Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Life of a Poet - Mary Mansfield

Kids, today we are going on a road trip, down Route 66, through central Illinois, to stop in on Mary Mansfield and her lovely family. You'll find Mary at her blog Write Wing Conspiracy, on any given day, plotting, as she says "world domination one poem at a time".  I've provided some sparkling water and snacks for the road, so call "Shotgun", buckle up, and get ready to "Get your kicks, on Route 66!"

Poets United: Mary, would you like to give us a snapshot of your life right now,  so we can picture the poet in her setting?

Mary: I’ve lived in central Illinois my whole life, making my home today in a stereotypical small town along historic Route 66, somewhere in the middle of an ocean of corn and soybeans, with my husband of fourteen years, my eleven year old daughter, four cats, and a dog.

Poets United: I love this photo of you! I remember watching the TV show Route 66, when I was (much!) younger. What was life like for you, growing up?

from google

Mary: I grew up about twenty miles from where I currently live, in a very similar small town.  Summers were spent at the pool, the stock car races, or out in the neighborhood playing with friends.   School was something that came very easily to me.  I always got excellent grades without having to work particularly hard.  I was never one of the popular kids, but not quite an outcast either; I was able to get along with most everyone, with only a few exceptions. 

Poets United: Did you begin writing in high school?  Is there a story behind what your very first poem was about?

Mary: I was certainly interested in writing from around junior high school, but the writing bug didn’t quite sink its teeth into me until I signed up for a creative writing class my junior year.  I was always blessed with amazing teachers, but my creative writing teacher, Mr. Lancaster, definitely gave me the encouragement and freedom I needed to discover that I had a bit of talent for writing.

The earliest poem I still have is “The Lament of the English Student.”  I wrote it after one of those moments in class that we all have had, when we are called on for an answer and our mind goes completely blank.

The Lament of an English Student

Contact between mouth and brain is lost.
The floodgates of stupidity open,
Pouring out an array
Of double negatives
And overworked comparisons.
All rational thoughts have disappeared,
Leaving my participles dangling
Behind my shattered pride.

Poets United:  I  can definitely relate – at my time of life, I go through this at least five times a day! Have you written ever since, or have there been years when it was hit and miss?

Mary: Oh, it’s definitely been hit and miss for me for quite a long time, when it comes to my writing.  It seems that every time I would come to one of those moments when I would reassess my life and try to figure out my next move, writing would rear its head once again.  To an extent, I always felt a bit selfish when it came to taking the time necessary to write when there were so many other more productive ways I could be spending my time.  Thankfully I’ve become much more insistent these days about putting myself higher up the priority list and taking the time I need to express myself.

Alex and Mary

My daughter Emmy

Poets United: Good for you, Mary. What a lovely family you have! What is the story behind the name of your blog? 

Mary: I was sitting at my kitchen table, oh, almost two years ago now, listening to Glenn Beck on the radio (which I’m sure is a dead giveaway for many about where I fall on the political spectrum.)  They were discussing a few entries from a poetry slam and played a few clips in which the poets were stridently left-leaning, and I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, someone should see about writing some poetry from a more conservative point of view.” Then I had one of those head-slapping moments and realized, “You big dummy, you can do that!”  Write Wing Conspiracy is a very obvious spin on the phrase “vast right-wing conspiracy” that Hillary Clinton made famous.  Of course, since then I’ve discovered that political poetry is so hard to write without getting into pure vitriol and divisiveness, two qualities that I think really detract from the timeless quality I’d like  my work to have.

My miniature pinscher Cheech best neurotic and at worst possessed 
by a demon.  Total pain, but my daughter adores him.  

Poets United: Great story, Mary! And Cheech looks like an Old Soul. A little ticked off, maybe,  but an Old Soul. Hee hee. What led you to the blogosphere, and what effect has blogging had on your writing?

Mary: I just wanted someone…anyone…to read my work. Blogging has had a huge impact on my writing.  It helps to keep me disciplined, knowing that I need to keep writing, to keep posting because people actually want to see my work (something that still surprises me at times.)  Being part of the blogosphere has also given me the opportunity to connect with other poets on a regular basis.  I have learned so much from the online poetry community, and I continue learning more each day.

Poets United: Me, too, kiddo. On all counts. Which do you prefer: form poetry or free verse? How difficult (or not) do you find form poetry?

Boo is my "old lady" of the house at nearly 15 years old and at times still plays like a kitten.  

Mary: Absolutely free verse!  I’ve found some form poetry that I really enjoy working with, quaterns, shadormas, and triolets in particular.  I recently wrote a pantoum about my relationship with some of the more difficult forms. 

