Readers Wonder: Maren Thompson
In our “Readers Wonder” series, Bethany students sit down with our Inkwell contributors to talk about the writing process and the pieces that appear in our issues.
In this installment, Hannah and Tylan talk to Maren Thompson about her piece: “To a Constellation” which was published in our Spring 2019 issue. (Scroll to the bottom of this page to read Thompson’s poem.)
Hannah: We are here interviewing Maren Thompson, and first we are going to have her tell us a little bit about herself.
Maren: I grew up between Minnesota and Wisconsin basically, although most of my memories do occur in Minnesota. But I was in the north woods of Wisconsin for three and a half years of my life. For some reason those were the most formative for me because I was in the middle of the woods, and in recent years that’s what I find myself writing about the most–which is home in Wisconsin. I was born in Mankato, Minnesota, and Mankato has really been kind of a home base for me and my family. My dad is a pastor, so we end up travelling to lots of different places in order for my dad to work. Before that, we were in Audubon, Minnesota for nine years and that was the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere. After that, we moved to Texas about five years ago and just this last summer, my family moved to Illinois, so when anyone asks me where I’m from, I tell them that is a really loaded question! In terms of right now, I am a double major in English and Theatre Major. I’ve always been interested in stories whether they are written or on stage or just if there’s a story to tell; art in general I really, really love. I was always writing books, so when I was little I would have little folded pieces of paper that had scribbles in them and I would say, “This is my book, mom!” And she would say, “That’s great, sweetie.” But actually, my mom has always really encouraged me to pursue writing, and she has also encouraged me to pursue art. She’s a very literary person as well–actually, my whole family is very literary. They have always said things like, “Maren is the art person, she loves art.” They all really encouraged that, which is great. I don’t know what else to say about myself!
Hannah: What inspires you to write poetry?
Maren: The two poems that you guys read were Greek mythology-inspired, I’m assuming?
Hannah: Yes, they were.
Maren: Okay, cool! Like I said, I have always been inspired by stories in general. What specifically was going through my mind when I wrote those two poems? I guess some of my inspiration shifted a little bit. I’ve always liked the idea of old things. I really like old things. The antique things, the ancient poetry, they always inspire me. I went to England and I just loved it there so much–everything is so ancient and beautiful. Also, Germany because everything was so much older than things we have here. That was extremely inspiring to me, so I guess that’s why in those two poems especially I turn to myths because I like that there are old stories that show emotions that we still have now. It’s really interesting for me to be able to find something I can relate to. I have always had a hard time relating to people; that’s something that I really struggle with in life. I can’t find people that I relate to a lot of time so it’s very comforting for me to read old things and be like, “Oh! I can still relate to that.” This isn’t new. This is something that–even if it’s mythological–humans have always experienced and always will experience considering it is so ancient and people are still able to relate to it. That was specifically the inspiration behind the “Ariadne” poem. I had just gone through a breakup and I was having a rough time, so I just kind of wrote that and thought, “Oh yeah, I’m not the only person to feel this way.” I really like old poetry in that way. It makes you realize that you are not the only person who has ever felt that way. So in that sense old things are an inspiration to me; I get inspired by art in general. I write a lot about Wisconsin, the woods… A lot of the stuff I write is very natural and earthy. Some has to do with the time in my life that I spent growing up in the north woods of Wisconsin and the experiences that I had while I was living there. Even though it was only for a short time, it’s very prominent in my memories of my youth and my childhood as well. I love being outside. I love mountains and trees and forests and stuff like that.
Tylan: I noticed that you referred to a monster in “Ariadne” and I was wondering if you were referencing that monster to a particular person?
Maren: It’s based on the myth of–I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Greek mythology at all?
Hannah: We talked about it in class a little.
Maren: Okay! So that one is the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, where Theseus was given the challenge to go into the maze and defeat the Minotaur. Ariadne is the king’s daughter, and she helps him with it. Then they run away together.
Hannah: Yes, we actually talked about the myth of Ariadne recently in class.
Maren: Okay, yeah! The part that I focused on was when she gets left on the beach; that’s the part that was resonating with me, considering I was freshly out of a relationship. It felt very similar to my situation. So then, the part with the monster, in terms of the myth, is referencing that Minotaur. It’s hidden away, but for me it was more that. This was actually after my first relationship ever ended; I had never felt as if I could be understood by anyone, I always felt different from everyone else. So for me, having someone that was able to understand me… In a way, that was like taming that monster of myself. That’s a super dramatic way to put it, but in a way, it was just like knowing that I’m understandable, I’m not incapable of being understood. There’s something that can be tamed in me, that people can reduce, so that they can relate to me in a way. To me, that’s the monster: that insecurity that no one can understand you, no one will ever want to be with you. So this poem truly came from my heart. I wrote it because it was similar to my own personal feelings and I realized that it was time that I get them out by writing them down on paper. Poetry is very therapeutic to me in that sense; I can write about anything I am feeling at any time and it instantly makes me feel better.
