Marías at Sampaguitas
Interview with Terese Mason Pierre
You have a chapbook forthcoming, Surface Area, can you tell us about it? What were your motives writing this chapbook?
My upcoming chapbook—tentatively titled Surface Area—is mainly about relationships. Earlier drafts, read by friends, have been described as ‘sensual,’ and ‘romantic.’ It was interesting for me, as a writer, to explore that theme, because, at the time, I had never been in a romantic relationship. Writing those poems was like writing fiction. I made it all up, even the more violent poems. I didn’t have any motives writing this chapbook—I didn’t plan to write one. I collected some of my best and favourite poems I had written in 2018 and noticed that they had some common themes—romance and nature—and thought that they might make a good chapbook. I’m really happy it’s getting made.
You are also working as a poetry editor at Augur Magazine. Does this position give you various point of views? What do you think about the work sent to you?
Yes, I’m Augur Magazine’s poetry editor. Augur Magazine is a speculative literature journal based in Toronto. While the senior editors and their assistants will each work on one fiction piece, I edit all the poetry we decide to publish. My position as an editor makes me really excited to see the work that’s out there. I feel privileged and honored. Augur Magazine has had quite of an impact on social media, so we get really excellent work sent to us. I feel somewhat lacking and insecure as an editor when I approach these pieces—they are already so amazing, what have I to edit? As a poet, I’ve only just begun marginally reaching into speculative poetry, which is the kind of poetry Augur accepts, and I’m blown away by the depth and breadth of the genre. Our contributors are fantastic.
Tell us about your reading series which take place in Toronto. How does it feel these gatherings to you?
I currently help out with the Shab-e She’r Poetry Night, which takes place at the Tranzac Club. It was founded by Iranian poet Bänoo Zan—she’s quite a force—and has grown into, what I think, is a staple in this Toronto poetry scene. I love going to reading series—as an organizer, featured reader, or audience member—because I have always enjoyed literary environments. More practically, I think reading series are excellent places to meet fellow writers, hear new poetry, and build community. That’s why it’s so important that reading series need to be held in accessible spaces, so as many people as possible can feel welcomed and safe. I’m glad to participate in any way I can.
In your poems, “Expanse”, “Growing” and “Bow” which were published by The Temz Review, you give your reader nature themes mostly. Also we may say that your style is quite romantic. Which components feeds your themes?
When people ask me what my work is about, I now respond, “I write a lot about nature and shitty boyfriends.” I don’t know why I write these themes; I haven’t fully explored that part of my creative process. I think I was responding to—maybe mimicking—themes that I noticed were in a lot of poems anyway—nature and romance. I didn’t have experience with the later, so I made things up as I went along. I also pulled ideas from what I saw in the world around me, stories my friends would tell, and dreams I had. The three Temz Review poems are going to be in my upcoming chapbook.
If we can assume your poetry as romantic, what is the difference between your poetics and the German romantics? Can we say that you’re changing, distorting and creating a brand new romanticism?
I don’t know a lot about German Romanticism, with an uppercase R. (I try not to give myself a lot of homework when it comes to poetry, but I find myself wanting to be included in conversations on poetics nonetheless.) I do know that nature is a recurring theme in German Romantic literature, so there’s one point of comparison. Alternately, I consider my poetry romantic (lowercase r) because of its content. I don’t think I’m trying to be a Romantic poet, or creating a new brand. I think I am too focused on trying to figure out if my poetry is any good at all, rather than seeing where it fits in the grander literary ideological timeline.
Do you think that magazines play an important role in a poet’s/artist’s publishing career? How do you choose “the right” magazine/journal?
If you’re going to specifically use the word ‘career,’ then, yes, I do think literary journals, no matter their form, are important for poets. Broader than this, though, is exposure in general. Community—interacting with community—is important. I do think you’re a poet if you sit at home writing and never share your work, but whether you have a poetry ‘career’ is another question. I think literary magazines can get your work into the hands of new readers, and who knows where that might lead? I’ve also had some conversations with poets who say that publication in journals is seen as a literary ‘checkmark,’ at least where full-length manuscript queries are concerned, the same way many jobs want to see that you’ve gone to university, regardless of what field. It lets editors know that you do have some experience with the industry. It’s almost like a ritual.
When did you first realize your affinity for poetry? What is your “origin” story?
My love of writing, in general, came from formal education. I loved the Creative Writing components of English class in elementary and high school. My teacher would read my work out loud to the class, my mother would tell my teacher to take off marks for any misplaced comma to make me work harder. Poetry, therefore, would be school assignments. Once I realized poetry didn’t have to rhyme in order to be provocative and memorable, I kept writing. I started writing creatively at age 8, didn’t take writing seriously as a hobby until age 13, and started publishing my work at age 16. My first poetry publication was in the Toronto Public Library’s Young Voices Magazine (which I later edited). Young Voices was instrumental and causal in creating my current poetry involvement.
Which is your favorite genre to read? Which is your favorite to write?
Growing up, I enjoyed speculative fiction—from Harry Potter, to Percy Jackson to Hunger Games. Now, as I’ve been introduced to literary fiction, I try to find a happy middle. I like to read speculative fiction that “disguises” itself as realistic fiction, speculative fiction that you wouldn’t find in the fantasy or science fiction sections of a bookstore or a library (e.g. Andre Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs, Paige Cooper’s Zolitude, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, Thea Lim’s An Ocean of Minutes). I enjoy writing short fiction and poetry, but I’ve been writing the latter for years longer. I like the way poetry can be succinct, yet unabridged and whole.
What is your ‘process’ for writing poetry?
