Special Guest – Maria V A Johnson

Today I have a real treat for you! My special guest is none other than my wonderful editor, who is a published author and poet in her own right – Maria V A Johnson. Now I’m going to make her blush before I begin the interview – I happen to know Maria was nominated for International Young Poet of the Year in her second year of University! What an amazing achievement! Is that cool or what??

Anyway, I managed to twist Maria’s arm to take time off from editing Heart Search book two, to talk to us about her emotive poetry book, Hearts & Minds, writing and editing. And, as a special treat, Maria has agreed to me sharing one of the poems from Hearts & Minds here for your enjoyment.

Maria

C: Welcome, Maria. It’s great to have you here today.

M: Thanks so much for inviting me, Carlie, and for the wonderful cup of tea!

C: Congratulations on publishing Hearts & Minds, Maria. Tell us, how did you feel seeing it up on Amazon for the first time?

M: I guess I was numb. You know how you get when the unachievable startles you? That’s how I was! I’m rather a pessimist and just seeing it up on Amazon wasn’t enough to make me truly happy; and I didn’t start believing in my work until I got my first good review.

C: I can relate to that. So, how long have you been writing and what got you started?

M: I guess I was a bit of a late starter. I did the odd poem or story in school for assignments, but I didn’t really start writing per se until 2004 during my A Levels. It was at that time my grandmother passed away, and I wanted something personal to read at the funeral. Good student as I was, I researched heavily into funereal poetry before attempting to write my own; and I haven’t looked back since.

C: I don’t think that’s particularly late – some people don’t start writing until they retire! Anyway, I noticed on your bio you have a Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing. What aspects of your Creative Writing degree did you love? What did you hate?

M: Well I loved most of it, but the fiction writing course was my favourite. I have the beginnings of about 10 stories – because each submission had to be a different story – and the hardest part is going back and picking which one to finish. I would have to say the screenwriting course was the hardest for me; I really struggled. Believe it or not though, poetry wasn’t one of my favourites. My teacher was constantly on my back saying it wasn’t modern enough, that it had too much story to it. I read some of his, and honestly I have no idea how he managed to get it published!

C: Where do you get the inspiration from for your beautiful poetry?

M: A lot of my inspiration comes from my experiences. When I first started it was a very emotional time for me, and there was something so cathartic about pouring my emotion onto paper that I’ve kept going in that vein. Some of my inspiration actually came about as assignments. I had to write about a certain subject, and something worthwhile came out.

C: Everyone needs an emotional outlet and I think it’s wonderful how you channel yours into your poetry. How much of yourself do you actually pour onto the pages?

M: A lot! I’m one of those people that tend to bottle up their emotions until they make themselves ill. Writing poetry has helped me release some of that tension. To be honest, I believe poetry is a way to share yourself and your views with the world. If you don’t pour yourself in, then what is your poetry?

C: Good point! Do you write stories as well? If so, what genre and age group?

M: Well, the genre is easy – Fantasy. I fell in love with it as a kid, and haven’t looked back since. My favourite age group to read is teenage/YA, and that’s the genre I aim to write for, but most of my ideas tend to be younger than that!

C: You are also a professional editor. What is it about editing you enjoy? Is there any part of it you hate?

M: The most rewarding part is getting to turn a raw manuscript into something people would buy and read. The part I love most however, is getting to read the stories first! I guess the only real downside is being unable to switch off the editor. Now, whenever I read, I constantly notice mistakes and it sort of spoils the enjoyment. Even big authors like Charlaine Harris (who wrote the True Blood books) aren’t free of mistakes.

C: Damn! You were supposed to say your favourite part of editing was working on my books!! [Laughs]. So, what’s next for Maria V A Johnson? Are you working on anything at the moment?

M: Right now my writing group, Writebulb, is just starting work on a second charity anthology. We released one towards the end of last year raising money for Farleigh Hospice, and we have decided to do another. We haven’t quite chosen a charity yet, but Little Havens Children’s Hospice is the logical choice since we are attempting to write for 6-10 year olds.

As far as my individual work goes, I’ve been playing about with a space story for young children. I haven’t quite figured out which age group it’s going to be for – I’ll wait and see once the story is written. The idea actually started as a writing challenge in my group; take a song title out of the hat, and write for 30 minutes. I got the title Supermassive Black Hole! I might even use that as the title for the book…hmmm.

C: Five fun ones to finish off:

Favourite food?

M: Now that’s an easy one! I’m quarter Italian, and I love pasta in any form.

C: Favourite book/series?

M: Another easy one! Are you planning to ask me anything that’ll make me think? It has to be the Otherworld Series by Yasmine Galenorn (over 16’s only readers!), but with The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien running a close second.

C: Uh-oh! Now she’s getting sassy! [Laughs] Ok, try this one! If you could be a supernatural being, what would you be and why?

M: Ok, now you’re upping your game! I love vampires, but I’m not sure I’d want to be one. A steady diet of blood would get really boring after a few hundred years. So in that case I think I would have to pick two: Fae (because they can live for ages – even half-fae can live to a thousand), and a Were. Even though Weres have to change form on the full moon, they can change whenever they want. I’m not sure which species of Were I would prefer, maybe seal because I love to swim, or maybe one of the big cats. Though I love wolves, the Weres have a bad rep as being too aggressive.

C: Hmmm. I can see the attraction of Fae, but not sure about Weres. Let’s see if I can really get you with this one. If you could pick one place in the world to go, where would it be and why?

M: Now this is a hard one. There are so many places I would love to go, how do you just pick one? I have already been to Paris and Rome, so I think I would have to go for either Milan or Venice. Milan, if I’m being reflective – my paternal grandmother came from a little village on the outskirts, but Venice is one of the most romantic cities in the world, and I would love to experience it.

