Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Life of a Poet - Margo Roby

Kids, today we are taking a transcontinental flight. We will be flying over  some exotic places. A clue: there might even be penguins! In order to interview Margo Roby, global citizen, world traveler, and talented creator of  Wordgathering,  we have used our press pass to hop aboard a very large jet. As we are going first class, I am hoping they will provide us with a beverage and at least a bag of peanuts, along with our air sickness bags. Take your seats, kids, and try not to fight over the windows. We are going to hit some spots on our Bucket Lists today with someone who has lived and traveled all over the world.

Poets United: Margo, your site is a treasure trove of writing information and links to other sites and resources. What a feast for a writer to wander through! Your history looks fantastically interesting as well – lots of stories there, I have little doubt. I’m so excited to hear them. Shall we start with your childhood? Tell us about your first twenty years in Hong Kong? (Wow!)

Margo: Wow! indeed. I haven't been able to wrap my head around a poem of this, my most beloved of places, never mind tell about the twenty years! In brief, my parents met in Hong Kong. Dad worked for a business, mom was in the CIA [I kid you not--my grandmother was too]. They loved Hong Kong so much, they stayed thirty years. My two brothers and I were born and grew up there.

image by Mao Yi Gang

For those who have been there, or seen pictures, try to imagine this: When I lived in Hong Kong, the tallest building was seven stories. 

Poets United: Whoa!

Hong Kong today

Margo: I know! By the time I left, it was the harbinger of what we see today. Growing up there was a child's and a parent's dream. I could go anywhere on the island, at any time of the day and night, alone.

Our apartment was in what they call the mid-levels, on the Peak Tram stop number two, MacDonnell Road. I could walk into town in ten minutes, I could take the Peak Tram, I could grab a bus. The Peak Tram was how I got to elementary school every day. Zip up two stops to May Road and then walk a quarter mile along a cool highly vegetated road with a couple of apartment buildings.

I attended a British school until my junior year when the Hong Kong International School was built. American system: piece of cake; I remember nothing. British system: intense; I still know the corn laws of Britain in the early 1800's, [not that that is terribly useful, but one never knows.]

I cannot capture the place except to say that I have been away several  decades and the loss is still a part of who I am.

Poets United: And then you married? Can you tell us a bit about being an army wife and raising your kids as globetrotters?  (What an unusually interesting life you have lived!)

Margo: And then I married. After High School I chose a university in Texas, it being my idea that I wanted to marry a rancher. I was told later that Trinity [in San Antonio] was not the place to go to find ranchers. But, I did meet Skip who was training to become an officer in the Army, and forty years later here we are. If I may resort to mush for a moment: he is my poetry.

Poets United:  [Wistful Sigh.] SO lovely!

Margo: My poor husband. I was never, at any time in his twenty year career, an Army wife. I didn't get them, so I didn't play. But I loved the travel, something we never tire of. We were stationed in Monterey, CA, where we both learned to speak Greek; northern Greece, where our son was born; Monterey, where our daughter was born; Crete -- need I say anything? Next was Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, which was one of my favourite places, given the historical aspects. I worked as the Curator of Conservation at the military museum [the largest of all of them] and marveled that one could work hard and think of every minute as play. Next was a quick stop in Monterey [our friends had all stopped talking to us at this point], for a course in Malaysian; Kuala Lumpur for a year and a half; Springfield, VA, where I worked in a bookstore and collected a lot of books; and finally, Skip's final two years, in Jakarta.

 Margo's name graffiti'd on a wall in Jakarta

Kids, I'm starting to feel a little woozy, from all the zipping back and forth. How are you doing? We can ask the flight attendant for some water, that might help - and fanning those thoughtfully provided little bags works too. There. Better now.

Poets United: And then Jakarta: fill us in! Teaching, living there......what was it like? Did your kids grow up there?

Margo: Our son was only there two years before graduating, but our daughter considers Jakarta home. Jakarta was...interesting. I loathed the city, crowded, polluted, unwieldy, but loved my job passionately. My husband, after retirement from the Army, appreciated my passion and found other jobs, until  the school called him and asked if he would like to join the Middle School and teach computer tech. Having substitute taught there, he leapt.

I fell into teaching, had never done it before, but if I could choose anywhere to teach, this would be it. The Jakarta International School has a huge campus. The High School, where I worked in the English Department,  is made up of modules with winding walkways, trees, flowers, shrubs, stone, space. The different departments each have a module. The students wanted to study; even the most un-student-like made an effort. The admin left us alone to teach. They were irksome in many other ways, but not in the classroom.  And, we had unlimited supplies.

