Mark Program: Can you give us a short synopsis of the project you are working on?
Mehnaz Turner: I am working on a collection of poems that I began organizing as an Emerging Voices Fellow in 2009. Many of my poems are autobiographical and focus on my experiences as a multi-lingual Pakistani American. Collectively, the poems explore themes such as alienation, cultural hybridity, irreverence, and religiosity.
MP: How did you know that this was the right time for you to apply to the Mark Program?
MT: I realized that I had enough poems to make a book, but I had no idea how to go about organizing my body of work into a sustainable manuscript. I needed mentors to help me understand what crafting a poetry book is about. I also needed writers in the field to review my work and give me feedback on the project as a whole.
MP: You are mid-way through the program. What has been your biggest challenge in the Mark so far?
MT: My biggest challenge has definitely been carving out the time and space for revision. I work full-time as a high school English teacher, so balancing the program with the demands of my job hasn’t been easy. However, this has forced me to think of creative ways I might reorganize my schedule.
MP: One of the new elements of the Mark Program is the Mark Blog that lists resources and inspiration for writers in addition to your weekly postings. You also kept a personal blog before the program started. What do you think poets and writers can gain from sharing their work in a public space such as a blog?
MT: Blogging, overall, is an excellent way to process your own experience as an artist while developing a working relationship with an audience. It’s a space to explore one’s personal philosophy and aesthetic.
MP: What is the most significant transformation of your manuscript thus far?
MT: At the start of the Mark program, I had roughly 100 pages of poetry. These poems lacked a carefully constructed sequence and several poems did not “fit” the book. I have eliminated several poems and organized the book into the four sections. Now the book feels more focused and thematically unified.
MP: Can you share with us a brief “before and after” section of a poem that underwent major revision?
MT: I’ve mainly been working on re-organizing my manuscript as a whole, and I’m just beginning the process of revising individual poems. My goal will be to compress the language, fine-tune my endings, and make the pieces as clear as possible.
MP: Can you leave us with one writing tip you have learned from the program?
MT: I have learned that artists writing today are not only expected to publish high quality work, they are also expected to speak articulately about their process. Therefore, it can be helpful to develop an editorial eye for one’s work.
MP: What advice would you have to an EV that was thinking of applying to the Mark?
MT:I would say, think carefully about the demands on your schedule vis à vis the demands of the program. The Mark is a rigorous finishing school including reading assignments, revision expectations, and formal conversations about your work. While this opportunity is exciting, it is also demanding. Provided you have the time and space to invest in the program, you will see your work evolve in extremely positive ways. Apply, apply, apply. It’s a challenging but extraordinary experience.