MARGOT DOUAIHY, MA, RYT
PhD Candidate (Lancaster University)
WHO’S THE BOSS?
All journeys start by leaving, that’s what Tony must have said
to Sam, packing the van, closing the door, the way epics begin.
Don’t look back. In stations of the cross, you move on.
It’s time to go, he smiles, pulls the key from his ripped jeans,
hard muscle line in his arms, like a sea wall
meeting sand on a Brooklyn beach
too polluted to swim. There’s an open road and a road that’s hidden,
brand new life around the bend. A theme song’s being sung, just for them.
He’s not sure who sings it, but he knows a thing or two: boxing, cooking,
secret blend of wind and lip to make a whistle. He’ll teach Samantha
to dance, steps only the old folks know. She’ll need to learn
how to speak Connecticut, make friends, shake off headaches
after crying. He’ll vacuum curtains upright, iron a sandwich for uptight
Angeler. Strange how it makes him feel like a man. Isn’t every departure
a return to who we want to be? He’d never admit
he is scared, he might not even know what to call it.
All that matters: they’re together, going somewhere in their beat-up van,
hands taking flight out the windows, future as go as the green light ahead.
(Reprinted from Philadelphia Stories, 2013.)
Margot Douaihy and I met at the Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. She is lovely, bright, cheerful, fun, and quite intuitive. Because she had to leave early to receive an award, Pennsylvania’s Belin Arts Karen Blomain Memorial Award, the other ladies of our session and I decided to treat her to dinner at The Black Dog Restaurant.
There was a lot of food, fun, and stimulating conversation.
RJ: Where do you get your inspiration?
MD: First, I would just like to say a sincere Thank You for inviting me into this wonderful community of writers, readers, and seekers. As for where I find inspiration: The frisson of a typo. An itemized receipt. Ingredient list on a perfume bottle. Street signs. Subway signs. An odd line-break. The quotidian. I’ve always been inspired by poetry and fiction that brings me into a specific world, a world with its own logic and rules, whether it is — Jorge Louis Borges or Theodor Seuss Geisel. I love poems that tell stories and invite readers into a snowglobe of a moment: a 3D sense of space, place, voice, mood. What’s the weather in this poem? Do I need a scarf? Is there glitter? Great. I’m in. Where are the fissures and contours of consciousness? I like poems that let me fall. I like strange poems that almost don’t work, but do. I like literary Rube Goldbergs. When things are too perfect or too abstruse they are meaningless. What can be sensed in the speaker’s peripheral vision? How can we stretch time or speed it up? Layered storytelling is a bridge between my verse and fiction.
RJ: How long do you spend perfecting your poems; to get them to the place where you know every line is just right for the imagery you are creating?
MD: The magic question. Some poems, e.g., my series “Reality Show,” take one day to write. They flow out in a surprisingly complete form. Other poems, like “Kimono,” have been in some agonizing stage of revision for nine or ten years. It’s not the length of a piece that determines when it is “finished,” it is the deep feeling of inevitability. I know when a poem is done the way you know fruit is ripe. Does it feel ready? Does it honor its own rules and elective affinities? Like in Wallace Stevens or Eliot, is the poem’s aesthetic helping to drive it forward like another motor? Is there music? Is it transcending the page? Some work has a life of its own; a poem that may have begun in one form might need to gestate and evolve to reveal meaning. More than once something I started as a sestina has ended up as a prose-poem. And vice-versa.
RJ: Can you tell me about your current project?
MD: My slipstream literary mystery, “The Stradivarius Listening Test,” is currently the hands of an agent. My amateur sleuth novel is “Sister Holiday’s Divine Mysteries.” These books are my weekend projects that live in concert with my full-time job (as a magazine editor). I need the dynamism of multiple forms.
RJ: What interested you most about creating a world around a Stradivarius violin?
MD: Each Stradivarius instrument is a work of art. Nothing sounds like it. No one can recreate it. There are unending theories about Stradivarius. I wanted to write a mad romp of a novel with a Stradivarius at the heart of the mystery as well as a shadow narrative for the protagonist’s journey. The question mark of Stradivarius serves myriad purposes in the book.
RJ: We met at the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency. What is the one thing you have taken away from your time there which resonates as the most integral to your path?
MD: MVWR was an absolute gift! Besides making dear new friends like you, my main take-away from the Residency is that I must trust and accept my own process. My tendency is to feel that I’m not writing enough (yes, I’m an Aries). I’ve struggled with self-confidence. I was reminded at MVWR that my quirky journey is my own; I’m slowly learning to embrace it.
RJ: You spent four months traveling on a ship around the world as part of your education. Can you expound on that experience and what you gleaned from it?
MD: During my senior year of college, I was extremely fortunate to travel and study with the “Semester at Sea” program. I completed 15 college credits on the SS Universe Explorer as we circumnavigated the globe. We sailed to and docked in Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India, Vietnam, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Japan. I made life-long friends. I witnessed the interplay of geography, culture, and socioeconomics. The voyage was a seismic shift in my worldview; it fundamentally changed my perception of “how to be” in the world. A passport inked full of country stamps is heartbreakingly beautiful to me.
RJ: If you could spend one hour talking with anyone – living or deceased – who would it be and why?
MD: My maternal grandmother, Pasqualina Mangiola, who died of cancer when my mother was just a few weeks pregnant with me and my twin sister. I have always felt a deep, mysterious connection with my grandmother, as if her energy transferred into us in-utero. I would love the opportunity to ask her questions about her life and heart and dreams. Also, my mother is a remarkable visual artist; I would love the chance to learn—from my grandmother’s perspective—how my mom’s artistic sensibilities bloomed.
RJ: You had to leave early to accept Pennsylvania’s Belin Arts Karen Blomain Memorial Award. What was it like to return to your home state and be honored with this recognition?
MD: Oneiric! I was thrilled to learn that I was the 2014 recipient of the F. Lammot Belin Arts Foundation “Karen Blomain Memorial Award”. Karen Blomain was a Pennsylvania native who received two PEN USA Syndicated Fiction Prizes and published four volumes of poetry. A Trick of Light was her first novel, originally published in 2000. Sadly, she passed away from illness in 2012. Karen’s work has inspired me ever since I was a child. I remember reading her poetry about the beautiful sadness of Northeastern PA—the Anthracite region—and thinking “this is right…this feels right.” My favorite poem by Karen Blomain is “The Dancers,” a lyric about summer nights and dancing in roadside bars and drinking too much wine and baby sisters and growing apart. It’s a poem about the winding road of survival. Every time I read that poem, I feel Karen’s spirit reaching through the page. Even now my eyes burn thinking about her talent, and how all art outlives its maker. Maybe that’s why we make it. This is what poetry can do. This is what poetry should do. I like when poetry picks me up and shakes me.
RJ: Your book Girls Like You is coming out in 2015 from Clemson University Press. Can you give the readers a brief glimpse into it and how they can obtain it?
Girls Like You is my first full-length poetry book being published by the terrific editors at Clemson University. Originally cast around Gaston Bachelard’s concept of “the intimate immensity,” my collection recalibrates collective memories. Judith & Holofernes, Laura Palmer, solipsism, wordplay, The Real House Cats of Beverly Hills, triolets, villanelles, text message mistakes, shopping cart surfing—all of this and more live in the apiary of this book. I’m grateful to Clemson University for bringing it to print.
Thank you so much, Renee, for inviting me into your blogosphere. And thank you, readers! Please stay in touch via www.margotdouaihy.com.