Martina Reisz Newberry
It was an honor to have an in-depth interview with Martina Reisz Newberry as my first guest poet. We discussed poetry inspiration, life, and her book: Take the Long Way Home and delved into her poem: Private Lines are Too Expensive.
When did you start writing poetry?
I began reading when I was 3 years old. I was an only child and books were dear friends to me. My first book was “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” by Robert Louis Stevenson. I memorized many of those poems–loved the rhythm of them–the dance-like quality of the images. I first wrote a poem when I was about 6 years old.
When did you write your first book and what motivated it?
My first book was a chapbook titled “An Apparent Approachable Light.” I had been entering a few poems here and there and came across this contest for an Editor’s Choice prize from Astra Press and won it. The prize was publishing and I was thrilled. I still love that little book. Motivation? Ad liberabo linguae atque cordis–To free the tongue and the heart. I had some dark stuff buried inside myself as many many people do and needed to release those things.
What’s your writing process?
I’m a pretty disciplined writer. I get up, get coffee (either at home or out), and write for a good part of the day; sometimes all day if it’s going well. I start by reading something(s)–poems, selections from novels or non-fiction titles. I think about what I’ve read for a while, then look at the previous day’s work. It’s a rare day when I don’t write.
What are your favorite subject matters for poetry?
I don’t know about favorites. Things catch my eye/ear: conversations on a bus or in a coffee shop, a photo, a note on a bulletin board, a movie poster, song lyrics, overheard arguments, secrets told to me, secrets KEPT from me. Often, I visit places I do not wish to go and write from those places: challenges, deep fears, griefs, anger, frustration etc.
While reading your poetry I see L.A. has a great influence. Would you like to expand on that?
I’m so glad you asked about that. Los Angeles is my woman, my mother, my sister, my lover, my friend, my monster. I am L.A ’s slave and her bitch and her partner and her conqueror and her patient and her most fervent fan. Los Angeles has been my comfort and sometimes a dangerous companion. I love this city as much as I have loved any person.
What are some pivotal moments in your writing career?
First would have to be my meeting with and relationship to the poet Larry Kramer (R.I.P.) I attended a workshop he gave around 1983 and it changed me and my work forever. He became teacher, mentor, friend, brother to me. He paid for and helped me get into a summer writing program at Bennington College in Vermont. He taught me more about poetry–about my relationship to and my responsibility to poetry– than anyone has since. Everything that I’ve done since meeting him has been with his soul at my shoulder like an angel–always teaching, always criticizing, always praising. His book, “Brilliant Windows,” is a masterpiece. You’d love it, Sonia.
Another pivotal moment was meeting a woman, a novelist/photographer, at Bennington. Her name is Elizabeth Dumbell. We became very close friends and our talks about writing, about what it means, can mean, doesn’t mean, have stayed with me for over 30 years. She told me something I have turned over and over in my mind at various stages in my writing life. During a very dry period, I asked her advice about getting over a writing block. She said, “There are characters, words, images, phrases knocking at the door of your mind and heart. Just relax, answer the door, and let them in.” It works every time.
Love this insight. I will use it in my writing.
What was your inspiration for “Take the Long Way Home”?
The song, “Take the Long Way Home” by Supertramp is a favorite of mine. Especially the lyric I used for the book’s epigraph:
So, when the day comes to settle down,
Who’s to blame if you’re not around?
You took the long way home…
Taking the long way home means stopping, looking, paying close attention to the details. It’s important to really taste and smell and hear and DIG what is going on in front of me and all around me. You can’t take shortcuts and have that experience. You have to take the long way home to see what is really there.
How long was the process from concept to publishing?
About 18 months. Unsolicited Press is a delightful indie press to work with. They did a lovely job on the book.
The books central theme explores mixed blessings on life. Were you going through these mixed blessing while writing it?
I think my whole life has been a series of “mixed blessings.” Many things that I’ve encountered that I experienced at the outset as horrible or heart-breaking led to the most beautiful journeys ever. I think, if your blessings are not mixed, you’re not doing it right. LOL.
Poem – Private Lines are Too Expensive
PRIVATE LINES ARE TOO EXPENSIVE
There’s a passion in being alone/A grace in a loveless time
The Black Crowes “Girl From a Pawn Shop”
They all write about it, you know:
The poets all want you to see it as they see it:
the curling smoke of a cigarette
the view of the street with no one in it
the sounds of traffic and tires and sirens
and no voices or footsteps except maybe
late late at night when running steps can be heard
and sometimes shouts as well.
They all want you to know about what’s best to eat alone:
a hard-boiled egg
a cold cheese sandwich
a bowl of soup or
a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes
desserts are not for the lonely
avoid ice cream at all costs; it will
melt and make a puddle in the dish
which will make you feel more alone than ever.
They will all tell you the same stories:
how the planes roar in the empty sky, reminder
of places the planes are going and that
there are people on them going to visit family
or on business where they will be met by
someone from “the firm” and will be taken
to lunch Martinis first then steak sandwich
and thick ranch fries—food for talking and hearing.
