[Thurs., March 13, 7 PM Book launch reading for Mort’s latest… Readers and performers include California poet laureate Al Young, Deng Ming-Dao, Ellen Bass, Geoffrey Dunn, James D. Houston, Jean Wakasuki Houston, Sandy Lydon, George Ow, Jr., Cheryl Anderson with the Cabrillo Symphonic Chorus and Cantiamo. Holy Cross Parish Hall, 170 High St., Santa Cruz. Free. Co-sponsored by Poetry Santa Cruz]
In the 20 years I’ve known him, as personal friend and colleague at Cabrillo College, as co-host of KUSP’s Poetry Show (the longest running poetry radio program in the U.S.), as author of ten volumes of poetry, as film reviewer and as Santa Cruz County Artist of the Year, Mort Marcus has impressed me as a gifted and extraordinarily generous person, an enthusiast, at once sharp, discerning and unusually open to a wide range of poets and styles.
Mort is one of the reasons why I feel at home here. Something about Santa Cruz makes it possible for a writer or, indeed, any artist, to feel supported, sustained… true, the place is sometimes beyond tolerant. Great! It makes up for all those other places where generosity of spirit is in short supply.
There’s a difference between solitude and isolation. You can’t write without solitude, so it seems to me. But it’s what you feel when you emerge from your “cave” that makes the difference… it’s possible to emerge and realize no one gives a good goddamn what you’ve been up to. And it’s also possible to emerge and re-enter the community, so to speak. It’s the couple hundred member Poetry Santa Cruz… a group that organizes readings, lots of readings, runs a lively website and does all it can to get the word out… and then the people who actually turn out, the local bookstores (Bookshop Santa Cruz and the Capitola Book Cafe) that sponsor readings, the Museum of Art and History, another venue… plus a multitude, it seems, of 5 – 10 member writing groups, which meet to critique member’s work. And the standard, generally speaking, is pretty high.
I came here in 1985 after 14 years in Canada. Twenty-three years later… Santa Cruz is home. And, one way and another, with his KUSP Poetry Show, his teaching, his bringing in writers from around the country, Mort helped create what most writers here feel… which is to say sustained… in a loose-knit, but still strong and supportive writing community. This sounds a little over the top, a little Better Business Bureau… I dunno, I been around, I’ve learned to know when I’m in a hell hole, a hell hole for me anyway, and when there’s something else to emerge into… “Many beautiful people with much light” is how Baba Ram Dass described another community I lived in… in Canada… the description applies as well to Santa Cruz.
A few years ago I interviewed Mort for Caesura, Sept. 2004, the 25th Anniversary Issue of a magazine published by Poetry Center San Jose.
Imagination and the Shape-Shifting Beast:
An Interview with Morton Marcus – (excerpted from 4,400 word interview)
[Begins with a little background – Q/A follows]
The Britannica Yearbook said of When People Could Fly that in Marcus “the prose poem found a marvelous godfather,” and Publisher’s Weekly called the book “unerring” in its “vital retellings of our myths.” Regarding the same book, critic Peter Johnson said that “Marcus is writing some of the best prose poems being published today” and “his sensibility and poetics will continue to influence…the next generation,” while poet Vern Rutsala wrote that the book “strikes me as a major contribution to our lives and to our literature.”
Marcus taught English and Film at Cabrillo College for thirty years, until his retirement in 1998. His sixteen-part televison history of film, Movie Milestones, has been shown on many cable television stations, and is the main visual source of film history at the AFTRS, the Australian national film school. He has been a longtime co-host of KUSP radio’s “The Poetry Show” and is the co-host of the film review television show “CinemaScene” on the AT &T Broadband network in Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and San Jose. He also leads a film discussion group at Santa Cruz’s Nickelodeon theater on the first and third Saturday of every month. He has curated film series at various museums and has taken part in several panels on literature and film at the John Steinbeck Center.
Interview (brief excerpt)
1. ROBERT: Mort, what do you mean by plain style?
MORTON MARCUS: To me, plain style is clear style: clarity of expression that is always conversational in essence and tone. It is never ornate or pursues verbal pyrotechnics. Although I’ve used many approaches in my poems over the years, for the most part I’ve presented them with an austere clarity, almost a simplicity of grammar and vocabulary. And again, I’m more concerned with giving the impression of a voice speaking than singing. That’s pretty much William Carlos Williams’ legacy for the poets who started writing in the 1950s and after. Find the American voice box, he said, We don’t speak English; we speak American. And we speak, we don’t sing. So with me, voice rhythms are all. As is clarity. The pursuit of clarity has always been a conscious decision on my part and has to do with my focus on imagery and metaphor as the core of my work.
2. RS: How do you hear your poems? That is, what do you “hear” first in your mind and–tricky question–how then do your poems find their way from head space, so to speak, to the physical page?
MM: One of the ways, a predominant way I think, that I develop a poem is through imagining a voice speaking, a particular voice that is talking to me or which I’m overhearing, a voice whose rhythm and tone I let guide the method and structure of what I’m writing in so far as tone, line length, stanzaic arrangement and form are concerned—some of the latter, of course, are only relevant when I’m writing verse poems.
3. RS: You’re saying the voice mode is primary…
MM: No, that’s just one way I develop a poem; a major way, it’s true. But for me, the voice is secondary to the imagery and/or metaphors that reveal themselves in the course of the writing.
4. RS: Explain.
MM: Maybe if I described one of the methods I use to write a poem, this will become clearer. But let me warn you that my description may sound fanciful…
To begin with, images and metaphors in almost all cases appear like golden medallions in the vaulted darkness of my psyche.
5. RS: if I may say so, the preceding sentence strikes me as out of keeping with what you said earlier about “plain style.”
MM: No, no. You’re confusing two things here. My imagery may be baroque, even decadent, but my language is plain.—And I warned you that this might sound fanciful. But let me go on. I was saying that images and metaphors in almost all cases appear like golden medallions in the vaulted darkness of my psyche. Let me add that their appearances are unplanned and unexpected. A long time ago I decided that these appearances were in many cases the beginning of the creative act for me, and that it was my task to pursue their meanings by following their development, which many times consisted of grappling with their changes in shape and direction. Is that clear so far?