C: Yay! That one made you think. Finally, if you could have dinner with any one person, living or dead, who would it be and why?

M: Prince Charming! Oh, did you mean a REAL person? [Chuckles]

C: Thanks for taking time off from editing to let me interview you, Maria.

M: Thank you for asking me here. Now, how about another cuppa?

Cheeky, isn’t she?! Lol. Now I happen to know Maria’s book cover was designed by the wonderfully talented, Ceri Clark; I think it’s fabulous, what about you?

Hearts & Minds

Here is the blurb:

The most important human experiences of love and death are beautifully explored in this anthology. With carefully selected and themed sections: Loss; Love; Lyrical; and Life, the emotions invoked by the words as they flow over the page will touch your heart.

And now, as promised, here is one of the poems from the book:

The Chair

The chair sits stark and silent,

its occupant gone.

A mass of letters

stacked nearby, no one

there to open them.

A brown patch stains

the ceiling, a stale

smell clings to the fabric -

old smoke.

A spaniel casts its lonely eyes

approaches, sniffs

and slinks away.

Reading glasses discarded

on its arm, blank screen before it,

no haunting strains

of Emmerdale make us

yell for quiet; no better tune

than the one we lost.

Hearts & Minds is available from Amazon UK, and Amazon.com for Kindle or paperback.

Check out Maria’s website here: http://mariavajohnson.com

Modern Poetry: What Makes a Good Poem Great

I’ve always liked poetry and have even written a few in my time. Today I’m excited to welcome back Maria Johnson, who has written a fabulous article on Modern Poetry for you. Enjoy!

How do you write a good poem these days? Always before there were rules that needed to be followed; a strict meter, a defined stanza length, a set rhyming pattern, and the poems seemed to contain more of a narrative. These days everything is the opposite. Rhyming is frowned upon, and stanzas have become loose; writer-defined lengths and meters. I struggled with this once. After reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost in University, I decided to try writing my own version of the fall from grace in a more modern style, yet keeping the original perspective – Satan. Here is stanza 2 from a poem that takes just over 2 pages.

 

My eyes swept across the land, encompassing

The outer edges of Paradise, and

The band of Cherubim guarding the gates.

I leapt off the mountain, landing gracefully

At the Western edge of Paradise, my six

Wings flaring as I bounded over the wall

Of rock at its lowest point.

The sun shone down at its zenith, bathing

The land in its warm glow, turning

Everything a glittering green-yellow as

It filtered through the foliage of the trees.

I walked past the roses, red as fresh blood,

Refusing to inhale their heady scent,

Past the trees which lie at the centre

Of that garden, the smell of one so familiar,

The scent of home, the apples of Heaven,

The Fruit of Life, my heart ached at

That fragrance, and I grew cold.

 

This is a bad example of modern poetry. There is too much narrative going on here, and it reads like prose cut up into lines. Prose can be a good place to start, to get the idea in your head if you struggle to write poetry, but you don’t want to be bound by this early attempt. It is also too literal, poems these days have hidden meanings; you don’t want to spell it out for the reader, you want them to discover the meaning for themselves – that way it means more to them since everyone will read a piece slightly differently. Also you never want to start a modern poem with capital letters. In a modern poem, capital letters follow the prose rules; they are for the first line only, unless you have a full stop in which case you have one on the next word.

I gave the poem another attempt, this time disguising the theme of Original Sin within a modern setting.

 

The path glittered beside us

yellow, green as we lay

on a bed of pine needles.

My blood pumped hard

through my adolescent body.

I caressed her strong muscled thigh

in the late afternoon sunshine.

 

The plucked red rose

rested on her bosom,

blood petals strewn around her.

She inhaled its heady scent;

enchanter of the woods.

 

The apple from the hidden tree

lay discarded and broken.

 

Need to return her home,

past Sunday curfew,

she just lies there free

from the rules of society.

 

My lips brush this unadorned Venus,

savour the taste

of that apple on my lips

and wish I could have it

once more.

 

This is a good example of a modern poem. There are only capital letters at the beginning and after a full stop, the stanza length is uneven – specified by the poem and the individual sections, and the meaning is slightly veiled. There is still a narrative here – which I think is needed, though not everyone will agree – but it no longer reads like chopped-up prose. The trick to modern poetry is in the images. Do not tell the story, show it to them and let them work it out for themselves. Do not tell them “She lost her virginity”, show them “The plucked red rose/ rested on her bosom, /blood petals strewn around her.”

Although I updated the setting of this poem, I still kept the integral parts of Paradise in there. They are still surrounded by nature, there is still a hidden tree with an apple; however these have become symbols and the apple, as it always has, represents her innocence and her virginity. You need to try and find new images to show something which is why I used the image of the rose. Yet this is a double meaning line, many people will read it simply as a rose, so I included the short stanza below with more traditional imagery to reinforce the message “The apple from the hidden tree/lay discarded and broken.”

Each poem will be unique. Don’t try to force it into a mould, let the mould flow around it. Each of my stanzas are determined by the imagery, the sections of the narrative. I did not decide in advance what the format would be; I told the story and let it fall where it was meant to.

 

WOW! Thank you, Maria. This really does show how modern poetry can be interpreted in imaginative ways.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you love it? Hate it? Does this make you want to explore the creativity of it? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Maria Johnson has a BA Honours Degree in English & Creative Writing. She was nominated for International Young Poet of the Year in 2008 while still at university and has had her work published in an anthology. These days, she’s a freelance editor and proof reader and writes when she finds time.

Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Maria7627

If you’re looking for a great editor or proof reader, contact her here: maria7627 AT hotmail DOT com