My Poetic Secrets (Now Everyone Knows)

I just can’t write a villanelle,
Sestinas make me queasy.
Sonnets send me to metered hell.
Whoever said that writing was easy?

Sestinas make me queasy
With their strictly fashioned style.
Whoever said that writing was easy?
My mood is growing more hostile.

With their strictly fashioned style
Poetic forms just make me curse.
My mood is growing hostile.
I miss the freedom of free verse.

Poetic forms just make me curse.
Sonnets send me to metered hell.
I miss the freedom of free verse.
I just can’t write a villanelle…

Poets United: This is so humorous. I love how your poem comes full circle. Do you write prose as well? Do you have any plans to write books?

Mary: I’ve dabbled a bit in prose in the past and must admit that I’m just itching to get back into it more fully.  I’ve got a few ideas down for a couple of novels, one of which I’ve been researching for some time now.  I’m hoping (fingers crossed) that I can get an outline and some more extended notes done enough to take part in NaNoWriMo this coming year.  I think the pressure of the one month deadline might just give me enough of a push to actually get a first draft done.

Poets United: That sounds really good, Mary. Go for it! Do you have a day job, and if you do, does working inevitably encroach on your writing time?

Mary: My background for years was in restaurant management, which is not conducive to writing at all, with its ever-changing schedules and long hours.  Chronic back pain is what finally sidelined me, and for the last six years I’ve been a full time mom.  Time off may be almost non-existent, but it is by far the most rewarding job I’ve ever done.

Poets United: It is, isn't it? What time of day or night do you prefer for writing?

Cuddles will curl up and sleep just about anywhere.  She is also the worst named cat in history, 
anyone who attempts to pick her up and cuddle her ends up shredded!  My other two fur babies, Chunks and Catnappy, are not very cooperative when it comes to photographs.

Mary: I’ve noticed that most of my writing tends to be done in the evening, but that’s more a factor of the family’s schedule than anything else.  My husband works the midnight shift, so after Em goes to bed I have lots of peace and quiet to do what I need to get done.

Poets United: Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your writing? Do you have a mentor or someone who encourages you to keep at it?

Mary: Years ago, when I first picked up my copy of “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg, it completely blew my mind.  I’ve learned so much from her books on the writing process, especially when it comes to accessing creativity and learning to trust myself, although I’d have to say the latter is still a work in progress.

Poets United: I love Natalie Goldberg!

Mary: I don’t necessarily have a writing mentor at this point, but I draw so much encouragement from the connections I’ve made in online poetry communities like Poets United.  The positive feedback and constructive criticism help keep me focused and energized, and I am so grateful to all those who have read and commented on my blog.

Poets United:  I feel exactly the same way. When you aren’t writing, what other interests do you enjoy?

Mary's in the blue car - (just kidding!)

Mary: I’m a huge NASCAR fan and watch as much as possible.  I’m also very into music and will jump onto a karaoke stage any time someone’s willing to put a mic in my hands.   

Poets United: Every interview, there is something that blows me away. The NASCAR watching but, even more so, the karaoke. You have no idea how much I always wanted to get up on a stage and sing, but I never had the confidence. Good for you! I wish we could insert a youtube video of you singing right here! 


Mary: I wish I had pictures from NASCAR to send to you, but attending a race in person is still on my bucket list.  We only live 45 minutes away from the Chicagoland Speedway, so I keep hoping something will work out to get me to the track.  But for now, race day finds me in the living room watching on the big screen.  There is a plus side to this lines for the bathroom, no sunburn, and the snacks aren't overpriced!

I don't have any karaoke pics or videos, but my husband just started his own DJ/karaoke service, and on weekends when he doesn't have a gig scheduled, he likes to set up and practice out in the garage.  It's kind of nice to be able to indulge basically whenever I'd like.

Poets United: That is so cool, Mary. You can Rock On right at home. So much fun! And I think you absolutely must attend NASCAR in person. It would be so cool!

Mary: Plus, every year for Halloween, we put a large display up in the yard, basically our own private haunted house, to share with the neighborhood, complete with animatronic monsters, lighting effects, and creepy music.  It’s something we try to improve each year, so I do help out with the planning and prop-building as much as I can.  I’m still lobbying for giant spiders, just can’t quite get the husband to agree to it yet!

Animated monster 2011

Poets United: An enormous one, up on your roof!!!!!! Totally spooky! Then blog it!!!!!  Who is your favorite poet ever?

Mary: Emily Dickinson, hands down.  I even named my daughter after her.  There is something about her poems that just resonated with me from the first time I read her work in school.  And her cadence, I often find it resounding through my own work when I try to write rhymed poetry.

Poets United: That is a cool tribute to Miss Emily, naming your daughter after her. Do you have a favorite poem, written by you, that you would like to share?

