from years of suffering. Writing poetry, and the pain that can come with it, can be a healing process, I suppose, but I try not to “use” poetry in that way. Other people seem to say better what I haven’t been able to articulate to myself.
The popularity of poetry seems to have waned in recent years. How can it be revived?
I’m not sure poetry was ever really popular. Or when it was popular, it was an entirely different beast than it is today. Or it’s actually more popular now than we know. Or it’s just not popular to spend money on poetry. Or there’s a possibility that poetry isn’t even poetry anymore. I think, though, that people desire what we call poetry, and it just takes putting it out there to remind them.
How do you view other writers?
Simultaneously as competition and community. I crave both as a writer. I want the community to be strong, and the competition to be fierce.
When writing poetry, who comes first: the reader or the writer?
I’d like to say the reader, but I just don’t think it’s true. Not sure the writer even comes first. I think the poem has the power and the control and gets what it wants first.
What would be your advice to a new poet who’s just starting out?
Do something different with language every day. Watch too many bad TV shows. Write when you want. Don’t feel guilty if you aren’t doing what other writers do or writing what others are writing. Wear underwear or don’t. Read what interests you. Light something on fire in your kitchen sink. Throw out all the trash in your house. Get a dog. Get arrested. Fall in love every day. Keep your words to yourself if you want or read them or try to publish them. Just say something important.
What’s the best thing about smoking?
Smoke breaks. That alone time. The healing.
Marlboro Lights or Benson & Hedges?
I’m a picky smoker, but I’ll smoke either of those if I’ve run out and someone offers, and I’ll try really hard not to complain. A free cigarette is a free cigarette.
The most honest being is…
touch. Even when touch lies, it tells some kind of truth.
Mary’s collection of poetry, One Last Cigarette, is due out in late-2013. You can read about it here.