The PK Featured Poet 13 – Maryann Hazen-Stearns

"Writing poetry is something a poet does because it provides a personal satisfaction unlike anything else; it fills a need; it can't be helped. I'd rather write poetry than anything else I can think of, except possibly, teaching others how to express themselves through poetry. " - Maryann Hazen-Stearns

I came to know Mary through an internet list, and after a short while began to realise what a fine poet she is. Her collection Under the Limbo Stick shares that peculiarity of all good books in that it can be opened at randonm and the piece of writing you read will have some application to your own life and circumstance. This is the sign of a very good book, a very good poet and a very good person who tries to see life from other peoples perspective while she writes about her own. I admire her work tremendously. (Jim Bennett)

Featured Poet 13 – Maryann Hazen-Stearns

Literary Bio

Maryann Hazen Stearns, author of poetry collection "Under the Limbo Stick," has poetry appearing in print publications throughout the US as well as Canada, Switzerland, India, and the UK, including 300+ electronic publications. She teaches a course at Sullivan County Community College entitled "Poetry In Progress," and is currently developing another course entitled, "Poetry As Pastime". She is also an occasional Poetry Editor, Poetry Competition Judge, and CMT. An active member of Sol Magazine, the Alchemy Poetry Club, the Woodstock Poetry Society, and Poets & Writers, Maryann has also won numerous awards and competitions with her work. She is currently putting the finishing touches on two poetry manuscripts, "Erotique Revolutions," and "To Dance with Choice & Chance".

The following is an excerpt from Sol Magazine's Poet Laureate Competition 2002:

"The poetry of Maryann Hazen Stearns reflects a maturity of craft while retaining simplicity of focus. By zooming in on everyday scenes, it highlights the uniqueness of the trivial, and turns mundane into profound. The poet's passion is evident in these poems, via mechanics (rhythms, rhymes, alliterations, turns of phrase) and subject matter ranging from human plight to the wonders of creation. A wide and nicely varied range of poetry spun with imagination and a full set of poetic tools where each poem possesses an integral life of its own." - May 2002


At age 11, my family moved from a fairly nice-sized town in New Jersey, to a fairly small-sized hamlet on the top of a mountain in New York called Cragsmoor. When I turned 18, I decided I would do nearly anything to get off of that mountain and on my own, and believing the old fairy tales that once you found a fella, got married and settled down, all would be bliss, I set my course to get married. I found a fella by the name of Bones, (It's quite possible his real name was Beelzebub, but we won't go there now...) we thought we were in love, and we got married two weeks before I graduated from high school. My parents were devastated. A few weeks later, so was I, but there was no going back, so I made the best of it ... for a dozen more years. During that time, I was blessed with two daughters, Heather and Rachel, who are now, at the time of this writing, ages 23 and 21. Also, throughout that time, I became increasingly ill with anorexia nervosa; by the time I finally divorced Beelzebub, I weighed about 85 lbs.

While I was married, in order to make some extra money and to be able to stay with the girls, I did at-home work. One of the jobs I had was to crochet lace and charms around the tops of little socks. I would get about 4 dozen socks, and would sit for hours crocheting lace on them and at about every 6th stitch, I'd have to add a little charm, like a ballerina or a teacup, things like that.

Then, I stuffed envelopes. Not just any envelopes, these were actually packages that held hardware for toys. I'd get boxes and boxes of bolts, screws, nuts, etc., and have to count out so many of each, put them into an envelope and staple it shut. I also watched other people's kids in my house while I did these other jobs.

After the girls started school, I got a job in a toy factory counting plastic turtles. Yes, that's right, I counted different colored plastic turtles into large boxes, added a couple of black balls and then, using a stable gun, closed the boxes and loaded them onto a skid. I did thousands of them. It was a game called Turtle Bowl. Oh, and I had to count off enough eyeball-stickers for each turtle and throw that in the box too.

Then, I started working as a box labeler. I would have thousands of flat boxes and labels on skids around my work area, which consisted of barrels of glue, a very long table with a label machine that held diluted glue, and a flat cart. I'd have to run a label through the machine, get it all gluey, smear it onto the flat box, and then flip the box onto the cart. When the cart got full I'd wheel it away and flop the boxes onto another skid.

After that job, I "graduated" to step-making. First, I'd have to stack the half-pieces of steel that, when put together, formed the steps for a pogo stick. I'd stack them onto a table next to a rivet machine. I'd load the machine with rivets, sit down in front of it and rivet millions of steps. I also worked on the conveyer belt, adding toys to packages or stapling the packages after they were full. Then, my job was again up-graded to the actual making of the pogo stick. I was the only woman to ever do that job, it was very difficult for me, but I was determined to earn the same paycheck as the other men, so I did it.

