The Quick & Dirty with Mary Corkery

 

“The major obstacle so far is my own fear. Having jumped off the diving board, I panic, thinking: Yikes, I’ll drown. I need a Canlit degree!

I also fear my age will be a block. But I don’t yet have evidence. The rejections I’ve had seem valid. I’m just one more in a cohort of boomers surfacing as readers and writers.”

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Can you share a bit about your experience of being an older emerging writer?

For decades, I squeezed my tentative poetry into the cracks in my schedule, or week-long workshops. Now that I use retirement to dive deeply into writing, the world as I experience it emerges in surprising ways. It’s not only poetry that emerges, of course, it's also me.

I had no idea how much time or effort poetry would demand of me. Wrestling a poem, shaping it, letting it go and then coming back to reimagine it, is frustrating and lonely – until it comes through. It feels like a relationship. I’m living into it, still a beginner.

Strange to have Simultaneous Windows published at seventy years old and be working on a second book at seventy-two. I love strange, but look over my shoulder sometimes, and wonder if I can get away with this.

What publishing obstacles have you encountered? What about successes?

The major obstacle so far is my own fear. Having jumped off the diving board, I panic, thinking: Yikes, I’ll drown. I need a Canlit degree!

I also fear my age will be a block. But I don’t yet have evidence. The rejections I’ve had seem valid. I’m just one more in a cohort of boomers surfacing as readers and writers.

Workshop mentors have been key to my getting this far. Helen Humphreys has wonderful advice, like taking all the time needed to research publishers: get a grip on what publishers want – through what they say and who they publish. Following her example, I set up camp at the Toronto Reference Library until I had a short list of ten possibilities.

Inanna Publications was excited by my manuscript and gave me lots of leeway for input, even on cover design. Great publisher! Homework pays.

Writing poetry is tough. Writing good poetry is even more difficult. What do you think makes a good poem?

I love poems that grab me and don't let go, often because I don’t understand them. I read and re-read the work of Tomas Tranströmer, Dionne Brand, Lorna Crozier, for instance. When their magic finally shines through, I study their poems to see how they are made. Your Dear Current Occupant is now underlined, Chelene, with parts I keep going back to. Great poets have stunning ways of expressing what I almost thought, or never could have. I need those poets in my life.

How do you feel your work is received by younger writers? Is it different than feedback received from your peers?

Some young writers say my poems are evocative, moving. Yet I’m surprised to see the cues missed. While burning bras are evocative for me, they mean nothing to most people who were not alive in the 1960s. And I misread cues of young writers. Nuances vary by age, country, beliefs. I love poets whose lives are very different from mine. I try to trust that, and adapt.

What are you working on? Promote your projects!

Thanks to your Advanced Poetry Workshop my new manuscript is rolling. It looks out through the imagined eyes of others, and in longer poems. I’m excited by the creative space that it gives me. As well, I love reading my poems in cafes, at events, so I hope to do more.


Mary Corkery’s first poetry collection, Simultaneous Windows, was published by Inanna in 2017. Her poems have appeared in The Malahat Review, The Antigonish Review, Room, Descant and other journals in Canada, U.K. and U.S.A. Mary’s career has been social justice and international development. She lives in Toronto.