Friday, October 09, 2015

Poet Marsha de la O, a San Buenaventura Treasure

Melinda Palacio

Marsha de la O

I had the pleasure of interviewing Marsha de la O in Ventura a few weeks ago. After the scandal in the New York Times over a White poet using a Chinese name to get his work published, Marsha wanted to make sure La Bloga knew she was not Latina, but had kept her name from a previous marriage. I've admired Marsha's poetry for several years and I've always assumed she was Chicana like me. I assured her that La Bloga readers would be grateful to hear about an exceptional, award-winning poet who was once a bilingual teacher and a former member of CABE, California Association for Bilingual Education.

Marsha arrived at poetry through prose in the form of vignettes. However, when a stranger came up to her and said, 'You are the true poet,' she allowed herself to believe him and even earned an MFA in poetry from Vermont College. She is an intuitive poet. She shared her poeming process with La Bloga:

"I get a fringe of an idea, the brush of a feather, that has possibility. I write a lot of words or I go to a thesaurus. I close the computer so I don't see it. If I'm looking at it, I'm criticizing it."
When her new book, Antidote for Night was nominated for the 2015 Isabella Gardner Poetry Award by Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Marsha was grateful for the acknowledgement, but didn't think she had a chance of winning. "I thought my work was behind the times, too narrative, and that I was too old," she said. "I owned the book of the previous winner and she looked so young. I didn't expect anything so good to happen to me."

It's surprising to hear how humble Marsha de la O is. Her first book, Black Hope (1997), won the New Issues Poetry Prize from the University of Western Michigan and a Small Press Editor's Choice Award. Last year, Mariano Zaro, interviewed Marsha for the Poetry L.A interview Series. There's no doubt her third book will be another success. In fact, BOA has the first option rights and Marsha says she is determined to turn in an even better manuscript, lucky for us poetry enthusiasts. Marsha promises to change things up for her next book.
"I want to deal with the part of poetry that is magic. How magic always operates from words and incantations. Story is what I do best, but I want to explore incantation. I'd like to be able to cast a spell."
I'm positive La Bloga readers will be enchanted by Marsha de la O's poetry. Some might be inspired to send a couple of poems to the Literary Journal she and her husband Phil Taggert produce, Askew. Next year marks the 10th anniversary of Askew. As an editor Marsha values the surprise effect of poetry. Send your best work to or mail to Askew, P.O. Box 559, Ventura, CA 93002. Hint. Meet the publishers and editors of Askew at the weekly Ventura Poetry series, hosted by Phil Taggert at the EP Foster Library in the Topping Room, every Thursday at 7:30 pm 651 E. Main Street, Ventura, CA.

A sample of Marsha de la O's poetry and a video link to her reading and upcoming readings:

Another Woman 

Vacuuming chrome and shadow, hot 
air blowing, resting on one knee to extend 
the long neck beneath the settee while 
it sucks and roars and lurches across the shag 
in its hopeless lumbering way, long whipcord 
tail curving behind. I look at my face 
in the window thinking so this is how 
she looks cleaning house. The air is a white 
fist. We all breathe open-mouthed, our chests 
rise and fall like dogs. I‘m the same 
inside and out, all the pixels behind my eyes 
making test patterns. I don‘t remember 
when my voice took on its bitterness, 
maybe it was the frozen juice in plastic 
pitchers, little green oranges giving Florida 
the lie. One morning it was there. 
Strange how much silence can fit inside 
a roar. And the nuzzle of this yearning 
in my palm licking my hand. I can 
see it now in the raveled threads 
the spiders float off the walls, on-screen 
the moisture sheen on the upper lip 
of the kidnapped girl, the last one left 
on the bus with terrorists. What an effort 
the vacuum makes to take it in, straining 
to ingest sand and dog hair, fishing 
line and bits of paper that flutter off 
the ends of straws, the anger in the bed 
clothes and rough cotton towels. I hear 
it faintly all the time, even when it‘s turned 
off. In the morning when the first birds 
carol sunday school hymns and the mocker 
does his take on the robin, it starts up, dull 
and droning at another level like another 
woman with veined legs in another 
house who can‘t stop running the vacuum 
with all its subtle attachments. 

video link to Marsha's video of her poem, Summer

November Readings for Marsha de la O

Poetry by the Sea takes place Nov. 8th at 3:00 at Malibu United Methodist Church located at 30128 Morning View Drive.  It is a public event and admission is free.

The CSUN Reading will take place Nov. 10th at 7:30 in the Reading Room at CSUN.  Primarily for students in the MFA program in poetry and will feature poets from the program who have recently published books, as well as me.  The public is welcome and admission is free.

San Luis Obispo Poetry Festival website is

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