When I write poetry, I start with an image, a line, or an experience, all of which I glean from my embodied existence in the world—consuming media, talking to my friends and other poets, trying to approach things differently. I let the ideas sit in my head for a while before writing them down (I use a notebook and a phone). I try to write continuously, if I can. If I don’t know what word to use, I’ll leave a small space and continue. Also, I try not to be concerned with how “complex” my poetry is. Learning to not compare yourself to others is difficult. I tend to write shorter poems, about a page in length. My poems tend to be narrative, tend to have an “I” speaker. When the poem is finished, I don’t spend long editing it, because, at that point, I have exhausted myself and I don’t want to work on it anymore. I set it aside and go back to it later. Then, I submit it to journals for publication. Nearly every poem I’ve written I’ve had published somewhere. I have never been secretive or closed off about my poetry in that respect. I want to share my work. It’s not personal.
Which do you prefer more: writing poetry or reading poetry? I most prefer listening to poetry, then writing poetry, then reading poetry. Admittedly, it takes great patience and time for me to sit with a poetry book and read the whole thing, and, if I really try, I can write a few poems a day (not that they’ll be perfect). I also purchase books of poetry, because I like to be surrounded by that literature.
When writing poetry, do you write from emotion? What usually inspires you? When putting together a chapbook/collection of poetry, what do you keep in mind? How do you keep it a cohesive piece of work?
The emotion comes after my initial idea, when I search for ways to attach the idea to something concrete, something I can build a story around. I am inspired by many things, and I don’t know when inspiration will strike, but, as I mentioned earlier, I tend to write about nature and romance. There’s so much to talk about there. When I put together my chapbook manuscript, I didn’t have a plan or strategy. Since I don’t have a lot of poems set aside, I gathered all I’d written during 2018 and noticed that there were just enough connecting themes for them to be considered a collection. For the next chapbook I’m writing, I definitely started with an idea—speculative poetry—but left that broad enough to write what I feel like. If you’re going to write any collection in that way—treating it like a Project—I think you need to give yourself enough freedom.
I know a lot of poets/novelists, writers in general, struggle with marketing themselves and their services. Have you ever encountered this feeling? If so, how did you overcome it?
I have struggled with putting myself out there because I don’t like to talk about myself a lot, even though I will gladly sing the praises of others, and I consider myself extroverted. I think it’s because I don’t want to seem like I’m bragging, or taking up space that isn’t mine. In that way, I understand completely why writers struggle with marketing. It is a fact that we have these skills—writing, editing, performing, etc.—but being confident in them is another story. I don’t think I’ve overcome that struggle as of yet, but I am hopeful.
Do you feel that social media has helped poets? Why or why not? If so, what platform do you believe has helped you the most with marketing yourself?
I do think social media can be a positive tool in the lives of writers and other artists. I consider myself somewhat successful on social media (I’m willing to be proven wrong on that, however). I think what helps me is that I am also going out and meeting people in person, so others can connect my face to my name. I think that people want to support me ad my writing because they know me in real life, most of the time. Social media serves as a way to stay in touch with other people, to promote their events, celebrate their achievements—and I’d like to think that they do the same for me. Another thing I do is Friend writers who I haven’t met in person, but with whom I have multiple Facebook friends. They accept my friend requests because we have mutual friends in the writing scene, and when we eventually meet in person, we know a little about each other from observing each other’s feeds. This isn’t something I recommend everyone do—Friending strangers—but it has, strangely, worked for me.
What are your methods for overcoming ‘writer’s block’? What do you do when you can’t seem to find inspiration?
I don’t rush myself. If an idea isn’t coming, it isn’t coming. I think creativity is like a muscle that, while it can be trained, sometimes wears out. In the interim, I like to watch YouTube videos on a variety of topics, and chat with my friends. I’ll find that I start to get inspired in ways I least expect.
A lot of writers struggle with time management. Do you have a day job? If so, how do you balance work, writing (poetry and your novel), family, and personal time?
I currently work at the Toronto Public Library as a page; I mainly shelve books that are returned. I also volunteer at Mt. Sinai Hospital, and at the University of Toronto’s Hart House on various committees. I also live with my family, and need to contribute. I write whenever I can. I try not to feel guilty for not writing as much as I would like, and I remind myself that people start writing and publishing at various ages—there’s no rush. It’s not a balance per se, but I constant evaluation of my priorities. The writing will always be there.
What do you want the readers to know about you?
I want the readers to know, first and foremost, that I am not an expert. I’m trying. Sometimes I fail, but I aim to learn alongside that failure. Also, I have interests outside of creative writing. I’m really into philosophy—I have a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in it—specifically bioethics and applied ethics. Philosophy is very helpful in shaping my writing, the way I think about my ideas, the structure I decide to use in my poems, and the questions I ask myself as a writer. I also love music, and have been singing in choirs my whole life. Someday, in addition to writing, I hope to become a medical doctor and bring my artistic side to my practice in some way.
Where do you expect to see yourself (as a writer) in the next five years? The next ten years?
In the next five years, I hope to finish one manuscript of poetry. In the next ten years, a second poetry manuscript and a novel. I have a list of dream journals I’d like to be published in someday, so as I keep writing, I’ll keep submitting to them.
Are there any immediate events or publications that you have coming up that you want the readers to know about?
I have a poem coming out in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, about Black women’s experiences in healthcare. I also have a poem published in the Hart House 100th Anniversary Edition of the Hart House Review.
Interview conducted by Nazlı Karabıyıkoğlu, who is the Interview Editor for Marías at Sampaguitas. She is an author from Turkey, enthusiastic traveler, Feminist activist, and Mother of four cats and countless animals all over the world. Full-time resident in Georgia, escaped from the oppression in Turkey. Has 5 published books in Turkish. For further information: www.nazlikarabiyikoglu.com.