As it turned out, there was an opening in the same factory for a silk-screener, and I tried out for it and got the job. So, for quite a while, I silk-screened garments for JM Originals. I also riveted faux-gems onto the clothing, and hot-glued flowers and lace on them too. Then I moved up to creating the silk screens in the dark room, using emulsion and squeegees. I liked those jobs much more than the horrible physical labor of the toy factory. But still, I was wearing out fast and getting skinnier all the time. Luckily, some friends came to my rescue and helped me to get through my divorce.

From the time I got married in 1978 to the time I got divorced 12 years later, we had moved 14 times. If you can name something horrendous, it's happened to me, but we won't go there now. During the divorce-time, Beelzebub was institutionalized for a long time, which is just as well, because he really needed some very serious help. Throughout our marriage he had become a very sick person, as well as many stays in jail, a couple other marriages (at the same time) and, well, like I said, that's another story and we won't go there today. But, while I waited for the divorce to become final, (did you know you can't serve divorce papers to someone who is institutionalized in a mental health facility?) I began a college course to learn medical transcription. I worked at the factory during the day, picked the girls up after school and brought them to my parent's house. Then I drove up to the college to take my classes. I also went to school on the weekends. About a week before I got my certificate, I applied for a job at the local hospital, and got it! I began my career as a Certified Medical Transcriptionist, specializing in Radiology in 1993, and began earning a very good living for the girls and I.

It was during this time that I began therapy for my eating disorder, as well as to help recover from the physical/emotional abuse. While working at the hospital, I met my wonderful husband, Michael, and we got married in July of 1999. I've been writing poetry all my life and after he found that I wrote poetry, he gave me the opportunity to try my hand at writing full time and we set up an office here in our home. Since about 1997, I've been a full-time poet, and loving every minute of it. My main goal was to gain as much exposure, using the internet, as possible. And it worked! I submitted so many poems to so many e-zines that eventually a publisher contacted me. Since my book has been published, a local community college has contacted me and asked if I'd like to instruct a poetry course for them, and I just this week signed the contract! I also plan on giving workshops to local elementary schools, continuing education programs, rehabs, nursing homes, wherever I can get a foot in the door. For the first time in my life, I'm doing what I love to do, and it's marvelous. It's been a long hard road getting here, but as I always say, if I can do it, anyone can.

How/when did you start writing? Was there anything that particularly influenced you?

I started writing poetry under the influence of a wonderfully inspirational teacher by the name of Ida Besdeski (or something like that). She had a way of making all forms of writing more appealing and, well, liberating, is the only way I can describe it. She made poetry seem like the ultimate, the most intimate, form of communication any writer could achieve. I believe she understood that most youngsters, at that time, were turned off by the terribly restrictive style and archaic language of poetry that we were, up until then, being taught. Mrs. B. was insightful enough to know that she needed to spark the interest of her students by giving us poetry we could relate to.

I remember her handing out scads of Xeroxed pages of lyrics by all the contemporary lyricists of the time: Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, John Philips, and Neil Young. I remember the day we read "All Along The Watchtower," by Bob Dylan, which of course, became immortalized by Jimi Hendrix; and that was it! Mrs. B. had the class hooked and she just ran with it from there. She'd have the class choose a modern lyricist, emulate their work, and then compare it to a classic poet, like Shakespeare, Herrick, Wordsworth, Keats, or John Donne and visa versa. She was extremely encouraging and consequently, each student felt proud of what they had written. I'm not the only student that began reading and writing poetry simply for the pleasure of it. The school publication, called "The Neophyte," suddenly bulged with poetry submissions. The woman was a genius!

It's always been my secret desire to be as inspiring and encouraging a teacher as Mrs. Besdeski was to me, and to all her students. I've been writing poetry for about 30 years, and loving every minute of it.

How do you write? Do you have any particular method for writing - time of day?

I'm a real creature of habit. Every day, I get up, get my coffee, answer my email, and start writing. I get very crabby if my routine is upset! I have an office in our home, and consider writing my "job", even though I don't usually get paid for it. Most of the time other-life-stuff gets in the way; being at home, I also end up mowing the lawn, doing laundry, shopping and all sorts of things instead of writing!

I have lots of methods for writing poetry, but usually begin a poem on loads of scrap paper in long-hand and revise as I go, or, I sit at the computer, type out the foundation of a poem, copy it, revise it, copy that, revise that, etc., until it's in some sort of acceptable form. Then, as everyone knows, the semi-finished version is work-shopped on several internet lists. I make notes of any helpful suggestions or comments the poem receives, and revise until I'm satisfied with it.

Why do you write poetry?

