In this space, usually reserved for issues of refugees in Sicily , I tackle a twin topic: that of organized killing and slaughter worldwide in repressive countries with brutal regimes. Poet, Writer and Activist Gloria Mindock answers some of my questions about her latest collection of poems, The Whiteness of Bone, which focuses on systematic killing as a worldwide modern scourge. Not coincidentally, brutal regimes and all that goes with them are often just one of the reasons people flee their country of origin, their home. Her newest poetry collection, The Whiteness of Bone, tackles this subject matter.
MR:Your collection of poems, Blood Soaked Dresses stunned me with its stark portrayals of how banal evil really is. It reminded me so much of Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between us. In that collection you focused on the legacy of violence, oppression, terror and death in El Salvador. In the Whiteness of Bone you cast your net wider and speak of human tragedies in the world at large. Tell me a bit about how this collection came to be, and what your preoccupations were when you were writing these poems.
GM:After Blood Soaked Dresses was published, I continued to write about the atrocities. The slaughter of the innocents was happening in so many countries. I knew I had to continue to be a voice for those who could not speak. I felt the world was silent and ignoring what was going on. I was not about to ignore it, so I kept writing about it. Finally, I had enough poems that I felt good about and put them into a manuscript, Whiteness of Bone. I am so excited and honored that Glass Lyre Press published this work.
MR:Andrey Gritsman, so astutely called the poems in this collection “a long weapon piercing human conscience.” In fact, once one reads these poems, it would be difficult if not impossible to perceive what is going on in the world at a distance, since the human essence is so very vivid: you do not hold the reader at arms length—in fact, you are speaking directly to the reader when you write, in the poem “Don’t”
Don’t tell me my writing is too graphic
for you as you sit in your nice apartment,
enjoying the day, sleeping peacefully at night.
You can do this, they can’t.
MR:Who are your readers? What effect do you think or hope these poems have on awareness of political, military and social violence in the world?
GM:Besides friends and others in the writing community, I am hoping I can reach those that feel like I do and want to wake up the world to these killings. Some people have said to me that it is difficult to read some of my poetry at times. It should be. This means I am doing my job as a writer, as an activist. Right now, the world is falling a part and it is over greed, money, power, religion, oil, land etc… I am hoping people will read more on what is happening and get involved. Voices need to be heard. The slaughter has to stop.
MR:Your prose poem “Random Thoughts About a Boy” touched me deeply. What came to mind was the little Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, found face down on a beach while trying to flee his war torn country. That was a graphic and gut wrenching visual provided to us by worldwide news, the image of which I will never forget. What you do with words here, is also so evocative, one can imagine children everywhere who are either lose their lives’ or who take the lives of others, as is the case with children being conscripted into war. If killing is learned, how can it be unlearned?
GM:Killing is learned and it can be changed, starting with the adults and parents not teaching their children to hate by watching what comes out of their mouths and demonstrating the actions of peace and caring for others. Change can happen if responsibility is taken. For some people, it is rooted from one generation to another. People have to be willing to change, work at it to stop the cycle. Strapping bombs on children, or giving them a gun and teaching them to shoot is , clearly, not the answer.
MR:In your poem “Shrapnel” hope feels lost. You write: No matter how hard we try, we can’t attach ourselves back to solace. then further, you write: The vine stays, the debris adds up, and the angel laughs— truthfully, as fine a line as I have ever read. So fine, in fact, I copied that line into my journal. while so much poetry has an ineffable quality, explain to me, if indeed you can, what you mean by that line. Do you really believe there is no longer a place or room for solace.
GM:The line means the vine to heaven stays but the debris of the killings adds up. No one is going to climb the vine but it is there if you do. The angel laughs because no one climbs it. She is cynical and feels there is no hope for this world. I feel the same way lately because the slaughter is getting worse. Evil is getting worse. Again, the world stands by and does nothing to put a stop to it. I believe in comforting and helping the innocents in these countries but I can’t do this alone. I feel alone in this calling at times so where is the solace? There are a few out there speaking up like I do but not enough. I will never lose hope and my love for mankind but I am human. I want to shake the world up and put a stop to all this killing. If enough people say stop, I believe it all can change.
