by M.J. Iuppa
Overhead, clouds billow
in wind that can’t seem
to settle on one direction.
They hesitate in the way
we hesitate in the skip
of thought–a pause
that sinks like a small
stone finding its place
in this pond’s pocket.
The search for the right
word seems hopeless
like a small explosion,
like panic–we look
First published in Third Wednesday 2017.
M.J. Iuppa, Director of the Visual & Performing Arts Minor Program and Lecturer in Creative Writing at St. John Fisher College and a part-time lecturer in Creative Writing at The College at Brockport, was awarded the New York State Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Adjunct Teaching, 2017.
She says her poetry is “steeped in the traditions of imagism, followed by deep imagism, drawing its lyrical strength from Japanese poetry forms, in particular haiku.” She’s interested in “the many ways image can convey idea, and how in its cumulative effect can make a deeper meaning.”
M.J. and Bekah’s work–including the above poem–appeared together recently in Third Wednesday. Both poets are also a part of the 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour. We wanted to know more about M.J. and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.
Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “Restless.” What inspired it?
A~“Restless,” the poem you have selected to feature in this interview, was written in Late September, 2017, and published in Third Wednesday, Vol. XI, No. 1. On that particular day in late September, I had decided to take a walk in the woods across the street from our farm. Inside this pocket of woods in Hamlin State Park, there is a secluded fishing spot called Howden Pond. That day, as every day, I was thinking hard about our current politics. The clouds in this poem capture the unrest, the chaos of our daily life, and the thrown stone, finding its spot in the pond, is a marker of being here, being present. Being wordless isn’t the lack of words, but how do “We” let the right words out in this constant affront to our civil rights. The realization of being “homeless” came quickly in that held moment when I was alone at that pond’s edge. This poem has struck a chord with many who have read this issue of 3rd Wednesday. I am grateful for their effort to find me via social media, to begin conversations that will buoy me in these times of uncertainty.
Q~What’s your writing process usually like?
A~Whenever I have been steeped in the reading and writing of prose, and have a yearning to spend time on poetry which, at that moment, I fear will be totally lost, I spend a day in observation (plein air) and haiku. This practice allows me to focus on the precision of language. Much of my writing is inspired by the natural world, and since I live on a small farm in Western, NY, near the shores of Lake Ontario, I have let this landscape be my teacher and muse. Consequently, through nature, I have found a way to expose human nature.
Q~How has being a teacher of creative writing changed you as a poet?
A~I have been teaching for 27 years. First, I am teaching artist, working in the schools (K-12) in and around (100 mile radius) Rochester. I love my work. So many of the children I have met have shown up as adults in my creative writing, literature, and Arts classes offered at St. John Fisher and The College at Brockport. I have had the great pleasure of seeing many of these young poets and writers realize their literary dreams, and I’m still cheering them on.
Teaching hasn’t changed me as a poet, but I think the good discussion of poetry has changed me. In Spring 2017, I had the opportunity to teach a 400 level advanced poetry class at The College at Brockport. Besides a selection of contemporary full length poetry collections and chapbooks, I used a remarkable anthology, Love Rise Up: Poems of Social Justice edited by Steve Fellner and Phil Young, for the first time. The discussions based on student presentations of the poems in this anthology stayed with us, long after the presentations. In some cases, when I happen to see the students who were in that class, we resume the conversation.
Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?
A~Over the years, I have heard many poets and writers complain about writer’s block, and my suggestion for those who are staring at a blank page is to do something else, like go for a walk, organize a drawer, do the dishes, exercise, go for a drive in the country, take a break from your busyness. Depending on the activity, your creative consciousness can be subtly working on whatever you want to write. It’s quite remarkable how this works. For example, before I wrote my MFA thesis for Rainer Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, I knitted it. Weeding our three vegetable gardens gave me Small Worlds Floating (Cherry Grove Collections, 2016) and This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). This method works, and you accomplish two things.
Q~Are you involved in your local poetry scene? What’s it like?
A~Yes, I have been very active in Rochester’s local poetry scene. I am one of the founding members of Writers & Books, Rochester’s Community Literary Center, which has served the Rochester and surrounding communities for 36 years. I was the curator of The Genesee Reading Series at Writers & Books from 1991-2006. The Genesee Reading Series showcases local poets and writers, at various stages of their careers. It’s a warm and generous venue that celebrates good writing.
At the state level, I have served as the Poetry Advisor for the New York State Foundation for the Arts (2005-2012), and most recently (2015 & 2016), I was the poetry judge for the New York State Fair, which was in the spirit of celebrating New York in its facts and folklore.
Q~When I hear “state fair,” I think country music performances and prize-winning pigs. I LOVE that the New York State Fair includes a poetry contest. Can you tell me a little more about it?
A~This poetry competition began in 2015 under the supervision of Rochester poet, Gerald Schwartz. The poems were submitted in categories, Youth to Adult. Prizes and ribbons were awarded in a special ceremony. Family, friends and fair visitors sat in the cool of the auditorium and listened to the winning poems.
Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?
A~I have a web page and blog; and a presence on Facebook and LinkedIn. You can also order Small Worlds Floating (Cherry Grove Collections, 2016) and my new book, This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017) at Amazon.
Q~Is there anything else you’d like us to know?
A~Lastly, I think it takes a whole life to be a poet. I don’t think people “become” poets. I think they “are” poets, and having a whole life gives them the means to perfect their craft.