Riding the Dragon: Between Inhale and Exhale, Time Stretching Like Shadows Across Purple Mountains

An Interview with Marcy Rae Henry

by Jonah Meyer, Mud Season Review Poetry Editor

Please tell us about your writing process. Do you have a specific or favored routine? A preferred time, setting, or place for your creation of poems? Who, what, when, or where tends to inspire you? Generally speaking, what does your revision process entail? 

Writing is like playing music in that, ideally, you can weave the practice into your daily routine and do a little bit, or a lotta bit, every single day. Of course, some days it’s difficult to carve out the tick tocks required to sit and write, but it’s always there, swirling around the subconscious. It’s easy to pull out a scrap of paper while on the train, waiting in line at the post office, soaking in the tub. I truly believe inspiration is everywhere. In refractions or absorptions of light, overheard conversations, even—for me—mishearing lyrics or coming up with unusual translations. Lines and phrases float to the surface while meditating, sleeping and while engaged in the quotidian. When inspiration strikes—I call it ‘riding the dragon’—you just hang onto the tail for as long as the ride lasts. It’s a high like no other. 

Taking notes is an essential part of the writing process. The same is true for editing if you want to be, as my dear friend Jen Karmin, poet and founding curator of the Red Rover Series, says, “in conversation with other writers.” I’m constantly editing. I have a poem about seeing the Ganges for the first time that I occasionally pull out and even perform, but after 25 years, it’s not cooked enough for the page. After reading about Alice Munro’s appetite for revision—she continues to edit her work after publication and admits to editing while giving public readings—I more fully embraced the balance between sharing imperfect pieces and staying silent.


Are there particular life events—or even thoughts which arise, observations made—which you immediately recognize will serve as a springboard for new writing material? Can you give an example or two of this process specifically relating to some of your work we have published here in Mud Season? 

1) Menopausal brain fog? Ha!

2) Every walk with my beagle is a poem.

3) The last few years the trifecta of outrageous politics, a worldwide pandemic and the BLM movement in America resulted in a lot of mad scribbling that at one point reminded me of our ancestors painting on cave walls to document everyday experiences, to invoke luck for the hunt and grace from the spirits in the quest for survival. As the death tolls rose and I thought about more recent ancestors in the context of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s definition of Ubuntu as the belief that “a person is a person through other persons,” I wrote some essays for my beloved Abuelita Soledad. 

As far as the pieces in Mud Season, “consciousness seeks same,” after H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau, was also written during lockdown, during a time when many felt they were living in a dystopia. In an already divided States of America, people were divided further around issues of health, safety, and vaccination. In contemplating what it means to be animal, to be human, to be isolated and to live in community, Wells’ work raises questions about moral responsibilities apropos to these times. 


I am absolutely smitten with your first poem we present, “last payphone in times square.” It’s likely my favorite of the bunch. Simply the idea of people showing up in Times Square—as a sort of special public event—to witness the last of these pre-cellphone relics’ removal by power saw, complete with spoken eulogies, is sublime enough. And yet you add depth and humanity to the piece, by weaving throughout the intimacy of a relationship. What can you share about the backstory behind this poem?

Thanks so much! This was a case of coming across a story and jotting down notes for a poem before I finished reading the article. As a digital minimalist with no social media accounts, I try to be thoughtful about how I use technology and I’m equally intrigued with young people who “feel sorry” for us folks who didn’t grow up with the internet as I am with those who romanticize utilitarian modes of communication. (My dad worked for the phone company when I was growing up and, admittedly, I’ve a telephone collection.) So, perhaps I should say I was instantly curious about people who would trek out to see the dismantling of a telephonic relic. How many different types of conversations went through that particular phone? How many jokes, breakups, lies and truths? When I thought about the ways relationships are tied to contemporary modes of communication, I recalled a relationship that went from cohabitation to long distance and then fell apart. In retrospect, one of various reasons was that words on a screen or in a letter simply weren’t enough. At the time, I couldn’t have imagined the former would be the way people would not merely start but live out entire romances.  


There is much I enjoy and appreciate about all five of your poems we have published here. But I am intrigued quite possibly the most by “Rishikesh is famous in the West.” Seemingly a potent meditative experiential poem, with elements of late-60s rock and roll, psychedelic tripping, and Eastern spirituality, the final line declares: “we finally breathe with the mind” (followed by an exhale). Please flesh out for us more detail about what is going on here—I absolutely dig it and would love to learn more.

Gosh, thank you! Very generous. It’s one in a series of poems about my years living in India. In India I traveled around … and spent countless hours meditating, alone and sitting next to others. We listened to the beat of our hearts and hung out between the inhale and the exhale, trying to focus on the mind-body combination. Trying to understand where one ended and the other began. When watching the breath (or tripping), the mind travels in and out of the body. Awareness brings us back (to the breath). The East looks to the West; the West to the East. As Burroughs wrote in Queer: “The Westerner thinks there is some secret he can discover. The East says, How the fuck should I know?”

When I visited Rishikesh I was living with a wonderful family in a small village in the upper reaches of the Kangra valley where the Dhauladhars, which range from over 11,000 feet to 19,225 feet, were visible. There were temples and mustard fields, but no market. We had no bathroom or toilet paper and cooked by fire. Time seemed to work differently out there. It stretched and elongated like shadows across the purple mountains. Silence was everywhere. Especially when we sat around the fire, unencumbered by words.  

