INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM R. MAYO
W. R. Mayo is the publisher of Poesia, a quarterly of poetry and poetry reviews that originated out of
Fayetteville, Arkansas and is the president of Delta House Publishing Company established in 2003.
Delta House is also known as Indian Bay Press that publishes other independent publications of poetry and unrelated texts.
Its website address is http://www.IndianBayPress.com.
You are a lawyer by trade. Why poetry, and why Poesia?
I began writing poetry at a difficult time of my life perhaps as a way to work through it, and the romance of law
if there is such a thing had long since left me. At the time Northwest Arkansas did not have an independent publication
of poetry and poetry reviews apart from the University there, and I thought it was something both the community and I
narcissistically needed. A long, painful and nightmarish relationship had ended, and in a sense Poesia saved me. As
you know, publishing poetry is generally not a paying proposition, and is an expensive hobby, but has thus far been worth it.
When did you first begin writing poetry?
Not until much later in my life, say shortly before 40. Most everyone has some
poetry in them, and it usually takes some catalyst to bring it out.
It is different for everyone. I can only speak for myself. Poetry does not come to me freely.
I cannot even say what brings inspiration to me, however it seems to surface only when I am drunk or depressed.
I have not written much poetry lately.
What is your opinion of the state of poetry? Is it dead?
Poetry is not dead, nor even dying although its demise has been a popular subject
over the last fifty years. Its audience certainly seems to be shrinking, and for the
independent small press there is a constant battle to keep poetry from becoming a
mere academic exercise. Once our post graduate educational institutions began
attempting to make poetry a profession, the culture surrounding poetry by its nature
has limited its audience.
Do you think that MFA programs can influence a career or teach how to write poetry?
From a positive standpoint, for those who wish to remain in academia it is essential.
Without it one will not be allowed to join the club. On a personal level or
from the standpoint of personal achievement in poetry that does not require public
acclamation, I don't believe it has much impact. MFA programs in a sense have
damaged literature for the general public. Poetry has been made a business. Poetry
at one time was written simply to be read and enjoyed. Perhaps even the joy of
writing it was the purpose. Who needs to be taught how to read contemporary poets,
write poetry or taught how to make love? This act of performing autopsies upon
dead and living poets to demonstrate to earnest students what the poem really means
is only so much fashion much like the participation of most of those involved in so-
called American art and culture. It has become a self-perpetuating circuit of self-
adulation and pandering. For one who participates in this pseudo-intellectual
masturbation to take an honest assessment of what they are paying for would be to
require them to admit that for all of their education, time and effort, it has been
misspent. If you want to accept that it broadens the scope of your educational
experience so be it, but does it make a poet? No.
What does make a poet?
That which lies within you. I travel a fair amount, and if you want to kill a
conversation, bring up poetry while you are on a plane talking to the person seated
next to you. If however, you place a book of poetry in you lap, and say nothing,
the person next to you will start a conversation with you with poetry as the subject.
This happens frequently, and I invariably ask if that person has written poetry.
Rarely has the answer been no, however far too frequently I am told that they no
longer write because some academic criticized their work in a destructive manner,
and the desire to write left them.
What other cultural obstacles do you currently see for poetry?
Well, it is not sexy enough. I don't mean by content, but by appearance. The state of American culture
and art is such that it attracts a crowd more interested in appearance than content. Take a look at any
performing arts center, and they sponsor as much social activity around their events as the events themselves.
This I suspect is to placate the donor crowd who otherwise would have little interest in being there if it were
not for the society created by the events. Can you imagine a crowd in black tie and furs sipping red wine from
plastic cups at a poetry reading?
Your publications seem to have a focus on poetry in translation as well. What
place does foreign poetry have in the United States?
In terms of promoting universal understanding, poetry in translation serves an important role in helping us
recognize that the people of the world have more in common that what separates us. Shared foreign poetry illustrates
that everyone is inspired and affected by the same feelings of love, longing or betrayal and the array of emotions we
share. Translated poetry is tricky business however for unless translated well, the poem can arrive stillborn with
the original poet's force and rhythm evaporated. We need more independent publishers such a Cervena Barva Press to
promote this important avenue for understanding.
What advantages in terms of perspective do you see for the poet who lives in
The principal one is the broadened experience and exposure to a culture you
will not find at home that I believe helps any writer. Also, I have found publishers
in other countries more receptive to my work than in the United States. Despite the
current unpopularity with Americans abroad, I have yet failed to find
anyone wanting to hold me personally responsible for our government's failings. I
live in Brazil although I return to States frequently for business and family.
Everywhere I have been people are still interested in engaging in conversations
with Americans, and curiously wanting to know our perspective.
Where have you been published outside of the country?
I have had poetry published in Portugal, Italy, Spain, Argentina and Brazil. Most recently one of your contributors,
Flavia Cosma, a Romanian born Canadian was kind enough to translate my poetry that was accepted by the Romanian publication,
Nordal Literar. Flavia is a great poet in her own right aside from her translations.
Was your bi-lingual poetry collection titled Being Love by Jay Ross well received?
Yes. Northwest Arkansas has a large Hispanic population, and Jay's poetry was
well translated into Spanish by a Bolivian translator, Patricia Mass Anez. The use
of a native speaker who also has a passion for poetry as the translator I feel made
for a seamless weaving of the two works. Nothing seems to have been lost in the
translation. It also brought Jay Ross and I together from a business standpoint that
has resulted in great benefit to Indian Bay Press. In the beginning I was serving as
both Publisher and Editor, and it had simply become too much. I was so
impressed by his work and his approach to poetry I ask if he would consider
joining Indian Bay Press as the Editor. He has added a perspective that I did not
have, and I feel his contribution as Editor has broadened our audience.
What do see for the future of Poesia?
Frankly, I don't know. As you know it is very difficult for a small independent press without non-profit status to
make it financially. I have purposely chosen to not go that route although the free money would be nice. I don't wish
to exchange my freedom to shoot my mouth off in some editorial or in an interview such as this for fear of offending
some donor or campus don who has some influence over the flow of money. It is an expensive hobby as I have mentioned.
Unless someone else is willing to approach me to take up my sword, I guess I will continue until the money runs out.
Can you loan me a five for coffee?