Every interview I've ever done asks that question! Whenever I see that question, the poet always answers with something like, "I write poetry because I have to." I think anyone who considers himself to be a poet intrinsically understands the need to write poetry; it's a given. When the poet hits that God-awful dry spell we all endure from time to time, it's like something essential has been taken away, something very important is missing from our lives. It's like everything else that makes up a full day becomes dull, and out of focus while we wait for the Blessed Urge to return. The longer the dry spell, the more mundane daily life becomes.

Writing poetry appeals to me for lots of reasons, but I suppose the top-of-the-list reason is because it's what I most enjoy doing. The best piece of advice my husband ever gave me in regards to a writing career is, "If you don't love what you're doing, don't do it." Writing poetry is challenging, entertaining, cathartic, and intellectually stimulating. Writing poetry is something a poet does because it provides a personal satisfaction unlike anything else; it fills a need; it can't be helped. I'd rather write poetry than anything else I can think of, except possibly, teaching others how to express themselves through poetry. Errr... I guess, in other words: I write poetry because I have to.


This poem was originally written for a particularly grueling poetry competition; one that lasted through several weeks of being wheedled down to the last few finalists. Believe it or not, the topic was, "Why do you write poetry?"! Once the competition was over I revised it for a more relaxed, less structured piece of work.


Each Morning I Wake...

I write. It's a passion
for the turn of a phrase,
the perfect first line, the perfect
conclusion, the perfect connection between.

It's the challenge of performing a form.
The feel of the paper, the white sheets
that wait to be filled. It's the smell
of good books stacked everywhere.

It's the knowledge, the skill, the feeling
of fulfillment at finding the right word
and the next right word and hopefully
sharing this joy, teaching this pleasure
to someone else. It's a dedication
to the craft of weaving words,
to written human expression.

It's a devotion to the poetic art
of communication.


I belong to several poetry dialogues, which is a group of poets who take turns, round-robin style, writing poetry, using the previous poems as inspiration. The thread I used for this poem was, obviously, feathers.

Feathers That Fall

we write about feathers that fall
like darkness feathers that float
like javelins through the sky
feathers that are saved for bonnets
drawings pillows or beds feathers
from birds from angels from heaven
we stitch them to our shirt sleeves dip
their tips in wine lick their tips
with our black ink-tongues and write
feather poems for lovers of doves
and other feathered friends



A couple of friends and I have recently been dialoguing stream-of-consciousness writing, and then using the prose-like rambling as the foundation for a poem. Also, I've been toying with the use of punctuation in titles.


Nothing To Say. No Sooner Than Yesterday.

What can one say to ease the pain of a friend
who's lost someone dear considering there's nothing
that will return the feeling of contentment nothing
that will fulfill the need of soft talking
night companionship behind closed doors
when the rest of the house is asleep nothing
that will offer comfort like the very big arm of a lover
draped across the small of her back
on a Sunday morning sleeping late nothing
that will ease that dull ache in her breast
when a small child runs by and there's no one
to turn to share a smile with nothing
that can compare to the reassurance that no
she's not too fat and that yes
those jeans look all right and go ahead
have another scoop of ice cream if she wants nothing
that will replace sitting in the passengers seat
most of the time nothing
that will lighten the burden of accumulating
bills for household maintenance when the roof
needs repair or the garage needs to be painted
or the lawn mower just doesn't want to kick over
and her arm muscles are strained from moving furniture alone
and she can hear his voice say to her
on that cold autumn day three years ago now now
don't you go moving that by yourself you wait
till i get home nothing
to calm the fear of tax time nothing
to keep her from feeling as if she's been
taken advantage of nothing
to assure her that there will be someone
at her side when her time comes nothing
to say nothing to say except you've been there too
and it doesn't get much better until someone
or something fills the void but
there's certainly no certainty in that
and each day folds under like yesterday
and each tomorrow slides farther away from today
after the longest damn night that time has forgotten
and every single minute just never seems to want
to find the next.


I love to try all sorts of forms, and in fact, belong to a dialogue of wonderfully talented poets called "Five Poets Torture" in which we each take turns "torturing" the others with poetic forms. It's become a great passion of mine; not that I'm particularly good at it, but it does bring me a great deal of pleasure.

Hopeless Pantun

Was it a dream of bathing you in cream?
Your copper skin below the silver tin,
beneath a gleam of white in the extreme,
scent of jasmine candles to illumine?

It may have been a wish. Just imagine.
My great desire is to inspire,
at least begin to stir your heart within.
May I enquire if you'd conspire

to quench this fire? In my entire
life I've never ventured to endeavor
to acquire that which I aspire.
I'll do whatever, I'll go wherever,

stay true forever, until you sever
our bond, redeem our vows. It would not seem
I was clever, wanting you as ever
before, in high esteem, in my daydream.