Hannah: Why did you choose to write poetry?
Maren: Before college, I’d always kind of written fiction. I was always trying to write stories and books, stuff like that. And that [fiction] was my main outlet. I always kind of tried poetry but I didn’t understand poetry as well as I would’ve wanted. I think part of it was coming to college–I felt like this is harder, this is more upscale, and so I should try it, I should do it. It just kind of started out being something I should do, and now I continue to write poetry because it really helps me to process what I am going through and makes it easier to think through certain situations a lot of the time. I was in creative writing last year, and I wrote a lot of poems; oh my gosh, it was just like a therapy class! Sometimes I would write something and I would be like, “Oh my gosh, I had no idea that was something I was struggling with.” Or, “I had no idea that it was in my head.” So now poetry has become something that is an emotional release for me. It helps me get out emotions that I am struggling with, it helps me recognize issues within myself, problems that I’m experiencing, or any bitterness I am harboring. Poetry, I think, is the more concentrated form of those emotions; but writing in general is something that really helps me process what I’m going through at any time.
Tylan: Who is your desired audience?
Maren: I don’t know if I really have a specific audience. In theory, my audience will at some level recognize if I am doing a mythological poem–which I like to do. I know that it is kind of a safety net for me, so I try to do other things. But if I am doing a mythological poem, my audience ideally will on a basic level recognize what I am referencing. My ideal audience is an audience who thinks; I don’t like to write poetry that spells everything out. I like my poetry to be a little more vague and a little more something that you have to decipher. At a basic level, my ideal audience is an audience who will think about something and does not just take everything at face value.
Hannah: What kind of techniques do you use when you are writing poetry?
Maren: I like to focus on moments and relationships between people. I think that’s because I’m always having a hard time reading people, so I am always trying to understand relationships between people–be that my relationships with other people or how other people relate to like people. In creative writing, you know, we call that an image: if there is something in your head that is not going away, a specific image you can’t stop thinking about. So I usually go from there and then I think of the sensory stuff that is associated with that specific moment. I really like image-heavy poems as well as reference-heavy poems. I usually will try to find some stories, some illusion, something historical, or anything that I can use to relate to this moment I am thinking of. Some techniques that I have found helpful, even recently, are using kind of repetitive imagery in a different way. I have a poem where there’s a circle of flowers referenced at the beginning and then a circle of people referenced at the end. And I like images that harken back to past images. I love form, I really love form. Not all poets like to use form; I’m very attached to form. Sometimes I have an image or a moment in my head and I want to write the poem. I’ll try it with one form and it won’t be right, so then I keep it in my head until I find the right form. Then it becomes so much easier, like the second poem, “To a Constellation”–that was one that had been in my head for a long time, and I just had no idea what form to write it in. I stumbled across the form that I ended up using, which is called ballade, and when I came across that form all of the sudden I tried it and thought, “this is right.” This was the right form for this moment. Sometimes it will take a while in terms of getting to the actual poem when the ideas are in my head.
Hannah: How long does it typically take you to write a poem? Is it something you do in one sitting, or a few days?
Maren: It depends on the poem. The “Ariadne” poem I wrote in one sitting, then obviously a little bit of editing later. That’s one of my few poems without form, but I also don’t think a form would have worked for that one. So that one didn’t take quite as long. I think I wrote “To a Constellation” a day before Inkwell submissions were due because that was the day that I decided it was right. Writing that poem took me the whole day, though. There have been some that have taken me weeks, but only in that I write a first draft and then I don’t come back to it for a while because sometimes it has to sit in my brain before I can come back and edit it.
Maren: So it really varies, actually.
Tylan: What advice would you give someone who is just starting poetry?
Maren: My advice is to read poetry. I am a huge reader. I am a huge advocate for learning by example. Even if you are reading poets you do not like, even if everything you read is form, that is going to help you realize that you do not like certain forms. Read other poets and writers in general, actually, not just poets. Read everything so that you can pick up styles from so many different sources. I find I really love academic writing, so sometimes I find inspiration in pieces of academic writing. I also find lots of inspiration in Shakespeare and things like that. My second piece of advice is to try things and to fail. Honestly, you don’t know what does and doesn’t work until you try it, until you see it on the page and get feedback. At first, I was really scared to send stuff to people and have them read it, but without feedback I would have written so many bad poems.
