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MARY SILWANCE

IN CONVERSATION


MARY SILWANCE: Originally from Egypt, Mary lives in Kansas City. An environmental activist and speaker, poet and mother, she has served as poetry co-editor for Kansas City Voices and is a member of the Kansas City Writers Group. Her work appears in Konza Journal, Descansos, Heartland: Poems of Love, Resistance, and Solidarity, Sequestrum, Well Versed and Rock Springs Review and on her blog. Her poems have won first place in Well Versed and Rock Springs Review. She is active in the Kansas City open mic scene. Mary is cofounder of ONE LESS PIPELINE focused on environmental justice.


WHAT INSPIRED ONE OF YOUR POEMS?

What Will Be came from gardening one evening. Working my raised beds is my happy, meditative place. This particular November I was feeling overwhelmed with all the external needs pressing upon me: finding a job, my children, looking for a new car, home repairs, etc. What I wanted was an opportunity to sink down into myself, find respite from the world’s demands, to listen to myself and to be still long enough and in such a way that I replenished and built up energy for what really needed attending to—that current, that stream of being beneath the external surface world that takes up so much of our consciousness.

TELL US AN OBSCURE THING YOU FIND INTERESTING ABOUT THE WORLD?

Honestly, I’m struggling with this question. I’m not sure what you mean by obscure and interesting is such a non-word. Do you mean puzzling, tragic, ironic, hopeful?

Here are a couple of ‘interesting’ things. Technological advances have evolved us into being more disembodied than maybe even Christianity, but for different reasons. The natural world has a purpose unto itself and isn’t here for our benefit. When we talk about ecosystems, we can identify symbiotic mutual benefits beings within ecosystems [that] provide each other and the benefits they provide us, but we don’t scrutinize humans in the same way. What benefits do humans provide ecosystems?

WHAT ODD, FUNNY OR INTERESTING FACT CAN YOU SHARE ABOUT YOUR WRITING HABITS OR PROCESS?

My best writing happens when I’m running. I get ideas, make connections and feel emboldened to be more forthright in my writing and living. Sometimes I’m lucky enough that this translates into actual writing even after the endorphins have dissipated.

How important is language and/or word choice to your writing?

Word choice is paramount to me so I spend a lot of time in the thesaurus. I often feel like I’m working with a twelve-crayon box but I need a word from an elusive 120-crayon box because the hue I’m looking for isn’t in my box. Like the word doesn’t exist in English yet. Maybe it’s connected to being a native Arabic speaker. I also know a little Spanish so I recognize there are ways of perceiving and articulating the world and one’s experiences available in one language that don’t translate into another, just approximate. The approximation isn’t satisfying.

Because Arabic is my native tongue, I wonder sometimes if I phrase things in a particular way because, while I think in English, my use of the English language may be rooted in a Middle-eastern or Arabic way of articulating, of syntax. That’s where the poem White Out came from. I edit and rewrite what initially comes out of my brain and I wondered why.

I am also particular about conciseness. I try hard to pare down my poems so I’m getting my intent across with as few words as possible.

Are there any themes or reoccurring threads that you try to explore in your writing? 

I don’t think I’m pursuing themes but maybe the aggregate of my poetry suggests particular themes. I can certainly see themes reflectively, descriptively but not prescriptively. Mostly I reign in my analytical brain when it comes to my poetry. Poems are everywhere and themes suggest artificial categories that may prevent me from being receptive when one appears.

My blog is me wrestling with environmental, societal or parental issues. For instance, when Trump made his ‘shithole’ statement and people got upset, it prompted the [Tonic Wild piece on my blog].

Is there something you find particularly difficult about the writing process?

Poetry comes more intuitively and I can feel my way to where I want to go. Poems show up sideways, in the periphery, in the dream or wake state, in noisy crowded places, in quiet places, in meetings, while driving, where and whenever, for their own purposes. My job is to pay attention and try to clear space for them to land.

Blogging is a struggle because I research the heck out of everything I write and have an overbearing sense that I need to substantiate the connections I see. But what prompts me to blog in the first place is the connections gleaned from paying attention and reflecting. For example, I am writing a blog series on lawns and slogged through parts 1-3 before I could let myself write the 4 th installation because I thought I needed to prepare readers for it before springing it on them. I’m wondering if I can just write what I experience/see/feel and not worry about walking readers through my process.

One of the delights of writing is there’s always more to fine-tune, places that can be tightened. I love when I think a piece is finished then days, weeks, months even years later, I suddenly think of a better word, line break or how to better it someway. That I didn’t see it previously but now it’s there, plain as day, is such a gift.

How much research do you do when writing?

Because I want what I write to ring true, I do a lot of research. For example I wanted to include a tree in a poem but I wanted its branches to hold a particular posture so I researched trees to find which do so naturally. I do a ton of research for my environmental blog because I want readers to know my opinions are substantiated. Ironic really since I plagiarized my way through high school and most of college.

what's an underrated (or little recognized) book you love?

I can’t just name one. Barbara Kingsolver’s essay collection Small Wonder is a bit of a bible to me. Ahab’s Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund is a wonderful piece of historical fiction. And pretty much anything by Vandana Shiva.

What is your most recent work and where can readers find it?

A recent poem, Forgive me, Mother, will appear in August in Heartland! Poems of Love, Resistance and Solidarity. My most recent blog post: The Opposite of Courage is up now.

LASTLY, WHAT COMES TO MIND WHEN YOU THINK 'KINGDOMS IN THE WILD'?

We all exist in concentric kingdom circles: my personal kingdom, a private one with family, the outer kingdom of extended family, my friend and work communities, etc. All my kingdoms exist with and intersect with everyone else’s. All of us and our various kingdoms are hurtling through space on a planet (a wildness that is its own kind of kingdom), which makes earth an overarching kingdom. And this planet, this overarching kingdom, is perhaps perceived as wild because it is completely not within human authority or control as human kingdoms seem to be. But that sense of order and authority that the word kingdom suggests is juxtaposed with the word wild, suggesting that order and authority as human made are illusory. Perhaps too, ‘Kingdoms in the Wild’ beckons us to drop below or past that notion of kingdom as a human construct and imagine what a wild kingdom could be, indeed, to re-imagine the word wild, as though that juxtaposition creates an unnecessary dualism. Wildness is the crucible of kingdoms so how do we get to know wildness on its own terms?

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ABOUT IN CONVERSATION

What makes a writer write? What resides behind the impulse to create a work of art?  We have always been interested in these questions here at KITW. Incredibly, we’ve received such varied responses to the same questions from each of our published writers, that we thought we’d share.

We hope you enjoyed your visit to Kingdoms in the Wild and as always, thank you for your support.

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CREDITS: in this issue
Author: Mary Silwance
Editor: Shompole N.L
Original Image: Adrien Olichon
Graphic Design: Shompole, N.L.