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Poem It Out Classroom

week 4: interview with martha mccartney

liz lamoreux

I am so excited to share this next interview with you. My friend Martha McCartney is a warrior with the pen. Her sense of humor and laughter are just two things that draw you to her when you meet her. And then, if you are lucky, she will read you one of her poems. 


1) How has poetry saved you?

A nonchoronological autobiography of the ways poetry has saved my life:

  • After my Mother’s death I discovered a cassette tape of her reading favorite poetry in her southern- accented voice – The Raggedy Man by James Whitcomb Riley was included.
  • In 7th grade my high school English teacher handed me a copy of Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan (under the table and in silent rebellious partnership) - here is poem that I will write ….
  • Qhen I was four my Mother read Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll) to me.
  • When I was twelve I discovered Alone by Edgar Allen Poe (I had a manifesto!)
  • In high school I read eecummings and abandoned rhyming.
  • Richard Brautigan stole my words in college and I only wrote like him.
  • My father recited poetry to me from the day I was born.
  • My high school newspaper printed my poetry (usually about racial inequality).
  • I represented my college at an event in our state capitol and read poetry and short fiction.
  • My first submission was accepted for publication in a journal at a particularly low point.
  • I finally left circumstances that stifled me for 18 years, the town that had silenced me for 50 years, in order to pursue my dream of writing.
  • My Mother read poetry and sang to me every night since infancy.
  • My first love was a poet and a writer and has inspired and supported my growth.
  • Every English teacher I ever had held me up as star and encouraged me. They were really good ones, one was a future poet laureate of our state.
  • I read The Idylls of the King and In Memoriam by Tennyson (yes, entirely) when I was in the seventh grade.
  • I recorded my father reading poetry when he was 92, the year before his death.
  • On my 17th birthday my boyfriend gave me The Pill versus the Springhill Mill Disaster by Richard Brautigan inscribed with the most beautiful words in French (so my mother could not read them) and I have loved him forever (my boyfriend and Richard Brautigan).
  • I write words every day.
  • I memorized the The Lady of Shallot by Tennyson. for fun.
  • A couple of weeks after my father died, my dear friend's mother, from her bed as she neared death herself, recited Little Orphan Annie by James Whitcomb Riley – this was a favorite of hers and of my parents. It was a blessing.
  • I wrote my first poem in second grade, with pencil, before I had learned cursive, and it had meter and rhyme.
  • If I could only read one poem for the rest of my life it would be William Wordsworth’s, Intimations of Immortality.

I feast upon poetry – it is my blood – my heart – my soul –my prayer- my salvation – my refuge.

2) Who are the poets and poems you turn to again and again?

Rainer Maria Rilke is perhaps my most often read and returned to, he speaks to me in such a profound way. There are two poems by him that have remodeled my life….The Archaic Torso of Apollo and Going Blind… I feel his words go right into my heart. In addition to him, almost all the Victorian poets, Wordsworth, Rossetti, Matthew Arnold, and then I have to skip forward to Yeats and Dylan Thomas. I read it all. 

3) A line of poetry you would tattoo on yourself...

I am so not a tattoo person that I cannot even imagine. And it would be too hard to decide. I am sure I have words already etched into my heart. 

4) Will you share some words about your haiku practice?

I have developed a practice that, when I think back on it, has been evolving for years. In just the past couple years I began taking a small notebook with me on my daily walks and would find a place to sit and gather words or short phrases. I would start by writing the date on the top right corner of the page and then would write things that entered into my senses from that date and time. Words like yellow violets, spring green grass, robins calling, and sycamore bark would end up in my notebook and later I would use those words in poetry.

This practice, this meditation, has now become a haiku practice. Every morning I either take a walk or just sit outside for a while. Then I gather images in a notebook that I use just for haiku. I begin once more with the date and I try to write about ten. There is seldom what I would call a “good” haiku but it is a philosophy more than a poetic form and people practice it for years before becoming comfortable and skilled. There is a philosophy called the “haiku mind” and the way that I like to think of it is- if you would imagine that your mind is a still body of water and everything else is the sky. You write what is reflected on the water, with no judgments, no opinions, assigning no emotions to the images, just reflect. There are volumes and volumes written about the haiku form, how it originated as a group activity and its practices and uses. Currently, the haiku as most people refer to it is a three line poem; the strictest rules say that it is seventeen syllables, with the lines made up of five, seven, five syllables. At first I followed this formula, then I didn’t – sometimes the punctuation counts as a syllable as it is essentially a pause, depending on what punctuation you use. I often go back to the five seven five rule because it is becomes more of a physical meditation for me by counting out the syllables on my fingers. Even though a haiku does not have to be seventeen syllables, it does traditionally have to be three lines and reflective of nature and the seasons to be considered truly haiku. In my morning haiku practice I often pick a first line and then just use the same line for all the ones I write or for about half of them and then switch to another first line. Here are a couple of mine for examples…

(using the five seven five –)

April night full moon

bright as day, casting shadows

from such vast distance.


Early morning light

grass tips starred with dewy gems

a diamond carpet


(and one that I like that does not use the formula but it is still considered haiku-)

Creamy swirls

in my coffee –

February clouds.

(in this one I used the line that would typically be the first line as the last)

You can read more on my blog www.lilliesavage.com. If you want to explore more about the philosophy of haiku I would recommend the book Seeds from the Birch Tree by Clark Strand.

I am hopeful that after about twenty more years of practice I will write a couple good ones but for now I find it a helpful exercise that brings me back to the place where I am, helps me start my day, bless my day and all that is around me, honors my surroundings and centers me to begin other writing. 

5) Would you like to share a poem of your own?

Now you ask if I would like to share a poem of my own and I think I have used up a lot of time and space and been a bit wordy – but hey – that is what I do – I am wordy …so I would say “ just one ??? hmmmm…..let me pick ….okay… 

First October Without My Father

The Autumn smells of

dark damp earth

like potatoes kept in cellars beneath houses

or apples stored for Christmas pies,

chrysanthemums that seem to open the pores,

expand the air,

the fragrance of late season roses,

and during a walk in the woods,

embraced by the smell of cedars,

I turn my head and recognize the scent of my father,

caught in the denim jacket

that I borrowed to shield myself

from this  Fall rain.

6) Any other words you would like to share?

In closing, I would just add that poetry is a lifetime of doing, being open, listening to what is outside and what is inside and putting it down into the best words we know and it is wonderful to know that there are other people on this planet who love it and value its gift.


A little about Martha: I am a woman on a mission. I am living in the Pacific Northwest after leaving everyone and everything I had known in an attempt to change the course of my life and so I am the true example of poetry being a life line. Most recently I have had the privilege of having classes with David Wagoner, Tess Gallagher, Storme Webber, Nancy Rawles, Kim Stafford, Bill Mawhinney, Christine Hemp and Susan Woolridge and my quest for writing continues with intense learning and daily practice. Kim Stafford said that there are lots of good ideas but we have to be intensely awake and aware and poised to receive them or they will just go on to some one else. I am here, poised with my hand above the page. ready . open. receiving. Visit her blog Lillie Savage.