Interview with Anton N. (Tony) Marco
Mike Burch chiming in, this time with Tony Marco. Tony is a Masters degree graduate in Poetry of Johns Hopkins University, a much-published author and poet, and a mentor to more than a score of successful American and international authors and poets. He is also a veteran publications editor, public information campaign strategist, grantsman and print production manager, and was a Teaching Fellow in JHU's Writing Seminars. Tony is also the founder and president of WordWright Consulting Services, and has been listed in Who's Who In the West, Who's Who In America and the Dictionary of International Biography, Twenty-Third Edition. He has lived in Crozet, Virginia, with his wife, Joyce, since late 1996. The Marcos have five grown children and ten grandchildren living in various parts of the United States. I'd like to start off with a poem of Tony's that I really like:
epitaph -- lost firework boy
I am the slow explosion under ground
covered with stones and soil my body rests
but my hands thrust maple shoots to the wind
my hair is sown with poppies my mouth is open
maize is my smile I have taken acorns for sight
between my thighs a burrowed ferret sleeps
from my breasts speak tongues of yams
grass and weeds are searching me
moths hatch in my toes
I am dressed in deer's blood my pulse is
water desired above seeped below
over the rock on which I lie
my thoughts are a badger's dreams
the burning of roots
the struggle to the sun
moved by such life, my bones will not be found
I am the slow explosion under ground...
Copyright 1969 by Tony Marco
MB: Tony, we live in interesting times. Interest in poetry is on the rebound, thanks in no small part to the proliferation of poetry sites on the Internet. You've lived through dark days when the future of poetry must have seemed very much in doubt. What do you make of this strange state of affairs: not merely an affair, but the wedding of an ancient art to the modernest of technologies?
TM: Well, Mike, before the 'Net started us all chatting and scribbling at one another, McLuhan's "global village" tended to foster the kind of elitist and academic poets who could run their "little magazines" on foundation grant money and scratch each others' itches largely by printing one another. For awhile, the number of voices being heard by any kind of non-esoteric poetry public was small, and many fine poets who were "flowers blooming unseen" yet not academic/vapid hothouse poetasters didn't even know others like them were writing out there.
The 'Net's changed all that. Slowly at first, but now with great rapidity, poets with juice, life, guts, passion and consummate skill are discovering not just one another, but the joy of their own voices' being heard, appreciated and well regarded by vibrant poets neither buried behind ivied walls nor sterilized/ballocksed by grant-givers.
And the cross-pollination going on now -- incredible! Get on the 'Net and before you know it you're passing poems back and forth with some incredible West Indian bard. Or a nurse in Germany who's writing true Gothic horror. Or folks who (gasp!) are writing sonnets in real American vernacular.
As I see it, it's only going to get more exciting. Younger people are "graduating" from rock lyric writing to more refined personal expression and then finding one another in young folks' poetry chat rooms, too. And as we all bat ideas and images back and forth, that's going to set ablaze healthy (gasp again!) competition and charge us to get the best from ourselves. All in all, I'd not be surprised if this movement doesn't just save poetry, but help revive the English language itself in significant ways.
MB: Letís hope so! Iím one of those poets who grew up listening to
Rock lyrics, and a lot of my early poetry was highly influenced by
songwriters like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen. But it seems
to me that writing poetry is something altogether different from penning
rock songs. The poet doesnít have explosive saxes, seismic drums,
cacophonous cymbals, riff-shrieking guitars, and a chorus of expressive
voices underlaid by mesmerizing rhythms to help him convey emotion. All the
poet has is a solitary pen and the language. It seems like a hard task. Do
poets stand a chance?
TM: Depends on what we want to achieve. If we want to think grandly enough to create poetic theater, or better yet, mount true epic-to-music, rock music, so long as it supports the verse story rather than drowning it out (and good production can make sure it doesn't) might prove a powerful narrative enhancer.
