This interview came about from an earlier interview with poet and actress Hélène Cardona. Sometime in June, Hélène mentioned that John M. FitzGerald's most recent collection, Telling Time by the Shadows (Turning Point), was actually a collection of secret love poems written by him to her.
"These are the poems John wrote when we first met," says Hélène. "We met at a reading he did at Beyond Baroque in Venice. After that we communicated through poetry, sending each other poems by mail or e-mail for the longest time before we even had a date. It's a very 18th century story."
Needless to say, I was definitely intrigued. John originally sent his poems to Hélène as "prayer poems," so as not to let on they were to her. Eventually, the secret broke, and they both went on to live happily ever after.
FitzGerald, a dual citizen of the United States and Ireland, has published in numerous journals and anthologies. Spring Water, a novel in verse, was a Turning Point Books prize selection in 2005. His other collections include The Mind, The Charter of Effects, Question Creation and The Zeroth Law. He recently completed his first novel, Primate, and turned it into a screenplay.
Here's a poem from Telling Time by the Shadows:
I would be one of the wanderers,
with heaven watching.
Observe, you reflections, I glance away.
Notice the wonder spring forth in ancientness,
steep the spell held in spices, hypnotized.
In dreams I descend twenty steps at a time,
am afraid how I'll land if I fly too high.
I try not to say I, and claim myself,
a sign of consciousness uncovering.
Who calls me, from such transience?
We will ourselves into vastness,
like children at graves,
a wind with just one chance to blow,
both toward and away from itself in surprise,
or life is waste.
There are shooting stars, then that which lingers,
even hovers like a hawk, a halo, a messenger.
None can bear looking straight into the sun.
We see it reflect off the ocean by day, the moon at night.
Imagine someone's sun fly away.
What must it search for, in its burning?
Galaxies witness it bursting through silence.
May it hover to the end in spite of where it finds itself.
Let innocence cling to the universe, swirling,
get high and go hungry, distill our minds
till we can't control what pours from inside,
and at heart remain addicts, ever humble.
And with that, let's get into the interview:
What are you currently up to?
I recently finished a new manuscript of poetry, The Zeroth Law. It's actually more of a cross between poetry and literary nonfiction that compares the beliefs of the world’s major religions to history, myth and science.
You're in a relationship with poet Hélène Cardona. So I'm wondering if you could share what it's like to be in a relationship with another poet?
Hélène is great. She is the love of my life and my best friend and a pleasure to be around. People say we're joined at the hip. I'm not so sure that being in a relationship with another poet is so different than being in a relationship with a person in any other occupation. You have to make time for both the vocational and creative aspects of life, while continuing to recognize the things that brought you together in the first place. I was used to being alone to write and it took some adjustment for me. But it helps that we have a lot of the same interests and can bounce things off of one another. And it helps that she is brilliant, too.
Your collection Telling Time by the Shadows is actually a collection of "secret" love poems you wrote to Cardona, which you called Prayer Poems at the time. Could you re-cap a little on how this developed, including when/how Cardona finally learned their actual purpose?
Yes. It's a collection of poems of love and longing. I first met Hélène when she approached me after a reading I did at Beyond Baroque, in Venice. She told me how great my poems were, and of course, I was immediately stunned by her presence. As time went on, we kept meeting again and again at local poetry events. We talked and exchanged poems.
But Hélène is an impressive person. I was always certain that it was only the poetry she was interested in, rather than me in a romantic sense. We began to meet and take very long walks along the beach, from Santa Monica to Malibu, almost daily. During these walks we would hardly speak at all. We would then each return to our separate homes, and send each other poems and letters by e-mail and post.
At that time, as it happened, I was working on what I then referred to as "The Prayer Poems." These were prayers in the traditional sense, that they were directed toward a deity. But in these poems, God is really a woman.
In your own opinion, what makes for a good "secret" love poem?
I think a good secret love poem is one that is universal. You cannot give yourself away completely. Hélène actually began to hope the poems were about her.
You work as an attorney, which I'm sure eats up a lot of time and can be psychologically draining. How do you balance your poetry with your day job?
I write every night. It's just a matter of habit. I wouldn't feel normal if I didn't do it.
Could you explain what inspired Spring Water (Turning Point), a novel in verse about the life of a serial killer?
When I was in law school, I read a number of cases in criminal law and criminal procedure, in which defendants being tried for murder raised the defense of insanity, stating that God, or the devil had told them to kill. But the case that stuck with me the most did not arise in the context of crimes, but in the context of wills and trusts. It was the infamous Tylenol case, to which we now owe the tamper-proof cap.
In this sad case, a newlywed couple was called on their honeymoon in Hawaii, and informed that the groom's brother had suddenly and unexpectedly died. The couple cut their honeymoon short, and returned for the funeral. After the ceremony, there was a reception held at the home of the deceased. Both the new husband and wife took the very same Tylenol, and died within an hour of one another. Since they both had wills leaving everything to the other, the issue was which one to enforce. The killer was never caught. That really stuck with me.
You have lived in England, Italy, and Santa Monica. I'm going to put you on the spot and ask which is your favorite place to live and why?
Santa Monica. I love it here. I was born here. But I'm also a citizen of Ireland. I lived England 2 years and couldn't wait to come home. But now I sort of miss it, and will make it a point to go back – for a visit. My mother's side of the family has a vineyard in Amorosi, near Naples. It's pretty great there too. But since you said "live," I'm sticking with Santa Monica, for now. Who knows, I might feel the need to move to Ireland, depending on who wins the election.
As a follow-up question, do you think travel helps with the poetic writing process?
I'm sure that anything outside the ordinary, everyday experience must help with the creative process. As beautiful as Santa Monica is, you can only write about the beach so many times before you bore yourself to television.
If you could share only one piece of advice with other poets, what would it be?
Read, read, read.
Check out Turning Point Books at http://www.turningpointbooks.com.
Check out John's website at http://jmfitzgerald.com.
And finally, check out Cardona's website at http://www.helenecardona.com.
Poetic Asides is loaded with great poet interviews. To view them all, go to: http://www.writersdigest.com/poeticasides/CategoryView,category,Poet%20Interviews.aspx.