There are different types of poetry. There is the kind that paints a pretty image, and then there’s the kind that causes pause and ponder. I love the latter kind. For me, poetry offers respite, and good poetry marries my heart to my mind.
Magdalena and Carolyn write beautiful poetry—the type of poetry you’ll want to slowly savor…and then share with others. I recently read, and am re-reading, Sublime Planet. This is just one book from their Celebration series. After savoring just a few of these poems I knew you would want to meet these amazing ladies! Please enjoy the following interview and poetry samples.
Hello Carolyn and Magdalena, welcome to Museiddity!
To begin…I’m interested to hear about what place poetry holds in your life. How has writing poetry influenced your life, your outlook on life, or your sense of self?
Carolyn: I love poetry. It’s everywhere in my life. On signs I pass when I’m driving. On scraps of paper floating around my desk. It shows up in my fiction and—yes!—sometimes even in my nonfiction.
Magdalena: I’ve been writing (and reading) poetry for as long as I’ve been reading (say, around 4 y/o), so it has been a key part of how I look at the world, how I view myself and how I communicate with others. I try, wherever possible, to look at my own life and the world in which I live in a poetic way – that means the use of symbolism, metaphor, and trying to keep my perspective fresh and novel. I think I’m definitely a poet first as a writer, and that my fiction will grow, sometimes painfully, around my poetry.
You are both strong, successful, award-winning writers on your own. How did you come about collaborating on the Celebration series?
Carolyn: I’ll like to speak to this one because it will save Magdalena from bragging about her own site. My first chapbook of poetry was published by Finishing Line Press and I requested a review of it from Magdalena’s highly respected book review site The Compulsive Reader (http://CompulsiveReader.com/html). I was grateful that she said yes and I did my usual thank yous (part of any great marketing campaign—maybe even more important for poets!) and then more or less forgot about it. There is always so much to do! Then my poetry chapbook “Tracings” (http://budurl.com/carolynstracings) was listed on The Compulsive Reader’s 10 Best Reads List for the year. That set my little marketing brain to work. I realized I needed to know a whole lot more about this talented writer and business woman who lived a hemisphere away from me. Her name is Magdalena Ball and, I’m proud to say, we now have coauthored five chapbooks and one full book of poetry together. And we’re working on our next—also a full book. This one will have poems about (or inspired by) food.
This question also gives me the opportunity to say that, though many caution against the pitfalls of coauthoring (and I tend to agree!), I found the perfect partner in Magdalena. Our literary tastes are very similar, but our poetry is different enough to offer a reader variety. But mostly, she is an angel to work with.
Magdalena: I’ve been migrating The Compulsive Reader to a new platform and have had to hand set up each review, so I was reminded of the first review I did for Carolyn, otherwise I might not have even remembered how we met. It felt like serendipity. Somehow we’ve always managed to support one another, promoting in concurrent, effective ways, and critiquing each other’s work. Working together has had so many benefits, not least of which has been egging each other on to finish our projects (mostly Carolyn egging me on!).
In an attempt to describe your poetry I find myself using the words “intelligent” and “thought provoking.” How would you describe your poetry?
Carolyn: Absolutely. “Intelligent” and “Thought-provoking.” May I use that quote in my media kit? LOL. Magdalena?
Magdalena: Who am I to argue? Of course we’re always aiming towards provoking thought, but maybe more than that too. In “Man Carrying Thing”, Wallace Stevens said “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.” I like this idea of the poem and the reader working in sync with each reading towards a new shared sense of meaning, of perspective, of connection. That sense of the poem’s individual performance each time it’s read is something that excites me.
Yes! Each reading reveals a new facet, because the reader is in a different place.
Your most recent collaborative work is Sublime Planet. You mentioned that the proceeds go to World Wildlife Fund; can you share more on that?
Carolyn: We wrote this book to celebrate Earth Day. We already had books celebrating everything from Valentine’s to Christmas but celebrating Earth Day seems like a commitment to something larger. We thought about it for a bit and decided that we wanted an organization that most readers would feel comfortable supporting—indeed that they would want to help support. But we also wanted something that would have worldwide appeal because the authors (that would be Magdalena and me) came from such different parts of the world. Our diversity is part of what makes this book on Earth and the Universe so special.
