Poet and author Mary Mackey interviews Sacramento poet laureate Indigo Moor

Indigo Moor’s poetry collection Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something

Poet Laureate Emeritus of Sacramento, Indigo Moor’s fourth book of poetry Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something, took second place in the University of Nebraska Press’ Backwater Prize. Jonesin’ is a multi-genre work consisting of poetry, flash fiction, memoir, and stage plays. His second book, Through the Stonecutter’s Window, won Northwestern University Press’s Cave Canem prize. His first and third books, Tap-Root and In the Room of Thirsts & Hungers, were both parts of Main Street Rag’s Editor’s Select Poetry Series. Indigo is an adjunct professor at Dominican University and visiting faculty for Dominican’s MFA program, teaching poetry and short fiction. He is also co-coordinator for Open Page Writers.

Mary: Welcome to Synchronized Chaos Magazine, Indigo. Let’s cut to the chase: How did you become a poet?

Indigo: I don’t know. By birth? Circumstance? My entire life, I sought explanations, keys to what I saw around me. That’s all any artist is: someone who can’t be satisfied with leaving the rock unturned. In that sense, I have always been an artist of some kind. If you are asking when I became a practicing poet, it was 1999. What should I call that, my Prince year? I was in Cambridge, MA, trying to figure out who I was. I discovered Paul Robeson. I discovered Othello. I discovered that poetry was not only something I did; it was who I am. I made a conscious decision to dedicate a significant amount of my life to bending toward the written word. Or bending it to me.

Mary: How old were you when you wrote your first poem, and what was it about?

Indigo: As a kid, in school. Even then I knew it meant more to me than it did to many of my friends or classmates. I hungered for it. It was an awakening. But there was no avenue to get me closer. No shortcuts. No mentors. I had other paths to follow. I wrote a lot of bad poems as a child. I remember snippets of some, but nothing that could give me a glimpse of any of them.

Mary: What poets and writers have influenced you?

Indigo: Yusef Komunyakaa was the first to speak to me. He is Southern, a veteran, someone who worked through himself to rewrite the world he knew. “Blackberries” and “Believing in Iron” come to mind. Dien Cai Dau, his book about Vietnam was my introduction to arc. Jean Toomer was next. He went back to the South to write Cane, again the theme of discovering yourself. I like many poets and I read widely. But I gravitate to poets who write themselves into being.

Mary: What events in your life or in society as a whole have influenced you? For example: You are a twice-decorated Gulf War Veteran, a playwright, a Professor at Dominican University, and an Integrated Circuit Layout Designer. Do you incorporate all these experiences into your poetry?

Indigo: I have been working on a memoir, so the different parts of my life are coming together. I would say nicely, but anyone who has written a memoir knows better. Layout designer has never been something that has reached my creative side. I am often asked if there is an overlap. Not that I have noticed. There is no poetry in engineering. But the person who writes poetry can be the same person who is an engineer. And a veteran. A professor. And a person who wears bunny slippers. It all influences me. But I choose what I write about. I am relearning who I was and what I went through during Desert Storm. And as a child. It is all coming together, but not as several rivers converging. More like a dozen different flowers growing in the same planter. Some thrive and have purpose. Some are support, even dying to enrich the soil. Some having no effect, other than preventing a nothingness. That is not entirely fair. There are some things that I thought were dead, that have resurfaced as meaningful events. And others I may never uncover.

Mary: How do you get the initial idea for a poem?

Indigo: It’s usually an image. My work is very imagistic. A new phrase can do so much. Today I heard: “Avoiding the Wagon.” When I found out the wagon in question was something that takes away a dead horse it began a train that will end in a poem. I spent time on a horse farm. It is one of the most life-affirming events of my life. And the idea of this wagon coming still chills me.

Mary: You are a poet who “weaves together historic truths.” How do the poems in your new book Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something demonstrate this?

Indigo: History does not represent the past. Not to me. Taken as an “event,” anything can be glossed over, any moment. What I strive to find is the emotional event, the moment on one person’s life that history changes. A person decides to shoot up a church. As they sit in the car, what is going through their mind? A farmer hears of Trayvon Martin, how does it affect them? A woman receives a saxophone from her estranged mother. A painter tries to undo the Twin Towers falling on his canvas. History is only history when we forget it is more than a factoid. When we refuse to hold it in us, keeping it at arm’s length.