Perhaps what we most appreciated about living in Jakarta was leaving Jakarta every chance we had. We traveled to other parts of Indonesia, and there are many gorgeous, and historically interesting places. We have seen Borobudur, and Krakatoa, and spent many days in the bliss that is Bali. We visited other countries in Asia, went often to Australia and New Zealand, and went to Europe as often as we could. Having four breaks a year allowed us to spoil ourselves in this regard.

 Skip and Margo on top of a mountain in New Zealand - 
to which they were helicoptered 

Margo on a beach in Broome, Australia

Poets United: I must say, since I live vicariously if, indeed, I live at all, I am enjoying this journey immensely. I may just be able to cross off most of the places on my Bucket List, at this rate.  Where next?


Margo: Peachtree Road, Atlanta. I feel like I am in a novel. The name has such pedigree! But we love it. Why Atlanta? Because that is the International School that hired Skip. And we decided it was time for us to become a one-income family, so I could stay home and write.

We are in an apartment and are loving apartment living -- so convenient, as is the location. There is nothing I need in my life, I cannot walk to. The weather is terrific [from our point of view]; the area we are in is very international [I love that the grocery stores have a huge section of British food. Makes me feel like I am in my childhood]; every stage play and concert comes through Atlanta, at some point [we have Neil Diamond tickets for June!!!]; and Atlantans love food, so the restaurant scene is unbelievable.

Poets United:  What do you most love about your life today?

Margo: No more papers to mark. I have been able to relearn cooking, and am loving it as if it were a new arena. I am in complete control of what I do with each day. Now I am trying to relax and ratchet back that control a bit. And, most of all, I can write.

Poets United: Oh, yes, I suppose we should talk about writing? When and how did you discover writing poetry? What made you pick up a pen and start writing on that first piece of paper?

Margo: I never get tired of this story, because I still find it a miracle of happenstance. It was 1992, I was approaching forty, and I was beginning my second year of teaching. We [the English department] had hired a new teacher over the summer and the credential I was most interested in was that he was an internationally published writer, with his main focus on poetry. The area of my teaching of which I was most unsure, was the analysis of poetry.

During the teacher prep days leading up to the first semester, I saw that Jack's schedule included creative writing. In talking with him, I found that the first semester would focus solely on poetry. I asked if I could take the class with the students. I figured if I knew how poetry worked, I could teach its analysis. He asked the class and the upshot was that I spent a semester learning what went into writing poetry.

I picked up my pen the first day of class because my teacher told me to :-) I know that two of the earliest exercises were writing a diamante, and writing to music.

Poets United: I can see your background as a teacher on your site, as there are so many discussions about poetry, explanations of the various forms, and links to so many other writing sites. You have created a wonderful resource for poets. (Kids, check it out if you haven’t already.) Is this the format you envisioned when you began blogging ?

Margo: When I began blogging, it was with the intent, from the first, to create a site where I hoped to make the writing of poetry accessible to any level of writer.

Poets United: You have certainly accomplished that. Have you written a poem that you think best defines you as a person?

Margo: Sherry, I do have one, that I used recently in an interview with Poetic Bloomings  [Kids, this link will take you to the very interesting interview, which covers a lot of what we don't address here.]

If Once I Wished
[After Granger’s the letter I]

I wonder what if death were nothing
a waking to snowfall
ice comes undone

Eighty springs beat through me in whispered floods.
The end of my life sounds a retreat
from a time where my mind lives and the sun shines
and the days seem forever.

Once I sang
of hill and sky of earth and sea,
plucked a stalk of grass
and took away the ocean in a shell.
I thought that grown-up people chose
and flew as high as Icarus,
an idle visitation.

I tried to live small
a girl waiting for her lover
when love was gone like a breath
and I was alone then looking at the picture of a child.

I wish that I were so much clay. A fragment.
I wish I could remember the first day.
I wish I had the voice of Homer reaching through the years.
I wish I knew the names of all the stars.
I wish I lived in a peddler’s caravan no known destination
and wonder what I mean by sanctuary.

I am tired of being a woman
considering the outnumbering dead.
I will not be inhabited.
I want my house with open doors
as I wait for him who restores my fingertips.

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow
and walk, a prisoner to the road.
I walk by the seashore facing against the wind.
I walk out into the country at night
through a snowfall to the hill where he and I were young.

A blanket of stillness surrounds me
and the loamy black earth lies fallow
under a rime of frost.
The moon glances off the surface
and I know

all my life
has led me to this winter
when my body will sleep
beneath the cold, black earth
and tomorrow will be as dust.

Life shines sweetly near my winter moment.

Published in Waterways, June, 2011

Poets United: So beautiful, Margo. Wow. That last line gives me chills. You say in the Poetic Bloomings interview that the speaker is not you, but the poem is who you are. Can you explain this further? 