Magdalena: We decided, right from the start of this book, that we would find an ecological charity and donate our profits. Initially we thought it might be a proportion, but poetry isn’t known for being super-lucrative, so in the end we decided to donate 100%. I suspect it may end up being more like 150%, but either way, the idea of using our writing to actually help a real live ecological charity, and WWF was a global one that we both felt good about, was something that felt absolutely right.
I want to thank you for that. By the time you add in the costs involved with publication, etc… this is a very generous donation to a respected, worthwhile, and much needed organization.
I’d like to take this opportunity to share a couple of my favorite poems from Sublime Planet: Transparent Love Song by Carolyn Howard-Johnson and The Immeasurable Sea and the Boundless Earth by Magdalena Ball.
Transparent Love Song By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
The amazing glass frog shows her eggs,
innards, and what she had to eat
that day to fellow Venezuelans
and anyone else who cares to look.
The barreleye fish her brains
to those who swim in deep dark
waters to find her. Down in Antarctica’s
ocean depths the crocodile icefish
has an oyster-white heart—not red—
a secret she does not mind sharing
with passersby. Somewhere in a valley
of a deepsea mountain range lives Phronima
whose invisibility protects her from diners
with a taste for the exotic, but not from scientists
who found her anyway, and out Hawaii
way a transparent larval shrimp hooks
a symbiotic ride
with a see-through jellyfish. The glass
squid lives down under, invisible
to passing whales and goblin sharks,
and—when that doesn’t work—rolls
herself into a ball hedgehog style.
A laboratory-designed zebra fish
willing to let scientists watch her cancers
grow, the glasswing butterfly reveals
only flowers beneath her wings. You, my dear,
the one who lives in my own domain
because, as they say,
Men are from Mars.
The Immeasurable Sea and the Boundless Earth by Magdalena Ball
A knife’s edge boundary
you can’t cross
no matter how loud
your song pressing
It isn’t really the bountiful, beautiful
Earth you want
not the ocean rich
with mysterious kelp
you’d like to cross.
There’s nothing you’ll find
in your ragged quest
digging dirty fingernails
against pica hunger.
in the uncharted horizon
your life spent mapping
dizzy with knowledge
you don’t already know.
Thank you, Carolyn and Magdalena, for visiting with us today and allowing me to reprint two of your marvelous poems.
The Celebration Series by Magdalena Ball and Carolyn Howard-Johnson offers both greeting card alternatives (at a greeting card price) and gift alternatives for holidays–using poetry. Carolyn says, “We think of it as a way to popularize/commercialize “real” poetry.”
Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day) will soon be here and these books are perfect little tuck-in gifts!
Following ate the titles included in the series so far are. All are available as paperback and e-books.
She Wore Emerald Then: Reflections on Motherhood (http://budurl.com/MotherChapbook)
Cherished Pulse: Love Poetry for the Rational
Imagining the Future: Ruminations on Fathers and Other Masculine Apparitions
Deeper into the Pond: A Celebration of Femininity
Blooming Red: Christmas Poetry for the Rational
And, of course, Sublime Planet in celebration of the Earth and Universe
To hear Magdalena read the title poem: http://magdalenaball.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/SublimePlanet.mp3
Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s several careers prepared her for promoting her own books and those of others. She was the youngest person ever hired as a staff writer for the Salt Lake Tribune—“A Great Pulitzer Prize Winning Newspaper”—where she wrote features for the society page and a column under the name of Debra Paige.
Later, in New York, she was an editorial assistant at Good Housekeeping Magazine. She also handled accounts for fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert who instituted the first Ten Best Dressed List. There she moved from reading effective media releases (then called press releases) to writing them for celebrity designers of the day including Pauline Trigere, Rudy Gernreich, and Christian Dior, and producing photo shoots for Lambert’s clients.
Carolyn’s experience in journalism and as a poet and author of fiction and nonfiction helped the multi award-winning author understand how different genres can be marketed more effectively. She has been an instructor for UCLA Extension’s renowned Writers’ Program since 2003 and has studied writing at Cambridge University, United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University in Prague.
She turned her knowledge toward helping other writers with her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers. Her marketing campaign for the second book in that series, The Frugal Editor won the New Generation Indie Best Book Award. You can connect with Carolyn at her website.
Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagine the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.
What is your favorite poem? Share your thoughts with us!