John Fitzgerald's new collection, The Mind (copyright 2011 Salmon Poetry), is one poet's journey through his internal cosmos. In The Mind, the poet wanders through the realms of life, beauty, truth, death, The Self, and possibility (or, prophecy), but... to what end? FitzGerald's, The Mind is a 21 Century companion to Rainer Maria Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, but one endowed with an immediate, vibrant accessibility; a Hero's Journey not soon to be forgotten.
FitzGerald, an attorney who fights for the rights of the disabled, took some time to answer questions regarding the inception, as well as literary process that went into his latest collection of work.
Q: Please explain the what events led you to form the concept behind The Mind?
A: A couple ideas collided. My father died unexpectedly at forty-two, while I was in Europe. It was ten days after his burial I first learned of his death. My own forty-second birthday was approaching, and I reached it. I felt it worthy of some memorialization. I had been working a long time on a piece that didn’t pan out, wherein I catalogued aspects of the mind, as if descended from one another genealogically. Those efforts transformed into this.
Q: Your use of the article “The,” in the title is telling. Are you referring to the “universal” mind, as in shared global consciousness, or to your “own” mind, by removing yourself from The Center and placing yourself in the role of observer. Why/why not?
A: I’m working on a non-fiction book, in which I answer that question like this: There was a time before language. Suppose you are a hunter, with nothing but your wits and a spear you made yourself. You don’t just wander aimlessly, hoping some piglet impales itself. You track. That’s what hunting is. Reading signs. And those signs speak much as any words. I may never have seen the particular creature I’m after, but it came through the brush here, scraped its fur against this branch, put its right front foot just here as it drank from the stream. I have no doubt it is an antelope, a heavy male. It marked its territory there, a sign for other antelope to read. But I speak antelope. It nibbled from those shoots then took off in that direction. This story told itself in my head. Earth spoke it directly to me in a voice no other can here. Once we have words to describe this process, that internalized voice of Earth is ‘The Mind.’
Q: The first stanza, in poem “Three,” caught my attention:
The mind could be a very long poem.
It could pick up where you left off, so many years ago,
before you became law abiding.”
This could infer that the poet is an outlaw. Based on that, as an attorney, how do your reconcile your dual roles of lawmaker and poet?
A: My forthcoming book of poetry addresses that question directly, with a ‘fictional’ poem about the conflict between an attorney and his inner poet. Actually, I think the selected lines not merely infer, but directly states the opposite: that I am not an outlaw now, but may once have been. I understand how disappointing this can be. My first poems were published before I began law school in 1993. Once law school began, I had to give up writing poetry.
Completion of law school left quite a vacuum. I wrote four poetry books between 1998 and 2004, of which The Mind was the first. When they were done I adopted the notion I would not write more until I published these, so applied myself to that. The fourth book I wrote, SpringWater, was the first published in 2005. The third, TellingTime by the Shadows was published in 2008. The first, this one, was published in 2011. And the second book I wrote will be published by Salmon in 2014. I became an attorney to learn how far law could be stretched before breaking. Knowledge of law allows one to exist at its limits. Law school changes a person, makes one foreseer of liabilities. With these four books all published, I was freed to go back to writing again, and am now working on non-fiction.
Q: There are many references to your own mortality, and the death of family (father, uncle), in your collection, particularly to the ages where both these men both passed on. Would you say that gaining a greater awareness of your own mortality is a gift, or a detriment, to your poetry, and, is it something that you will continue to foster? Why/why not?
A: The men in the line I find myself die relatively young. The aforementioned uncle set a record reaching sixty. I would say I am acutely aware of the limitations. It makes me feel as if I never have enough time, or things are not getting accomplished quickly enough. Still, I consider it advantageous. There’s something intrinsically rewarding in fascination, at least for me. I love to be fascinated, and spend time making myself that way.
Q: The Mind reads like a philosophical treatise, with you, as The Poet, hypothesizing/researching/and possibly concluding where He stands in the universal order of things. Did/did you not you intend for your book to be so?
A: Absolutely. By the time I wrote The Mind, my father was dead longer than I knew him. His death was so unexpected. I have both his birth certificate and death certificates, as if they prove he ever even existed. Cause of death was retropharyngeal abscess dissecting into mediastinum with bilateral serofibrinopurlent empyema. His body produced its own poison, and he choked of unpronounceable words. Turns out that is just an infection, and had he gone to a doctor, might even be here now. The awareness became even more acute when, at age 42, I found myself in a hospital bed breathing through tubes, and I realized then how surprisingly death can come upon you.
Q: The Mind contains nine lines per poem, all the poem titles numbered “One” through “Eighty-nine.” Why such specific structure?
A: When I began, I did not expect to write such a long poem. That aspect just evolved. I set out only to write nine lines, and it grew from there. When I first finished parts one through ten, I considered it done, but couldn’t get that format out of my head, so just kept at it. Originally it had 111 parts, but was scaled down to this, with remnants found in Telling Time, which indeed takes its title from a line in The Mind. I find that establishing artificial rules for the poem provides a sort of frame into which a picture must be forced to fit. In Spring Water, for example, every poem is 32 lines, 4 parts of 8 lines each, with no line longer than 65 characters. In the mind, I wanted each tercet to stand alone, and each part to stand alone as they form a comprehensive whole. So when you’re reaching that ninth line you know you’re time is running short and you’d better get to the point.
Q: Now that The Mind, is a published collection of poetry, what kind of feedback are you receiving from your readers?
A: The Mind was completed in 2002. I have been reading it at venues since, so it’s been known to many for a long time before publication in print. It has an oral tradition. The feedback has been overwhelming. Everybody loves it.
Q: As a poet with dual citizenship, where do you find your true inspiration, in the Irish poetry tradition, or in the American? Why/why not?
A: I do not think I am inspired. There is a thing that makes me write and that is the need to record what seems to cross through my awareness. I am an avid note taker. Day to day life tends to become so routine, it’s rare to think something new and original. But I set that goal for myself, and have note pads everywhere, in my car and every room of my house. It’s not so much inspiration as a conscious effort to notice a good line when it occurs.
Q: According to your bio, you have several literary projects: Primate, a novel and screenplay; The People of the Net, a work of poetic literary non-fiction; and the poetry collection The Charter of Effects, currently in progress. Which one can we expect next to come to fruition?
A: Well, Charter is scheduled for publication by Salmon Poetry in 2014. Most likely, that will be next, though it may have a different title. Primate is out there floating around. The other works continue to progress. I find that works I once thought complete tend to be absorbed by more recent writings until they’re basically sucked into a black hole and no longer exist in their former incarnation. So People of the Net no longer exists, it is part of something else now. All will be published at some point, it’s just a matter of making them known to the right people.
article content © 2012 marie lecrivain