Rappahannock Review Contributor Spotlight: Interview with Tara Mae Mulroy
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: The poems “After the First Miscarriage” and “Rhythm in the Hours” bring voice to very sensitive and personal moments. In what way do you think poetry might play a role in processing or understanding loss and grief?
Tara Mae Mulroy: “After the First Miscarriage” was actually written during my first pregnancy. I felt an intense amount of panic and anxiety about losing that pregnancy, especially since I work with three women who had had pregnancy losses within the preceding years. My father told me once that Nabokov wrote a story actualizing his son’s death as a way to deal with his own anxiety about losing his son. I can’t corroborate this story, though I have tried, but the notion stuck with me, that writing can be a way to work through my own fears. Since the writing of that poem, I have had two miscarriages (my second and third pregnancies), and I also realized how I had such a shallow understanding of grief when I wrote that poem, but the grief of losing a child that was still inside your body is also about the grief of losing your own sense as a creator. I felt like a reused coffin, and writing poetry was and is difficult for me today. I’ve found comfort in turning to long forms, like creative nonfiction, as a way of processing because I need the space. I hope to return to poetry, but I think as I am in this space, I am grateful for it.
RR: Both poems are structured in couplets, except for the last line of “After the First Miscarriage,” which as a single line on its own evokes and formally echoes the poem’s sense of loss. Can you talk about your approach to form and the way that it might inflect a poem’s meanings?
TMM: I love couplets when handling weighty topics. The lines look so fine and delicate, yet there is so much that can be said in those empty spaces. I choose forms that can contain their content. Lighter topics or an anxiety-riddled persona can roll through a prose poem, but I think so much about what goes wrong or is painful in relationships is what is not said. Couplets express that perfectly.
RR: Do you have any advice for new poets wanting to write about a personal experience but not knowing where to start? What would you say to a young writer, or any writer, who might be scared to branch out and address touchy or more sensitive topics?
TMM: I entered my MFA program as a “confessional poet,” but contemporary poetry often condemns that label and I moved away from that style. I’ve been told before that a writer needs a good five to ten years before they truly know their own voice. I spent years writing poetry after entering my MFA program feeling like I could only express myself through personas, which provided a degree of distance. But I just kept writing. For new writers: just keep writing. Always. Consider writing in a persona. Consider writing in a different genre. For example: try writing a fiction story where what happened to you happened to someone else. Then try writing it in second person. Then try first person if you’re brave enough. Keep it fictional. Just touch the hem of the truth. Then try switching to creative nonfiction. Be harder on yourself than any other character. I feel today much freer to write about what I need to, but it took me time to get here, so to anyone: it’s a long journey, but it’s worth it. You have something to share only you can.
RR: We see that you are an editor for Nightjar Review. Has that role changed your own writing or your process of sending work out for publication? If so, how?
TMM: At the University of Memphis, all MFA students have the opportunity to work for The Pinch Literary Journal. I learned early on that being an editor for a journal forced me to look at my own work more critically, read widely, read what is appearing in the best journals, not take rejection personally, and submit submit submit. A few years after I graduated, I co-founded Nightjar with Ruth Baumann, another former University of Memphis MFA student. My feelings about the process are different than they were when I was a student. I read so much fine work that it feels like my head is lifting off my neck sometimes. It can feel SO daunting reading such stellar work. It can be easy for me to think, “That was the most perfect poem. I’m never writing again.” Being in a MFA program means I was forced to write to submit for workshops, but I’m not in that same environment today. I’m a teacher. No one expects me to turn in poems for a grade. Today, I have to be gentler with myself. I have to remember all of the work it takes to write that “perfect” poem. I have to write anyway. I also will often take at least one reading drought when Nightjar isn’t reading for an issue. I take a break from reading as much as I can: no books, no poems. I even try to limit my intake of emails and texts and stay off my phone. We are a world inundated with text, but not all of it fills us or touches us. Having that space for silence allows me to hear what I need to be writing.
RR: We understand your first full-length collection of poems, Swallow, will be coming out soon—that’s exciting! Apart from that, are there any new projects in the works?
TMM: Thank you! It is exciting!! I’m currently at work on a memoir which is centered on motherhood and fertility. As I said earlier, it took me years to strike at what I truly needed to be writing, and this project is that for me. I’m excited and terrified about putting it out in the world, and I think that’s exactly where I need to be.
Tara Mae Mulroys’s work appears in Issue 5.2 here.