Many years ago (almost 30 now), I wrote a country-rock epic about the horrors of the Nixon era (apologies to any readers who miss that sandpaper-chinned old dude). Thing had 47 speaking/singing parts, a cast of tens of thousands, a running country sung/talked blues to carry the narrative and about a dozen songs woven in for variety and as part of an evil mass ceremony the story told about. It sported a medieval-style "God's fool," a giant who looked like a leper but who was just being "translated piece by piece" to another space/time dimension, rock bands and phony Christian contemporary groups and a towering late-20th-century monster the epic hero (a canny South Texas rancher) has to battle and defeat to save the nation. Rock added to the power of a chilling narrative spiritually akin to "Beowulf," Spenser's "Faerie Queen" and the oral traditions of my Croatian bardic forebears. In some respects like a novel-in-song(s). The sometimes brutal volume of rock reflected when appropriate the power and scope of the events depicted. I actually performed the whole three hours of it once (but to a single guitar accompaniment); then my life took a huge turn and I left it behind. Still like some of the vivid lyrics and dialogue, 85% in rhymed verse that was neither trite nor abstruse.
So I think that if we as poets let rock dwarf us, it's only because we continue to choose to perceive ourselves as dwarfs. Admittedly, the insular world of gigantic infantilist poets who've gotten all the grants for scratching their little scabs to small publics may still have many of us thinking "tiny." But I'm ready to predict that when rock and poetry marry (as they inevitably will) we'll have multi-media works that "bestride the world like colossi," to borrow a phrase from a pretty fair poet who also was a commercial man of the theater.
Let me say also: Thankfully, plenty of ears exist out there for the "chamber music" of poetry, too, for the finely-filigreed word-jewelry that we can write if it takes our mood. None of us wants a constant diet of modern equivalents of "The 1812 Overture;" sometimes we long to hear a single flute flourish, so we can sigh in each other's faces and feel music that's like what we see in each other's eyes. But whatever scale we write on, let what we write be not "A.I." virtual reality or what computers of any sophistication can "compose," but what only human beings can really sing, loudly or softly. Hope I live long enough to see much of this great flowering, bring it on myself or help others do so.
MB: Which I understand youíre doing. One of the biggest challenges for modern poets has been to find a way to combine the art of writing with something resembling a career. Your work as a mentor to other writers seems to be a nice solution to this puzzle. You have a paying job in a field you love, youíre on the frontlines of the battle for the hearts of readers and the advancement of the art, and you get to help a number of promising young writers in the process. Some of the readers of this interview are no doubt promising young writers, and they may be interested in checking out your web site at www.mentor-wordwright.com. Also, I understand that one of your protťgťes is your daughter Vanessa. How cool!
TM: She's pretty darned cool indeed. Had the verbal i.q. of a college junior at age seven. We're co-writing a novel (which, with all the mentoring I'm doing -- also thanks to the Internet -- I've had precious little time to work on).
Since, as a wise old king is reported to have said, "There's no end to the making of books," I'm not afraid of being short of work, my own or others' to help out with, so for me it's sheer joy to get to know poets, novelists and other dreamers-in-words, to read their work and say, "Wow! You're really onto something here. Let me share with you a few techniques that can help you build that dream-in-words of yours..."
Speaking of novels, editors at good publishing houses are always on the lookout for that rare bird, a poet who's got a flair for storytelling. Once, years ago, a New York editor I met told me, "Your poetry I'm not interested in. But if you ever write a novel, give me a call." Wish I could remember his name, 'cause now I've got one I want to write.
Not all poets can write novels because, though we "see into the life of things," we often see the life we see only through our own eyes' immediate focus. Some of us have trouble getting under others' skins. I think, from reading his "Eve of St. Agnes," that Keats might have made a good novelist or dramatist. And I like John Clare's special sympathy with critters like bugs and mother mice with little ones hanging from her teats. Looming over us all, of course, is Shakespeare's grin, which whistled everything from human shrews to mock madmen to soused porters and gravediggers who saw skulls under all skins (sorry, Yeats).
But I wouldn't mind meeting some more poets who might want to give storytelling a shot. (I might say, Mike, that I really enjoyed your short prose piece about a crusty old man of your acquaintance and his love of that noxious Southern weed concoction known as "Poke Salat.")
MB: Thanks Tony. Interestingly, that short story began as a poem and was actually published as a poem. And I can attest to your skills as a mentor, because you gave me some excellent advice on whacking that pesky weed-poem into prose. Would you mind sharing a poem of Vanessaís with our readers. I expect weíll be hearing big things from here in the future: the near future, if genes, intelligence and talent are any indication.