Mary: How has your poetry changed over the years?

Indigo: I believe my poetry changes as I do. As my lens focuses on different aspects of the world, so does my poetry. How I write changes because I learn different techniques. Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something contains poetry, prose poems, flash fiction, flash memoir (did I make that up?), and stage plays. The entire book is one interlocking poem about the danger and draw of the American dream. Ten years ago, none of these poems, nor the concept of the book would have made sense to me.

Mary: Tell us more about Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something.

Indigo: I wrote Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something to explore my own understanding of the American Dream, which cannot be defined. We are all the heroes of our own stories. The American dream distorts depending on where the desire is spawned. The book is multi-genre because not all desires are best represented in poems.

Bethany Humphries, Editor-in-Chief of the American River Review said, “[Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something is] no white-washed children’s textbook treatment of U.S. history. . . . It requires the reader to witness the offender’s hand reaching up Lady Liberty’s coppery skirt, to both confront abusers, and to empathize with a litany of memorable victims and survivors. . . . Utilizing a stunning variety of forms to explore a myriad of facets of human desire, from floating tercets to prose to dialogue-heavy scripts to a poetic table of historical footnotes, Indigo Moor delivers unforgettable images like chains ‘hanging like man-o-war tendrils, / like a trembling curtain of almost lynchings.’ There may be times you want to look away, but there are many moments you will want to return to, again and again.”

Mary:  What are the three most important poems in Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something? Why?

Indigo: There is never an answer to that question. Different poems have different meanings at different times, even to me. “Love Letter to Dr. Ford, from the Patriarchy” gave me a chance to step into the shoes of an institution I detest. To look atrocities as necessary to the survival of an America I am forced to walk through. The play “Catching a Cotton Ball” follows a couple at odds with each other as well as the country that doesn’t accept them. Veterans of Foreign War’s is more personal, pertaining to my own brother and how losing him is an everyday emotionally charged event. I like the range of these three pieces. Such different forms. Different agendas.

Mary: You were the Poet Laureate of Sacramento from 2017 to 2019. How has your involvement in the Sacramento literary community influenced your work?

Indigo: I don’t know if working with any organization influences my work. There are some fractured, but necessary groups in this region. Sacramento Poetry Center has been a stalwart in this community. I think what I am reminded of is that the community and serving the people is what matters.

Mary: If you could ensure that one of your poems would survive to be read 500 years from now, which poem would it be, and why have you chosen it?

Indigo: Yes, I can choose a poem, but only because it means something to me. “Metal: The Tow Truck Driver’s Lament,” from Tap-Root. It was the first poem where I tackled who I believed I was at the time. I think poems are asymptotic to the truth, at best. It speaks to stress and pressure, the belief of being alone in handling far too much. Of the hard road of the past and steam building. It worked for me. Perhaps a little too long to read. But certainly, a cathartic piece.

Mary: Thank you, Indigo. This has been fascinating. Do you have any upcoming readings or classes? How can people get in touch with you?

Indigo: Thank you, Mary. I’ll give you some contact information and you can post it at the end of this interview.

Contact Information for Indigo Moor and links to his writing:
Website: https://www.indigomoor.org
Everybody’s Jonesin’ for Something: To Order
For appearances: Workshops and Readings: https://www.indigomoor.org/appearances
Read Indigo Moor’s essay on how he became a poet: “A Long Overdue Apology” (part of the Marsh Hawk Press Chapter One Series)
And read “A Riotous Anodyne,” his brilliant open letter to the City of Sacramento on the occasion of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.

Poet Indigo Moor

Christopher Bernard reviews Mary Mackey’s novel The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale

Mary Mackey

Femina Potens

The Village of Bones: Sabalah’s Tale

A novel by Mary Mackey

Published by the author in association with Lowenstein Associates

280 pages

A review by Christopher Bernard


Mary Mackey’s new book is a prequel to Earth Song, a highly praised series of novels set in a speculative world in the millennia before the blossoming of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. Earth Song, beginning with The Year the Horses Came, follows the epic story of Marrah, the “savior of her people” and later princess-queen of Shara, a settlement sacred to Mother Earth, and of her daughter Luma, who carries on Marrah’s tradition of leadership and heroism.

