Sunday, February 25, 1996
'Actually, I'm not a great lover of poetry, but Bill's poems are immediately accessiblee.
They have a certain feel and observation...'
William Marr's retirement from
poetry as well as his painting. The work shown hanging in his home is on the cover
of his new book.
The voice of the poet
William Marr, relatively unknown in this country for his verse,
large following in his native
By Glenna Holloway
SPECIAL TO THE TRIBUNE
People are frequently amazed to learn that William Wei-Yi Marr of Downers Grove, a nuclear engineer who retired this month from Argonne National Laboratory, is an internationally known poet and translator.
most successful book, "In the Windy City," set in the
Marr's first nine books are written in Chinese, his native language. His 10th and latest book, titled "Autumn Window" (Arbor Hill Press, $8), is in English and is available at Anderson's Bookshops in Downers Grove, Naperville and Elmhurst, Borders in Naperville and Oak Brook, and Barnes & Noble in Oakbrook Terrace and Downers Grove.
arrived at Argonne in 1969 and began working with Philip Pizzica
Pizzica said, "I can't speak Chinese, so my contribution was just a matter of adding the perspective of an English-speaking reader. We'd talk about usage and connotation and the music and cadence of word choices after Bill explained what each line said in the original. Translating is not a mechanical process. Capturing nuances of meaning and dealing with English grammar are difficult enough. Making it ring like poetry is far more difficult."
"Bill's poetry is of a certain school-there's a plainness, but there's also a twist in language and perception he's very good at," Lee said recently. "I think poetry is a sort of yoga for him. Keeps him sharp, humane, lively. He practices his art as a tonic for the pressures of modern life. And sometimes poets like him practice the art for something greater than self. Like a religion."
Although he has worked as a nuclear engineer, William Wei-Yi Marr of
Marr has translated some of Lee's work into Chinese. He also has translated Carl Sandburg, Emily Dickinson, Richard Wilbur, Conrad Aiken and many more into Chinese. Other poets have translated some of Marr's work into Japanese, Korean, Malaysian and Slavic.
Holding his chin
hold the chin
and watch the computer
Although he has worked as a nuclear engineer, William Wei-Yi Marr of
also a poet, having written ten books, nine of them in Chinese. In fact, literature classes
Albert Chilenskas of Hyde Park worked with
"We have a lot in common, professionally and socially," Chilenskas said. "I do a little painting, although not in the same class as Bill. But I don't write. Actually, I'm not a great lover of poetry, but Bill's poems are immediately accessible. They have a certain feel and observation, and I thought if someone like myself enjoys them, maybe others would, too. So I encouraged him to do a book in English."
Chilenskas' encouragement was the sincerest kind. He offered to help finance publication
costs. His favorite poem in the
collection reminds him of his parents' plight in
let the bird fly
The form is typical of Marr's style: Lean and pointed, letting line breaks serve as punctuation and accentuation of meaning. Verse has never been freer, yet strong discipline is at work.
was born in
literature was taught at Marr's engineering college in
was taught in
came to the
got a call from someone in the next building who saw the piece," Turner
said. "It was Bill. He came over and introduced himself and
brought some of his poems. I really
liked them. I had gotten together a
small poetry workshop in
wife, a chemist, works at
Dennis, who works for Baxter Health Care and writes instrumental jazz, said of his father's new book: "I was surprised. He's a very private man, never shows pain. He's always been the glue that held the family together. In these poems I see sides of him that give us all a greater understanding."
Dennis recalled an article in a Chinese newspaper years ago, "a survey of the best 20th Century writers, according to the critics, my father ranked 13th. It makes me wish I could read Chinese. Someday I'm going to be able to. I want to read all his work. I'm so proud of him."
under the name Fei Ma in Chinese, Marr has won many
awards for his poetry. He was also
the editor of "Forty Modern Poets of Taiwan," "Modern Poetry in
1994, Marr was selected as one of the poets for Dial-A-Poem,
From 1993 to 1995, Marr served as president of the Illinois State Poetry Society. Early this year he was inducted into the Chicago Poets Club. Marr still appreciates help with occasional problems in English idiom, but the members all say he gives much more than he receives.
Constance Vogel, Chicago Poets Club president and member of ISPS, said: "Bill Marr is an asset to any group. He's so modest and quiet, but when he comments on a poem he offers something valuable, something you hadn't thought about."
Marr says he probably wouldn't have written the new book if it hadn't been for Turner and his group's critiques and the Illinois State Poetry Society whose members boosted his confidence in his adopted language.
years Marr did not know the fate of his mother and younger brother in mainland
suffered a lot in
Down at one gulp
how unbearable it would have been
to taste drop by drop
the cup of thirty bitter years
You smile and say to me
should be sipped
Some of Marr's poetry, like "Necktie," is wry commentary:
Before the mirror
he carefully makes himself
a tight knot
to let the hand of civilization
drag him on
Some of it tweaks technology, as in "Midwest Floods, 1993:"
Marr's retirement, he expects to have more time for artistic pursuits. He studied oil painting and sculpture, and
he had his first solo showing at Point Gallery in
Asked why he writes poetry, Marr said, "It's like having a dialogue with people, nature, even the past and future. Poetry enables me to understand other people's feelings and to express my own."
Marr dispels any notion that poetry and science are not compatible. "Scientific training helps develop keen observation and thinking," he said. "I try to pay more attention to the essence rather than the superficial."
"If there is an obligation to being a poet, I'd say it's the promotion of understanding and peace among people. Harmony in the family, in society, in the world. Coming from a family that was torn apart by the Japanese invasion, then by the communist revolution, I treasure family life dearly."
1986 Marr again visited his mother and brother in
"In Memory of" (excerpt)
On the moonless sky
is a grain of sand
in my shoes of memory
The human spectrum visible in "Autumn Window" will make readers nod, smile and perhaps wipe an eye.
Marr dedicated his latest book, "Autumn Window," to his wife, Jane. "If there is an
obligation to being a poet, I'd say it's the promotion of understanding and peace among
people," Marr said.
William Marr will sign books and be the featured reader at 7:30 p.m.
March 2 at Borders,
Glenna Holloway is a poet and past president of the Illinois State Poetry Society. She wrote a foreword to "Autumn Window."