SR72 Contributor Interviews: Marsha Truman Cooper

8 mins read

Photo Credit:  John Pepple

What is it about the genre or cross-genre you write that interests you/draws you in?


When I was in the third grade, I wrote a poem for Danny, the shiest human being I have ever met.  Our desks were enclosed boxy things on legs, dark inside, smelly if we made the mistake of putting our lunch bags in them.  I wanted to dance with this boy at recess.  I wrote him a two-line, fourteen-word poem and slipped it under the lid of his desk, unsigned.  He found the paper, read it, and brought it back to me (have it today).  Then, we danced.  That he knew, that he became brave from poetry

Decades later, my imagined reader still comes to my poetry in some kind of privacy.  During writing, brain studies show how poets enter a state similar to that of deep meditation, rock-climber concentration, or a surfer’s focus within “the tube.”  When the “board” is language, I hope my reader’s eyes become dilated, the pulse strengthened… in a room, maybe lit only by a gooseneck lamp or screen… I want the space to go all wavy.  We’re meaning-seeking creatures and, whether we find meaning in ink marks or pixels, we’re dancing.

How does this published piece fit in with the larger thematic concerns that you see in your overall work?

Somebody said that a poet writes but one poem, the same poem over a lifetime.  I resist the idea with my whole soul.  But there it is.  I think I have one, a soul.  For the present, it is with “me.”  In my experience, God (choose your flavor) breaks in on us, but not “hard” enough to destroy our free agency.  Have a care.  If there is a toying with holy things, time is on the side of the sacred.  It’s actually called a scandal in some religious traditions, the way divine grace operates.  The published poem spans time; I felt it like a mortgage.  I flirted with powers I don’t understand and they “took” me; it’s erotic in Julian of Norwich’s writings.  It’s scary here, gentler in other poems, but it’s the large concern.

What are you influenced by? 

Writers are advised to read.  This part of “the work” is pure pleasure.  I listen to unabridged fiction, “great” and “popular” prose, while walking as mandated by some chronic health problems; each evening I re-read what I’ve heard… go over it with my eyes, guided by notes.  I exercise on public sidewalks.  Here’s an influence anybody can miss tapping:  people outside their houses and/ or met “on the trail.”  I was friends with William Stafford when he was alive and told me to listen to people.  They say marvelous things.

What does your typical writing schedule look like?  What aspects of working do you look forward to?  What aspects frustrate you?

Almost every day, I’m at the keyboard before dawn.  What frustrates me about these dark hours is starting.  A neighbor “on the trail” is a fine potter.  How advantaged is she, sitting at her blank wheel with a lump of clay instead of a set of damp syllables?  Ellen Bass advises, “Mean what you say.”  The potter and the poet find this integrity for their “wares” in centering, an attitude of placement in an instant of risk.  Then language raises issues I discover to be important to me and, as with bowls or vases, poems form within which a part of felt life opens.

An aspect of working I look forward to continues the metaphor.  If my friend’s pot goes wrong, she breaks it; they have a shattering ceremony in her studio.  I enjoy looking at old writing because it no longer appears to be “mine.”  Revision really is “re-seeing.”  Just as a potter still feels past mud in her fingers (and hair), I recognize my “bad” poem’s source impulse (something saved on the computer) and recapture its core.  With the new eyes of a virtual stranger, I can “hammer” the piece and position it closer to the center of my wheel.

For fun, if you could pick one meal that matches the piece we published, what would it be and why?

Not a tongue sandwich lunch, though I’ve probably eaten one, unknowing.  I wish I could cook St. Teresa dinner: boneless chicken thighs baked in cranberries, orange slices, cinnamon and ginger served beside a sweet potato soufflé.  With dessert, an old port.  The editorial staff from the Sonora Review eats with us too.  Teresa’s tongue and pen reformed the spiritual life of her times.  And now, in our company, she’s free, even fierce with our questions.  Pulled up on my iPad is Bernini’s “Ecstasy of St. Teresa” from the little shrine in the Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.  She’s described by Wikipedia as a female  “swooning.”  Working more than 100 years after her birth, Bernini, in marble, moved her garments and we see her bare foot extending.  We’ll ask her if “being on fire with great love… caressing” made her lose consciousness or woke her up.

MARSHA TRUMAN COOPER has published work in numerous small magazines including Narrative, Barrow Street, The Southwest Review, The South Carolina Review, Tar River Poetry, and Spillway. Her second chapbook is “A Knot of Worms,” (Finishing Line Press); its title poem is #427 in the American Life in Poetry archive. She received the Bernice Slote Poetry Award from Prairie Schooner and first prize in the annual New Letters poetry awards competition. She has been married for almost half a century to Dennis Cooper, a software engineer. Both she and her husband are native Californians.