An interview with Mira N. Mataric, an international poet, with a deep personal sense of beauty and truth, and Serbian roots lit by California Sunshine.
By Kathabela Wilson
A microscope on the poet
I will start with a close up question, as so much of your poetry contains a tender, intimate sense of autobiography, why are you a poet?
For me, poetry is like breathing. I remember my father in Yugoslavia used to walk through the house reciting poetry, I still can hear him, and how the romantic and lyrical lines sang to me. I absorbed that, learned to read and speak many languages early, and since then my writing is my best friend. It saved me from the trauma of war, it helped me survive the loss of my dearest ones. I write about them all, then we are together and they stay alive. I am in search of myself when I write and writing about my mother, father, uncle, aunt, grandparents and others who loved me and guided me, teaching me things that enriched my life. Since I came to California, for 16 years now, teaching Creative writing, I have been helping others to tell their own stories and bring their past alive.
A compass on the poet
You’ve lived in the US now for 35 years, and longer than that in the country that is your homeland, Serbia, how has this dual citizenship influenced your life and work?
I always like to look into the distance from a high point of a mountain or an ancient fortress near the place where I lived as a child. This is still my point of view, because of my comings and goings. I came from the flatland of Eastern Europe to the flatland of Kansas. Arriving in California, my first reaction was: ”This is Paradise!” It reminded me of my beloved Mediterranean. The sunshine, the culture, and the open iinternational spirit, inspired me. I wrote my first novel about the fascinating environment and its people. After that many more followed. In California everything is inspiring to me. I became even more prolific and happy, finally feeling at home.
A telescope on the poet
A wider view: How do you see yourself as a Poet in the World, what do you feel the writer can give?
I am at home everywhere. I travel extensively, not only to Serbia, where I go every fall for the International Meeting of Writers from all over the world. As a member of the Serbian Association of Writers, I have been participating in these before I came to the USA. Famous writers of this country have been coming regularly, a Belgrade-born Charles Simic is one of the leading American poets. The soil of my childhood was exceptionally rich. Like the Pannonian Sea in the early history, enriched by the presence of the river Danube, from the Black Forest in Germany and passing through eight different countries including Yugoslavia with its areas of Voyvodina and Serbia…. this in my blood. This is my heritage that makes me inhabited by the beauty of the world and makes me want to share it. The writer’s duty is to spread truth and beauty. The truth will liberate us, beauty will save, as Dostoevsky believed. I appreciate the technology I can use to make this more possible than ever.
Pulse of the poet
Your life is essentially multidimensional as well as multilingual and you have been engaged with all the arts as well as literary forms, why this expansiveness?
Writing, painting, composing music, singing, playing instruments, doing arts and crafts, embroidering, making jewelry, gardening. My mother did all of that and taught us, children, too. Then it stays in the genes and “translates” generation to generation. Translation is a natural passion for me. I’ve published 37 books, including novels, autobiography, memoir and those forms work the enrich and relive the life I have known and explore in my imagination and extend the lives of those I have loved.
My Father’s Eyes
by Mira N. Mataric
I grew up with an exceptional man
fire of life burned in his eyes
I dreamed to find a man like my father
wise good and handsome
like a Greek god
mother wore an intriguing smile
claiming I was like my father
only she knew what that meant
gradually I discovered
the blessing and curse
of being me
thirsting for knowledge
father feared no death
when mother died he changed
his eyes turned inward
he drifted away
soon he was ready to go
first he must see his son and grandchildren
across the Ocean
he died sitting in his beloved vineyard
smiling while the warm summer rain
showered his face with kisses
driving my car
glancing into the mirror
inquisitively as we look at others
looking back at me
weathered by life
were my father’s eyes
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