TM: Actually, Vanessa doesn't write poetry, she writes songs (hundreds of 'em) and fiction. She and I like to go out and do karaoke Wednesday nights. Last time she did "Walkin' in Memphis" and a clever song called "Runaround." I did Cream's "White Room" and the Beatles' "Back in the USSR" (which I introduced as "a song by a non-existent band about a non-existent country").
World Wakes Up
World wakes up, 6 a.m.
Iím still awake, remembering when
Times werenít so hard but still it never ends
Roads Iíve been down, paths Iíve crossed
Always wandering, still not quite lost
Discombobulated and disenchanted still
Somehow seeing through the fog
To the other side of what itís all becoming
World wakes up and Iím alive
I donít deserve it but still I try
In the light of all Iíve left behind
The ever-lingering mystery of what couldíve been
The people and places Iíve abandoned
But in my mind Iíve never really left
Just passed through like liquid
To the next phase of what itís all becoming
But I will not forgetÖ
A novelist I'm now mentoring used to be a rocker, founded a '60s/'70s band that's become a cult favorite over in Europe. He had a stroke, which robbed him of one lead guitar hand, so darned if he didn't turn himself into a storyteller. I work with a nurse across the ocean in Germany, a mother with four kids and a full time job who still manages to crunch out great, huge sword-and-sorcery novels. Helped a Ghanaian novelist who heads up Shell Oil Communications in his region and tells stories to an avid African fan club on the side. Plus poets who've been passing their stuff by me for more than 20 years.
So I think, harking back to your initial question, the ease with which the Internet lets us communicate nudges all of us who are willing toward a true delight in authentic diversity that, if we let ourselves be caught up in it, will grow and enrich us all, poets, musicians, fiction writers, multi-media experimenters.
You know, Mike, historically, new technological development has always taken time for artists to fully harness to eloquent, fully human expression. And the best of art that emerges from particular sets of technology usually shows itself near the end of the exhaustion of the technology's possibilities, often in the work of some titan with muscle and embrace enough to put it all to his and humanity's service and enjoyment. Right now we're being dazzled by glimmers of artistic possibilities I think we've barely begun to consider exploring. Because through tools like the 'Net we can now share our knowledge, our vision, our skills and our delight with others around the globe, we're soon going to rise as artists and human beings to grapple with the great themes we explore together. And as we do, we'll look from above like phoenixes on the ashes we've risen from and be glad indeed that we've survived an age "consumed by that which it was nourished by." And we'll grin at each other and say, "Friend, have a pleasant flight!"
MB: Thanks, Tony. It does take time for artists to assimilate new technologies. We have to remember that art predates paintbrushes, pianos, even words. The first poets no doubt grunted nonsense over the carcasses of mastodons. At one time words, paper, ink and books were all radical new inventions. Before the printing press, books were the exclusive domain of an elite (some would say despotic) minority. Before the Internet allowed poets and readers to reconnect by the hundred-thousands, an elitist (some would say despotic) minority seemed to be doling out the paper and ink as though to singlehandedly save the earthís remaining rainforests and octopi. But times do change and, contrary to popular opinion, oftentimes for the better. Letís hope weíre on the cusp of something big, and catch the wave!
TM: I hope to be waxing up a board alongside you, Mike. Years ago, look what it took to get your poetry read by anyone. You had to beg some rich patron's indulgence (or be rich yourself) to get stuff into print at some stuffy publisher's. Or later you had to endure (ugh) endless university faculty meetings and publish frequent erudite gibberish if you hoped to keep your job dodging college frosh spitballs and feed your poetry habit. Or you had to measure margins in millimeters on foundation grant applications to get money to publish your "little" and earn the right to hobnob with insufferable aesthetes who looked down their noses at anyone who didn't drool over their "schools" of (scarcely) insipid drivel they passed off as poetry.
Not any more. Now you can get on the 'Net and wail your "barbaric yawp" all you want (Whitman woulda loved it), to bigger audience than you could ever have hoped to 25 years ago. Same with this mentoring thing. I get to work with some of the planet's finest writers -- without their having to step on a campus or my having to hold a teaching contract. Hate to go from the "sacredness" of poetry to the "profane" of rock 'n' roll again, Mike, but to paraphrase David Lee Roth when asked how he liked life before rock stardom, I tried all that crap, and believe me (and I know you're with me here, Mike), this 'Net thing is better! Hope all your readers think so, too.
MB: Since theyíre here, Iíll bet they do. Thanks again, Tony.The HyperTexts