BOOKS / Nina Herencia : Are We Hearing You Well, Mariann?


Are we hearing you well, Mariann?
New poetry and drawings from the Wizard

By Nina Herencia | The Rag Blog | November 6, 2013

Mariann Wizard has published two books this month; the second one, Hempseed Food: The REAL Secret Ingredient for Health & Happiness, will be reviewed soon in The Rag Blog. Mariann will launch Hempseed officially on Saturday, November 9, 7-9 p.m., at Austin’s Brave New Books, 1904 Guadalupe, and promises to read a bit from Didn’t You Hear Me the First Time? as well at that event.

Wizard will also be on Rag Radio, Friday, November 15, from 2-3 p.m., on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin and streamed live. She will be joined on that show by fellow former staffer from the original Rag, Doyle Nieman, now a member of the Maryland State Assembly.

[Didn’t You Hear Me the First Time? and End Games. Poetry and drawings by Mariann Garner-Wizard. (2013: Dharma Wizard Books. Paperback; 42 pp; $10. Available at.,, and local bookstores.]

AREQUIPA, Peru — From outside the U.S., more in times of premonition than confirmed crude realities (I’m writing this just after September 11, a date which for North and South America has only sobering connotations!), it is unlikely to expect a woman’s poetic voice arising from the center of global power.

Surely, this is due more to the muffling of real people’s voices than their absence, or to the lack of channels to share them all the way here. Or perhaps it is our own outsider expectations, accustomed as we are to simulated voices, or those supplanted by artificial mechanical devices, or trained with ulterior motives. Hardly ever do we hear common people’s spontaneous expressions that resonate with ordinary folks.

Poetry seems no match for a system glowing pompously (from the outside) like an efficient machine, reputedly based on science (not necessarily constructive), unforgiving of imperfection, lack of success, frailty… Not being able to measure up, most of the world can only retreat to a safe distance, and perhaps wonder.

And in the face of insecurities, limitations, shortcomings of the common human condition, poetry comes in handy, as much as family, to shield and nourish. That is why voices from the U.S., walking on foot, unveiling their own suffering, longings, and concerns, reaching out to tune in with feelings, to extend the sense of family all over the world, surprise us!

Because poetry’s natural existence is roaming loose in streets and plazas, in abandoned and forgotten corners, perhaps humming pained lullabies, its harvesters, poets, in heroic persistence, bring forth a product that resonates universally with common people. Mariann Garner-Wizard’s poetry represents creation in times of war and peace, bonanza and crisis, excess accumulation and hovering cataclysm. Her life has surfed the waters of her times, keeping a compass of the heart balanced by a good political sense. (Of course I have my own biases, but she has asked me to read her poems, and react to them. What an honor!)

Her poetry first surprised me in my Austin walk while I was there doing graduate work; a poem about education, I remember. Its magical dimension rose to a level recognizable in any language, in any culture. Anyone from Asia, Europe, or Africa, or we in Latin America, would have gotten her meaning immediately!

Fortunate to have met her personally, and through her quite a few of her peer generation and family, I felt in their company in an oasis of solidarity, sensitivity, and world concern. Wizard’s poetry conveys thoughts and feelings about our times, about people and nature that are recognizable and reconcilable with/by most people in the world.

A short roaming through Mariann’s poetry garden, to view and smell the aroma of her flower creations: poems that go from the personal private (welcome that!) to non-private but personal bonds with neighbors and family. Her inspecting gaze fans from past virtues, now fading away, as in a poem to her beloved former mother-in-law, Zula Vizard, to visions of a future already here, as in “Grand Central Station,” where all of the human family knows each other and even speaks each other’s languages.

Introspective personal poems touch the passing of time in one’s own life, a feeling of “Deep Water” running, in realization of the end of life’s proximity…; and the existential need to start paddling, left or right! (Don’t we all empathize!)

