This begins a series of interviews with unique individuals who speak their mind and live what they believe. We begin the series with a poet.
Martina Newberry, poet, feels from the heart and speaks what she feels. I’ve been an admirer of her work since I came across it last spring at a poetry site called GlobalPoets.org. I’ve wanted to find out more about her and so approached her for this interview.
Martina, a writer of poetry since childhood, has published many books including: After the Earthquake, Perhaps You Could Breathe For Me, An Apparent Approachable Light, Lima Beans and City Chicken, Hunger, Not Untrue and Not Unkind, The Banyan and the Alder and her newest books What We Can’t Forgive and soon to be published Late Night Radio. You are most cordially invited to find out a little more about her as an artist and a vibrating woman who creates work that resonates with so many.
Full Name: Martina Reisz Newberry
Birthplace: Upland, California, USA
Present Location: Palm Springs, CA
Favourite childhood memory: In the downtown area of our town there was a very, very old 3-storey house which had been turned into a place where you could buy second-hand things. I used to love going up to the third floor where there were shelves and boxes of old books. While my mother shopped, I read—sometimes for hours.
Judih: How would you describe yourself as a poet?
Martina: I am an “accessible” poet. In my work, I try to give the reader a new way of seeing, experiencing, or relating to things around them. It doesn’t even have to be MY way of seeing, but I’d like to think my poems could be a springboard to those things.
J: Do you have a favourite spot for writing?
M: I have two favorite spots: one is in my office at my desk. I’m surrounded there by books and personal effects of all kinds. I love my simple black table/desk and my worn office chair. I have all my notebooks—old and new—and favorite kinds of pens, etc. The other place I like to write is a coffee shop in Los Angeles. Not a famous place, just a nice little place that smells of coffee and pastries and sandwiches.
J: Do you prefer to write longhand or by computer?
M: Everything begins in a notebook in longhand for me. When a poem is nearly finished, I put it on the computer and do editing there.
J: How did you get started?
M: I’m an only child, no brothers or sisters. My parents were a bit older than my peers’ parents, so I was expected to entertain myself for the most part. I was also painfully shy (still am) so I didn’t play with other kids much. I learned to read when I was three years old and began to write when I was four. I got my first diary (journal) when I was seven years old. I’ve always written stories and poems and things I wanted to remember.
J: Have you ever been involved in writing workshops? Either as a participant or as a teacher? Can you say a few words…
M: I’ve done both. I’ve been a participant and a facilitator. The best workshops for me were the ones in which no one tried to “teach” me to write. They were workshops that gave me new perceptions and ways of looking at the world and then writing about it. When I facilitate a workshop, that’s what I try to do.
J: Who has inspired you over the years?
M: I met an incredible poet, Larry Kramer (now passed) in 1985. He became my friend, brother, mentor, teacher, spiritual guide (though he would kill me for saying that). He also gifted me with a beautiful little whippet named “Clementine” (also passed). We wrote together many times. He was my best critic, my best editor. He wrote two books: one was part of the Quarterly Review of Literature Series, and his last book, “Brilliant Windows.” I like to think that my writing resembles his.
J: Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve done?
M: Poems are like children, it’s hard to choose a favorite—I like different ones for different reasons. A poem that sort of charmed its way into my head is called “The Angry Affirmative.” It’s from my book AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE. It’s one I like.
J: Can you offer it here?
THE ANGRY AFFIRMATIVE
Don’t gloat. You were just my moment in the woods,
a smudge along the clear edges of my self.
I was attracted by the lust you had for
the pain of others and by the hint of un-
spent energy behind your eyes. I told you
that you were beautiful—that was prattle, leaves
rattling in a windstorm. When I joined you in
your bed, stained your sheets, it was, I admit,
coercive—what could we do for each other?
I regret nothing between us. You thought, “She
will remember this always and I will not.”
But, I can tell you now: as you stretched yourself
over me—a scar that ran the length of my
body—I remember very little. There was dark,
the lack of room in your bed, Ginsberg’s words:
Businessmen are serious, movie producers
are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
J: Do you find it easy to sit down and concentrate?
M: I don’t find anything about writing “easy.” LOL. However, I am pretty disciplined. I write every day. Sometimes, I’m disappointed or frustrated by what I’ve written, sometimes I like what I’ve done. But, it’s important to me to do it every day. I love the written word so concentrating on it isn’t too difficult. The difficult part is reaching for those things I want to see and say and getting them on paper.
J: Do you have a method to your writing that you could share?
M: It starts with coffee—big mug of my husband’s incredible coffee with whipped cream on top. I usually read something to begin—poetry, fiction, non-fiction—anything that has recently interested me. After that, I look at what I wrote the day before. I re-write, edit, do another re-write, or, I like what I see and leave it alone to begin something new. I’m a morning person and start writing early in the morning until late afternoon. I drink coffee and juice and Diet Coke and diet root beer all through the day.