Mary: Wow, what a hard task!  That’s a bit like asking a mother to choose her favorite child.  There are several that I’m quite proud of, but I’d have to say “Joy and the Magic Man” is right at the top of the list.

Joy and the Magic Man

Over the years, Joy’s name
Seemed to fit her less and less,
Her spirit eroded by
A river of responsibilities,
Once supple skin scarred
By the acid touch of time,
Myopia pushing aside
The artistic visions of her youth.
She almost did not recognize him,
Black hair lightened into gray,
His slower steps assisted
By a cane that mirrored her own,
Nothing to gauge that he even saw her,
Much less remembered
The time when she was “his Joy,”
Back before she had developed
Any acumen at the craft of love.

He had been her Magic Man,
An alchemist whose tender touch
Turned her tears to drops of gold.
He sprinkled her life with wonder,
A belief that life was larger
Than she ever dreamed possible.
He taught her how to embrace freedom
In a sensuous dance of hearts 
Uninterrupted by the outside world,
Two artists in love feeding
On the creative juices of the other,
Stoking a fire that overtook them,
Consuming and eventually leaving
Only smoldering embers discarded
In search of the next inspiration. 

She set aside her brush
And oil paints long ago,
Arthritic hands and withered dreams
Unable to give shape to her visions,
But as she sweeps past him
On that cold January sidewalk
In her sensible shoes and sturdy coat,
Shadows of Joy and the Magic Man
Float in the fog of yesterday.

Poets United: Whoa! I think this is my favorite of your poems, too! You tell that story so poignantly. Have you written a poem that you feel describes who you are?

Mary: And that’s an even harder question!  Many of my poems reflect a facet or two of who I am, but I’m really drawn to “The Poet Deferred.”   I think it still gives a pretty fair interpretation of where I am on this creative journey.

The Poet Deferred

I inherited poetry from my mother,
Who recited Keats and Dickinson from memory
To two young daughters,
Her passion adding value to their words.
Early on I discovered my own passion
For cadence and phrase,
An ability to sculpt pain,
Smoothing the jagged edges,
Carving out minute details
In monuments to human emotion.
I found I could dive into the darkness
Searching the soul for the salvation of truth,
But the darkness frightened me.
Darkness had trapped so many,
Lost to addiction, to insanity,
And fear enabled responsibility
To silence the dreaming artist.

Poetry and responsibility,
Two warring partners
In the dance of my life.
Laundry, dishes, finances,
All stepping forward to take my hand
And waltz me down the sensible path.
The dreaming artist inside
Still plays the muse’s song,
Just audible enough to haunt my days,
An endless tune I can’t escape.

Today I make my choice.
I step forward to accept
The fate cast upon me years ago:
An artist brushing loss and regret
Across the canvas in portraits of heartache,
Interpreting human frailties to share with all.
Today I decide to dance in the darkness,
Assuming the title I’ve shrugged off until now.

I am a poet.

Poets United: Mary, this is wonderfully written. Yes, you most certainly are a poet. I think most of us can relate to “Poetry and responsibility, two warring partners in the dance of my life.” I’m so glad you are stepping up to claim your title!  What are your writing goals for the next five years?

Mary: Given my history, to still be writing on a regular basis would be a great accomplishment.  And perhaps actually getting the courage to try submitting some of my work for publication somewhere besides on my own blog.   I’ve recently started participating as a prompter over at Poetry Jam and would love to be still giving something back to the online poetry community. I’d love to have a volume of poetry out in the next five years.  I’d like to finish a novel, if for no other reason than to say that I did it.  I still feel like I have so much to learn, so I would hope I know a bit more about this craft five years from now.  But all in all, I think publication is probably at the top of the goal list.

Poets United: Those are great goals! Do you have a favorite quotation that you live by?

Mary: These days it would have to be, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”  I know that sometimes I have this tendency to revert to being a goody two shoes, not wanting to make waves or upset anyone.  It really translates into me volunteering for a lot of extra work and missing out on a lot of fun most of the time.  I’m thinking it’s about time for me to take a few risks, push the envelope a bit.

Poets United: Yippee! And then blog them, so we can all be inspired! Anything else you’d like to share with Poets United?

Mary: Only that I’m so honored to be included with the great poets I’ve seen featured in this series.  Thanks so much!

Poets United: It is entirely our pleasure, Mary. Thank you for this glimpse into your life. And for being part of Poets United.

Well, kids, there you have it, another lovely glimpse behind the scenes of a poet in our community. Isn't it true that the people behind the pens are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. cool - she is really a great poet - I always check out her work. You should too.

