Stumbling into the love affair of two people very much in love can feel awkward, almost intrusive. We almost instinctively look away at two lovers on the street, absorbed so much in each other that the world around for them has ceased to exist.
But such is not the case with Maryrose Carroll, whose love affair with Paul Carroll began in 1977 and continues even now, after Paul’s death. Indeed, in her new book, “Love Poems,” Carroll invites us to look — and feel and succumb to words that are both intimate and extrinsic, private and public.
In this book, published on opposite pages in English and Spanish, Carroll unflinchingly and unselfishly shares poems written to her by Paul, and poems written from her to the lover she traveled with through decades and life.
Mountain Times recently fielded a few questions from the Appalachian author about her new book, her continuing journeys and the constant of an enduring love affair.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Mountain Times: You’ve done a brave thing that not many people would be willing to do — making public your intimate thoughts through the poems you shared with the love of your life. Why?
MC: Good question! We weren’t writing “50 Shades of Grey,” thank God! Which by the way, though poorly written, has sold 100 million copies. Can you imagine the royalties on that book!
Paul always said that we are constantly bombarded by the sights and sounds of death, depression and disaster in newspapers, on the television, over the internet. But what about incomparable images of love? We don’t see those often.
One life event that gave me great joy was seeing how the film critic Roger Ebert became transformed by love. I knew him when he was the editor of the Daily Illini in Champaign-Urbana. Back then we all knew he was super-smart and a nerd. Ron Zwick was his movie critic and Roger told me when he moved to Chicago he naturally accepted the job as movie critic for the Sun-Times even though he didn’t know much about movies.
The late beatific photographs of Roger showed me how he had transformed through his love with his wife, Chaz. Isn’t that knowledge as important as NATO missions and bombings? If you don’t acknowledge love on an intimate scale are you censoring the experience?
MT: I’m also impressed by the honest way you detail your life before you met Paul in 1977, and your struggles with mental illness. Why was it important for you to share these details?
MC: For years, I hid the fact that I lost half my hearing, from mumps, and that I inherited mental disease from my grandfather. I was extremely lucky in teaching at Northwestern University when I had my break-down. Even though I was an adjunct instructor, they gave me health insurance, which meant I was able to see a doctor at once. In the 40 years since that time, a good diagnosis and medication have allowed me to become one of the happiest persons I know. Now that I have survived to be 75, I really don’t care what people think about me, so I talk about my past if it would help someone else. Only someone who has lived through it can really understand the hell of mental illness.
MT: The breakout quotes that are coupled with full-color photography add a nice dimension to the poems themselves. What was your thinking behind these illustrations?
MC: I’m so glad you liked them! The genesis came from multiple sources. One was Paul’s student, Dan Campion, who helped edit a monumental anthology, “Walt Whitman: The Measure of His Song.”
Both Dan and I loved the lines: “I close my eyes… I’m empty… at the same time full… like a galaxy in daylight.”
With these words, Paul connects the personal to the cosmic.
The repetition breakout idea came from another friend of Paul’s, the snow-white hair and quilted vest poet, Robert Bly. In a video segment, Bly is reading a Rumi poem when he stops and repeats the line. I thought what a good idea! The video, “Love’s Confusing Joy,” was given to Paul by Georgia poet Coleman Barks who was being interviewed by Bill Moyers. In a funny aside Moyers asks Coleman, “We’re both Southern boys, we can talk about God, can’t we?”
The images I added to the repeated poetry lines emerged from my background as an artist. I have always photographed the public sculptures I’ve installed around the country. In 1982, Northwestern University published a small book, “Alice’s Book,” with my photographs dedicated to Lewis Carroll, on the 150th anniversary of his birth. I believe the proverb that “a picture is worth a thousand words” so why not put words and images together?
By the way, I’m not related to Lewis Carroll. His real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodson. One of the funnier literary events happened when Queen Victoria visited him extracting a promise that he dedicate his next book to her. A royal decree, and of course he did! His next book came to Buckingham Palace and the Queen opened the package to find it was a treatise on mathematics, his specialty at Oxford.
MT: Nice aside! Something also unique in “Love Poems” is that you publish the book in both English and Spanish on facing pages. What prompted this format?
MC: Paul asked me. He wants his poems to be available to readers in rural areas around the globe. I know some Spanish from grammar school in Chicago, but now I have to publish new books in English/Gaelic, English/Estonian, etc. Before I can do that, I have to finish my new “Tales from Beaver Dams.” This second book is about Mama Grace, a wonderful Appalachian lady.
MT: It’s clear from “Love Poems” and others (“Beats Me,” “God & Other Poems”) that both you and Paul learned as much from each other as you did the world around you. What do you hope people will learn from “Love Poems?”
MC: I hope they learn that anything is possible in this world as long as love, rather than fear or greed, motivates them. And also that two persons can do more than one.