JQ: Writers’ immersions in the subject of their writing is essential in obtaining an authentic quality. Your work is rich in description and experience. The speaker has clearly “walk(ed) the woods.” (Reading Firewood, Bruhmuller) How is your relationship with your subject sustained?
MB: We are what we absorb. We deepen each time we feel, see something for the first time; or hear, taste or smell things that we don’t recognize. The mind is naturally curious, and experience (as it does our DNA) scores the brain with memory. So, I follow where an image or sensation takes me. And I walk a lot, and pay attention.
JQ: Who are the poets that you’ve read whose works have resonated with you, and are there any particular texts that have withstood the test of time and remained relevant to you?
MB: Shakespeare, Basho, Issa, Coleridge, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, D H Lawrence, Walt Whitman, Wislawa Szymborska, W.S. Merwin, Gary Snyder, Czeslaw Milosz, Sylvia Plath, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Galway Kinnell, Bob Dylan, Robert Hass, Jane Hirshfield, Don McKay, Mark Strand, Saul Williams, Jeff Lemon, Ann Scowcroft, Ted Kooser, Maya Angelou, Aimee Nezhukummatahil, Sharon Olds, Robyn Sarah, Kim Addonizio, Dorianne Laux, Stephanie Bolster, Leonard Cohen, Billy Collins and Mary Oliver. That is the shortlist.
In this excerpt from, “Learning a Dead Language,” by W.S. Merwin, I sense the essence of what it means to find poetry within yourself.
“What you remember saves
you. To remember
Is not to rehearse, but
to hear what never
Has fallen silent…”.
And in this excerpt from Billy Collins, “The Dead,” I so appreciate these lines (the poem in its entirety), the humour of his conjecture, the insight into the human psyche, and the subtlety of his commentary:
“The dead are always watching
us they say,
while we are putting on
our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through
the glass-bottom boats of heaven
as they row themselves
slowly through eternity…”
JQ: In this “ongoing” conversation, how does the work of your predecessors permeate your own; how are you speaking back?
MB: By understanding how poets use the devices in their work, and how these tools (and the use of language) have changed; (to exact tone, inference), and by using these devices in my own way, I am able to expand on nuance and technique. I think about how they saw the world and themselves in it. I read between their lines, and use my own experience and that which I have read of theirs to grow a more comprehensive knowledge. I listen in on other poets’ lives, in varying generations, in different time periods and cultures, and carry that knowledge forward in my work.
JQ: In “When It’s June And I’m Walking Down The Street,” the speaker compels the “you” in the poem to look up, and to see, starting from the “pock marks in the pavement,” to the “long clouds sailing over the city like kites.” The final line reads:
“I want you to understand, that’s what
What should the developing writer understand; what should the reader understand?
MB: What writers and readers can take from the poem is this: everything matters. The good, the bad. What matters, in the end, is living, the experience itself; what you discover when you are aware, when you’re open even to the most trivial everyday experiences.
JQ: So, how might you encourage developing writers to participate in the timeless conversation of poetry?
MB: Time is not really the issue here. Response is the key; responding to what other writers say, what is happening at the time, with a global mentality; using what we learn from experience to widen our scope, and to relay these truths on to our readers. In other words, read many types of poetry, go to readings and performance poetry. Don’t lose out by ignoring what you think you know.