April 22, 2013

National Poetry Month with Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Maria Mazziotti Gillan
For the final week of National Poetry Month, the PCCC Writing Center blog would like to welcome Maria Mazziotti Gillan. She is a recipient of the 2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers, and the 2008 American Book Award for her book, All That Lies Between Us (Guernica Editions). She is the Founder /Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ, and editor of the Paterson Literary Review. She is also Director of the Creative Writing Program and Professor of Poetry at Binghamton University-SUNY.  She has published 16 books, including The Weather of Old Seasons (Cross-Cultural Communications), and Where I Come From, Things My Mother Told Me, Italian Women in Black Dresses, and What We Pass On:  Collected Poems 1980-2009 (all from Guernica Editions). Her most recent books are The Place I Call Home (NYQ Books, 2012) and Writing Poetry to Save Your Life:  How to Find the Courage to Tell Your Stories (MiroLand/Guernica, April 30, 2013). With her daughter, Jennifer, she is co-editor of four anthologies: Unsettling America, Identity Lessons, and Growing Up Ethnic in America (Penguin/Putnam) and Italian-American Writers on New Jersey (Rutgers). 

PCCC: How did you know or when did you know you were a poet?

Maria Mazziotti Gillan (MMG): I knew I wanted to be a poet when I was very young. I started writing when I was 8 years old, and once I saw my poems published when I was 13 I knew that I would never stop being a poet. In a way you don’t chose [poetry], it chooses you. It grabs you by the back of the neck and says this is it.

PCCC: What topics do you most like to explore in your poetry? What influences you?

MMG: I explore ethnicity, family relationships, place, grief, loss, the environment. My poetry is increasingly concerned with grief over what we’ve done to the earth, but always my poems are narrative and even when I am writing about world issues, I always connect those issues to the personal. I have a new book coming out at the end of April, 2013, Writing Poetry to Save Your Life: How to Find the Courage to Tell Your Stories (Toronto, Canada: Miroland/Guernica, 2013), and it’s part memoir and part a book intended to encourage people to write so it explains in detail how I came to writing, and how to help yourself to find what you need to write about.

PCCC: What other types of writing, genre, and art forms are you interested in?

MMG: I am interested in visual art as well as poetry, and I began to paint again about ten years ago. I was encouraged to do that by Beat poet Diane di Prima when we were on a reading tour in California, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.

PCCC: What advice can you give to beginning poets and poets dealing with rejection?

MMG: My advice to beginning poets is to read and read and read some more, and also to keep writing even when that writing is not getting published. That’s really why I wrote the book on writing because I thought that people needed to be encouraged to keep on going even when they felt that no one was paying attention to them.

PCCC: What’s next?

MMG: I’ll be touring to publicize the book on writing and later this year I have two new poetry books coming out. One is called The Silence in the Empty House (NYQ books, Fall, 2013) and Ancestor’s Song (Bordighera Press, November 2013).  Other than that, I’m still writing and reading in lots of places across the country, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

Read more about Maria on her web site at http://www.mariagillan.com and check out her blog at http://mariagillan.blogspot.com.

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