Interview with poet Mary McCormack Deka

My special guest today is
Mary McCormack Deka. We’re chatting
about her new collection of poems,
from Shore
Mary McCormack Deka has
always wanted to be a writer. When she was little, she invented stories about
living in a tree in the forest and making friends with all the animals. She
made up stories whenever she was alone—when she walked to school, before she
fell asleep. 

Nothing makes her feel more alive than
imagination. She’s inspired by everything—oceans and forests, stained glass and
kizomba dancing, books and the people who write them.

She released her first book of
poetry, Away from Shore, in November of 2016. 

Welcome, Mary. What do you enjoy most about writing poems?
I love the creative,
playful state of mind that writing poetry puts me in. I’ll look at a lemon and
see how I can turn it into a bell, or I’ll see a potted plant of red chili
peppers and think, What if you could
transform those into tiny red flowers for a bouquet for a friend?
what my poetry’s all about—transformation and imagination. My favorite thing
about writing poems is that it puts me into a meditative state where I can draw
connections between seemingly unrelated things.
Can you give us a little insight into a few of your poems
– perhaps a couple of your favorites?
One of my favorite poems
is Fire, and I especially like this
last stanza:
“I took him with me,
like a lantern,
into the forest of my
And I forgot
that he was made of
that his touch
could make things
When I wrote that, I was
thinking about how hearts are unknowable and mysterious and vast, like forests,
with all their twisting paths and rivers and creatures. There’s so much we
might not even discover about our own hearts. When you meet someone, that
person introduces you to aspects of yourself that might have been hidden
before. That’s how I got the image of a significant other carrying a lantern
into a heart that is also a forest. But the thing is, everything else in the
forest in meant to be there; it’s all natural. The lantern is the only thing
from the outside, and while it brings illumination, it also brings danger. The
forest/heart is, suddenly, vulnerable.
Another poem I wrote, Over, talks about a break up through
horse imagery, which was fun to write. It’s a sad poem though:
Things trotted along
until that day
when the hours and
reared up around us
and his
thought over—
struck me, flung me
from my senses,
dazed, wondering
what had happened,
if there was anything
I could have done.
I was inspired to write
about this poem when thinking about how utterly jarring and unexpected it is
when someone breaks up with you. Physically, you might not be bruised, but
emotionally I think the experience is akin to being thrown from a horse. I used
words/phrases like “trotting,” “reared up,” and “flung me” to draw those
comparisons. It’s as if time has been going along smoothly—you’re out on a nice
horseback ride—and then the next thing you know, time is going wild. You want
to just get back on the horse, to go back to how things were, but you can’t.
Everything is different. Time might continue, but everything is changed because
now you’ve seen that nothing is predictable, that there’s no way to prepare yourself
for every eventuality.
One of my poems, How Remarkable It Is, has unusual
spacing. (Most of my poems are left-aligned.) I chose to spread the words out
on the page to capture how dazed the narrator is, and to give words at the end
of a line or on their own line even more emphasis than usual. An example of
this is the extra spacing between the second-to-last and last line: “…as if we
still feel/ the flesh on our bones.” I wanted readers to linger on “feel,”
because after a breakup you’re likely to be numbed, and the very last line drives
that thought home—the narrator is so numb she barely registers her own body.
What form are you inspired to write in the most? Why?
I’m most inspired to write
free verse poetry because it allows me to focus on the writing rather than the
format. When I start working with rhyming and structure, it’s easy to get
bogged down. That said, I often create my own forms—such as a poem with stanzas
that each consist of three lines. I also pay attention to line breaks, so what
I’m trying to say is that there can be rules and structure when it comes to
free verse writing, too.
What type of project are you working on next?
I’m working on a fantasy
novel right now, which is taking up the majority of my time. I typically have a
few projects going on at once, so I also have a book of travel stories and
advice that I’m putting together as well as another poetry book—this one with
more of a focus on nature, whimsy, and (fulfilled) love.
When did you first consider yourself a writer / poet?
I’ve considered myself a
writer ever since I was a small child. I used to make up stories all the time,
and then I started putting some of them onto the page. I think you’re a writer
if you’ve ever tried your hand at putting your thoughts into words. The
difference between good/successful writer and writer, though, that’s a
different story.
How do you research markets for your work, perhaps as
some advice for not-yet-published poets?
To be honest, I haven’t
done much research in terms of markets, not yet. I’m still very new to the publishing
world, so I have a lot to learn (advice welcome!). I’ve used word of mouth and
social media to start getting information about my book out into the world.
I’ve also started exploring Goodreads poetry groups, ad campaigns, and giveaway
options. I’ve gone into libraries and asked if they’d be interested in shelving
my books. I’ve started writing to books reviewers.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Hmm. I almost always
tie my hair back when I’m writing.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a
writer, especially a fantasy novel writer. I also thought it would be really
cool to know how to live in the woods on my own. So, maybe a forest ranger?
Anything additional you want to share with the
I’d love to hear from you
if you have any more questions for me or want advice or if you read my book and
have comments about it!
Thanks for being here today, Mary!

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