One of my favorite poems visits the past and makes it forever present. “García Lorca’s Grave” makes Mariann, for me, a natural member of the International Brigade of Poets! I could not hold myself back from sharing it with friends during the recent 70th momentous commemoration of García Lorca’s death. In it, she combines rhymes and associations that we all have — rain in Spain, for whom the bells toll — and turns the flowery-innocent and literary into committed political speech.

“As long as there are mass graves, you will find the poets in them.” But their voice, she says, “the people’s voice…will not be silenced in the common grave.”

In “Egypt-Land 1 (18 February 2011)” she conveys her sensitivity to international struggles with allusions to her own social history, the breaking of political bondage and desire for liberation now! Recognizing the eternal true voice of the Sphinx, it is all about people, it closes with a subtle haiku image of the movement of history itself: “Ripples spread in sand as in water; dunes shift slowly, then all at once.”

From world and historical awareness, she turns to view the internal crisis in the U.S. with a critical yet good-humored tone. In “Like Wheel of Fortune’s Before & After: Fiscal Cliff Dwellers — a Meditation on Mesa Verde and the Ongoing Crisis,” Mariann reflects on the dilemma of the life style of the U..S as symbolized by Wall Street:

Life on the cliff face keeps men on their toes;
there is nothing certain, that’s just how it goes.
You know it’s called “Wall Street,” so what did you think?
There’s a top, and a bottom, and always, the brink!

In another poem she offers recommendations on living in times of fear and how to “Be Safe.” In another, perceptive of entanglements that tie people to serve and be served in the system, she still reacts with a woman’s pain: “It’s in these times I still miss you!” Here are intimate reflections about the world, complex and often ambiguous, declared at the kitchen table, with or without company.

Her political awareness, never divorced from the intimate and personal, comes out expressly in “Didn’t You Hear Us the First Time?,” signed meaningfully on U.S. Independence Day, July 4, 2013. In it, she reiterates her generation’s pronouncements, a still-relevant and vibrant 70s call echoed in the book’s title:

We’re getting tired of fighting the same battles
over and over again,
winning, and having victory
snatched from our grasp;
tired, but nobody’s quitting;
it’s too important and besides
what else would we be doing?
Taking some fantasy cruise
on a Carnival death ship?

(Believe It Or Not: it’s cheaper to live on cruise ships
than in retirement homes!)

Who the hell listens to all those conversations they’re recording,
and who reads all our so-called private mail?
Is that the career of the future?
… they didn’t hear us the first time.

It is hard to choose a favorite and hard to not copy them fully for readers to savor, relish, and ruminate upon. “In His Eye Is On the White Tail Deer,” she returns again to the seemingly ordinary: homelessness, hunger, and a deer hunt ban. In prosperous Austin, often a youth-glorifying city that in rapid development has lost some of its depth, as in her poem, man and nature are prey of the same captors.

Through her we look into hidden corners, under highway bridges, along city-bounded creeks and in nature’s hideaways, to view the lives of the poor and of animals, each prisoners of irrational cruelty.

The city’s trajectory, combining the natural with the metaphoric, is also seen in other poems. Having lived there, I understand Mariann’s agony over Texas’ near-record drought and unusually abrasive heat. She transforms that into a parable of climate change harshness, with the connotation that it is literally “man”-caused, opposed to the resistant feminine.

The extreme drought, the exacting heat and lack of surface water, cannot bend the stubbornly fertile (an intellectual fertility, in Mariann’s case!) woman who remains underground. Obviously, she does not just talk about nature’s trials but woman’s resonance with nature, and the feminine fortitude residing within the earth’s bosom. Her message: no matter how much longing, yearning, suffering, grieving, languishing, and moping take place in the drought, life will be salvaged.

Another poem also talks about extreme heat in Texas, drought plus huge wildfires in areas bigger than some cooler, non-wild states (i.e., Massachusetts). It likens the fires to deer ticks jumping out of control, or “a coyote looking for lunch in Prairiedog Town,” resolving when the state’s contending rigid ideological-religious bands agree, in mea culpa unison with a phrase of local culinary fame (meat), that they must have done something “real bad” for Texas to be this “well done.” (“Bien cocido.”)

