An Interview with Natalie Marino

You are both a physician and a poet. Did one of these career paths come before the other or have they developed alongside one another? Do you feel they influence one another?

I have been a practicing primary care physician for over 15 years. Although I majored in English in college and read a lot of poetry as a student, it wasn’t until 2019 that I started writing my own poetry. I do think my career as a physician and my interest in poetry are related. The practice of medicine is based in science, but it is at least as much an art. Listening to patients, to their stories, is the mainstay of how I work through finding solutions to medical problems. Knowing how necessary good medical care is, and having learned through experience how difficult it is to fully understand what a patient is telling me, I discovered my need for a creative outlet. In my search I fell in love with the intricacies of language in poetry.

Your incredible body of work so far leans more to poetry, though you have written a few nonfiction pieces. Would you say you prefer poetry over nonfiction? Or do you find yourself inspired to write poetry more often than nonfiction? 

I enjoy writing both nonfiction and poetry, although I find myself more often feeling inspired to write my own poetry when I read poetry that does something new with the form or content of language. 

Imagery of nature appears frequently in your poetry; we see this highlighted in poems like ‘Language of Rivers’ and ‘Sexual Nostalgia in Peri-Menopause’. Does nature play an important role in your life, and do you find yourself often writing poetry around something you’ve observed while immersed in nature?

I was born and raised in California, one of the few places where there are several climate types in close proximity. Nature has always played an important role in my life. I’m also especially drawn to eco poetry. Many of my poems are influenced by eco poets, like Kelli Russell Agodon, Lucille Clifton, and Maya C. Popa. In one of my favorite craft books on poetry, The Triggering Town, author Richard Hugo discusses how most effective poetry comes out of real or imagined experience. Because I’m often immersed in nature, many of the experiences I write about involve nature. 

You have a new chapbook, Under Memories of Stars, coming out this year. What are some of the images you explore in this book, and do you feel they differ from the poetry you’ve published thus far? Furthermore, can we expect a central theme for the poetry, or is this a collection of works where you feel each poem tells a story that should be read independent from the others?

My chapbook Under Memories of Stars Is a collection of lyric poetry involving the themes of love and grief. The poems in this collection also show the speaker’s evolving perspective on nostalgia—how she realizes memory is constantly changing—and by the end of the collection, her acceptance of death. While focusing more on relationships with family than some of my other poetry, nature imagery is a cornerstone in this collection, and this is similar to much of my other poetry. 

What was the writing process of your chapbook like? Did you find it difficult to juggle compiling the book and sending submissions out?

I wrote many of the poems in this collection separately without having a goal of writing a chapbook, and so compiling the chapbook didn’t really make it more difficult for me to send out submissions of my other poetry. When I noticed the common themes in the included poems, and that all of these poems involve stars, I was inspired to put the chapbook together.

Submitting to journals is, I believe, always a bit of a daunting process, and rejections are something all writers have to deal with. Over the years, what process have you developed for dealing with rejections and what advice would you give poets who have just started sending their work out into the world?

Realizing that most poets receive mostly rejections of their submitted work has allowed me to take my rejections less to heart. When I first started submitting, I sent my work to many, many journals, and I didn’t always read much of these journals beforehand. My current process is to read a few recently published full-length poetry collections throughout the year. When I’m impressed by the poetry included in a collection, I look at the “Acknowledgements” section so I can keep in mind the journals that are included there for my future submissions. Then I read some of the other work published in these journals, to see if my work might be a good fit. This process has saved me a lot of time and money and has made submitting my work a less frustrating experience. 

Do you have any big publishing aspirations for the future? Perhaps an anthology we can look forward to.

I’m currently looking for a publisher for my second chapbook, which uses lines and syntax from novels and plays from the 20th Century that involve the theme of The American Dream to discuss our collective need as Americans to have a new dream. I also have poems coming out soon in Salt Hill, South Dakota Review, and South Florida Poetry Journal, among other journals. 

Lastly, if you could give any advice—regarding the industry, the writing process, and so on—to yourself when you were just starting out, what would it be?

  1. Live your life. Go outside and try new things. Rich and varied experiences make for excellent poetry subjects. 
  2. Read more than you write. Not just poetry, but novels, fiction, and nonfiction written by the greats and contemporary writers. Inspiration for new work has come to me most often when I’m reading. 
  3. Become involved in local and global writing communities. Attend workshops by writers whose work you admire. Go to online and live readings. Write reviews of recently published books that impress you, as this will not only help other writers but will also help you continue to discover what makes great writing great. 
Natalie Marino, Interviewed by Marizel Malan

Natalie Marino is a poet, writer, and physician. Her work appears in Atlas and Alice, Gigantic Sequins, JMWW, Mom Egg Review, Plainsongs, Pleiades, Rust + Moth, West Trestle Review and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Under Memories of Stars, was published earlier this June by Finishing Line Press. She lives in California.

Marizel Malan was born and raised in South Africa, and recently graduated from the University of Pretoria with an Honours Degree in English Literature. She showcases her poetry on the online platform Substack via her newsletter named I don’t drink gin and tonic. Marizel is currently working as a ghost writer, writing nonfiction books in various niches including history, hobbies and crafts. Whenever she is not reading or writing, you can find her dabbling in a variety of arts and crafts, playing Minecraft, or baking for her family.