  2. Mary I so hope you do a book, yes, do push the envelope! Great quote and fun to read about your life~ I love animals and Halloween just like you~ I love that you named your daughter after a poet~ How cool is that photo of you and Alex ;D I will be by to check your work...I love your voice~ It is nice, to get to know you better~

  3. Thanks Sherry and Mary for sharing this great profile! I really love getting to know my poet friends better.

  4. Sherry, what a nice interview! Mary, it was fun learning more and more about you. Yes, do push the envelope. When, if not now? As far as writing a book of poetry, start SOON. I bet you already have enough poems to make a worth while book, if nothing else for your friends and family. As far as Natalie Goldberg goes, I have two of her books too. And I was fortunate enough to hear her speak when she was in my hometown some years ago. I love your poem "The Poet Deferred." And you certainly ARE a poet. I love min pins, but not as much as TFT's. And you definitely are an asset to the Poetry Jam site. (Anyone who is reading this, Mary M. has a prompt there this week. Take a look and join in!)

  5. Good interview Sherry, as usual. Mary, I identify with the temptations to defer poetry for practical concerns. I've done that too, still do sometimes. Balance is hard. Your line in your high school poem about brain not connecting to mouth makes me laugh- better that than cry or cuss. Poetry does connect people over distances in time, ideology, and geograpy. I've never lived through a midwestern winter and am on the far other side regarding politics, but right with you on Emily Dickinson and Writing Down The Bones and love of family. I'm happy for this glimpse of your life.

  6. Wonderful interview, Sherry. I always think of a rock band when I see your name, Mary…Marilyn Mansfield, I think? I enjoyed reading about you. Emily Dickinson is fine. I love her too. I enjoyed your poems, especially The Poet Deferred with your descriptions of your creative processes. Well written, wonderful choice of words. You are a poet. You live on Route 66, your whole life, wow. I once drove Route 66 in my early 20s. By then there was I 40, but we chose to follow the real route. I enjoyed seeing photos of you, your daughter Emily and your pets. I too have Writing Down the Bones, and just pulled it out recently to review it. Happy to meet you Mary.

  7. I loved hearing about your life, Mary. Great interview, Mary and Sherrie. As far as political sides, we may be at opposite ends, but that's nothing to do with poetry, just differences in outlooks. I loved reading your poems, especially Poet Deferred. I hope you get going on your book very soon. Thanks for sharing your life with us, as well as photos of your critters. I love that you named your daughter Emily.

  8. I love reading about the people behind the poetry on Poets United. I enjoy Marilyn's blog so much and look forward to reading her poetry. I do admit the title had me skittish at first only because I don't do politics as a rule. I was more than pleasantly surprised when I entered in though. Now, it's been a joy to learn more about her through your interview Sherry. I use the word joy often and now I'll stop to think of Marilyn's poem Joy and the Magic Man and realize joy could be fleeting so grab on while I can. I'm so glad you find the time to write with your busy schedule, Mary. I look forward to your book!
    She's a natural.

  9. Great interview Sherry.
    It's so nice to discover so much more about the poet/writer than their words.
    It sounds as if you are very happy in your life Mary and, that's what matters most. Your poetry/writing is lovely and I've enjoyed getting to know it and now, a little bit more about you too. Good luck with your future goals, you'll get there. :)

  10. As always, a very enjoyable interview. Thanks Sherry, and it's nice to meet another Mary! Good luck with your writing goals. It's good to hear that you are making your self and your writing a priority, I think that's something a lot of us struggle with. And good luck with that novel and all your writing goals!

  11. Great interview! Mary, "Writing Down the Bones" was my "writer's Bible" of sorts for many years. LOVED seeing it well-loved, and well-used, here. :)

    I relate to this line in your poem so much:
    "The dreaming artist inside
    Still plays the muse’s song,
    Just audible enough to haunt my days"

    ...and I am so glad you stepped forward, to dance.


  12. It is always such a pleasure to hear the stories of the poets in our wonderful community. Mary, it was a pleasure! I only wish I could have inserted a youtube clip of you doing karaoke. Maybe next time!!!! You could always put one on your blog:)

  13. Thank you all so much for kind words, they mean so much to me! And thanks Sherry for making my first interview a pain-free experience :) I tried to get a video of me singing karaoke, but unfortunately the husband is an unmitigated disaster holding any kind of camera! Perhaps I'll see if I can bribe Em to do it for me, she's actually not bad behind the lens...she's the one that took the pic of me with the Route 66 sign.

  14. Such a wonderful interview Sherry ~ Great job ~

    Mary, you have a lot of hidden talents there beside writing poetry ~ I enjoyed getting to know more of you and your family ~ All the best to your writing goals ~


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