They all want you to know that the odor of loneliness is
someone else’s barbecue
and suntan lotion
fabric softener sheets
which lonely people don’t bother to buy
for the little laundry they do.
They write about the tire
aisles at the auto supply store how they smell
of alone and smell of sad and smell of can’t-do-this
anymore-never-could. Try tomorrow; try later. they write.
They want you to see, these poets, how tightly
they hold their demons, how they grip the fingers
of the saints who only try to cut them loose:
how they glue meaning to nothing
glue love to beer and bread
ride the verbal spirals the cadences
down to edge of the island
and wave courageously at citizens
gathered across the water.
They all write about it. They just want you to see it is all.
I really liked this poem and laughed because I’m guilty of your reference. What inspired the title?
When I was a youngster, telephone service was either “Party Lines” or “Private Lines.” If you had a party line (which most everyone I knew had) you could pick up the phone and hear other people on the line carrying on conversations. You had to wait until the line was free to use the phone. If you listened in and weren’t caught at it, you could hear lengthy conversations about people’s lives and fears and griefs and relationships. I didn’t like it because I was a very shy, private kid and didn’t want people to know my business. I complained about it often. I asked my mother “Why can’t we have a private line so people don’t listen in on us?” Mother said, “For all the good they are, private lines are too expensive.” That stayed with me for some reason. Thinking it over as an adult I came to see that it IS expensive to keep everything about yourself to yourself. It’s a lonely life if you live it like that. The price you pay for ultimate secrecy, close, tight privacy is loneliness.
What a beautiful reason and a historical lesson on the title.
“The poets all want you to see….” Is this a trend you found within the L.A. poetry community? Poets in general?
It’s a trend I’ve found in many artists–poets, painters, dancers, writers of all kinds. It’s a kind of dichotomy that says to the public, “Come here, but not too close. Go away, but not too far.” Artists have a thinner skin than most people, everything is too hot, too cold, too sweet, too harsh, too painful, etc. Name a feeling, supersize it for artists.
What is the experience that prompted “eat alone” stanza?
I’m guilty of having dessert at a restaurant because I don’t keep it at home. Can you elaborate the stigma that comes with eating dessert alone? Does it signify depression?
I’m not sure about a stigma or depression…As an only child, mealtimes were very quiet at my house. My mother was very quiet, and my dad ate dinner quickly and retired to his chair in the living room with the newspaper, the radio, the television. I often found myself eating alone while my mother cleaned up the table and started washing dishes. For some reason, being offered dessert while sitting there by myself reminded me that I was very alone, sort of like living in a bubble. When I visited and lived with my aunt and cousins, mealtimes were wonderfully chaotic. Chattering and bickering and lots of talk about the food–whose favorite it was and who didn’t like what, passing dishes back and forth, being nagged to drink milk, my aunt and uncle trying to keep peace and eat at the same time. I loved it. It was so alive! When dessert came, there were outcries of “She got more than me! I want just ice cream no cake! I’ll have his cake!” Delightful chaos, everyone at the table involved in the theater of eating. To this day, I find it difficult to enjoy food alone. I always have a book with me to take up that “alone” space.
“Same stories” Was this a thought as to how there’s nothing new? A poetry trend or reflection of self?
Oh no! Things are made new all the time. “Same stories” refers to the oneness that everyone shares and the different tones and shades and nuances that are present in that oneness. Planes fly in everyone’s sky, but do you experience them the way I do? People meet at train stations and airports and shake hands or hug or kiss or wave a sign, but are they meeting the same way I meet someone. And, what about that “someone”? Is it a friend, a lover, a potential employee/employer, a sibling?
“They want you to see…” beautiful visual stanza. Do you reflect on the theme of demons and saints? Is this a common theme in some of your poems?
Demons and saints are so different to each person. Have someone get angry at you and you will soon see her/his demons. You won’t even know why that particular moment is demonic, you’ll just know that it is. Her/his saints are there too, in a kind word or gesture or act which they showed you at just the right time. One person’s “demon rum” is another’s “… use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake …” (1 Tim 5:23).
“They just want you to see it is all” Do you feel the essence of poetry is to let the reader “see it is all”?
I do. I think artists make a path through their aloneness by guiding the public to “see” it, whatever “it” is from the artist’s point of view, from her/his heart and mind. When a reader or an art lover or a lover of the dance hears someone say, “I understand what you mean. I get it. I see what you see,” when that happens, a light shines on that path of aloneness and artists continue to find their way by that light.
Any last notes on poems? Books? Is there anything you’d like the audience to know?
Yeah. I would ask, plead, cajole with people to buy poetry. Buy books from the presses, the authors, the stores. Buy poetry and then look up the writer and tell her/him that you have their book and you like it or hate it or are confused by it or…You’ll be better for it. The writer will be better for it. I really think the world would better for it.
Thank you, Martina, for your passionate writing.
For further information on her books and bio please check out the following links.
Website: Poetry and Hives
Info: About Martina
You can get Take the Long Way Home and her other poetry books at most online bookstores and Amazon Kindle and paperback