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Warwick Poet Publishes Sixth Book
Mary Makofske is doing readings in many bookstores and beyond.
“No Angels,” the newly published sixth book of poems by Mary Makofske, of Warwick, may lack angels because the inhabitants are earthbound beings. Makofske says she explores their experience until she feels she can express it, but she concedes she can never be sure that she has.
“I’m only a viewer, an ear to the ground,” she writes in the poem, “No Angel,” a multi-page poem about the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man, by a White police officer. She writes:
No angel hovers over the scene draped in yellow tape
where Mike Brown lay for hours in his own blood.
No angel hovers over Darren Wilson
staring at the dashboard of the squad car
wondering if the blood on his hands
belongs to him or the man he shot.
“I was obsessed with it. I read transcripts, news reports and interviews,” Makofske said of her process on the way to writing about Michael Brown. “I like to put myself in others’ experience. What was it like? I could be wrong.”
Her mind is always looking for new places to alight, seeking new perspectives to articulate, a habit that began before she was aware of the possibility of becoming a writer, she said. By middle school she was regularly expected to supply poems for the school newspaper.
She lived in Washington, D.C., where her mother was a teacher and her father a union organizer. Talk about politics was frequent, and Makofske was aware of the segregated world around her middle class life. She noticed how Black people seemed relegated to the projects. Not until she worked in a library did she see members of the Black middle class, she said.
Black struggles recur in her work, whether the recent demise of Michael Brown or in the historical poem, “Matilda Lawrence,” about a woman who briefly escaped slavery on a trip to Cincinnati:
Lights flee across water as she steps off the boat
in Ohio, and thereby declares herself free.
Free to hide, go hungry, live like a thief.
But Makofske also examines the experience of a woman who had been used as sex slave, then equipped to be a suicide bomber, then escaped. She writes about grandsons, gardening, a catbird, owls, a mime, borders, whatever she encounters that intrigues her.
“I get an idea and may not put it on paper for months or years,” Makoske said. “Then lines or an approach to the poem comes. I lie in bed. Lines and ideas come to me.”
But she doesn’t write on a schedule. She may write for an hour in a day or a whole day, she said. “You’re alert. Someone says something, and that’s a poem,”
She also reads an abundance of poetry and savors discovering new poets, but she initially read classics. Lines of a Robert Frost poem recently surfaced as she considered a grandson’s demeanor. So she wrote him a letter and included the whole Frost poem but alerted him about the last two lines.
However, she first took herself seriously as a poet with the emergence of the women’s movement.
“I loved Whitman and Frost, but the first feminist writers’ workshop I took was fascinating. Women writing about their own experience got me engaged,” she said.
She started taking workshops with such writers as Nancy Willard, Stanley Elkin, Tim O’Brien, Billy Collins and Marge Piercy. Piercy, who loved cats, nevertheless urged Makofske to delete a cat-related line in a poem about her son. Makofske was reluctant, but Piercy insisted, “You must get rid of your darlings.” The poem about her son was then published, her first published poem, in 1980.
Makofske, who is a member of We the People Warwick, recalled a dialogue workshop with them when people were asked what they identified with.
Makofske said she had been a travel agent, a reporter, a sex education teacher and, for many years, a tenured English professor at Orange County Community College.
However, she said, “Being a poet is a big part of who I am. It dominates my thoughts.”
No Angels, released by Kelsay Books, is available online and at the following local bookstores. Makofske’s upcoming local readings are listed below the stores:
Thursday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at Noble Coffee Roasters, 3020 Route 207, Campbell Hall NY
Sunday, Sept. 17, 3-5 p.m., Arts by the People: Spotlight at The Madison Community Arts Center, 10 Kings Road, Madison NJ (short reading and discussion, with three other poets)
Wednesday, September 27 at 7 p.m. at Milkweed Poetry Workshop, Warwick Historical Society, 2 Colonial Ave., Warwick NY
Thursday, October 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Wisner Library, 1 McFarland Dr., Warwick
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