Friday, October 16, 2015

A Brief Interview with Poet Margaret Randall

Photo credit: Albuquerque The Magazine
Margaret Randall’s poem “Written in Patria o Muerte” appears in the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of Poet Lore, the poetry publication of The Writer’s Center. Randall is a poet, essayist, oral historian, translator, photographer and social activist. She lived in Latin America for 23 years. When she came home in 1984, the government ordered her deported because it found some of her writing to be “against the good order and happiness of the United States”. With the support of many writers and others, she won her case in 1989.

Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, she taught at several universities, most often Trinity College. She has published numerous books. Her most recent publications are About Little Charlie Lindbergh (poems, Wings Press, 2014) and Haydee Santamaria, Cuban Revolutionary: She Led By Transgression (biography, Duke University Press, 2015). On the event of the release of the new issue of Poet Lore, editorial assistant Emily Tuttle emailed Randall with a few questions.

ET: "Written in Patria O Muerte” has such a vivid and strong sense of place—is there a specific moment in time, visit, or place that inspired the scene that opens the poem?

MR: Yes there is, although often the places in my poems are imaginary. In this case, I was headed to the Havana airport on my way home from my last trip to Cuba. It was very early morning, not yet light. I know that stretch of road well—Avenida Rancho Boyeros—and so I know there are broken buildings and buildings in various states of disrepair along the way. But in the dark, everything looked perfect. One could imagine what that journey would look like if the US embargo was removed and Cuba could get all the building materials and paint it needs to renovate so many buildings weathered by time and sea air. A full moon added an extra touch of magic to the moment. 

ET: One of the great strengths of this piece is the use of line and stanza breaks in the poem affecting how details are revealed to the reader when it is read—when you write a piece, do formal considerations typically come after or as you write?

MR: I’ve been writing long enough that formal considerations come along with everything else. I revise a great deal, so in some instances I may have the line breaks in place as I go along, while in others I may tinker with them afterwards. In general, though form and content inform one another in my work.

ET: The poem is at once polemical and hopeful—and it is written at a time of great change for Cuba and US relations. What can a poem convey or enact that, for example, an essay cannot?

MR: A good poem can convey—or better still—enact anything. Sometimes voice, images, juxtaposition and such are all I need to say what I want to say. In other cases, though, when complexities enter the picture beyond the here and now of the experience, an essay may be the better vehicle.

ET: You are also a photographer, can you discuss the relationship between your diverse artistic practices? Do you work simultaneously on both bodies of work—or do they alternate in periods over time? And, perhaps, could you share a photo with our online readers?

MR: This is a sad question for me, because I do very little photography these days. Age has brought with it a slight tremor in my hands, especially when I am stressed or tired, and I cannot hold the camera as steady as I once did. But in the past there was often a profound relationship between my photography and my writing. For example, in the 1970s through the ‘90s, when I was still doing a great deal of oral history, I would photograph my subjects at the same time as interviewing them. Then I would work simultaneously on transcribing the interview and printing images in the darkroom. One practice influenced the other, made it richer I think. I have taken many photos in Cuba over the years, and will attach one here to accompany the poem.

"Brokendown House, Cienfuegos Bay, Cuba" by Margaret Randall
Emily Tuttle is a senior English major with a double minor in creative writing and neuroscience at the University of Maryland College Park. She has interned with Poet Lore for one year, and currently serves as the editor in chief for the University's critical and creative journals, Paper Shell Review and Stylus.

For more information on the current issue of Poet Lore, visit:

For more information on Margaret Randall, visit:

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