Hannah: What other types of stories or pieces do you write?
Maren: So like I said, in the past I wrote lots of fiction, but I have gotten away from fiction recently, mostly because I just don’t think it’s my medium. I am much more comfortable and able to express what I want through poetry and creative nonfiction. I love creative nonfiction. Have you guys talked about creative nonfiction?
Hannah: We just started today, actually!
Maren: Okay! I just started creative nonfiction last year, and it’s, like, my favorite thing to write. It has a lot of the same elements as poetry, but I think it pushes me and it challenges me more than poetry. It’s a huge help in processing stuff and helping me admit things that I wouldn’t normally admit, which I think is powerful and really good.
Hannah: For sure.
Tylan: When I was reading “To a Constellation,” I felt like it was about two friends who are growing up, and then when they are growing up, they start growing apart from each other. That’s the kind of vibe I got from it. But I wanted to know what it was truly about.
Maren: Yeah, that is kind of the idea I had. It’s the myth of Artemis and Orian, which is one I kind of wanted to write a poem about for a long time even though I didn’t really have a specific reason; I just liked the story. It ended up becoming about being very close with someone, so this is like a male-female friendship and how complicated those can get. There’s the fear of ruining a friendship by maybe trying to make it something more, or maybe one person wants it to be something more and the other one doesn’t. So yeah, it’s about two people growing up and growing apart, with all of that tension.
Hannah: Okay. Do you find writing easy?
Maren: No, I find it cathartic. I think the first draft is easy sometimes if I’m just word vomiting onto paper. That’s easy, but it’s not good, and I know that it’s not good. I think writing truly happens in editing, which is not easy. I kind of love editing, but I also hate editing, because once I’ve written something I just don’t know what to do with it. It’s hard to imagine it in another way. So, actually, one of my biggest editing things that I do is completely scrap the original copy and rewrite it. So, writing is a process and processes are rarely easy.
Tylan: Who are your favorite living poets?
Maren: My favorite living poets? Oh gosh, I am trying to think. I read so many old poets! There was a poet that I did an imitation of last year but I can’t seem to remember that person’s name.
Hannah: We can start with your favorite non-living poets!
Maren: So, I love Shakespeare! His mastery of language is incredible and I appreciate his impact. I really like John Milton, I think Paradise Lost is just extremely ambitious and huge and I love it. Homer, because his works are Epic Poems, technically. All of these are really old poems, like ancient poetry. The Iliad and the Odyssey are two of my favorite works ever. I like older writers because I connect to themes of absolute truth and of fundamental human knowledge, if that makes sense.
Maren: Oh! And T. S. Eliot. He is probably my favorite “modern” poet, I guess you could say. He’s not living, but he’s closer to our times.
Hannah: Okay, let’s do one more question: How do you overcome writer’s block?
Maren: Just by doing. I am absolutely horrible, I get writer’s block all the time, and I’m actually really bad at pushing through it some of the time. That’s why I was in two writing classes last semester. I signed up to do both of them simultaneously, which was probably the best thing for me. It was like, if I don’t have to write something for one class, I have to write something for the other class.
Maren: I had to get it done, and I think the best thing to combat writer’s block was that. I really liked free writing at that time because it was like word vomiting onto the page to get ideas flowing. Sometimes I would write something about a certain theme, and it ended up being terrible. But I tell myself that it’s still good because at least I got ideas flowing. My biggest advice for writer’s block is just to go and write.
Tylan: Thank you for your time!
To a Constellation
By Maren Thompson
What left was there for us to do
But hunt beneath the speckled sky?
I found none else for me but you
And quickly let the world pass by.
Through moonlit trees you ran with me,
Across the silver mountainside.
No matter where else we might be
We would be always side by side.
My aim was straight, yet far too true;
I wish, this once, that it would lie
Did you know I pierced you through
With arrow aimed by my own eye?
Perhaps you feared how it would be,
That you’d be left or cast aside;
Or maybe you could hope, like me,
We would be always side by side.
Now you must hunt in forests blue
Where I can’t follow, though I try.
I wished when this earth’s hunt was through
We could still run across the sky.
I’ll put you there so I can see
The hunter whom I lost to pride.
Had hubris not ripped you from me
We would be always side by side.
I look at all that I’ve destroyed,
In the stars, forsaken, tied.
I thought that in the heaven’s void
We would be always side by side.