MR:You do not shy away from the graphic, which is just one of the things that give your poems their great power. In Maria’s Uncle, Maria holds her uncles guts in her hands, then tries to push them back in. Her lips actually touch them. Such a stark and stomach churning image, but it is the last two stanzas that move me the most:
Now Maria travels the world, speaking about the dead, telling the
world it is hopeless, that no one is capable of a quiet tongue.
With outstretched hands, she handed everyone a flower, said:
you must water it to live, but if not, the depths of hell will assign you a seat.
This poem both expresses despair that is unending and then hope. Is Maria a composite or a real person? Are you expressing here the stubborn hope in the face of unspeakable tragedy?
GM:Maria is a real person who fled El Salvador in the 1980’s. She escaped at age nine. She laid in a pit by her mother who was dead and faked her death so she would not get shot. The trauma and PTSD this young girl suffered was heart breaking. I had a translator when speaking with her. In the book is a poem called “Maria” which I wrote for her. I have no idea what happened to her but hopefully, she still is alive and living here in the United States.
I decided to use Maria in many of my poems and made her into a saint- like figure. To show everyone, that there is always hope in this world.
MR:We can only imagine some of the locations of the poems that you write about, since you are not explicit and do not name names of the countries. As a poet, this appeals to me greatly—because while each tragedy is unique in its own way, oftern the effects, the loss of life and other horrific vagaries of war are the same. Was this lack of specification intentional on your part? If so, why?
GM: I did not name the countries because there are so many of them. There are only so many ways to kill a human and so many countries slaughter in the same way. How many different ways can you use a machete, shoot a person, rape, chop up, and torture? It all is horrific. I don’t need to name the countries because it is everywhere. This world is becoming a cruel place. Towards the end of the book, I do mention a few countries.
MR:The last poem in the book “Orchestra” brings it all home to me. You give the reader something of yourself, which is brilliant:
I don’t think you understand who I am—
Bohemian girl, who never sleeps…
Can I speak to you about my poetry?
Listen, you will hear new words
coming from my voice.
MR:Who is Gloria, the writer, the poet, the activist?
GM:I am someone who believes in helping others, speaking up; being a voice for others.
I am a protestor, a warm-hearted person who cares about the world and how people treat each other. I will never understand all the mass killings.
I write on many different subjects and write poetry, plays, and flash fiction. Not all of my work is about the atrocities.
One of my biggest gripes is that many people don’t care about what is happening in the world because it does not directly affect them. These are the people I am trying to reach, to wake up. I want people to say “enough”.
I have always helped people in so many ways. I work in addictions and have for close to 36years. It is not easy some day working with people who are suffering and addicted to drugs, but I love it—it is very rewarding.
MR:You are so active and present on the poetry scene both in the US and abroad. Your press Červená Barva Press has published poetry from writers the world over. What is the philosophy behind the press?
GM:Červená Barva’s mission is to publish poetry, fiction, plays, and translations from all over the world. The press tries to bridge gaps between countries. To name a few, we have published writers from: New Zealand, Australia, Poland, Northern Iraq, Canada, Romania, Asia, South Korea, Czech Republic, England, Argentina, Mexico, Sweden, Estonia, and many more.
I have more countries to reach. We have so much to learn from what is written in other countries. Failure to read work from other countries make a person’s view rather narrow You will never grow as a person or writer if you don’t expand your view. Translations were once difficult to find , but more presses are publishing translations. This makes me really happy.
Oh my, I have so many influences–here are just some of them: Neruda, Agosin, Allegra, Milosz, Amichai, Hikmet, Celan, Vallejo, Dugan, Radnoti, Alberti, Zagajewski, Lorca, Herbert, and really a ton more, mostly foreign.. These are the writers I read over and over again.
MR:What would you like people to know about the power of poetry as witness?
GM:The poetry of witness can make you aware, not let you feel alone, can help action to proceed, can make people think, cry, and is so powerful. It grabs at your heart.
MR: Well said. Thank you , Gloria!