Interview by Carol Smallwoood
Mary Barnet is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of PoetryMagazine.com, since 1996 the longest continuously publishing poetry journal on the Internet.
Mary was nominated a second time for a Pushcart Prize for her recently published, 86 Sonnets for the 21st Century (Casa de Snapdragon, 2015). She received the New Jersey Poetry Association Award for Poetry. Mary was nominated for a Nobel for her first book The New American: Selected Poems (Gilford Press, 2006). Her second book Arrival (Casa de Snapdragon, 2010), is available as a Kindle edition also. Mary’s websites are www.PoetryMagazine.com www.MaryBarnet.com
Please describe your website and your duties as editor/writer.
Founded PoetryMagazine.com back in the web primitive days purchasing one of the first web sites. That was when few webzines existed, and my advertising was primarily Guerilla Style; bumper stickers on walls all over New York City, ads in small periodicals as well as Poets & Writers. Early on I introduced streaming Video and in 1997 I won a Webby Award for our Streaming Video. That got me a write up in USA Today by Sam Meddis and PoetryMagazine.com has grown steadily year by year. Later I received from USA Today a second Webby award. The difference has always been the careful application of the strict criteria I use to choose poets. I include those who have not yet been recognized, but I want to bring the best to a readership who expect that from me.
Over the years I have added to the mix of unsolicited submissions from which I choose, and present in PoetryMagazine.com. There are now also Features by invitation from Features Editor Andrena Zawinski; live poet interviews by Grace Cavalieri; reviews by Grace, Janet Brennan, Joan Gelfand, and others; PoetryFilms by our own Richard E. Schiff. We have had several contests and plan to have another soon with the prize one of Richard E. Schiff’s award winning PoetryFilms.
Tell us about your career.
I began writing poetry as a small child, seriously at 16. I had reason to travel into South America at a time in the volatile days of the mid 60’s. By 1968 I was living in London and began to publish my work. 1968 was a pretty hip time to be alive in Britain, and I was in the middle of all that Piccadilly circus stuff. I returned to New York City in the early 70’s and have written and published since then, before and after in many publications such as: Crossroads, New Worlds Unlimited, The New Jersey Poetry Society Anthology, The Poem Factory, Numbat, The Pittsburgh Review, and elsewhere. Also, I was the Featured Writer in a special edition of International Poets (Official Organ of the International Poets Society). This was followed by my own chap books including “Orchidia”, “Proud to be a New American, “Landscape” and “Dad’s Shoes.” Despite ‘dry periods’ I have rarely gone a day without some scribblings filling up a book rather quickly.
Which recognitions/achievements have encouraged you the most?
My public readings that began when I was 13 gave me a great deal of encouragement.
In 86 Sonnets for the 21st Century (Casa de Snapdragon, 2015) my sonnets are written for the modern English Language. Sonnets are poems, used by, among others, Plutarch, Michael Angelo and William Shakespeare with a specified rhyme scheme and meter differing somewhat from one to another. Grace Cavalieri (host of “The Poet and The Poem from The Library of Congress”) and Joan Gelfand (National Book Critics Circle) both admired their originality and readers found this modern presentation of iconoclastic poetry form refreshing as well. This achievement meant a lot to me and I am pleased with its translation as well.
Being nominated for a Nobel Prize was thrilling, as was winning The New Jersey Poetry Society Poetry Prize.
When we received The Webby Awards twice for PoetryMagazine.com given out by Real.com in conjunction with USA Today I of course, considered that a great achievement.
What writers have influenced you the most?
I have never allowed myself to be a member of any school, fancying old and new international poets as well as American poets. Chinese and Japanese poetry have had an effect on me from the beginning; brevity is the hallmark of the Haiku, after all. Economy of words, goes along with my ideals of wisdom. And doesn’t everyone want to be the person of much wisdom and the “least words” ?
How has the Internet benefited you?
Well, it gave me the idea that with a web site you can reach all the way around the world to an unlimited number of readers. And not a single tree paid for the thousands of pages of poetry I have generated in the past 19 years.
What classes have helped you the most?
The writing workshops I took part in at what was then The New School for Social Research, I think it was in the 1980’s, or early ‘90’s when Robert Pinsky was there, were invaluable to me.
The Master Class I took with Gerald Stern when I attended a Writers’ Conference at Williams College was particularly enlightening to me.
What advice would you give others?
Be your own muse and inspiration and remember poetry is an art and a serious craft, requiring you read poetry and write poetry, every day if possible.
About the Interviewer: Carol Smallwood’s recent poetry collections include, In Hubble’s Shadow (Shanti Arts, 2017); In the Measuring (Finishing Line Press, 2017).