An Interview with William Marr
By Alan Harris（采访者：阿伦-哈里斯）
1. Where were you born and raised? Were you raised in a literary family? When did
you come to the USA?
I was born in Taiwan but spent my childhood in a small village in Southern China. At
the end of World War II, I returned to Taiwan and attended school there. In 1961, after
completing my undergraduate studies, I came to the United States.
I was not raised in a literary family. My mother never went to school and claimed that
she did not recognize one single Chinese character, although mysteriously she could
read some rather lengthy story books. My father did go to school for a few years but
was away from home most of the time, running business overseas. I was more
influenced by my uncle, also a businessman, who was fond of classical Chinese
literature and painting.
2. How did you first become interested in writing poetry? What was your age and
what were the circumstances?
When I was in my fourth grade, there was a severe drought in that part of the country.
Our teacher asked each of us to write an article praying for rain. The morning after I
turned in my article, a poem bearing my name was posted on the wall in the classroom.
My teacher had broken up the lines of my essay and put them in the form of a poem.
It happened that my uncle was home on vacation at the time, and my poem must have
caught his fancy because for the rest of his stay, he would recite it to every visitor who
came to our house. That really sparked my interest in poetry, but I did not begin writing
until I entered college in Taipei and started a school publication. As its editor, I had to
write all sorts of things -- stories, essays, and poems, etc. -- just to fill up the pages.
However, I remained nameless in Taiwan's poetry circle before I left for this country.
3. Through what chain of events did you become a popular poet in China?
When I started working in Milwaukee after I received my MS degree from Marquette
University in 1963, a friend of mine, who was a well-known young poet and the editor
of a bimonthly poetry magazine in Taiwan, asked me to translate, on a regular basis,
contemporary American poetry for the magazine. Along with my translations, he also
published some of my poems. Later he told me that poets and readers were asking
who Fei Ma (my Chinese pen name) was. They seemed quite excited yet somewhat
perplexed by the sudden emergence of a rather mature new poet.
This friend later helped me edit and publish my first book of poems In the Windy City.
He also arranged to have several reviews of my book published in the magazine. It
created quite a stir when one of the reviewers favorably compared my book to a book
published by one of the best-known poets in Taiwan at the time. Since then, I have
published a total of 14 books and several translations in Taiwan, China Mainland, and
Hong Kong. My poems have appeared in over ninety poetry anthologies published in
Taiwan and China. Recently, one of my poems, Bird Cage, was included in a Chinese
Literature textbook used by a university in Taipei. I consider it a rare honor since,
under the same cover, there are names of such great poets as Li Po and Tu Fu.
4. Did learning the English language hamper your fluency with writing poems in
I really don't think so. As a matter of fact, I think the opposite is true. I've found that in
translating my own poems from one language to the other (whether it was originally
written in Chinese or in English), I can see more vividly the difference between the two
languages (and, for that matter, the two cultures). And it is often possible to find some
way to enrich the languages and, in the process, improve the poems.
5. Do you think that having several of your poems posted on your Web site has helped
I'm not sure. Most of my Chinese readers came to know my poetry from publications
such as newspapers, magazines, anthologies, and books. Several young poets told
me that they first encountered my poetry when they were in high school and that it had
a big influence on their own writing. Some of them could even recite my poems without
much difficulty after so many years.
Through my own Web site I have established contacts with poets and scholars from
several Asian and European countries. A couple of years ago, a poet from Israel
translated some of my poems into Hebrew and posted them on a Web site.
Lately, I discovered that several Chinese Web sites have set up Web pages dedicated
to my poems. Some had posted over one hundred of my poems in their collections.
6. What has your occupation been? Has your career in the USA had any effect on
your poetry writing? If so, what effect(s)?
I worked at Argonne National Laboratory after receiving my Ph.D. in nuclear
engineering at the University of Wisconsin in 1969. Before taking early retirement
several years ago, I did research on energy and environmental systems and electric
vehicles. I don't think my career had much effect on my poetry writing. Many critics,
however, did point out that the refined qualities they often found in my poetry could
probably be attributed to the scientific training I had received.
7. Why do you think you write mostly very short poems?
Several reasons. First, working full time did not permit me the luxury of writing long
poems. But, more importantly, short poems are my perception of what poetry should
be. By my definition, a good poem uses the least amount of words to stir up the
strongest of our innermost feelings. Each poem is a universe in itself. Many good
examples can be found in classical Chinese poetry.
8. Is it possible to boil down the messages of all your poems into a single sentence or
two? Or does each poem have its own life and statement?
I intend for each of my poems to have its own form, its own voice, and its own life.
Through poetry, it's possible to discover new meaning and new beauty in ordinary
objects from our everyday lives. If my poetry can help people recall or rediscover a
happy moment in their lives, or bring back a beautiful scene from their memories, or it
can show them that the world is still full of interesting and exciting things, and that it is
so beautiful and so wonderful to be alive, then I think I have succeeded as a poet.
Ford Maddox Ford (1873-1939), an English author, once wrote, "The quality of great
poetry is that without comment as without effort it presents you with images that stir
your emotions; so you are made a better man; you are softened, rendered more supple
of mind, more open to the vicissitudes and necessities of your fellow men." These
words often cross my mind whenever I write a poem.
英国作家福特(Ford Maddox Ford,1873 -1939)曾说过这样的话：「伟大诗歌是它无须注释且毫不费劲地用意象搅动你的感情；你因而成为一个较好的人；你软化了，心肠更加柔和，对同类的困苦及需要也更慷慨同情。」在我写诗的时候，这些话常闪掠过我的心头。
English version of this interview appeared in ISPS NEWS ,JAUNARY 2002,
William Marr (Fei Ma) is the author of fourteen books
of poetry (all in his native Chinese language except
Autumn Window which is in English) and several
books of translations, including the bilingual
anthology Let the Feast Begin—My Favorite English
Poems. He has also edited and published several
anthologies of contemporary Taiwanese and Chinese
poetry. A longtime resident of Chicago, he served from 1993
to 1995 as the president of the Illinois State Poetry
诗人非马出版有十四本诗集 ( 除《秋窗 》是英文外，其它都是中文 ) 以及几本翻译，包括双语诗选《让盛宴开始──我喜爱的英文诗》。他还编选出版了几本台湾及中国现代诗选。他是前任伊利诺州诗人协会的会长，现居芝加哥。
Alan Harris is the President of the Illinois State Poetry Society.