An Interview with WILLIAM MARR
Alan Harris, President of the
H: Where were you born and raised? Were you raised in a literary family? When did
you come to the
M: I was born in
the end of World War II, I returned to
completing my undergraduate studies, I came to the
I was not raised in a literary family. My mother never went to school and claimed that
she did not recognize one single Chinese character, although mysteriously she could
read some rather lengthy story books. My father did go to school for a few years but
was away from home most of the time, running business overseas. I was more
influenced by my uncle, also a businessman, who was fond of classical Chinese
literature and painting.
H: How did you first become interested in writing poetry? What was your age and
what were the circumstances?
M: When I was in my fourth grade, there was a severe drought in that part of the country.
Our teacher asked each of us to write an article praying for rain. The morning after I
turned in my article, a poem bearing my name was posted on the wall in the classroom.
My teacher had broken up the lines of my essay and put them in the form of a poem.
It happened that my uncle was home on vacation at the time, and my poem must have
caught his fancy because for the rest of his stay, he would recite it to every visitor who
came to our house. That really sparked my interest in poetry, but I did not begin writing
until I entered college in
write all sorts of things -- stories, essays, and poems, etc. -- just to fill up the pages.
remained nameless in
H: Through what chain of events
did you become a popular poet in
M: When I started working in
University in 1963, a friend of mine, who was a well-known young poet and the editor
of a bimonthly poetry magazine in
contemporary American poetry for the magazine. Along with my translations, he also
published some of my poems. Later he told me that poets and readers were asking
who Fei Ma (my Chinese pen name) was. They seemed quite excited though somewhat
perplexed by the sudden emergence of a rather mature new poet.
This friend later helped me edit and publish my first book of poems In the Windy City.
He also arranged to have several reviews of my book published in the magazine. It
created quite a stir when one of the reviewers favorably compared my book to a book
published by one of the best-known poets in
published a total of 14 books and several translations in
Literature textbook used by a university in
under the same cover, there are names of such great poets as Li Po and Tu Fu.
H: Did learning the English language hamper your fluency with writing poems in
M: I really don't think so. As a matter of fact, I think the opposite is true. I've found that in
translating my own poems from one language to the other (whether it was originally
written in Chinese or in English), I can see more vividly the difference between the two
languages (and, for that matter, the two cultures). And it is often possible to find some
way to enrich the languages and, in the process, improve the poems.
H: Do you think that having several of your poems posted on your Web site has helped
M: I'm not sure. Most of my Chinese readers came to know my poetry from publications
such as newspapers, magazines, anthologies, and books. Several young poets told
me that they first encountered my poetry when they were in high school and that it had
a big influence on their own writing. Some of them could even recite my poems without
much difficulty after so many years.
Through my own Web site I have established contacts with poets and scholars from
several Asian and European countries. A couple of years ago, a poet from
translated some of my poems into Hebrew and posted them on a Web site.
Lately, I discovered that several Chinese Web sites have set up Web pages dedicated
to my poems. Some had posted over one hundred of my poems in their collections.
H: What has your occupation
been? Has your career in the
your poetry writing? If so, what effect(s)?
M: I worked at Argonne National Laboratory after receiving my Ph.D. in nuclear
engineering at the
several years ago, I did research on energy and environmental systems and electric
vehicles. I don't think my career had much effect on my poetry writing. Many critics,
however, did point out that the refined qualities they often found in my poetry could
probably be attributed to the scientific training I had received.
H: Why do you think you write mostly very short poems?
M: Several reasons. First, working full time did not permit me the luxury of writing long
poems. But, more importantly, short poems are my perception of what poetry should
be. By my definition, a good poem uses the least amount of words to stir up the
strongest of our innermost feelings. Each poem is a universe in itself. Many good
examples can be found in classical Chinese poetry.
H: Is it possible to boil down the messages of all your poems into a single sentence or
two? Or does each poem have its own life and statement?
M: I intend for each of my poems to have its own form, its own voice, and its own life.
Through poetry, it's possible to discover new meaning and new beauty in ordinary
objects from our everyday lives. If my poetry can help people recall or rediscover a
happy moment in their lives, or bring back a beautiful scene from their memories, or it
can show them that the world is still full of interesting and exciting things, and that it is
so beautiful and so wonderful to be alive, then I think I have succeeded as a poet.
Ford Maddox Ford (1873-1939), an English author, once wrote, "The quality of great
poetry is that without comment as without effort it presents you with images that stir
your emotions; so you are made a better man; you are softened, rendered more supple
of mind, more open to the vicissitudes and necessities of your fellow men." These
words often cross my mind whenever I write a poem.
English version of this interview appeared in ISPS NEWS, January 2002
Chinese translation appeared in Literary
News, January 2002 (