Jami Macarty

1. Each of your poetry collections seem to have been either triggered by or woven around a few central ideas e.g., The Minuses, around the relationships between women and nature; Instinctive Acts, around immigration and identity; Mind of Spring, around facets of personal and military wars; Landscape of The Wait, around your nephew’s car accident. Do you arrive at the idea first and then compose around the idea or does the idea emerge from the writing, informed by the obsessions at a given period of time?

Thanks very much for the gift of your attention to my poems. My work is place-based. More than written around “central ideas,” I think of my collections as being written from within actual or conceptual locales. For me, writing is an act of discovery through which I become aware of what I’m sensing on manifold dimensions and where I am. First and always, there’s what’s on the brink… to be written. Then, there’s what comes after: A process of taking account, of seeing what’s present or unmistakably linked. For example, from within the revision and ordering of the poems in The Minuses, I noticed concerns related to male violence against women and the environment. Landscape of The Wait is present in both actual and conceptual hospital waiting rooms.

2. What are your primary concerns when constructing a poem? Are you like Frost trying to make each poem as different from the previous as possible? Or do you think that couldn’t be?

My primary concern when making poems is to follow language—sound by sound and word by word—where it wants to go, the way it wants to get where its going, and how it wants to make meaning and music. This concern begins before the poem is a poem and involves keeping my will and egoic efforts in check. Pushing, forcing, willing, I have found, scare off words and what might coalescence into a poem.

3. In an interview with Colorado State University, you said “I tend not to bypass what’s present, but instead use it as the prompt from which to write.” In that context, how do you arrive at meaning, or do you consciously not and allow the reader to arrive at it? How important is intention in a particular piece within a themed collection?

Meaning unfolds at intervals in space-time. For me, there’s meaning in the act and practice of writing itself. In the ushering of what’s in mind and heart onto the page, in the describing of it; there’s acknowledgment of what’s there. In that process of welcoming what is as it is there’s an absenting of shame. In the wake, there’s a neutral state with an equalizing, allowing quality. That’s expansively special! Then, once language inhabits the page, meaning multiplies through the words as they bump against each other and realize their relations in context. My practice is to allow the meaning that’s there to be enacted on the page.

4. What made you a writer?

Practically speaking: Writing. Writers write. Poets make poems. Politically: Oppression. Oppression made me a writer. Writing—expression—axiomatically and irrevocably counters oppression. I write for freedom—in all of its forms—against oppression, and toward: sky.

5. What does it mean/suggest for you to think about your craft with each published work? If you were to associate an image with the development timeline of your writing craft what would that look like?

A bird in flight. Sometimes the flight of a Vermillion flycatcher (Pyrocephalus obscurus), making quick, stabbing sallies to nab a flying insect, then returning to a fence line perch. Sometimes the flight is that of a Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), soaring an updraft. Other times, the blue dart of a hunting Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii), the less and greater than signs of migrating Snow geese (Anser caerulescens).

6. In pushing your work beyond your first title what were you most conscious of? What were/are you trying to achieve?

What I, the poet, may wish to achieve is secondary to the poem’s intention. For instance, the poems in Instinctive Acts requested to be “left as is,” refuting all tinkering, work that can entrance me. What doubt crept in response to this request cowered under the poems’ insistence. These poems also ordered themselves to directly link one to the next—like footsteps through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the locale of the collection. The poems required that direct linking, even though I, the poet, had notions of metonymically ordering the collection. How do I come to know this? The writing tells me. I listen. Of most importance is the listening to the words.

7. Are there any books that you keep visiting for inspiration?

Books! Reading! I cannot quite account for it, but reading scares me. So, I read a lot. Since 2018, I have been conducting #mypersonalBigRead: To reduce the stacks of unread books towering over my desk; to see how much I can and assess how much I want to read each year. I’ve learned immensely from this project: What sort of company lights me up; what sort dims. Both light levels are important to know. I endeavor not to beat myself up about what repels and to give myself more of what compels me. When I’m reading something that prompts me to the page—that’s everything! Since 2018, I’ve read almost 1100 books, welcoming beautiful company, predominantly the voices of women, the underrepresented (BIPOC, LGBTQI+), and the differently languaged (i.e., translations).

8. Do you train your subconscious in certain ways to deal with success or rejection?

Through the practice of non-dual meditation, I have come to grasp “success” and “rejection” (and other dualities), as two faces of the same coin. Both are illusory, temporary. Fusing to either causes suffering. I’m more interested in wholeness. One inquiry that guides my writing: What does it mean to be holistically engaged within the wholeness of a writing practice? Sometimes that means noodling and doodling with the same image, memory, or feeling palette for an extended period, allowing repetition to work itself out. Sometimes it means a fleeting encounter with a sensation—a touch and go—then onward to what awaits. Other times the encounter is more involved, requiring a respirator, multiple oxygen tanks, and the pressure compensating intervals needed for a deeper dive.

9. How do you deal with aspects of writing that provoke negative emotions such as self-doubt, failure, exasperation? Is there an emotional ritual/practice you follow to deal with that?

When we write, we’re engaging the unknown. It’s natural for fear, anxiety, and doubt to arise from voids of uncertainty. Rather than labeling these emotions “negative” or “positive,” and rather than avoiding these feelings, I seek dialogue with them. This question evokes the opening line of Rumi’s “The Guest House” (translated by Coleman Barks): “This being human is a guest house.” The poem then encourages us to: “Welcome and entertain … all” who come—”A joy, a depression, a meanness,” for they “may be clearing you out / for some new delight.”

Credit Vincent K Wong

Jami Macarty gratefully recognizes Native Nations of the West—especially the Coast Salish and Tohono O’odham—as the traditional and rightful owners of lands where she has the great privilege to live and work—as a teacher at Simon Fraser University, as editor of the online poetry magazine, The Maynard, and as a writer of essays, reviews, and poetry. Jami is the author of The Minuses (Center for Literary Publishing, 2020), winner of the 2020 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award – Poetry Arizona. Her three chapbooks of poetry include Mind of Spring (Vallum Chapbook Series, 2017), winner of the 2017 Vallum Chapbook Award.

Listen to Jami Macarty read from “The Minuses”


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