Ellen asked Mary Mackey:

You write both poetry and prose. How does the process and your sense of enjoyment differ for each? Also, when you have an idea, how do you determine whether to write prose or poetry?

Mary Mackey Those are great questions, Ellen. The inspiration for novels and poems comes from the same source, but the process and enjoyment and results are different. I write all my novels on my laptop. It takes me from 8 months to two years to research and complete a novel because I do a lot of polishing and revising. So, with novels, the process is long and the rewards are postponed. Also, novels demand a great deal of rational attention because you have to create a coherent narrative for your story and remember thousands--maybe hundreds of thousands of details.

In contrast, when I write poetry, I always do the first draft in longhand in a notebook. The writing takes place in absolute silence with no computer interface between me and the poem. Poetry, at least the kind of poetry I write, carries a powerful emotional charge even when it's not autobiographical. Often I write an entire poem in one sitting--something you could never do if you were writing a novel. I then go back and revise meticulously, sometimes not letting any one else see the poem for years until I feel it's polished and ready.

I love the emotional punch, the mystical vision, the inspiration of poetry that comes like a burst of light in my brain. I also love the long, great, complex game of writing a novel. It's all play for me at the highest level. As for determining whether to write a poem or a novel: I have no control over that except for setting aside the time I need. The ideas themselves just come to me, sometimes in dreams, sometimes as thoughts, sometimes because I've read a great book or an article about something. When the ideas come, they are already poems or novel ideas. All I can do is chose which I want to work on at any given moment.

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