By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Poetry Café features and supports poets and writers from around the globe. This week, we feature the work of textbook writer turned poet Marianne Brems.
Marianne Brems is a writer of trade books, textbooks, short stories, and poetry. She has an MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks from Finishing Line Press: Sliver of Change (2020), Unsung Offerings (2021), and In Its Own Time (forthcoming in 2023). Her poems have also appeared in a number of literary journals. She is an avid cyclist and open-water swimmer. She lives in Northern California. You can visit her website here.
We reached out to Marianne to talk about her work, influences, and inspirations.
Meet Marianne Brems!
AN: Welcome, Marianne, to the Flapper Press Poetry Café. While doing my research for this interview, I was moved by author Audrey Kalman's advice on how to read your poetry:
"These are pieces that appear quotidian but reveal deeper truths. You'll want to read them more than once to connect with the power and emotion lurking under their surfaces."
This brings me to a general question: what suggestions might you offer to our readers as they embark on not just reading your poetry but poetry in general? How can they best enhance their experience with the written word? Should poetry always be read out loud? Should a poem be read many times, or is a "one and done" approach equally effective as a reader navigates a poetry book?
MB: Try to approach any poem you read with an open mind. There are so many reasons why authors write poems, and you’re not going to understand all the poems you read; but if you approach a poem with patience and curiosity, you are likely to come away with some sort of emotion. It may be the meaning, or the rhythm, or the melody of the words, or maybe all three. It may take several readings (I know this is true for me), but most often it’s worth it. Even if a reader is not particularly fond of a poem, they can usually learn something.
I think reading poems aloud is especially important for the author. It helps to get the rhythm and the sound right and make sure the length of the words or the lines do not get in the way of the meaning. If readers can also listen to a poem, I think it adds another dimension. The best scenario is if the reader can listen while also seeing the text.
AN: Tell us a little bit about your journey that brought you to the decision to publish your work. As I reviewed your books, I noticed that you started publishing later in life and then with great success—a book a year, if I am correct. With such talent, why did you wait? And do you ever wish that you had started publishing sooner?
MB: I actually started publishing books a long time ago. My first was published in 1978, and nine more followed before I started writing poetry five or six years ago. My publishing life has spanned three different careers. When I first started writing, I was a swim coach, so I wrote several instructional books about swimming. Then I became an English as a Second Language instructor and I wrote textbooks in that field. The last textbook I wrote, with two co-authors, took us five and a half years to complete. That kind of did it for me, and writing something that came in smaller more manageable chunks seemed like an attractive alternative, so I started writing poetry.
AN: What are some of the subjects you have not explored in your writing to date that you might consider writing about in the future?
MB: In my critique group, we have started experimenting with writing different kinds of formatted poems, like villanelles, sestinas, pantoums etc. I had my doubts at first, but I have definitely learned something from each of these forms. While I still prefer to write in free verse, I may try some more poems using various verse forms. It has also occurred to me to experiment with some different points of view, such as writing from the perspective of an inanimate object, like the trombone I used to play
AN: Share your poetic goals and where do you hope to "land" with your poetry.
In essence, why do you write?
MB: So far, I have published individual poems and chapbooks, but I’d like to do one or more full-length collections as well.
I write because few things in life give me more pleasure than creating order in the vignettes of life and then making connections between them and expressing them as clearly and vividly as possible. Words and the infinite ways we can use them is endlessly fascinating to me.
AN: I noticed that in your career you were involved with editing technical books. Did this job teach you to be more exacting in word selection when writing poetry? And I have to ask, which do you rely on more: adjectives, nouns, or verbs in a poem you craft to best grab the attention of your reader?
MB: Technical editing represents only a tiny fraction of the writing I’ve done, so I’m not sure how much of an effect that had. Probably not much.
I think I often use a lot of adjectives in my writing. I have heard it said that your nouns and verbs should speak for themselves if you are showing rather than telling in your writing, but I don’t think I buy that. I really don’t consider what parts of speech I’m using when I write. I just use whatever seems to best carry the message.
AN: Why do you think poetry is important, and how can poetry make a difference in today's world?
MB: At a conference I went to somebody said that poetry is the fastest-growing art form around. Whether or not this is true (and how can you really measure), I think in general people are experiencing a great deal of stress and turmoil in their lives these days between COVID and political unrest. Perhaps poetry is providing an outlet for a lot of people. Poetry is also so nice and portable, unlike pieces of art or music. You can carry a poem or a book of poems around with you most anywhere and have a look pretty much anytime you want.
AN: Thank you for joining us in the Flapper Press Poetry Café today, and we would like to ask you to share a sampling of your poems and their backstories with our readers now.
We wish you good fortune in all your future writing endeavors.
MB: Thank you for having me, and thank you for producing Flapper Press. I think it’s a valuable resource for readers as well as writers. It provides a unique venue for each to connect with the other.
This poem is based on the experience my two sisters and I had as our mother suffered for six years from failing health and advancing dementia. We were spread out across the county: myself and my younger sister in California, my older sister in Boston, and our mother in Illinois. The three daughters took turns visiting every 3–4 months and watched ourselves losing the mother we had known all our lives. It was heartbreaking.
No Food by Mouth
I carry into the hospital waiting area
the nameless constriction of my mourning.
Boxes of tissue wait on horizontal surfaces.
Every voice too loud.
Every noise amplified.
My mother hiked the Sierras into her 80s.
Played tennis until she was 90.
Now at 97 she lies with a fever of 102,
a needle in her arm,
little awareness of any of it.
Fellow strangers wait near me.
No reason to speak.
One offers me a cup of water.
My mother was here just
three months ago I say.
We talk about the mothers
we will have for a little longer,
the bond they cinched in our hearts,
their travel down love’s unpaved roads,
their departure from cognition,
the tangling of their feathers
against their will
in the chain-links of aging.
A nurse calls me.
I leave this better-known stranger
to hear what I already know.
Aspiration pneumonia the verdict.
No food by mouth the prescription.
As the fever shrinks,
my common sense grows.
ThickenUp and half-inch pieces
will have to do
for the next small forever.
I observed this Blue Heron while visiting Bodega Bay, CA. It struck me how animals with their simple-yet-often-difficult struggles for survival can exhibit a stillness so often missing in their human counterparts usually so busy with their bots and bits of electronic data.
A Simple Stillness
A Great Blue Heron scans a river bed
with deep elegant wingbeats,
then folds her wings for landing.
Her long sinewy toes spread lightly
on marsh grass.
She stands motionless as in a photograph,
as time slows before prey swims near.
No busy screens
or noise inside her head.
Amidst the urgency of sustenance,
just a simple story of stillness
like the last line in a book
before the cover closes.
Sometimes people who are suffering a life-changing personal loss ground themselves in the physical activities of daily life. It is a pursuit worth noting and one that we must allow to unfold.
Tangles of Loss
She clears away crumbs, brings in the mail,
moves the hose around the yard.
These are not things that fold
under the insistence of grief.
They merely proceed
to punctuate time and matter.
I imagine wrinkles of angst
seeping from her fingertips
as I watch her feed the dog.
Then her hand quickly smooths
the top of his head.
Married forty-one years,
his unexpected end so sudden.
It may be that lifting large boxes
while packing up the house
pushes back against
the tangles of her loss.
I must remember not to open with,
How are you?
each time I see her.
Annie Newcomer teaches poetry classes at the University of Kansas Medical Center's Turning Point—a place for hope and healing for people suffering with chronic health problems. Her North Stars series shares interviews with poets and writers and Annie's own experiences through writing.
Annie helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to write poetry!
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