Margo: I was taught that the poet is never the speaker. In crafting a poem, the integrity of the  poem comes before fact, so poets create speakers. That doesn't mean parts or even most of a poem is about the poet, but we don't know where the poet changed something to make the poem work. When I say the poem is who I am, I mean the spirit of the speaker, and the style of the poem. Does that make sense?

Poets United: Indeed, it does. Who is your most favourite poet, either well known or not? Has his or her work had any influence on your writing style?

Margo: Robert Frost. Always has been, always will be. While I have loved many poems by many poets, I love every poem of his. I have had his complete works since I was about twelve. The second question is interesting. I am going to say yes, sub-consciously. His writing is direct, spare, with strong nouns, verbs, and sensory details. Those are the things I strive towards, while also wanting to be able to let loose in a flood of imagery and metaphor, something I have only accomplished in two poems.

Poets United: And who would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing?

Margo: Jack Penha, my friend and colleague, whose class I took. He worked with me, teaching, editing, showing how writing works, for years. I mention him often in my posts.

Poets United: When you aren’t writing, what other interests do you pursue?

Margo: Cooking and reading, but writing is pretty much most of the time, in one form or another.

Poets United: You have lived a very adventurous life, Margo. When you look back, what day stands out the most in your memory?

Margo: Tough one. When I read the question, my brain presented, simultaneously, images of: our wedding, our children's births, the moon landing, and the moment I heard of JFK's death.

Poets United: Oh, great answer! The Kennedy era, and the days of the civil rights movement, still haunts me, too. Of everywhere you have lived, which place did or do you love the most, and why?

Margo: Oh, Hong Kong. I'm not even sure I can explain it, but it is in my blood, so much so that its landscape is me and I am its landscape. My brothers feel the same. My parents must have, to live there thirty years. When the home office in New York periodically wrote my dad to tell him he really must come back, he wrote back to say he would quit. They left him alone, after a couple of tries.

I used to tell my students, at the beginning of each school year, that I have an English brain, a Chinese soul, and an American passport.

Poets United: I so love that description. You are a global citizen, which is very cool. Will there be more traveling in your future? Or are you done with all that yet?

Margo: Good question. If you mean are we traveled out, I'm close. If you mean, have we lived elsewhere long enough and are ready for here, hmmmmm......... I think the only move left will be to San Antonio, where, as far as we have planned, we will retire. We will stay in Atlanta for as long as Skip enjoys his job, which we hope will be at least another couple of years. We are loving living in a flat, especially one convenient to everything. And, we love Atlanta.

Okay, if money were no object, which I take to mean I am rolling in it, I would live in London [with Venice trailing a little behind]. My entire family has had a love affair with London for as long as I can remember. So if someone said "London" tomorrow, we are there.

Puerto Rico. Not on my bucket list, but we do plan to go there, probably for Fall Break. We would go during Spring Break, but thought we might go visit our new granddaughter, due to arrive February 23rd!
I went on Amazon yesterday and bought the first grandmother things: a car seat, two crib toys, and the 65th anniversary edition of Dr. Spock's child and baby care book. Then I got away as fast as I could before I really started looking at stuff.

Poets United: ACK! Dr Spock's 65th edition? How frightening! I am older than I thought! Quick! The little bags! (fanning furiously) But how wonderful to be awaiting your first grandchild. And a girl! Bonus!

Margo: (Smiling.) As for the Bucket list...I do have one, but it's a money no object sort of thing. I would like to travel on all the luxury train trips that are still around in the world: across Russia, India, Africa, Canada. And I want to take the boat cruise from start to finish of the Danube. Otherwise, I am content with all the places I have been and lived.

Antarctica from above, as seen by Margo and Skip, and now us. And for those with poor eyesight, like me, here are the promised penguins:

Poets United: I just looked up the fare for a train trip across Canada. Yoiks! I cant even get as far as Alberta, hee hee. So I know what you mean about money having to  be no object. The trip across Russia would be incredible. You must take Dr Zhivago with you! (In book form, that is.)  What have you learned about the world from your travels?

Margo: Well, I am a historian, as well as a writer of poetry. People don't change; only the things around them change. The same motivations and emotions possessed by our earliest ancestors are what move us today.

Poets United: Interesting outlook. Do you have a cause or causes that are dear to your heart?

Margo: The Southern Poverty Law Center which fights hate crimes; anything to do with literacy; teacher's rights; and the World Wildlife Fund.

Poets United: Awesome causes. What are your writing goals for 2012?

Margo: To have a chapbook published. But first I need to write enough poems to fit a theme!

