Mary Ann Partin

  • Mary Ann Partin, Criminal Justice/Associate of ArtsMary-Ann-Partin_web

    The Grand Prize Poetry Winner for Volume 13 of Illuminations, Mary Ann Partin writes poetry that often reflects longing and pain and yet promises a catharsis, a coming to terms with unsettled emotion. Her moving work is among the most touching and skillful poetry published by Illuminations. We caught up with Mary Ann to ask her about her artistic journey.

    Illuminations:  In your bio in Volume 14, you mentioned that you started writing at the age of 13 and continued to write "as a way of understanding the world" around you. What have you learned from your writing, and how has growing up a writer helped you make sense of the world?

    Mary Ann:  When I write, all my senses are fully engaged. Those things I experience peripherally have an effect on me, and writing brings them out. It's often as if a thing is written in another place and time, and I only transcribe it. When I read a work back, I am often surprised by the words and the thoughts that produced them. Although my style is easily recognizable to me, it is frequently a pleasant surprise to see what has been written. It is in every sense of the word a "birthing." Good poems, my best, have always been written quickly and require very little rewriting. A comma, a word change--they seem to write themselves.

    Writing opens me up to me--helps me to see myself more clearly, to understand what I have and am experiencing. Things are sometimes too difficult to look at straight on, but in a poem, I can see it, allow it to be, accept the changes in me the moment has brought.

    Writing is magical.

    I:  Your poetry touches on many honest emotions without being overly sentimental. This isn't easy to do! Where does this "honest" poetry come from?

    MA:  My poetry is not sentimental because it expresses what I am feeling and how those emotions shape me. They are real, not observed; they come from the deepest places and can only get out through writing. They are raw and often fresh without editing, without dressing them up to be presentable. If I say what is, it cannot help but be honest.

    As I tried, perhaps badly, to explain, I write what is within in order to experience it without and to know myself in ways I could not otherwise.

    I:  You won the Grand Prize for Poetry in Volume 13. What has being published in Illuminations meant to you? Has your work been published elsewhere?

    MA:  Being recognized in Illuminations was validation, and it was an opportunity to share "Me" with others in a safe way. Things I would not be able to say in person I was able to share through the publication. Being awarded the Grand Prize was an unexpected and wonderful experience. To have others, whom I admire, respond in so positive a way was an absolute gift. To have Kim (the editor of Illuminations) and her support was a special blessing.

    I:  What do you think makes a good poem?

    MA:  The sound of words, the phonics of them, has always attracted me. Rhythm rather than rhyme is a major part of the way I write. There must be a picture well painted in words and things felt that are not normally thought of as felt, such as color.  A story well told in words that stir something inside that would not have been touched without the word.

    For me, there must be a reaction to a work that alters me, makes me bigger, broader, more of who I am. I want to experience the moment being written about--to smell, feel, touch, and taste. Emotions, reactions, bigger than a moment, greater than the whole, are what make for me good poetry.

    I:  Which poets/writers do you enjoy reading?

    MA:  Discovering Edna St. Vincent Millay as a freshman in high school was a turning point in my life. I have a "Collected Works" on my shelf and for a time, I carried her sonnets with me everywhere. Rod McKuen was special to me through my teens and into my 20s. He paints wonderful pictures. He's certainly not Millay, but he had a place. Pablo Neruda touches me. There are others, but they are the ones that stand out as a sampling of the things that shape and touch me.

    Writers--Richard North Patterson, I can't start one of his books unless I have time enough to finish it. He's too good to set down. Heinlein and McCaffrey for science fiction and fantasy. I've read all their books multiple times over the years. And James Kavanaugh, I have all his books, and much of his work continues to resonate. He's an important addition in case someone out there has never read him and should. Mysteries, court room and medical dramas--I am and have always been, an avid reader.

    I:  Do you enjoy any other artistic pursuits?

    MA:  I have never thought of myself as artistic. Life is artistry enough. I love to dance, but I can't carry a tune. I am not "crafty," can't paint or play an instrument. I have helped carve large brick murals when someone else draws the outline. I was even able to embellish, which surprised me. I have always believed that there is life in all things. When we say something is inanimate, I think we are mistaken. I believe as the artist did who said he only carved away the extra to free the thing within the stone. That's what being artistic is to me. Freeing what is within.

    I:  You're recently taken up skydiving! What role do you think risk-taking plays in being an artist?

    MA:  Yes, I started skydiving for my 69th birthday, and it has become a passion. Testing myself every time, overcoming my fear, my reluctance to take a chance, is a new thing for me. I didn't realize skydiving was considered an extreme sport until someone mentioned it in passing. It is the most freeing thing I have ever experienced. When I step out into the air, I am truly alive and feel as a child filled with wonderment.

    No, I don't think being artistic is risky, although I can understand why the vulnerability would scare some. I love being able to be vulnerable, to bare my soul and share myself in a way that is one step removed. I am not in the room watching you read, not waiting to be judged, and yet I able to give something that is truly mine. For me, not writing would be risky. Keeping things inside and not allowing me to see what's really going on is the scary part. I never see myself clearly except in my writing. Being able to write is a gift I give myself and a blessing I never earned. God has been very good to me.

    I:  Finally, you have a degree in Criminal Justice from SCC and work two jobs in that field. How do you find time to write?

    MA:  I work three jobs regularly, one in Diversion for first-time offenders, one as a mediator working with parents to come up with parenting plans, occasionally as a Parent Education Instructor, and at a nursing home doing activities nine hours a week.

    But when I'm moved to write, it's not about time. It just happens. Waiting somewhere, sitting in a restaurant, a car, watching TV when a commercial comes on, sitting with my 'babies" on the couch is the time to write. I always keep a notebook or pad close by. There are bits of writing all over the house. I've been known to use cash register receipts and napkins when there was nothing else.

    "Blinding Fire"

    By Mary Ann Partin


    so deep

    I can't find it when I search,

    there lives a place of rage,

    of fire and fury of blinding light

    and searing pain, the place of "wish it were."


    Just a weekly visit

    to check his vital signs,

    temperature and pulse,

    his appetite, his mood.

    He smiled and told me,
    "Suicide is not an option anymore."

    Today he wants to savor every minute

    and says he'd gladly bargain for more time;

    he even wants to taste the dying.

    I thought I understood, as if his certainty

    could carry me along, and I could feel

    his joy in living, his faith in what's to come.

    I sat there smiling,

    reacting to his mood.



    I struggled with a headache

    and knew a restlessness I could not ease.

    I'd put aside our talk as if it hadn't happened,

    out of sight out of mind,

    until I sat to write.

    Just a note, and I find I'm crying,

    the words blurred by tears

    I haven't time to wipe away.

    I want to scream; I want the wash of

    anger and of hate for things I cannot touch

    that continue touching me.

    I choke on words unspoken,

    mouth wide, but the sounds won't come,

    and the fury and the rage erupt until

    I'm flying off, a thousand little pieces

    in a thousand little corners of a thousand tiny worlds


    And I'm tired,

    so very tired,

    much too tired to ever sleep.