The door swings open and you step through time
Like a dancer lighting after a leap.
Still, you think it’s forbidden, a wish crime,
But this door swings open. Then you slip through time
Like it was your stage. You feel like a blind
Woman, searching a dark that isn’t sleep,
For a door. It swings wide. You step to time
Light as a dancer falling off a leap.
TSTmpj: Do you usually write in forms? What, for you, does writing in a form offer that free verse cannot?
Mark J. Mitchell: I’d say I write in forms about half the time. Forms take you places you wouldn’t reach on your own. Also, I think it would be arrogant of me to suppose that my ear was a better judge of poetic craft than the thousand year tradition of English language verse. I also find that my free verse is much more disciplined because I use the forms. I love tricky little ones like triolets and rondeaus.
TSTmpj: Studying mediaeval literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz must have been a hoot. Can you share a reminisce or two?
Mark J. Mitchell: Well, like John Gardner, I became a Medievalist by accident. In those ancient times of the early 70s UCSC was the hardest UC campus to get into. We happened to have one of the best Dante scholars in the country, Robert M. Durling, teaching there. He took me under his wing and I took five or six classes from him. I’ll never forget my oral final for the second quarter of Dante. We sat down in Dr. Durling’s office, he smiled at me and said, “Talk about the thirty-third canto of Paradiso. That’s all the guidance I got. After an hour he smiled at me again and said, "Well, you passed." He also taught me to read translations critically and carefully.
TSTmpj: Have you ever collaborated creatively with your wife, given that she is a documentarian and film maker?
Mark J. Mitchell: Only on one project: We spent the better part of last year gathering together all the poems I have written about my family and family members over the years and put them together with photos that fit them for our vast store of pictures and Joanie put them together into a book. My siblings were thrilled with the Christmas present. Otherwise, there's just not a lot of documentary poetry, particularly about Alaska, which is her field of expertise.
Mark J. Mitchell lives in San Francisco with his wife, the filmmaker Joan Juster. He’s been publishing poetry for thirty years.