The personal religious, with its conservative dissonances, also emerges coupled with Mariann’s political side in “I’m Not Down with Jesus Anymore,” as a lapsed Methodist-Jew-Buddhist looks at Jesus and his Father as portrayed by the conservative establishment. In response to this established Jesus Christ who seems to no longer love his brother, she movingly posits the feminine in a simple question: “Can you imagine how that hurts His Mother?”

In “People are Praying,” the constructive advocacy of a stubborn activist, a woman at that, insists:

We can only change the future.
We change it by changing ourselves.
We are the change we seek, all of us, all together,
none unvalued, none forgotten, none unseen.

As a teacher of introductory sociology in a community college, I cherish another poem particularly, “Hiatus.” This one embraces the new generation rising, rolling massively in the face of no political alternatives (tellingly, this does not just happen in the U.S., but across the world), with love from the generation that cried before: Didn’t you hear us the first time?

Clearly Mariann’s poem speaks for those who welcome this promising new movement, featuring within it values of solidarity and communion with nature. The stage is ready for them, lit by the clear yearning, seemingly most specifically of mothers, blessing the new actors. Swept and clean, the stage awaits their gifts!

Lightly as snowflakes, deeper than earthquakes,
firmly they step to the fore;
unafraid of each other, knowing Earth as their mother,
occupying tomorrow’s far shore.

Another poem I shared with a friend whose backyard faces a greenbelt reserve in Austin, amazed that the poet could decipher so well our enthralled witnessing of co-travelers in life some late afternoons. “The Deer Sleep Here”:

What ancient instinct leads them here,
relict, remnant, ruminant mass?
Water whispering underground,
“This too shall pass. This too shall pass.”

Her closing poem, “After Armageddon,” signals for me a hopeful new beginning. It is an impatient but not unkind push of the fundamentalist Christians populating the Texas cultural landscape to complete their transition upwards, after the prophesied destruction that they seem to so anticipate. Prediction or prophecy of another monumental cycle presided over by Mother Earth, the cataclysm signals getting back to basics, once more:

Tribes will meet again by the rivers,
at solstice or equinox,
to trade, to laugh, to court, to mourn,
to dance the Long Dance.
Herds and flocks and packs of beasts, birds, and butterflies
will move freely again on the land, tracing ancient migrations,
patterning the earth with a web of wonder and
finding no fences…

…another cycle monumental in our eyes,
yet barely touching Mother-Goddess’ crust.
After Armageddon,
things can get back to normal around here.

Even if I missed a few of Mariann’s subtle meanings, in part due to specific cultural contents that escape me and in part because I would need to live through her experiences myself, I cried in my first reading, amazed and delighted at her play of words, of images, her humor, intelligence, and compassion. She is a voice of her generation in Austin and more; a woman’s voice expressing in poetry the passion for life that is indeed political.

Engaged always in the extraordinary and the transcendental — her friendships with and support of writers and political activists for years attests it — she remains faithful to principle in the very center of a system overextending its dominion. That her tribe remains loving, seeing, and speaking is something that we all, in the wider world, want to sense in the United States!

[Cristina Herencia is a Peruvian social psychologist and activist who works in interdisciplinary social sciences, specializing in issues of gender and identity among Andean indigenous peoples and the effect of globalization on native peoples and cultures.]

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3 Responses to BOOKS / Nina Herencia : Are We Hearing You Well, Mariann?

  1. Anonymous says:

    A wonderful review for a deserving poet and book!

    Anonymous L.P.

  2. Anonymous says:

    What a delightful review of Mariann’s book. I have read and re-read myself, finding it her most enjoyable work to date.

  3. Jackie G says:

    Mariann as always, hitting the nail squarely on the head while somehow communicating the inherently imperative gentleness.

    I totally admire that _ can’t do it myself, as numbers seemingly roll on of those who weren’t here to “hear us the first time”. ~ & are either unable to hear, or just refuse to listen for the thousandth ? time ~

    Thanks, Nina ~ very nice.

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