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Anne Harding Woodworth Author Interview

Gender explores gender roles through two compelling stories that are told in an engaging mix of free verse, form, and rhyme. What inspired you to write these stories?

Who knows where ideas come from when there are no limitations to what you can do with them? A poem, or a plot, seeps into my consciousness unbidden. But there it is. For “Martin/Martina” I pictured a woman of the 11th century dressed in finery and lying in a glass coffin, remembering her past and acutely aware of 21st-century life surrounding her in the chapel where she lies. I place her resting place somewhere in a Mediterranean area, perhaps something like Orta San Giulio, a beautiful lakeside town in the north of Italy. When my husband and I were there, we visited the island out in the lake where in the basilica the remains of San Giulio lie in a glass casket. I extrapolated from that and invented Mother Martina’s glass coffin, gave her a voice, and let her speak, as her past played itself out.

I used to live in Athens, Greece, where I heard about St. Marina, who gave me the idea of Martin/Martina. Marina dressed as a young man and entered a monastery. S/he was accused of fathering a child. That was the inspiration for me to create a story about Martina’s life as a man and father. Near the church of St. Marina in Athens, there is a cliff where pregnant women or women who wanted to be pregnant or did not want to be pregnant or wished for a safe delivery, used to slide down in hopes their prayers would be answered. As Martina lies in her coffin, women pray in a similar manner to her.

At the time we were in Orta, sainthood was being sought for Padre Pio, and his face appeared on the blank exterior wall of a building. That may easily have been considered a miracle. That gave me the idea to have Martin/Martina’s face appear on a wall.

As for the inspiration behind “Aftermath,” I started out with a poem that compared an apocalyptic band of survivors to a beehive. But things changed quickly in my mind, and I invented my own society. I didn’t want a “queen,” though the weavers, or females, as in a real beehive, seemed like the most important of the tripartite group. Builders were asexual beings, and the Fennel Men were the sexual ones, but where the fennel part of it came from, I really don’t know. It just seemed rightly erotic to have a fennel bulb dangling down from the waist of these men.

In today’s world many of us think about the destruction of our planet or at least our way of life. Climate change is going in that direction, as we witness tremendous flooding, wildfires, rising oceans, to name a few of the causes that might be behind a future apocalypse.

What were some challenges you set for yourself as a poet with these stories?

The challenges were the craft of poetry. I knew “Martin/Martina” would be free verse, with Father Ralph providing the occasional contrast with his rhymes. I wanted to make him likable, albeit eccentric.

In “Aftermath,” after writing the introductory poem in terza rima, I just couldn’t stop myself from wanting to rhyme. The story just kept begging me to rhyme. I used all kinds of rhyme schemes in order not to get tied down to anything predictable, and I hope it works.

As for challenges for both stories, I wanted to make them “almost” believable to readers. I want readers to believe that Mother Martina in her glass coffin really is a sentient being whose experience spans a thousand years. I want her story to be moving. I want Martin as father to Dino and friend to Bronwyn to be true. I want metaphor to occur to a reader. When Bronwyn says to Dino, “A father who has nothing of the mother in him is not a real father,” I hope the reader sees how gender should combine in all lives. One could easily say, “Gender Does Not Matter.”

What are some poets or poetry that you feel inspired this collection and you as a writer?

Well, in a small and in no way comparative sense, Dante inspires me a lot, which is why I began “Aftermath” with terza rima. I majored in Italian in college, took lots of Latin in high school and college, and have read quite a few stories in verse, not to mention the books we all grow up with as children.

Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road was not a favorite of mine, and I have to confess I enjoyed parodying it in a sort of book review I wrote some time ago, “The Book Reviewer’s Diary.” But the idea of apocalypse that McCarthy explored is of great interest to me.

Two fiction pieces of verse that drew my attention were Brad Leithauser’s Darlington’s Fall and Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate. These books prompted me to write my first novella in verse in 2008, Spare Parts.

My favorite poets are, though this is not by any stretch a complete list, nor is it in any order, and who knows if their work has influenced me?: Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, Lucille Clifton, Ilya Kaminsky, Hayden Carruth, Ada Limon, Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, Ellen Bass, Edward Hirsch, et al.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I am working on a New and Selected. After eight books of poetry and four chapbooks, I would very much like to bring a few poems from each together in the same volume and add some of those I’ve been working on lately.

I just finished a chapbook-length manuscript in verse, The Spare Parts Saga, which is based partly on the U.S. Postal Service, as we know it today. The main character of the chapbook, which is a novella in its own right, is my novella in verse from 2008, Spare Parts.

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In Gender, the sexes are everything.

Anne Harding Woodworth has brought together two novellas in verse that share a look at the role of male and female. In Martin/Martina a young woman dresses as a man, is accused of fathering a child, and as the boy’s father, raises him. In Aftermath, a member of an asexual group-among three survivor groups that have formed after cataclysm has destroyed most of civilization-becomes pregnant.

Two not dissimilar landscapes set the stage for these stories, somewhere in (perhaps) a Mediterranean place of the eleventh century, as well as one of today and of the future. Regardless of time frame, the atmosphere in both novellas lures us into lives of sex, parenting, labor, confusion, and friendship, all in a mixture of free verse, form, and rhyme.
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