Interview with Lucinda Marshall

I met Lucinda several years ago at a DiVerse Poetry reading in Gaithersburg a few years ago. She has brought tremendous energy to the poetry scene in the DMV with her work on the poetry series, the Gaithersburg Book Festival, and working with the Gaithersburg Library to feature books by local poets. Her first collection of poetry, Inheritance of the Aging Self, has just been released, so we arranged a chat to explore her work.

Ann Bracken (AB): Congratulations on the publication of your first poetry collection Inheritance of the Aging Self. What’s been most surprising about the writing and publishing process?

“Dichotomy” needlepoint, Lucinda Marshall, 1991

Lucinda Marshall (LM): Thank you so much Ann, and congratulations on your book as well!  I guess the first surprise is that I actually finished the book, it’s been a long time in the works.  It took me awhile to order the poems, but when I finally got there, I realized that the poems that I’d been thinking of as individual pieces became stories when the combination was properly ordered, and that was a revelation!

AB: I love the poem  “My Grandmother’s Tea Cups”—it’s so evocative of time spent with an older loved one. You so skillfully parallel the younger you with the older you. Tell me about the bond you have with your grandmother. 

LM:  I’m so glad that you love it.  Although it is written in singular person, it is really about my relationships with both of my grandmothers.  My maternal grandmother had a collection of tea cups that she kept in a curio cabinet and I used to love to look at them when I was little.  I still have 2 of the cups.  My other grandmother used to take me for tea in a little shop where we would order jasmine tea and talk about the things that were happening in our lives.  I cherish both their memories.

AB: In the poem, “Posing for the You Scan Machine,” you take a situation that is nearly always anxiety-producing and inject a bit of humor. You move from the personal  to the universal in the poem “Taking Her Vitals.” For any doctors and health professionals reading these poems, what would you like them to take away?

LM: Oh that is such a great question because I have thought a lot about how I might use these poems to communicate with doctors about the issues raised in these poems.  It’s gotten to the point where when I do need to go to see a doctor, I am there first of all for whatever medical issue is at hand, but also as an obverver of the experience of being a patient. So these poems communicate a bit of that and I hope that would be a useful observation for doctors to take away.

Lucinda Marshall, photo credit: Jaree Donnelly

AB: As I read the title poem, “Inheritance of the Aging Self,” I thought of how often I feel like a 40-year-old in a 60-something body. In what ways can the poem teach us about compassion for ourselves as we age?  

LM: That’s a hard one.  I’m not sure it can, because we tend to judge ourselves more harshly than others might, but at the very least, it is good to know we aren’t the only ones who feel that way.  The poem is based on a conversation that I had with my mother towards the end of her life (I’ve written about that here), and it was an eye-opener that she had those perceptions of herself, particularly since even pushing 90 years of age, she was still gorgeous as far as anyone else was concerned.

AB: The opening lines for “Kaddish Season” are beautiful. Talk about the journey the speaker takes in the poem.

LM: The poem draws on how I experienced the deaths of several loved ones.  The zinnias in the planter are from my parents’ garden, and during the last years of her life, my mother spent a good deal of time in bed and we would visit with her in her room which had a very clear view of the planter and after she had given up gardening, the planters were pretty sad looking.  The morphine drip is from the last time that I visted my paternal grandmother and she was in the hospital in a great deal of pain.  I was only 16 when she died and that was the first time I had seen someone so close to death, and it was shattering to see someone who had been so full of life lying there so helplessly, not an image you ever shake really. She died in the fall, as did several others who were influential in my life.  I tend to have mood issues in the fall when the days shorten and  leaves coming off the tree each year are a nod to my own need to take great care during that season.  As for Kaddish, as a very lapsed Jew, that is one of the few prayers that still resonates with me.

AB: One thing readers may not know is that you are a talented and prolific quilter. How did you begin quilting and what is it about the art form that motivates you to continue? 

LM: I actually made my first quilt 30 years ago, I hand-pieced and quilted it and quickly realized that quilting was a very time intensive form of art and decided it just wasn’t my time to pursue it at that point as I was very busy with other things.  But I have always loved working with fabric and about 5 years ago circled back to it, this time with a sewing machine.  When the pandemic rolled around and I had even more time, I really delved into it.  I am an improv quilter, which means that I don’t use patterns, so the process is really exciting because I am creating as I go and never really know how it is going to turn out until I’m done.  It is also a great counterpoint to writing because when I am cutting and sewing, I am only focused on that task (because I prefer not to slice and poke into my fingers!) and it really becomes a form of meditation and helps me to clear my head.  Much like writing, there is never a shortage of ideas to be pursued.

“Up Down Turn Around” quilt by Lucinda Marshall

AB: Last two questions: When can we expect DiVerse Reading Series to resume and what are you currently working on?

LM: I’ll have more on DiVerse later this fall and will share it then.  As far as what I am working on, the months when things slowed down were a bit of a pivot point for me, I’m writing more long form, less poetry.  Not quite sure where that is leading, but it is fun to write full sentences every now and again.  And when all the outside obligations on my time slowed down, I also had a great deal more time to work on quilting, and I am trying to keep up that visual exploration.

Thank you so much for doing this interview and for the thoughtful questions, I really enjoyed doing this and am so looking forward to reading your book soon!

You can purchase Lucinda’s book from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Finishing Line Press