Poets United: Me too. Let's have a race! Any advice for a beginning or less confident writer?

Margo: Yes. You are allowed to write crap. You are allowed to have lousy stuff --my notebooks are full of things that didn't work. That's how we get to writing that does work.

Never throw anything away. The poem itself might not work, but you can mine it for ideas, words, and phrases.

Find a supportive group of writers, and post. What's the worst thing that can happen? Someone doesn't like the poem [or prose piece]. Think about it: do you like every poem you read? There will be people who like and people who don't like what you write, but it's not a reflection on you. Having said that, it took me a long time to not feel vulnerable when submitting, and posting.

Poets United: Sage advice, Margo. Thank you. Anything else you’d like to say to Poets United?

Margo: Thank you for being. I have been with this site since its inception, or pretty close, and have loved watching it grow, the nurturing, the safety, the care for each other.

Poets United:  It is wonderful, isn't it? I so love it.  Thank you, Margo, for being such a loyal long-time member, and for giving us a look into your fabulous life – not to mention, this international flight and the great view out the window! In my next life, I'm coming back as you!

Kids, the stewardesses are coming down the aisles snapping the little tables back against the seats, and are gesturing at us to fasten our seat belts. We have zoomed through Hong Kong, Jakarta, and even crossed over Antarctica. Now it is back to the U.S. of A., where I will catch my shuttle flight home to Canada.

Sigh. Wasn’t this a wonderful trip? And isn’t it true that the people behind the pens are some of the most interesting folks around? Week by week, we discover it’s true. Do come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. Thank you for the interview, great to learn more about you, Margo!

  2. Sherry, that was a wonderful interview. Thank you. I enjoyed your approeach to this one. Being on an airplane seems to appropriate for one who has done so much traveling. Margo, I enjoyed learning more about your life. I knew a few of these things (from your blog), but not in detail. You have lived in some fascinating places and had great experiences. Thank you for all you give so freely of to the blogosphere!

  3. You've led quite a life, Margo. Loved your permission giving advice to new writers. Keep at that chapbook!

    Great interview, Sherry!

  4. Wow! I keep saying wow! I am finished reading the poem, the interview, the incredible life Margo has led. What an amazing writer. I feel like I have read an amazing novel that I couldn't put down, and now I hope for a sequel. Thank you Margo for sharing your story and thank you, Sherry for being a fantastic interviewer. I'm off to read more Margo Roby.

  5. Margo - (hang on a sec - I have to pick my jaw up off the floor!) Okay - now then, Wow! What an amazing life you lead - and have led. No wonder you write so beautifully - you have much to draw from.

    Sherry - thanks for this astonishing interview.

    Okay - I'm off to write a poem, which might be crap. ☼

  6. Love popping into Margo's realm. Love learning about her even more. Thank you both!

  7. Experience makes great teachers...and writers. WOW. thank-you for the interview and the kind advice to beginner writers;)

    Thank-you Sherry for a fabulous interview!

  8. I might add, take a look every Friday at Margo's Wordgathering site. She does an astounding job of sharing a lot of what is happening in the poetry blogosphere. Actually take a look at her site on Tuesdays (interesting prompts)and Thursdays(sharing 'news' and 'announcements'too).

  9. Margo is such an inspiration... this interview is great. I love how you came into poetry with your students, and the passport phrase is perfect... but old enough for a grandchild- hard to believe.

    Thank you both for this insightful interview.

  10. Sherry: I loved my interview :- ) I agree with Mary, your frame of an airplane flight made it such fun. Thank you for your journey with me.


  11. So happy you like it, Margo, and that everyone enjoyed it. A fascinating life indeed. I LOVE these stories every week - this one was a lot of fun, hopping about the planet!

  12. *smiling*'s as if I was sitting across from you at Panera. What a wonderful interview!! ~Paula

    (Blogspot won't let me comment via my WordPress login.)

  13. I am going to follow Paula's clever idea of entering my comment via anonymous. I am glad to see I am not the only one having problems with Blogger. I thought I was going mad.

    Thank you everyone for your lovely comments.


  14. Fantastic interview! Margo, you are a favourite of mine. Everything you do for each of us on your blog is a blessing. Thank you for more of a glimpse into your very interesting life. And thank you Sherry for the interview.


  15. From someone who has never lived more than 30 miles from the hospital where I was delivered, this is one great adventure. But, through the wonder of technology, I can now travel worldwide and back decades with the click of a mouse. Enjoyed the trip Sherry and Margo.


This community is not meant to be used in a negative manner. We ask that you be respectful of all the people on this site as each individual writer is entitled to their own opinion, style, and path to creativity.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Blog Archive