A Grievous Loss Becomes a Gift

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Maureen Doallas – writer, poet, businesswoman, voracious reader – has had her first book of poetry published by T. S. Poetry Press. The book is dedicated to her brother Patrick, who died in 2009. She had written poetry in college, then put it aside. Four years ago, her brother called to tell her he had cancer. Maureen began to write during that time, and, she says, "What I wrote took the form of poetry, and poem after poem I shared with an online cancer support group, something I never would have done 30 years earlier." The loss of her brother leads in a straight line to Neruda's Memoirs: Poems. And that loss has become a gift to us. I had a chance to ask Maureen a few questions, and her answers are another gift...

When did you first write poetry?

I'm sure I must have written my first poem sometime in grade school, because we did work in all areas of writing and reading, but exactly when I cannot say, and I have no memory of the subject. Some years ago I finally threw out those old papers.

I was very lucky to always have had teachers who encouraged both my nonfiction and especially creative writing and my reading of all genres. I believe a person becomes a better writer by reading a lot of writers and certainly a better poet by reading many different kinds of poets.

Do you write for a specific person or audience or group?

I don't typically write poetry for a specific person, audience, or group, although there are a few poems in Neruda's Memoirs that carry a "for" line. For example, there is one to my son on his 22nd birthday in 2010. A couple of the pieces were written because the person inspired me in some way or because the person experienced a life-changing event and the poem was my way of responding to what the person had shared with me. I think, however, that these poems are not so private that they can’t be enjoyed by others than those to whom they're dedicated. Very "private" poems are probably best left in a journal, though they can be interesting writing experiments.

You say in the introduction to the essay "Listen" that to write poetry is to close your eyes and listen. It's listening, yes, but it's also writing... and all that writing requires. Can you describe how a poem like "To Be Re-enchanted is Uneasy" or really any poem in the collection was written -- that is, describe your actual process of writing a poem.

Generally, I hear a poem in my head before I set hand to paper or go to the computer. Sometimes, I'll have an entire poem in my head in the morning, especially if I've gone to bed thinking about something I want to write about. A word in a newspaper story or a periodical sometimes is enough to start the gears going in my brain.
More often, I hear in my head a line, or two or three, and then go to the computer, key the line (which may become the start, an ending or even a middle, or just get thrown out in revision) and start writing. I don't write on paper anymore, though I keep words or lines in notebooks. All the while I'm hearing words. Sound is important to me, how the words work together and where the breaks fall are important. One thing my college profs agreed on was that I had a "good ear."

Once I have a draft - and I'll almost always continue writing until I have a draft, enough of something to work with - I begin making revisions. I may change single words in a poem many times, sometimes I'll shift lines. I seldom throw away a piece. Some poems take me hours and days before I abandon them. I never truly feel a poem is finished, only abandoned. A couple of poems in the collection had their genesis 30 to 35 years ago but were rewritten completely in the last two years.

I should note that if I'm writing a poem that incorporates facts, such as a historical event, I do whatever research is needed to ensure I know what the facts are before I begin. But thereafter, it's about listening to what's in my head and my heart.

What would you like to see your readers experience with Neruda's Memoirs?

There's some raw emotion in Neruda's Memoirs, because I wrote the majority of the poems in the last two years while my brother was dying. In fact, it was his experience of cancer and my need to respond to it that got me back to poetry writing. But despite the grievous loss I was feeling, I never lost hope, and I hope readers will see that in the poems.

The book, thanks to a very fine editor, Marcus Goodyear, shows an arc of life experience, of a search to understand but also accept and find a way to keep living. That way is borne out of some deep faith that has nothing to do with church-going or even praying.

I hope readers of the book also can see how much I enjoy playing with words, especially with getting more than one meaning, and writing about current or historical events or persons.


Maureen talks more about the poems and her background at TweetSpeak Poetry.

She also discusses the process of publishing the book at Faith, Fiction, Friends.

A review of the book at TweetSpeak Poetry.

Diane Walker, a friend of Maureen’s, reads the title poem in a video she created for the book.

The Assumption of the Virgin by Randall David Tipton is the art used for the cover of Neruda’s Memoirs. (It’s also available as a limited edition print.)

Photograph by Diane Powers with permission via Flickr. Widgets