It’s official! The next chapbook (coming out soon!) from YesNo Press will be “It Will Happen Like This” by Salem poet Mary Ann Honaker. You can find Mary’s bio here
. Keep reading for an interview with the poet, and stay tuned for more announcements and sneak peaks.
YesNo Press: What is your favorite thing about poetry?
Mary Ann Honaker: My favorite thing about poetry is how it brings the present back to us, how it helps us dwell more thoroughly in it. Not all poetry is written with this in mind, but I think all poetry, or all good poetry, achieves it. When you find something in a poem described in a fresh, exciting, new way, you see that object or place or time of day or emotion as if for the first time. Poetry also helps us become present because it’s art, not entertainment; it’s not a quick read. You have to sit with a poem, be present with it, for it to speak to you. You have to pay attention. This sort of mindfulness is one of the basic building blocks of spirituality.
YNP: Why did you start writing poetry?
MAH: I was a pre-teen, and like most kids that age, I wanted to write songs. Then I realized I couldn’t sing! I decided that the words would have to stand on their own and make their own music on the page. I didn’t read much poetry then. My poems were like journal entries written in lines, with weird bursts of imaginative imagery, and sometimes, especially early on, rhyme.
YNP: Can you say a little bit about your writing process?
MAH: I’m not the sort of poet that writes every day. I write when there is a poem in me that needs to be written. Happily, this occurs pretty frequently. If it doesn’t then I know it’s time to examine myself closely. When I’m being dishonest with myself, it stops the flow, and I can’t write at all. For me at least, the price of being a poet is that I can’t lie to myself, and I lose the comfort and security a lot of people derive from self-deception.
I can tell when a poem is cooking in me but it’s not quite done. Then it’s like a little timer goes off in my head: “Ding! Poem ready!” Every once in a while a poem will get kind of stuck, and I know I need to sit down and force myself to write something in order to get it out. I do my first edits immediately after I finish it. I can’t stop myself; I get excited about the poem and I want it to be as good as possible as soon as possible. I’ll take out excess words and passages that are too explanatory. I’ll look for cliches or just dull wording, and go back to the thing that I’m trying to describe, and say to myself, “What am I really trying to say?” Cliches are placeholders really; what you meant to say is hidden under them, and if you try to be very precise, you’ll often find an image that is fresh and interesting also.
YNP: Which poets would you say have had the biggest influence on your work?
MAH: My favorite poet is Mary Oliver. I know that’s not a fashionable thing to say. I admire her meditative, spiritual practice of the daily walks and how she takes us along with her. I get a lot of peace and spiritual renewal by taking long walks, and reading her work gives me the same feeling. In her earlier work her wording was always very precise. She’d describe something from the natural world and I’d feel that feeling of seeing it for the first time, and I’d know she’d found the exact and perfect words. What some people don’t like about her is that the wisdom of the poems is very understandable. She doesn’t obfuscate. She says exactly what she means. But she says it concisely, beautifully. I often return to her poems and re-read them, and I have some passages memorized. I want to be the sort of writer she is: a poet writing for anyone who reads, not a poet writing only for other poets. I want to have something to say and say it well.
YNP: Who are some of your favorite poets writing today?
MAH: That’s a difficult question to answer, since I’m impressed by a poet I haven’t read before on nearly a weekly basis. There’s so much good writing out there, there’s no way anyone could read it all. Longstanding favorites are Tony Hoagland, Dean Young, Stephen Dunn, and Mark Doty. I like to read narrative poets that write the way that I do, and surrealist poets who do something on the page I can’t imitate, but want to be able to; poets who are spiritual and those who are unabashedly not. What’s important is that they are honest and that they say things in a way that makes me wish I’d written it.
YNP: Do you have any poetry recommendations you’d like to mention?
MAH: A poet very few people have heard of is Todd Boss. His first book was called Yellowrocket. What impresses me about him is the musicality of the poems; they’re wonderful to read aloud. I’ve recently read some Tomas Transnomer, translated by Robert Bly, and his work is unbelievably fantastic. The poems dwell in a liminal space that is compelling but hard to describe. Mistaking the Sea for Green Fields by Ashley Capps is a beautifully written, brutally honest book. She doesn’t hold anything back, and that takes a lot of courage.