Interview: Michael Minassian

Gopal Lahiri

Gopal Lahiri in conversation with Michael Minassian

RAVI SHANKAR RIDES AN AIRBOAT 
IN THE FLORIDA EVERGLADES

The alligators are the first to notice,
floating with their heads half submerged
eyes like headlights just above the surface.

Music filters through the sawgrass,
snakes, birds, insects pause to listen
with an attitude of genderless silence. 

Michael Minassian
On an island of mangroves
a sitar shaped tree
emerges from the swirling mist

as if the cities were in flames,
& all the radios tuned to the voices
of drowned poets and writers:

Shelly, Byron, Crane, Woolf,
and others joining Li Bo as he reaches 
for the moon’s reflection.

Ravi Shankar playing a raga,
these mantras a soundtrack 
from the earth’s memory

when the planet was covered by water—
the slide from one note to the next
coloring clouds chased by the wind.

Michael Minassian is a Contributing Editor for Verse-Virtual, an online magazine. He is a retired Professor, currently based in Texas. He writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Photography is also his passion but he admits. ‘I can’t imagine not writing poetry. It’s how I express myself and cope with the world’. His chapbooks include poetry: The Arboriculturist (2010); Chuncheon Journal (2019); and photography: Around the Bend (2017). He has been published worldwide and the details are available in : https://michaelminassian.com. In this free-wheeling interview, he talks with me about his life, his poems, his writing style and craft, his role as an editor and his reading of poets. He concludes, ‘If you write poetry, write some more. If you don’t write poetry, what are you waiting for?’

GL: Very briefly tell our readers about yourself? Your life as a poet?

MM: I’m a retired English Professor having taught both in the U.S and abroad in Europe, the Caribbean, South America, the Middle East, and East Asia. I’ve written and published prose (both fiction and non-fiction) and poetry since the mid 1970’s.


GL: Why do you write poetry? Does it come naturally to you?

MM: I write poetry because I like the ability to express myself in a highly concentrated art form and to make associations that might not be immediately apparent to the reader. Some of that ability might come naturally, but a lot has to do with hard work and honing the craft.


GL: How did your interest in poetry begin? How did it strike you on your arrival as a poet?

MM: I think my interest in poetry began in high school when an English teacher praised a poetry writing assignment. A light seemed to come on in my head and I began paying attention to poetry.


GL: Do you believe that poetry is nothing but an echo of the life routine that is mirrored by the reality?

MM: Interesting question: not an echo of life, but a deeper aspect of life. Perhaps poetry is another way of trying to understand the world around us: pain, pleasure, hope, regret, desire, and death.


GL: Have you any preferred style of poetry you like to write in? Tell us if any other poet has influenced you?

MM: Free verse and narrative poetry are my preferred styles. Poets who have influenced me include Shakespeare, Blake, Whitman, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens and many others. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from the poet David Kherdian when he was the editor of Ararat magazine. He told me to read contemporary poets and pay attention to how they were crafting their poems.


GL: How do you approach poetry? Anything stand out about your work? You have a book on photography- ‘Around the Bend’. Tell us about your interest in photography.

MM: I try to keep an open mind when approaching poetry. Although I work within certain themes, I am also eager to explore new territory.

My interest in photography started early in life. To me the camera is a lot like crafting a poem. The photographer chooses what to see through the camera lens and how to present the image to the viewer. The best photographs tell a story. Many of my poems also tell a story.


GL: Poetry is essentially a self-taught art form. Do you think if there was formal training it would help or harm? Or is it -whatever stuck with you?

MM: I think some training is useful. I received a certificate in Creative Writing when I earned my 
Master’s Degree. Two things I learned was attention to detail and to keep revising. And my short story mentor advised me to always find the exact word to convey meaning. That is good advice for a poet as well.


GL: Your two chapbooks on poetry are, The Arboriculturist (2010); Chuncheon Journal (2019). Can you elaborate on these two collections?

MM: The Arboriculturist was inspired by the idea of creativity in nature and in art. The act of creation involves making something out of whatever lies at hand: words, memories, pictures, photographs, scraps of wood or metal.

Chuncheon Journal came about from a trip to South Korea and was response to the landscape, food, nature, people, and Buddhist culture.


GL: You are the contributing editor of Verse -Vertual. Please share with us the pleasure and pain of an editor. Do you read Indian poets?

MM: I can sympathize with both editors and writers as long as we treat each other with respect. Saying no is difficult but so is hearing that as an answer.

I read Indian writers and poets including Jhumpa Lahiri, V.S. Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Agha Shahid Ali, A.K. Ramanujan, and Vijay Seshadri whose poetry especially resonates with me.


GL: What is most memorable-or heartbreaking- about your life as a poet?

MM: Meeting other poets and sharing our poems is a true joy. Being an artist is heartbreak enough. I’ll leave it at that.


GL: Bottom line of your writing poetry; worth it and why?

MM: I can’t imagine not writing poetry. It’s how I express myself and cope with the world.


GL:  What final words you would like to share with us?

MM: If you write poetry, write some more. If you don’t write poetry, what are you waiting for?

BLESSED ARE THE TRAVELERS

The woman who lived next door
carried a suitcase every time
she left the house or stepped
outside to rake the leaves
or water the lawn.

Keeping her thoughts
locked inside, she said,
along with her underwear
and packets of sugar, 
used teabags, and a comb.

On Sundays she went to services,
the suitcase traveling with her,
singing in the choir
claiming her baggage felt lighter—

Blessed are the travelers
and the seekers of libraries,
mansions made of mud and straw—

in the cemetery next to the church
she emptied her words
into the mouth of the rain.
………………………………………………………………………………………………….

1 comment :

  1. These are both lovely. The Traveler poem so tender, and deeply moving.

    ReplyDelete

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