J: Do you listen to music while you work? If so, who or what kind?
M: Sometimes I do. My favorite writing music is traditional Chinese and Japanese music. I have a couple of CD’s of operatic arias that I love and I listen to those too. I love rock and roll, but I start dancing around instead of writing with it.
J: Are you connected to other poets? Do you collaborate with any other poets or artists?
M: I’ve collaborated on one book with an Indian poet. The name of the book is THE BANYAN AND THE ALDER and it was the result of correspondence in poetry. The book is still available. Just now, I’m pretty firmly rooted in writing on my own, but I’m “connected” to other poets through their books. The people whose work I like, I buy. Some of those people are personal friends, some are not
J: Your video clips are very intimate. How do you manage to create that warmth for the viewer? (The Angry Affirmative)
M: I must give all the credit to my videographer husband, Brian, who is enormously creative and seems to “see” my poems the way I write them. His business (and his art) is the creation and production of various kinds of media. He’s also produced three of my books as audiobooks. He is very talented with the camera and a very good video editor.
J: Do you feel it important to be political in your work?
M: If you live in this world, I think politics in one form or another will touch you. I can’t help but be moved by what goes on or doesn’t go on here on our planet, so, yes, some of my work is political. I guess everyone can define what he or she means by “politics,” but, for me, there are certain things that I am pursued by and that I pursue—things I feel I have to write about.
J: Which subjects in your life stir you – which social issues you feel are most urgent to deal with.
M: The subjects that stir me are those things which separate us–male vs. female, white vs. black, Muslim vs. Christian or Buddhist or Roman Catholic, war, heterosexuality vs. homosexuality, youth vs. aging. I am tired to the point of agony of humankind not coming together to at least try to understand each other and, if unable to understand, leave each other to pursue life in our own ways. War is no longer an option on this planet to my way of thinking. It has to stop and it has to stop now. It comes down to individuals saying, “I will not train to kill nor kill my fellow man any longer for the political desires of any leaders of any country.”
What moves me? So many things:
I write about what faces the average human being in just living each and every day without too much pain or too much stress or too much anger and the urgency and challenge of coping with those things. I write about the comparisons between the huge things that make us happy and the small things that make us sad. My words call to women to dance out their lives, not drag through them; sing out their anger and lust and sensuality, not hide these things under ladylike, lowered eyelids. My poems call to men to see more, see further, be more and better and, again, more. I write about expectations and our ability to fulfill them or fail to do the same.
I write about relationships–the cruel, the complicated, the simple, the joyful, the sexy, the fearful, the painful, the intense. I write about what can go wrong, what does go wrong, how much beatings hurt and how much kisses heal. I write about the terrors and wonder of childhood, the terrors and wonder of aging. I write about sexuality between two women, a man and a women, partnerships and marriages.
I write about music, dancing, reading, aging, cooking, sex, and/or the lack of it. I write about how, in these simple things, fear can destroy the mind and the feelings of anyone. I write about the intimidation of our peers, the strengths of our friends, the power of our enemies. I write about war and insects and the smell of clean clothes.
I write about God–how “we pray to a God we do not love for those we do love.” I write about churches, priests, confessions, weddings and funerals. I write to and about a God we look for and seldom find. I write about my mother who was mad and my father who was not. I write about madness and how it can be contagious to those who come in contact with it.
J: Is poetry a tool for therapy in your own life?
M: Well, I don’t know if I could say “therapy…” I’ve gone to places inside myself that I did NOT want to visit and brought poems and stories from those places, but that hasn’t always been “therapeutic.” It has sometimes been awful and frightening and sad. But, I continue to do that to make poems.
J: Is there a certain poem that you felt helped cleanse an especially raw node within you?
M: Here is a poem from my book, PERHAPS YOU COULD BREATHE FOR ME, that helped me deal with some important issues. It’s called “Bad Manners.”
I don’t know who to be angry with anymore.
That’s a lie.
I do know
but my rage can’t find a release tunnel—
something or somewhere to race through.
I need to see someone with real power
apply a tourniquet to the hemorrhaging
of the mortally wounded countries my country has stabbed.
It is not enough to see the burning bodies on the news in High Definition;
you must know that our backyard barbeques mask
the smell of smoke across the planet. It is not enough to know
that in my country there are mothers in jail for protesting the deaths
of their children who were forced to kill other children in other countries—
children who were told to kill them.
Knowing is nothing
Fury is nothing.
