Pansy Maurer-Alvarez was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and emigrated to Switzerland in 1973. She began writing poetry as a teenager and completed eleven years of literary studies at universities in the US, Spain, and Switzerland. Upon moving to Paris in 1991, she abandoned plans for furthering her academic career in order to devote herself to poetry full time. Her poems have appeared throughout Europe and the States in such diverse publications as the TLS, Hanging Loose Magazine, LUNGFULL!, La Traductière, Rattapallax and Osiris. She has work in several anthologies, including Ladies Start Your Engines (Faber and Faber), Final de Entrega (Colectivo Ediciones) and Visiting Dr. Williams (University of Iowa Press). Some of her poems have been translated into French, German and Spanish. She has read at many venues in France, the UK and the US and has led workshops in the UK.
Her collections are: Dolores: The Alpine Years and When the Body Says It’s Leaving (both from Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn); Lovers Eternally Nearing, a limited edition, fine press collaboration with the Swiss artist Walter Ehrismann, with German translations by Rudolf Bähler (Editions Thomas Howeg, Zurich); Ant-Small and Amorous, with French translations by Anne Talvaz (corrupt press, Paris) and In a Form of Suspension (corrupt press, Paris). She is a Contributing Editor for the British magazine Tears in the Fence and she curates the Poets Live reading series in Paris.
Canopic Jar is proud to have Pansy Maurer-Alvarez as a Featured Voice, and poetry editors Rethabile Masilo and Virginia Smith Rice came up with a few questions as a means of further introduction to the work of this talented artist.
Canopic Jar: Your poems pulse with music and rhythm – can you speak a bit about your use of these elements?
Pansy Maurer-Alvarez: I could probably speak about this for a while. But basically for me, poetry is, besides passion, music. I believe that a poem shows us something about life from a different angle than we may be used to and that it does so through its sounds. The oral tradition remains important in poetry because the poem’s story comes alive through its music. The music can make the story easier to understand or perhaps it drives the story home. However, most importantly, the poem’s music makes us feel something before we have the time to understand what that exact emotion is. We use our senses to “understand” poetry, all the arts, even language itself. If the soul feels nothing, the mind has nothing to analyze.
In particular, these are my thoughts on the writing of my latest collection, In a Form of Suspension:
Music enters the body via the ear and goes directly to the soul. A melody, clatter, birdsong, falling snow, a word. Poetry also enters the body via the ear, but because words have dictionary meanings and language has grammar, this music often gets caught circling the brain as that instrument tries to “make sense” of what’s going on (in the poem, not in itself) and perhaps a filtered version eventually does happily reach the soul. I wanted to skip that kind of understanding process and put words on the page in such a way that the poems would reach the soul as quickly as possible and be understood there, in a different, valid, perhaps deeper way of “making sense.” I’m counting on the fact that the brain makes images and visual patterns out of sounds, and this it does instinctively, accurately, immediately. And “without thinking,” it understands what is heard.
CJ: In addition to the rhythms and musicality of your lines — and perhaps related to these — many of the poems in In a Form of Suspension, and even before it, use space in particular ways (jumps, breaks, etc.) Are your poems consciously structured in this way to explore/enhance sonic effects?
PMA: Yes. Inner spaces, punctuation, the line breaks as well as the choice of words all go to make up a poem’s particular music (sound patterns, movement, etc).
CJ: How do you determine the use of punctuation and capitalization within your poems? The ‘rules’ for their usage shift quite a bit from poem to poem.
PMA: I try to use as little punctuation as possible so as not to disturb the poem’s particular music — however for reasons of semantics (and occasionally rhythm), some is necessary. Each poem is different and has its own needs. Punctuation and capitalization are things I check very carefully when revising.
CJ: Which poets do you continually go back to? Why?
PMA: Ah, the list is long, but here’s a start: William Carlos Williams, Alice Notley, William Shakespeare, Barbara Guest, Ted Berrigan, Denise Riley, James Schuyler, W.H. Auden, Edwin Denby, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Edmund Berrigan, John Donne, Zoë Skoulding, Frank O’Hara, Bernadette Mayer…
But I love exploring so-called “new voices” too, and I read a lot — every day.
And always aloud!
Why do I keep returning to these poets? Naturally I’m drawn by their passion but also by the fresh, vibrant and immediate way their words lift off the page and fill my ear.
CJ: In the life of a poem, which do you enjoy more: writing, revising, or sharing the poem?
PMA: Well, the writing is a marvelous voyage of emotion, color, shape, movement, of thought and sound, so it is probably the most exciting part. But I also like to give readings of my work because then I’m again inside all the sounds and pictures I’ve created and can sit back and enjoy that part, too.
CJ: Thank you for sharing your work and your thoughts with us. We invite the readers of Canopic Jar to sit back and enjoy the sounds and pictures of Pansy Maurer-Alvarez as well. For more of the writings and art of Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, visit her blog.