Kenneth P. Gurney. I have met John Macker twice at poetry readings in Santa Fe, otherwise our paths do not seem to cross. I am pleased at this chance to get to know him a little better.
What got you started into poetry? What age?
John Macker. The same thing that got me involved with drama, cinema, all forms of literature. Sometime around high school, the poetry bug bit & has been infecting me ever since. Dylan Thomas, the Beats, French Symbolists. Formed the core of my youthful rebellion; if I could do poetry I wouldn’t break car windows.
KPG. Is there any other endeavor that you are passionate about outside of poetry? How does it enrich you?
JM. Writing one-act plays and essays! Most of which have been published in the Malpais Review. I love the shorter form probably because I never had time for opuses. I’ve always been fond of long-distance hikes, camping in the wilderness, grew up the Colorado Rockies. How poetry came to Gary Snyder I guess came to me as well, the same way: “It stays frightened outside the circle of our campfire. I go to meet it at the edge of the light.” Traveling in Mexico. Wandering in general. I enjoy teaching writing workshops. I’m a big movie fan and read voraciously.
KPG. You went to catholic school as a kid and attended Naropa Institute in your twenties. Do you find those differing educations work together or against each other in your creative process?
JM. I think they joined forces to make up who I am. Catholic school taught me to be attentive, that there were things larger than ourselves at work in the universe over which I had no control. I never planned a minute of it which may explain my overall nature. Naropa taught me what Jack Spicer famously said: Poetry is the ground of being. Also the nuns and dogma taught me ritual which, in terms of writing, is very much in evidence at a place like Naropa. The linkage I suppose is connected with 4 years at Univ. of Missouri, as well.
KPG. What adjustments did you make moving to the city from the country? Anything you miss about living in San Miguel County?
JM. I guess I miss the raw unpredictability of country living. Roadrunners, emus, bears, hybrid wolves, killer hail storms, border trekkers, all manner of unconventional visitations. The wild open spaces of poetry. We remodeled the place from top to bottom until we burned out after 20 years. Living in town allows my wife and I easier accessability to movies, readings, restaurants etc. The ebb and flow of a neighborhood.
KPG. How much does the landscape of your earlier San Miguel County experience and the Santa Fe area influence your writing?
JM. Much the same way. Our place in San Miguel County was eastern slope of the Sangre de Cristos, on the Santa Fe trail and early Route 66, Apache country, Starvation Peak but with a long view of the llano, Billy the Kid territory. Near where I live now is the expansive foothills of the Jemez, the Caja del Rio, Diablo Canyon and the Rio Grande. The La Cieneguilla petroglyph panels are 10 minutes away.
KPG. Who is your hero and why?
JM. I have several but I’ve outlived most of them. They shape-shift. The most consistent hero would be the populist Chicago attorney from the turn of the last century, Clarence Darrow. He defended John T. Scopes’ right to teach evolution in the public schools in Tennessee in 1925. Earlier he defended Loeb and Leopold in a capital murder case and ended up pleading for their lives and creating a viable argument against the death penalty.
He was an agnostic and visionary humanist.
KPG. Tell us about your favorite poetry experience in your life.
JM. Almost impossible to nail down one. A few of my own readings when my writing has taken me by surprise, taking Gregory Corso’s “Socratic Poetry Rap” in Boulder, late 70’s, listening to Allen Ginsberg read with a broken leg at the Denver Art Museum. Collaborating with Denver woodblock artist Leon Loughridge. Among other favorites.
KPG. If you could wave a magic wand and place a poetry book into every high school english classroom as required reading, which one would it be and why?
JM. Good question. Shaking the Pumpkin, Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas, A Jerome Rothenberg edited anthology of Native American poetry. 1972. The myths, majesty and magic of the early and contemporary writings of our Indigenous Peoples.
KPG. What is your favorite National Park? Why?
KPG. If there is a little known poet you think everyone should read, who is that poet and which book of theirs should we seek?
JM. Mary McGinnis, Santa Fe poet, either one of hers. [Listening For Cactus and October Again; here is a video of Mary reading the poem “Blind Lady at the Gym”]
KPG. If you could be present at any moment in history what event would you visit and why?
JM. At Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C.
KPG. Recommend a poetry (or literary) website that you frequent.
KPG. Green, Red or Christmas when you order Huevos Rancheros?
Yesterday I posted 3 poems by John Macker. You may read them here.