Meet Gary Margolis

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Q&A with Gary Margolis


Q: Did you learn anything while writing the poems in Museum of Islands that surprised you?

A: As I never know ahead of time where a poem will lead me, or lead itself, I am always surprised by what a poem wants to say and reveal. So, too, in deciding which poems to include in this new and selected volume. The themes and echoes among and across the poems. The title that found me on a morning walk. The paradox of a Museum of Islands.


Q: As of now, you’ve published eight books of poetry. Which is your favorite collection?

A: It’s hard to choose among one’s children, says the father in me. Each book afforded a new opportunity to see which poems wanted to rise and fall into the Contents. Which book I might want to read again. Fire in the Orchard (Autumn House) helped bridge me to the voice and ways-of-being-poetically-and politically-in-the-world in Museum of Islands (Bauhan).


Q: How do you decide which poems belong together in a collection?

A: When I think I have more than enough poems for a book and that period of writing seems to have run its course, I find the longest table I can in our local library and spread the poems out on its surface. I then walk around the table, looking, remembering the poems. Seeing which poems seem to want to listen to each other across time, their themes and their edges. Which seem to have enough quality to be read by a reader, on their time, in their world.


Q: What was the most difficult part of writing Museum of Islands?

A: Because, as you note below, I’ve had a daily writing practice over the last 11 years, it’s a challenge to know which poems to let be alone for a while, not to rush out beyond myself into a book. The poet-editor John Ciardi once advised young writers (one of which I’m not) to put their poems in a desk drawer for three months and then come back to them as a reader. To which, if any, are still compelling in their own right. I think that’s good advice. To let a book take its own time.


Q: How does the physical place where you write influence your work? What did setting contribute to Museum of Islands as you wrote?

A: My house studies are central to my writing routine: Prompting and inspiration. Windows looking out across hayfields. To a gulley and a brook. To the mountains. To the flowering road ditches I know are there. That said, given the rhythm I’m in, I can write almost anywhere.

I have been to many islands and museums. And the museum of islands in my head. Anna Dibble’s painting on the cover.


Q: Why did you begin posting a daily poem on Facebook and what has the response been? Have you found that it’s a good way to reach new readers?

A: Knowing that it’s possible and likely that a poem posted on Facebook will have its readers seems to have kindled my urge to write. Spurred a draft to cross its finishing line. Also, the pleasure, from time to time, of a reader’s response. A new friend close by, out there.


Q: What are you reading right now?

A: Oblivion Banjo  by Charles Wright

Walking Backwards  by John Koethe

Field Music  by Alexandria Hall

The Absurd Man by Major Jackson

Middle Distance by Stanley Plumly

Madness, Rack & Honey by Mary Ruefle

The Wheeling Year by Ted Kooser

Devotions by Mary Oliver