Art / Lit

Poet Conversation: Laura Madeline Wiseman And Margaret Bashaar – Part 1

firstwife-cover

This week I’ll be posting a 2-part conversation I had with poet/editor Laura Madeline Wiseman about poetry, feminism, art, inspiration, her new chapbook, First Wife, and what we’re both at work on!

Laura Madeline Wiseman: In the October/November 2012 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle in her interview Laurie Foos explains “As artists, we live in a certain hyper reality in that we are living the life of the mind, yet we have to manage to go about your daily business as anyone does. How to best manage that balance has been sort of a central question for me. How to be an artist and still live in the world” (82). How do you do it? How do you balance your editorial work, your creative work, with your daily business?

Margaret Bashaar: Well, you see, I don’t have anything resembling a social life.

I kid. Sort of. I stay up late a lot. I’m super lucky that my partner is also an editor of a press so he doesn’t look askance at the absurd amount of time I spend working on or talking about Hyacinth Girl Press. I also just budget my time very tightly. I spend my lunch breaks working on the press or other creative projects. I hardly ever have a truly idle moment. I think this scheduling all started when I had my son – suddenly I was busier than I had even been before and had far more responsibility than I had ever thought I could handle. It’s interesting how quickly you learn to make use of time when that time is at a premium.

I don’t watch TV unless I’m binding books. When the weather is good I get my exercise by walking a mile and a half to and from the post office. When the weather is bad I read while I use the elliptical machine at the gym. When I get home from work I get my son started on his homework and address envelopes while he’s working on his math. I don’t know – I love everything I do, so I guess I don’t see it as very difficult, ultimately. It’s all about learning who you are and how you work and being willing to pull yourself up short when you see an imbalance or listen when someone in your life points out an imbalance you haven’t acknowledged.

The funny thing is, I actually see you as doing far more than I do! It seems like you are constantly writing and I am in complete awe of that. How do you manage to have such a constant outpouring of work?

LMW: I recently read the interview in the February 2013 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle with Julianna Baggott—who I hadn’t read before reading that interview—and she said she was no longer willing to apologize for being prolific and that her problem wasn’t the outpouring. It was holding the horses back. Since reading her feature, I’ve read Pure and what a fabulous, fun book that is—post-apocalypse, dystopia, girl hero, love. I can only imagine what people have said to Joyce Carol Oats over the years. She’s published well over one hundred books. Then of course there are outpouring giants like Margaret Atwood, Marge Piercy, and Jeanette Winterson. In my mind, we need more women writers. We need a flood.

Recently, too, I was reading David Sedaris’ new book. In his essay on Australia, he mentioned his Aussie friend who said life was like a four burner stove with friends, family, work, and health as each of the burners, but that the stove was a little wonky. You could only keep two burners going at once. David Sedaris is distracted by a kookaburra to which he feeds raw meat while letting it crawl up his arm, but not before the friend asks which two burners he keeps burning and which two he shuts off. I’ve been thinking about that over the past few weeks and asking friends, because I too think balance is hard. One friend said that if that analogy is true, couldn’t you keep some burners on warm while focusing the fire on others.

For me, Margaret, I think I’m a little like you, in that I tend to chip away at something for a while, not sure what I’m doing or where I’m going or even why I’m writing about a particular subject, but I let that topic possess and obsess me, as long as it wants to and then when it’s ready to solidify into a chapbook or book, I let it. Certainly, that’s what had happened with First Wife.

After thinking for a time about the sacred in poetry, I enrolled in a master poetry class with Alicia Ostriker. She asked us to think, write, and explore the sacred, the spiritual, the mystical in our writing for two jam-packed weeks of poetry. At the time, I felt like it was poetry boot campus and I loved it. Then last summer, I was invited to submit a book of poetry to a press. I thought immediately that I wanted that book to be about Lilith, the creation myth, a sort of retelling from her cast-out perspective, but then I thought again, sure that wasn’t the right book for that press. After I’d finished what became Unclose the Door (Gold Quoin Press, 2012), I lifted my huge stack of Lilith research onto the bed where I was a poet-in-residence at the Prairie Center of the Arts and began going through all the sacred poems I’d written previously, wrote several more, and in that process of changing poems into a chapbook, I realized I did have a story. It was First Wife.

I’m currently reading Elliot Holt’s So You’re One of Them set in Moscow among expats in the mid-1990s and I read Among the Missing set in the U.K. among the homeless. I’m also rereading Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass set in American among Americans in the mid-1800s. Reading these, I’ve been thinking a lot about place and travel and how where we go often becomes the grounds for creative work. I know you’ve recently done some travel for the press and have more planned for the future. Have your travels found paths into your creative work?

MB: Oh, I love the idea of poetry boot camp! I did something like that this past summer. In mid-June I spent a week and a half at a turn-of-the-century hotel my friend Blair Murphy owns out in central Pennsylvania. I had this full length manuscript I’d been not finishing for about a year, and I was determined to get it done, so I just sat my ass down and finished it. The book is about that hotel and characters who live within it, so in that way place and travel came into my writing very strongly, though there’s a large part of me that almost wouldn’t refer to being at the Grand Midway at “travel” at this point – I’ve spent time there off and on for 9 years.

I went through a break-up with my soon-to-be-former husband early this past spring, and a lot of my traveling was born of that, too. He was a graduate student throughout our entire relationship and I was the primary breadwinner of the couple and so, on my salary travel was not something we really did. Travel had never been something I’ve done too often, truthfully, other than yearly family vacations to the beach when I was younger. So I guess when I finally was only supporting myself and my son, I realized that I had all this extra money and I went a little crazy. I went to New Orleans, Seattle, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, and a whole mess of smaller towns and cities. I’m also far from done traveling.

When I moved this spring I decided I was going to stop saying “no, that’s too far” when I got asked to do poetry readings out of town, so a lot of that travel has been to give readings or support Hyacinth Girl Press poets at their events. I’m also in a long, long-distance relationship, so there’s travel as a result of that, too. I think when your creative and romantic lives are all wrapped up in hopping on airplanes or driving for 3+ hours at least once a month it’s impossible for that to not manifest in your writing. So yes, there’s a lot more talk of the Midwest in my poetry now, and I think all this travel has made me far more conscious of place and landscape in my work. I never before really thought of myself as a poet for whom place and landscape were so important and it’s interesting to watch my work shift into a space of understanding that more.  

One of the things that has always been very important to me as a poet and editor and that I have always been very aware of in my own work is character/voice. It’s what has, as a reader, drawn me to books like When Winter Come by Frank X. Walker (I cannot rave about that collection enough). It’s also something I feel comes across very strongly in First Wife. You manage to capture this feistiness in the character of Lilith, but at the same time a certain softness that I feel is rarely shown when she is written about. Was that a conscious choice on your part?

(we’ll be back on Wednesday with Part 2!)

Image: art by Megan Loudon Sanders, design by Sarah Reck

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Margaret Bashaar’s poetry has been collected in 2 chapbooks – Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel (Blood Pudding Press, 2011) and Barefoot and Listening (Tilt, 2009) as well as in many literary journals and anthologies. She edits the chapbook micropress Hyacinth Girl Press, attempts to repair antique typewriters, and spends far too much time at haunted hotels in coal mining towns for her own good. She’s only been suspected of being possessed once and hopes to someday become a rogue taxidermist. She misses the Midwest. Follow her on Twitter @myhyacinthgirl

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