Downers Grove Reporter, April 19, 1996 (Friday)


The nuclear poet


Poetry doctor takes on everyday themes


by Dan Blunk


Poet and scientist William Marr stands in front of several

of his paintings at his home in Downers Grove.  Marr has

a wide following as a poet in Taiwan and China, and

recently published his first poetry book in English,

"Autumn Window."

                                                                                                PHOTO BY ERIC CURTIS BOND



William Marr has a simple way of looking at things.

            And the man who has a doctorate in nuclear engineering and who retired earlier this year after 26 years at Argonne National Laboratory believes poetry should be simple enough for everyone to enjoy.

            Marr, who may not be a well-known wordsmith in these parts -- at least not yet -- has a large following in Taiwan, China and Southeast Asia as a poet and translator.

            Originally from Taiwan, Marr published his first nine books of poetry in Chinese, his native language. His recently self-published 10th book, "Autumn Window" (Arbor Hill Press, $8) is written in English and is available in local bookstores.

            Marr said his success in poetry comes from a simple desire to describe the world in ways people can understand, leaving the interpretation up to them.

            "I think people like my poetry because I use everyday topics and language," Marr said. "I try to keep it simple and down-to-earth."

            That philosophy has driven Marr's poetry since he was a boy growing up in Taiwan.  He wrote his first poem at a time when there was a drought in the countryside near his home.

            "I wrote an article for my fourth-grade teacher describing the land in the drought, and she read it and put it in poetry form," Marr laughed.  "That's when my interest in poetry began."

            Marr has experienced most of his success in Asia, where he is often published in the major newspapers, some with circulations of over 1 million.  "Every time I write a poem, I try to publish it in three or four places," Marr said.

            But he recently had a poem included in a collection in Eastern Europe, in the Slavic tongue.  "I can't even read the poem because I don't know that language," Marr laughed.


Brain duality


            Most people feel lucky if they are proficient in either math or language skills.  But there can be no argument that Marr has excelled in both areas.

            It is rare that people develop their mathematical and creative brains equally to the point that Marr has.  He said the Taiwanese junior college he attended did not have literature classes, so he pursued his poetic interest by starting up a magazine with a friend.

            But, he admitted, though he was interested in writing poetry he did not want to live the stereotypical bread-and-water-in-a-garret life of a poet.

            "Engineering was more practical," Marr said.  "It's one way to support my poetry.  It's a nice combination.  If you concentrate on just writing, you miss out on some experiences, like getting into different fields and meeting different kinds of people."

            Also, his engineering work at Argonne, where he took part in projects ranging from nuclear reactor safety to energy systems to early forms of the electric car, was a good place to look for poetry ideas.

            "I try to draw on that background for my poetry," he said, adding with a chuckle, "I developed both sides of my brain."


Praise and awards


            Though most o his publishing success has been in Taiwan and China, where his books sell best, Marr said he wants to publish more of his down-to-earth works in the United States.

            "Here I seldom publish because it takes time to know where to send (the poems) to," Marr said, jokingly adding that he has been a bit lazy to do the research.  "But I'd like to get published more in the United States because it means more exposure."

            But Marr has received his share of exposure.  In 1970, shortly after moving to the area, he was named the Most Outstanding Citizen in the Chicago area for his dual interests in high-technology science and low-technology poetry.

            In addition to two major translation awards from his home country, Marr has garnered awards from local poetry associations, including serving as president of the Illinois State Poetry Association from 1993 to 1995.  He was also recently accepted into the Kentucky State Poetry Association.

            Marr said he now spends his days writing poetry and taking up new hobbies. "Painting takes a lot of my time now," Marr said, pointing to several works displayed in his home, joking that he has painted more than his wife will allow him to put up.

"When you leave, these will have to come down," he laughed.

He is also developing an affinity for sculpture because "sometimes you can't use words to say what you want."

As far as his poetry publishing career, Marr said he is between books right now, but is looking for a Taiwanese publisher for a collection of works he has done that could be a book.

Marr's latest work, "Autumn Window" (Arbor Hill Press, $8), is available at Anderson's Bookshops, Borders Book Shop in Naperville and Oak Brook, and Barnes & Noble bookstore in Downers Grove and Oakbrook Terrace.

In addition to doing all the writing, Marr also handled the art direction for the book, and created the painting featured on the cover.

Of his artistic endeavors, Marr said, "This kind of stuff, it's part of my life. I don't think anybody can change that.  I just enjoy writing it, and I'll keep working on it."




This article also appeared in the following newspapers:

LISLE REPORTER (1996.4.17)