We’re getting our week started with South Carolina poet laureate Marjory Heath Wentworth, author of the book The Endless Repetition of an Ordinary Miracle. Marjory talks to us about writing and her connection to the Salem witches, below.
P53: When did you first really feel like a poet?
MW: The first real poem I wrote was when I was in college. I say this because it was the kind of poem that wrote itself, which is rather frightening. It only happens, according to Phil Levine, when you’re writing a lot. I started writing poems when I was about twelve, but the first one that really worked as a poem should, was about six years later.
P53: Tell us something about the secret lives of poets.
MW: If you read the work, all secrets are revealed!
P53: What’s the longest amount of time you’ve spent working on one poem?
MW: Decades. Some poems are never really done, or they just never quite work. Something about the poem stays with you, even when you’ve put it down for days or months or even years, then suddenly you discover a new way to approach the poem and then you try it.
P53: Where do you like to write? Where do you like to read?
MW: Wherever it’s quiet. I just moved my studio home, and it’s still in an office where I do a lot of other work because I haven’t had time to really get it reorganized. I often write at the kitchen table. It’s really a matter of when. I try to get up very early and read and write every day before work. If I don’t do that, then the writing does not get done and I’m pretty miserable. I’m too tired after work to write.
My husband and I always read in bed before we go to sleep. We have piles of books on the bedside tables.
P53: What’s the last poetry book you read? How about prose? Would you recommend them?
MW: Last poetry book: Campbell McGrath’s Florida Poems. I love his work. It always surprises me.
Robert Hass’s The Apple Trees at Olema, New and Selected. I think of him as a kindred spirit in terms of his sensibility. His poems are rooted in place and family and yet he’s very interested and learned in ancient haiku and the work of his friend Milosz and the framework that Milosz brings to his work….
I’m also rereading Natasha Tretheway’s book Native Guard. I love the way she uses forms in unexpected ways. Amazing book, especially given the subject matter.
I recommend all these books.
I’ve had a rough year, so I am reading spiritual books right now: Anne Lamott’s book Grace Eventually and Thoughts on Faith. She is always funny and wise. What’s not to like. I just finished Thomas Merton’s book No Man is an Island. It’s one of the best books I have ever read. Writing has a spiritual connotation for me, and this book helps ground me as a writer.
Three Facts About Marjory:
1. My father’s ancestors are from Salem, MA. I am a descendant of Rebecca Nurse, who was hanged for witchcraft, as well as Ann Putnam, who was a primary accuser. Ironic to say the least.
2. I’m a closet jock. I won a student-athlete scholarship which paid about a third of my college tuition. A lot of people seem to think being a poet means you never get up from your desk. Not really!
3. In the SC State Legislative Manual, my photograph is between the State Bird and the State Rock.