CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH
MAGGIE BLAKE BAILEY
Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: “Sardinia” seems to be about a real place on a beach you have been to, or at least seen. What have your experiences been there, and how do they inform the piece?
Maggie Blake Bailey: When I finished my exams for my first graduate degree at Oxford, I went on a cheap flight to Sardinia by myself for a few days. I really did spend my time the way I describe in the poem: eating almond nougat, drinking rose, etc. Now, looking back, it was incredible both because it is a beautiful island, but also because I had no responsibilities. None. Which feels more magical than any other component of that trip in retrospect.
RR: “Subject Matter” opens with the strong yet self-contradictory statement, “I don’t put my son in poems.” Can you discuss how you used the speaker’s reluctance as a gateway into this poem that is very much about closeness and distance between a mother and her son?
MBB: I teach high school English, and I have talked with my seniors at length this year about what we are “allowed” to write about. Are there any taboo subject? If so, why? And one thing that made the whole class wince was Sharon Old’s poems about her son when he was four and five. They are physically unflinching, almost graphic. I love her as a poet, but I also feel caught in wanting to write about motherhood without assuming the right to share my children with strangers. I am used to putting poetry first, but now I also think, what will my son think of these poems when he is old enough to read them. I am clearly still conflicted, as the first line shows.
RR: In both pieces, there is an incredibly vivid and multisensory feeling of place. How do approach creating such striking detail into your work? What would your advice be to writers struggling with their own use of detail?
MBB: First off, thank you! Sometimes I think we discount our own senses. We imagine what we felt isn’t that “poetic.” If you let that go, really delve into those memories of sense, then you can edit later. But you can’t edit if you never let yourself go there in the first place.
RR: In our reading of your work, we were drawn to read “Sardinia” and “Subject Matter” as a pair, as they inflected and deepened each other together. When writing poems, do you approach them as their own, independent pieces, or build them off of previous works?
MBB: In some way, most of poetry functions as answers to questions I have been asking myself. So I think those poems came from the same time of questioning. Where are my boundaries? How much am I still myself?
RR: How have your experiences as a mother shaped your work, even when children are not the subject matter?
MBB: Oh wow. Well, I could write a book on this. But in an attempt to be succinct, I will say, motherhood shapes everything now. Partly because I write in snatches of time stolen from busy days. I also find my children to be the most glorious, interesting people ever, but I have to remember they are not mine to tell and retell. There are boundaries. And finally, I love that my daughter, the older child, sees that I write and appreciates it. Just recently she told me that she loves poetry: pink and blue poetry. What does that mean? I have no idea, but I love that she is already claiming poetry for herself.
Maggie Blake Bailey’s work in Issue 6.2: