Saturday, August 26, 2017

Elizabeth Marino - Poetry and the Poet Survives

 Elizabeth Marino

Poets may be distilled into any number of classes. Writers fall into broad groups of performance-first versus text-first. They may describe themselves as "town" -- poets of the people who embrace populist causes. Or they may define themselves as "gown" -- writers who challenge the theoretical status quo and collect diplomas at every turn. There are writers who never publish and only perform, and writers who only publish and never perform.
But in the simplest terms there are only two basic classes of writer that transcend all these other categorizations: those who write because that's "just what they do", and those who capture the language they seek through strategy. Elizabeth Marino resides easily in the latter and more savvy category. 
As an Oxford alumna, Marino has the academic credentials to command respect anywhere she goes. But it's not unusual to find Marino on Chicago's performance poetry circuit on any given night, where she's recognized and appreciated by audiences from Wicker Park to downtown. She's published in a good number of poetry journals, but she's also a theatrical director and actor. 
She is attuned to her neighborhood and community; she's been a life-long resident of Chicago, and shows much pride in her Puerto Rican heritage. Yet these definitions do not limit her concerns for universal issues. Any discussion with Marino on women's issues, for example, will immediately reveal her solid and well-grounded grasp of the world. 
Elizabeth Marino sets an example. She removes the superficiality that poets sometimes use to distinguish each other. Instead her focus comes down to one essential point: Is the poetry considered or not? By "considered", I mean that all the aspects of any given word are given full consideration for their worth in sound, context, meaning, and any number of other ways that a word is significant in a poem. 
This is deliberate and often unglamorous work. It can profit from spontaneous flights of the imagination. Many writers say this "the muse" talking when they get those few words going in their heads that drive a poem forward. However, waiting for an unpredictable muse to spark some inspiration won't necessarily get the job done. If you're writing for a stage production or a journal, you have deadlines that can't be put off. For this real writing, you need real tactics, real strategies. 
Marino's poetry demonstrates her studied approaches both in sound and text. Listen, read, and consider for yourself all the ways her language signifies.
- KEH, April 2002   Read and listen to poems. copyright © 1999-2002, e-poets network partners

I have known Elizabeth Marino for decades and she is both Poet/Soldier for the people, and a writer of deep feeling, conveying emotion and conviction like an arrow to the heart. She understands the pride and the passion involved making art despite body blows, both figurative and literal. 

I had Elizabeth as a guest at my 60th birthday dinner in Chicago, and as we were joking and swapping stories, I looked over at her, and thought, Camarada, estamos todavía aquí.

Despite the vagaries of life and its struggles, she writes and write prolifically.  Her chapbook, Ceremonies, was released by dancing girl press in 2014. This collection was based on work begun at a residency at Los Dos Brujas Writers Workshops, on the Ghost Ranch, near Albuquerque NM, where she studied with Juan Felipe Herrera. She received a conference scholarship and a CAAP grant.

Her prior chapbook, Debris: Poems and Memoir, is still available through Puddin'head press. 

When asked about herself, she sent me this: She is glad to look back on 21 years in the university teaching profession, and is grateful for the folks in her life who lift her up, make her laugh, and keep things lively in Chicago.

Debris 24
Borrowed blankets and pillows.
The neglected notebook.
Another squad car passed.

Two houses.   Across town, my house: 
courtyard and kitchen gutted by fire;
bedroom untouched.
White sheets — so cool, so smooth.

I steal back.  Spreading apart
my sheets, making room
his shoulders
musk of smoke rose.

Debris 28
He trots past my new place
hesitates, then approaches
sniffing the softly drifted snow
on my front stoop.  Yes, I am a bitch.
But the season’s all wrong
to be in heat.

He paces
remembering the faint white scars
traced with his tongue.
We were both scavengers then;
I had not quite learned to hunt,
he liked the low-life smells.

And now, behind my own door
I’m up to my ears in blood.
My first real prey
throbs in my mouth.

Come friend.
Circle my home three times.
Tilt back your shaggy head.
Let us howl in rounds

Another sleepless night,
and my remote
take me to Charlie and  his blue
plastic boat, shared at St. Vincent
Orphan Asylum in Chicago.
His hair was wondrously full
and he made my belly laugh
as we waited and drifted.

The dormitory cribs were
far different from the blue vinyl
mats on the concrete floor
of the women’s wing of the
shelter.  Each places of shelter
and transit, an end time
at any time.

And I see these pictures
of the children stacked up like
cord wood, relatively safe
in their Texas detention camps,
compared to the Pakistani children
stacked up like cord wood
in ox carts, after a drone attack.

 It is difficult to shut off
these images on the screen
of the mind’s eye.  The browser sticks,
and keeps refreshing itself.

 In the morning
I must go out the door
and decide to be alive.

LaBloga, Best of 2014
The Muse of Peace Anthology (Gambia 2014)

              MAY 23, 2016
Many fields lie fallow, waiting. 
The hand lingers over 
the pulse from the rounded belly. 
Even when the potential is gone 
the mystery remains. 

Imaging seeks and finds 
one intact ovary. The other 
hides behind fists of gristle and blood. 
No perfect child will unfurl tiny fingers here. 
This mystery is beyond the scope
of court ruling or clerical bias. 

It goes to the heart of who we are, beyond
good outcomes and sentimental simplifications. 
The hand lingers over 
the pulse from the rounded belly. 
Belly and hand are mine. Many fields 
lie fallow, waiting. 
I am legion. 

LaBloga 2017

Body Language                                                                              1

After Buñuel & Dali’s Un Chien Andalou
In his dreams 
               she would and safety beside him,
would ignore the dash of 
               passing strangers in darkened storefronts.
In his dreams they would 
     go back to her place, turn a single lock 
          enter the plush darkness of her 
               apartment, and he’d easily 
                    draw her to him
without her turning quickly 
     to light a small lamp, to glance 
          over and through the clear vinyl shower curtain 
     and draw the deadbolt, pull the latch and 
          slip closed the chain, giving a slight push 
                    for good measure.
In his dreams on this warm night 
          they’d wander out onto her back porch 
                    her face washed in silver by the full moon.
And when he’d stroke her right cheek 
          she wouldn’t flinch, and when he nuzzled 
                    the nape of her neck, all that he’d feel 
          would be the soft syllable 
          without the slight stiffening and soft 
                    “Shit” and sigh.
In his dreams 
          he could o)er her
night’s endless possibilities 
          and she would stroke him
till her heart was more than full.

From Debris chapbook

AS REV. PINKNEY DREAMS                                                             

Sleep falls hard under woolen blankets.

The day not cradled by a temporary small steel cot.

So much to set down, people to write.

The Creator finally is turned to in weariness.

Your breath? Oh yes, you feel it now.

There is that still black before the dream.

Colors so vivid, Lake Erie at dawn.

Brightly reflective. Crystal clear.

As your right hand falls from the side of your bunk

your fingers dip into the rising water.

Published in the People’s Tribune 12/2016, online edition

To start our interview, here's Elizabeth on Elizabeth:

I am a Chicago-based poet, educator and activist. I am a member of the local
Revolutionary Poets Brigade, and have work in the new anthology, Smash Capitalism Vol. II, as well as Rise: Anthology of Power and Unity. LaBloga has published a number of my poems, and selected "Asylum" for its Best of 2014 issue, in cooperation with Poets Responding. My work hasl appeared internationally and locally in print anthologies, journals and online. My two chapbooks Debris:Poems & Memoir (Chicago:Puddin’head Press) and Ceremonies (Chicago:dancing girl press) are still in print.

I earned an MA in English from the Writers Program at University of Illinois at Chicago, a BA in English and Humanities from Barat College, with undergraduate coursework at the University of Oxford.

Trends in poetry have come and gone and I wonder what makes a good poem for you? Who are people you like to read and why?

As an MA student at University of Illinois at Chicago, our workshops taught form poetry and open forms, and our literature courses surveyed the canon and a few contemporary writers. My own poetry did not speak through form, but observed and elevated common speech. Teaching Robert Frost opened my eyes to an extension of this. Frost had the power to move disaffected university sophomores. A friend in Hanoi, Dang Than, does wonderful work with game theory in his fiction and prose. Perhaps it is time to dust off my form notes and poetry dictionary. I also keep returning to Denise Levertov and her essay  on the line, as well as writing amidst political chaos. Poets who pay attention to language and meaning that comes across with earned sentiment I come back to re-read. I respect poets with a musical ear. I like to reread a poem and be surprised. 

Poets with a strong clear voice, with passion -- Audre Lorde, Joy Harjo, Juan Felipe Hernandez, the late Francisco X. Alcaron, Lola Ridge. This started with reading Nikki Giovanni's My House in high school.  I am on a lifelong project to educate myself on Latinx writers. For some reason, I am now reading Sylvia Plath, and Martin Espada -- they feed me.

What is it in poetry that sustains you spiritually?

I remember studying about Holy Spirit as a breath that flows through our very human bodies. I loved that image and the physical suggestion. The language and rhythms and images that you can keep in your head and turn to whenever, because poetry is one of the few arts you carry within you.

What do you have to say about the buzz that poetry is irrelevant?

Compared with? If it is relevant to you, read and write it. Language and meaning and craft will never be irrelevant. Like an almost dead language spoken by few -- use it! Poetry can be delivered by new technology, but few substitute the glib and hackneyed or unworked as legitimate poetry. That is easy entertainment or a first draft.

What are the issues that have affected you personally and what implications do you feel its had on your work?

I wrote a lot about domestic work, because - one - I was doing it in order to live and two - all that domestic work especially that kind seems invisible, even now. What about you and the life situations that you've experienced?

Recently, I was homeless for three and a half years.That experience was so profound, that it affected my human relationships more than any specific poem. I would like to explore more how this affects a circle of friends in the scope of a novel. I have also survived four serious assaults, two with guns. As a child, I had four households by the age of six -- violence and displacement are themes, along with holding onto mental health.

And given that, how would you describe your work as poet/activist. Talk about Revolutionary Poets Brigade and what you were doing?

I am a core member in the RPB - Chicago. It is an intellectual and creative home base. We are affiliated with the San Francisco original. My poems have appeared in their international anthology and in the People's Tribune, which has shared members. We study together and have actions to help make a more liveable planet. I curated a Grito de Mujer reading. I did social justice poetry before; RPB gives me a home base.

You've been a figure in the poetry scene in Chicago for many years. What are some perspectives you'd like to share on the slam/performance genre, poetry that is more text and print oriented. How to do see the "principals" in many institutions - Anglo/male/upper class effecting access to publication, control through the canon,  employment in the field?

First, I chose to work primarily as a print poet, with some performance work. I trained also as an actor, so I have some skills there. I don't really understand how rap works, so I don't work with it. I like to do less transient work. Even with social justice poem, it has to work for me as a poem, not only a rant.

Second,  I try to block out the ageism, classism, mysogyny, sexism, priviledging of sexual orientation and color bias. All of this gets in the way of my work and its publication.(as well as my life!) If I am to challenge any of this effectively, I have to hear myself think, without the clutter. I need to look for structures of oppression, not just slights. I have to keep myself healthy. Others might try to push me away and down the stairs, to clear way for my "betters." I don't have to jump.

I tried to make the most of opportunities offered. Did I lose out sometimes? You bet. I studied at one source of Anglo privilege, University of Oxford. It was a great introduction. If I had been a straight white upper middle class male, that year would have been a great entré to many teaching and writing positions. Instead, it just made this brown English major harder to dismiss.

Where would you like to see yourself and your work in ten years?

I once said in a more temperate climate -- but who knows these days. At least one full-length book of poems, maybe a non-fiction/ book on homelessness, and continue to work towards more control of my craft.

What's some thing not in the official bio?

My name at birth was Micaela Teresa Mastierra. When I got my first AFTRA union card, this was my stage name, to honor my ancestors.

·         CHAPBOOKS
Ceremonies.  Chicago: dancing girl press, 2014.
Debris: Poems and Memoir. Arlington Hts.: Moon Journal Press, November 2005, rpt. 2011 by
            Puddin’head Press. Strong review on national blogs, “Voices in Wartime” (Andrew 
            Himes) and Femficatio (online journal, London).  Also favorably reviewed in    
            Willow Review and  
Selected Characters. Edited chapbook of poetry by Kathleen Kirk. Moon Journal Press, 2005. 

The 2016 Hestler Street Anthology. Crisis Chronical Press: Cleveland, 2016. Ed. John Buroughs. Included "Moving Skylines."

RISE: An Anthology of Unity and Power. Vagabond Press. Venice CA, 2017."Litany for Peace."

The Significant Anthology (India) Ed. Ampat Koshy and Reena Presad.

The Muse for World Peace: An anthology of Contemporary Poets Propagating World Peace. Ed. Mutiu Olawuyi, comopiled by Gabriel Timileyin Olajuwon. (Gambia)

Overthrowing Capitalism vol. II .Revolutionary Poets Brigade: San Francisco, 2016

Chosen Few - Readings from Chicago's Gallery Cabaret. Ed. Janet Kayper, Austin, 2015.

Just the Way You Are - online jazz poetry project (Santa Fe). Ed. Lisa Alverado.  I focused on Nicole Mitchell.

Between the Heart and the Land/Entre el corázon y la tierra: Latina Poets in the Midwest.
     Chicago: MARCH/Abrazo Press, 2001.

Breaking Mirrors/Raw Images. Chicago. 4:30 Poets

·         LaBloga reposted "Furrow" from Poets Responding to SB1070.(national). "Asylum" appeared in LaBloga’s Best of 2014 issue.

·         Poets Responding to SB 1070. Published three poems on site. Poem for Japan piece reprinted on   LaBloga, national Latinx arts blogsite.

·         “Book of Voices.” Critical essay and portfolioChicago: e-poets network (2002)Kurt Heinz maintains the site. <>

Caravel webzine republished "Utility," a poem written for The People's Tribune, which also published "Rev. Pinkney's Dream."

After Hours Magazine (Chicago); Moon Journal (Arlington Heights); Strong Coffee
(Chicago); Nit & Wit (Chicago); Lucky Star (Oak Park); Right Brain Review (NEIU); Illinois
English Bulletin (Sp. Issue – Springfield, IL), Envisage (Oxford, U.K.).


Chicago Journal (stringer), Calumet Park Star columnist, S.H.E. (essays) 



Alicia Lueras Maldonado
Richard Wolfson
Amelia Leyva Shepard
John Barney
Vanessa Brown
Damian Davies
Marcial Delgado
Courtney Butler
Mark Wright
Melissa Rios
Ana Romero-Sanchez
Azul Cortes
Lita Sandoval
Jennifer Simpson
Adelina M Cruz
Tlacaelel Fuentes
Jessica Helen Lopez
Glenn Buddha Benavidez
Rene Mullen
Valerie Rangel
Mercedes Holtry
Charles Montoya
María José Ramos Villagra

A benefit to support sanctuary in New Mexico - the New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice. Proceeds will go directly to create SANCTUARIES for families in need of a place to stay.

This means funds will be used for food, clothes, legal assistance/media, and other necessary resources.

 A fundraiser will be held on
Saturday August 26 7-9 pm @
Duel Brewing ABQ.
606 Central SW, Albuquerque, NM


Email  - Lisa at


Sheila A said...

Liz, your poetry is always enlightening and reflective.

Elizabeth Marino said...

Thank you, Sheila

reena said...

We are honoured to have you contribute to The Significant Anthology.

Elizabeth Marino said...

The honor was mine. It was as if I was welcomed into a new neighborhood.

Sheila A said...

You're still going strong with your poetry. Keep it up!

Elizabeth Marino said...

Thanks Sheila! Join us on the 30th for a 100,000 Poets for a Change reading.