Oh sweet America, I don’t crave forgiveness for not singing “I Love Barney” songs
with your babies when I know that the scent of Khinta and the taste of Khubaz have been stripped away from the noses and mouths of those you help to destroy.
I’m not some remorseful woman in a shopping mall unable to grasp the notion of what belongs to who. WE belong to WE.
The windows through which we watch the world are cleaner than our hands and the ghosts fleeing by those windows no longer care what languages they speak.
Talking of how the water of the rivers in Liberia became beds of gravel, and the hills of Sarajevo were too gouged and flattened for snow play, a poet said to me “All you can do is write it again and again until honor turns some of this around.”
There’s a chance he was right and there’s a chance that it’s bullshit and can’t be turned around. So, here is that place in the poem where my rage and futility
has made me teary and tired.
It is not indigestion keeping you awake nights
or the thoughts of a heart you broke
in some fit of bad manners or microwaved lust.
No, this insomnia you suffer is made of oil and blood blending.
This insomnia is the total absence of Love as humans have known it.
This is unabashed Knowing climbing into bed with you,
putting its hands around your throat and squeezing
until your heart bursts open and its pieces
scatter over the world like petals.
Working as a Poet
J: Do you have any interesting tales from your live poetry readings?
M: Once, I gave a reading to an empty room. The store advertised, there were posters up; it was a fairly busy place usually. But, when it was time for the reading, the place cleared out like there was a bomb threat. LOL. I like to talk about that because it’s something that happens to many poets, especially in America. America is unkind to its poets and artists. That’s an understatement.
J: How can a poet work to become better?
M: By reading and writing and writing and writing. By growing personally, by constantly learning and talking with people and seeing new things. I think you’re a better poet when you allow yourself to be jolted out of your comfort zone. Talk to people you might not ordinarily talk with, eat foods you aren’t familiar with, try different clothes and perfume and walk or take the bus nearly everywhere instead of driving the car. Then write some more.
J: Who are your favourite poets?
M: Not in order of importance: Allen Ginsberg, Larry Kramer, Djelloul Marbrook, Andrew Hudgins, Robert Frost, Adrienne Rich, Norman Dubie, Dorothy Baressi, Charles Bukowski, Raymond Carver, Robert Lowell, Mary Oliver, Michael Wilds…and more. You, Ms. Judih, have become a favorite of mine.
J. Thank you. Martina, tell me, do you sing? Have you ever put your poetry to music?
M: I do like to sing. My kids make fun of me because—would you believe—I can never remember the words to songs correctly. I’ve never put any poems to music. I’d love for someone to do it, though.
J: Do you think that writing poetry is a talent that can be learned?
M: I think that some people were just born knowing how to write well, but that doesn’t mean one would have to be born to it. I think there are ways of feeling things and seeing/experiencing things that can be encouraged. Whether or not someone wants to write those things down is such an individual choice.
Poetry in Education
J: Are you in favour of teaching poetry in schools? If so, are there any poets you’d personally select for young teenagers?
M: Absolutely it should be taught in schools—at least the appreciation of it should be. The ability to speak and write well is a valuable one, even if we’re not talking about poetry or fiction. The ability to appreciate the amazing skills some writers have to manipulate language is an absolute necessity to making a well-rounded person. I think a good poetry start for teens might be Andrew Hudgins’ work. He’s the son of a Southern preacher and his work has not only historical significance, but is accessible and relatable.
J: As an educator, I’m interested in teaching spoken word in schools. Have you ever been invited to perform in schools?
M: Yes. And I was surprised to see that the work was well-received. I was asked lots of interesting questions by students and teachers alike.
J: Does the idea of running an open mic in schools interest you? Could you give some pros and cons?
M: I would only run an open mic if I was certain that the people participating knew how to behave in a civilized manner. I’ve been to open mics where people were booed and things called out while the person was trying to read. Bad manners are a pet peeve of mine and, if poets can’t behave respectfully towards one another, then how can they expect their work to be respectfully regarded?
J: Any other comments?
M: A couple of comments:
1) Respect your own work enough to do your best with it. Commit to it. Make time for it.
2) READ. Read everything. Push the edges of your boundaries to let it all kinds of books.
3) If you have friends who publish, buy their books, don’t ask for freebies. If you come across someone on line whose work you admire, buy his or her book and let that writer know what you think about it. And if you are publishing, sell your books. Don’t give them away. I’m passionate about this subject because I see so many wonderful writers struggling to make a dime. Writing isn’t easy. Stories and poems take time and work and energy. We, as writers, have to take ourselves and what we do seriously if we expect anyone else to take us seriously. Let your mothers and brothers and fathers and sisters and best friends as well as strangers buy your books. It’s important.
Martina Newberry, a woman standing for what she believes in, speaking out for others who cannot speak, continues to inspire those who read her work.