Rishikesh sits in the Himalayan foothills and arriving by train allowed me to have the “coming down the proverbial mountain” experience Buddhists talk about. After getting off the train in Rishikesh and walking away from the station, it took a moment to adjust to being in a city. At one point I tossed my rucksack on the curb and sat down on it, listening to city sounds, watching women walk by in complementary-colored saris, cows going about their business, with business/capitalism in the background.  

When I first arrived in India it took some time for my ear to be able to distinguish Tibetan from Hindi and much longer to be able to read a few words in each language. In Rishikesh, I couldn’t tell Hindi from Garhwali and was truly appreciative of creative English translations around the city. At that time, the late 90s, I was on deferment from Columbia Law School and had no idea I’d actually end up at Columbia College in Chicago. Had I known, I certainly would have purchased a Chicago Bulls shirt.


How do you believe your unique experiences growing up Latina in the Mexican-American Borderlands and being a self-described advocate and member of the LGBTQ community inform your writing? What would you like readers to know about your lived experiences and the intersection (if any) between that and the poetry you create?

My Abuelita Soledad was one of my favorite storytellers. She looked for the stories inherent in life and had the ability to see her life as a series of stories interconnected with bigger pictures. In my fiction writing classes at Wilbur Wright College, we talk about how this is a survival tactic—particularly for people of color and the LGBTQ community. It’s important to look at how we tell the stories of our lives to ourselves and to others and it’s important to tell our stories authentically. I’ve a long story about a Spanglish novel, Cumbia Therapy, that I wrote years ago and that has only been published in bits. Essentially, the colloquial Spanglish I grew up speaking in the Borderlands is used throughout the novel, not just in dialogue but in the internal narration, in a way that is not supplementary, not merely code switching. Though I was striving to be inclusive, potential publishers frequently saw the opposite when I attempted to capture the rhythm and poetry of the dialect so its tone could orient readers between the worlds the characters navigated.  

Gloria Anzaldúa wrote: “Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language… Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, my tongue will be illegitimate.” To me, whereas writing in a dual-language allows me to question the nature of oral versus literary traditions considered Latino/a/x/e, trying to publish in Spanglish is literary activism. As a writer and a teacher, being a good literary citizen is to create context for each other where we are credentialing and validating. When the aforementioned novel won 1st place in Suburbia’s 2021 Novel Excerpt Contest, it was validating for Spanglish speakers and writers because, with some clear exceptions—including people and poetry—Spanglish fiction is not always awarded the same accolades or prestige as other literary publications.  

I understand you’re a multidisciplinary artist. How does your writing fit into the combination? Has poetry in particular always been your go-to genre? What it is about the art and craft of poetry, specifically, which speaks to you as a human being, being human?

I’ve played music since I was young and, in truth, it’s a huge influence on my approach to poetry. In many senses, poetry continues to thrive as a performative art where performance ensures its dynamism. I like to joke about how rhyming poetry is currently out of (publishable) fashion and yet that’s what some rap music is. When it’s set to beats and music, the rhymes somehow get more respect. I like to rhyme. My abuelita and I would burst into rhyme all day long, in English, Spanish and Spanglish. Sometimes I use sound as a placeholder or as punctuation. In that sense, music and poetry have long been my genres for play.  


We’d love to hear about some of your new projects or other literary undertakings you have in the works. What’s next on the horizon for you? Please share any exciting info about next year’s We Are Primary Colors, as well as your new manuscripts.

I appreciate you asking! We Are Primary Colors is currently being printed as part of DoubleCross Press’ Bound Together Series. They have been lovely to work with and the covers of the dos-à-dos look amazing. I have a number of other poetic manuscripts in the works, including one called Pobre mártir del destino that consists of visual/text-based pieces that are more transparencies than palimpsests, based on my great-great-grandmother’s correspondence from more than 100 years ago. 

As for nonfiction, I’ve a manuscript currently titled Eternal September that recounts my motorcycle travels through the Middle East. As for fiction, I continue to work on a collection of short stories and a couple of novellas. Soles Cracked from Sun and Snow takes place in Colorado in the late-90s, in part, via email, and is largely about female friendship and mental health. And as they watched her ride naked they were suddenly struck blind uses magically real elements to explore themes such as artistic and cultural preservation and vestigial remnants. Last summer, while at an artist residency in Italy, I started working on a novel called The Between. After the narrator’s former lover dies, she reads The Tibetan Book of the Dead to her for forty-nine nights, the recommended time to help the dead get through the bardo period—an intermediary state between life and death, between death and rebirth.

By Jonah Meyer

Jonah Meyer is poetry editor of Mud Season Review. A poet, writer, and editor in North Carolina, he holds a Bachelors in Cultural Anthropology, Masters in Library & Information Systems, and has backgrounds in print journalism and public librarianship. Jonah’s creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in O.Henry Magazine, Ampersand Literary Journal, Carolina Peacemaker, The Writing Disorder, Bluebird Word, Boats Against the Current, American Crises, JAB Fiction and Poetry, Bohemian Review, Found Spaces, The Mountaineer, Sledgehammer Lit, Oddball Magazine, Cold Lake Anthology, Beaver Magazine, Press Pause, Digging Press, Raise the Voices, Within and Without Magazine, and elsewhere. Jonah plays guitar, banjo, and piano, shoots street photography, and studies neuroscience and Buddhist philosophy. He serves as Poetry Editor for Twin Bird Review, Assistant Poetry Editor for Random Sample Review, Staff Writer with The US Review of Books, Copy Editor with Under the Gum Tree, Poetry Book Reviewer for Heavy Feather, and Poetry Reader for Okay Donkey. Jonah firmly believes everyone has a story worth telling.