RUTH MOWRY works as an academic adviser at Michigan State University. Here at The Passionate Transitory we find her lyrical poems things of great beauty, though recently she has been experimenting with a more spare, pared-down style.
Can you remember the first poem you ever wrote?
I was in high school, it was for a creative writing assignment, and the poem was something about a cat, including an illustration I drew. I didn’t like cats, but I was trying to appreciate them by writing a poem. Since I don’t remember the poem, it is nice to fantasize that it was on the order of Sandburg’s “Fog.”
Name a favourite poem or two . . .
I turn to different ones for inspiration and comfort, but I think my favorite must be Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Fish.” Bishop’s attention to detail in this poem transforms the reader through an intense look at an ugly old fish, and ends up showing us the beauty in ourselves, because we too want to let the fish go.
. . . and a few of your favourite poets.
Rumi, Rainer Maria Rilke, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Elizabeth Bishop, TS Eliot, Robert Frost, Sharon Olds, Jorie Graham, Diane Wakoski.
Do you talk about poetry with your friends or is it a secret part of your life?
After starting to write poetry it took me a long time to call myself a poet. It takes a certain amount of confidence to do that (same with “artist,” or “musician”), and it takes realizing that it is in your identity, as much as brown hair and hazel eyes. Now I can say to anyone “I am a poet.” As for talking about poetry, I talk about it with friends who read and write poems.
Do you write poetry for yourself, or for others, or for both?
Writing poems is my spiritual practice, the only form of meditation I do. First and foremost it is for me. I am also writing it for others, because I post poems on my blog; I would not do this if I did not hope for connection with readers.
Is it important to you if your poems get published or not?
When I first began writing poetry in the mid-1990s it was important to get published. I had a couple of poems published then. Now, I do not submit poems anywhere, and when Robert asked me to submit three to The Passionate Transitory, it felt great, and I love having them here in this honoring space. But I do not feel that a poem is good or not good depending on if it is published.
Do you think poetry is important in the global scale of things or just a pleasant, indulgent hobby like needlework or trainspotting?
It’s important. Globally it’s essential for a way of knowing the hearts of people you may never meet, but you can connect with through their poem (Pessoa, Rilke, Rumi), and more importantly, connect with something in your own soul that you recognize as You, that you never would have encountered except through that poem.
Is poetry better than sex?
When a poem succeeds, there is spiritual ecstasy. Is it better than the physical kind? Maybe only in the sense that I can look forward to the possibility of it for the rest of my life, even when I’m 95.