The prequel takes us back a generation – to 4387 B.C.E. – to tell the story of Marrah’s own mother, Sabalah, Daughter of Lalah, and of Marrah’s birth and the dramatic, celestial, and nearly fatal events surrounding it.

Continue reading

Short story from Mary Mackey

Vampire Bats Make Strange Bedfellows

The moment I woke up, I could hear the bat crawling toward my cot, dragging itself across the wooden floor of the tropical field station with a low hiss and an occasional squeak. That’s how I knew it was a vampire bat. Unlike other bats who fly at your face like teenagers on motorcycles playing chicken, vampires like to use their wings like paddles so they can sneak up on you, nip you on a bare toe or exposed shoulder, inject an anesthetic under your skin, and then bite down and do what vampires in horror films do: drink your blood. Unfortunately, unlike Dracula, vampire bats can be rabid, and getting medical attention if this one bit me would mean flying out of the Costa Rican jungle on a small plane held together with bailing wire and duct tape if I were lucky enough to be able to contact San Jose on the shortwave radio which never worked when you needed it to.

Continue reading

Interview with poet Mary Mackey, on her new collection Travelers with No Ticket Home

Cristina Deptula interviews Mary Mackey, poet and author of the recent collection Travelers With No Ticket Home:Cover of Mary Mackey's latest poetry collection

CRISTINA: I noticed that in the middle section some of the poems spoke to or addressed a character known as ‘Solange’, such as the environmentalist piece when she encouraged the river to break the dam. Please tell us more about her. Who is she, where did she come from and why did you decide to incorporate her as a character?

MARY: Solange is a mysterious, ambiguous character who appears in a number of my poems. I never consciously decided to incorporate Solange into my work. She just appeared spontaneously when I was writing the poem ”Sugar Zone.” “Sugar Zone” was published in my previous collection of poetry which is also called Sugar Zone. So, as you can see, the appearance of Solange was a very important event for me creatively. Solange takes on different roles at different times: she may be an incarnation of the force of nature, a priestess, a goddess, a shaman, an ex-lover, or even the wilder side of Mary Mackey. I’ve deliberately avoided pinning her down so that she can move fluidly from one poem to another. In the poem “Solange Encourages A River To Destroy A Damn,” which you mention, Solange is dressed in the garb of a priestess of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé and is speaking to the river as a shaman/goddess.

Continue reading

Book Review: Sugar Zone, by Mary Mackey

[Reviewed by Laura O’Brien]

Mary Mackey’s most recent book of poetry, Sugar Zone, is the sixth installment in her impressive body of work, which includes five collections of poetry and twelve novels. She received her B.A. from Harvard, earned her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan, and is a Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Sacramento. For the last twenty years, she has been traveling with her husband, Angus Wright, to Brazil for his work on land reform and environmental issues, and these experiences have shaped the dramatic and unflinching imagery of Sugar Zone. Her past work has been translated into twelve foreign languages, so it is fitting that Sugar Zone include Portuguese words and phrases as a means of deepening the complexity of its descriptions of Brazil’s alluring chaos.

The collection is divided into four parts that consistently submerge the reader in the uncertainty and beauty of Mackey’s world. Weaving throughout the poems are, to name a few, the powerful themes of chaos, love, death. In Part I: Sugar, Mackey immediately introduces the reader to the urban landscape of Brazil, which is something wholly different from American living standards. This is the place where the people use flowers ‘to dye their lips/ the color of blood’ and sing ‘of cities of blue glass/and the jaguars that prowl our dreams.’ She frequently describes the tension that results from the ‘rising ocean [that] eats the beach.’ The city is clearly at odds with the tumultuous natural world that surrounds it, and there is a constant struggle to withstand the onslaught. This chaos is also highlighted by the frequent offerings given to local deities, including Iemanja, the queen of the ocean. The natural and supernatural must be appeased to ensure human survival, but everything is tenuous. As Part I progresses, the poems become more self-reflective, and the narrator describes the internal explorations that result from living in a foreign environment. These poems drift from conflicted love to various stages of pain and death. The uncertainty is palpable, but rational and unafraid.

You can contact the reviewer, Laura O’Brien, at lauraellaroberts@gmail.com.

Continue reading