This poem was inspired by one of the dozens of Egyptian documentaries televised recently here in the States, and surprisingly, this poem has earned me a cool $20! (in one lump sum!)



They bring their dead to me daily
Rich or poor they bring their dead
We talk and purses open wide
We talk and the deceased
wait patiently
stacked upon wooden slabs
like loaves of stale bread

They leave their dead with me
in my hands
and when my hands finish
their work on the living
they go to work on the dead

My instruments shine in sharp light
incise flesh, saw bones, extract
slightly stiffened organs
The living wait
The dead wait
Osiris' arms open and wait
Seventy days and nights
for a perfect preservation

This is what it has come down to
A highly paid mechanical science
Insert probe into nasal passage
puncture skull, stir, scoop and pull
The hollow head gratefully nods

This is what it has come down to
Pack cavities with herbal pouches
carefully prepared and blessed
My hands wrap anointed cloth
blackened, sticky, the preservative odor
permeates my hair, my robes, my hands
wrap and wrap the dead daily
and the purses open wide
and the dead remain
simply dead remains

* Strange Horizons; July 2001


The only explanation I can offer regarding this poem is this; there are some victims who never really, ever, recuperate after the devastation of being raped.



This has nothing to do with sex.
I don’t like to have my tongue
in my own mouth;
not to mention yours.

The feel of wet muscle
inside my ear
makes my skin crawl.
Chin bristle on my neck
makes me want to scream.

I don’t like to be breathed on.
If I feel your breath
on my skin;
you’re entirely too close.

I hate saliva and sweat
and the sleek, sweet stink of sperm,
but this has nothing to do with sex.

This has everything to do with
inner privacy, which
has to do with how
after a shower
I tug my underwear up
before I remove the towel.
How tightly I cross my legs.

How I always sleep covered
with my mouth firmly closed
and one eye open.

This has nothing to do with sex.
This has everything to do with
the terribly intimate relationship
I carry on with myself.

Theme: Childhood remembrances.


Here in the hollow belly of bed
I recall the fear kept warm
in the shallows under my pillow.
Bedfellow of small teeth,
a coin, a secret wrapped in tissue.
When was apprehension born
to be my constant companion?

It lies; a concrete floor
in the cellar of my childhood. I recall
the imprint of a leaf embedded
in the cement. The same size
as the palm of your hand.

Why this strange remembrance now,
here, attached to the spinal cord
of night? When did the prayers stop?

Why does night pull me
to my feet, yank the string
of memory when the light
has been dead for years?
* T-Zero Xpandezine: The Writer's E-Zine; December 2000


All Poets have personal writing taboos, that is to say, there are certain things they just won't do when writing a poem. For instance, as many of my friends know, I try to use as few gerunds (ing's) as possible in a poem, as well as limiting the amount of articles. I also don't like to use the words, "just" or "only." I don't like using very long titles. So, every once in a while, I deliberately confront one of my taboos, and see if I can make it work for me. See if you can guess what my taboo is for this poem...


It's Summer

and kids run through sprung hydrants
and shriek as the force of cold water blasts
and chills their soft burnt skins

and in the tenements women perspire
and continue to cook or smoke or iron
and keep their eyes riveted to slick TV newsmen
and their perfect teeth, their rich-dude shirts
and slim-boy ties
and wonder what their wives are like
and if they snore all night
and drink like fish and fight

and there are other slick men on the corner
and young girls come
and young girls go
and sway hypnotically down the block
and into their unknown futures
and the men
and their nasty-rat eyes pivot
and eye-grip their swishy asses
and imagine the ripple of flesh dimples
and panties underneath cool summer cotton
and hot tight worn blue jeans
and wish sweet Jesus they could have them
and have them some of that one right there


I heard a little girl ask her mother, "If a deaf person can't hear anything, what does it sound like?"


The Silence I Hear With My Eyes
The silence sounds like lips that move
against each other like lovers
or intimate teeth that greet each other
grind against each other in sleep or speech
and are swallowed like a breath
The silence sounds like children who play
in a schoolyard whose mouths open
into O's of happiness or sadness or surprise
The sound a sneaker makes in one split second
imbedded in the soft orange rubber skin of a ball
about a mile away or a million It's all the same

The silence sounds like the stop-and-go flow
of cars and trucks The quickness of a flashy ambulance
that parts traffic simply by it's magical approach
through the hazy distance The sound of a silver whistle
between the angry red cheeks of a cop
in the middle of it all The sound of dogs
on straining hind legs frantic against a chain link fence
The sound of dozens and dozens of shoes
as they individually connect with concrete
to become one large universal human movement of life
as it wends rapidly whispers quietly
against the quiet sea shells of my mute head
almost as if I had an ear for it  

To end on a lighter note, here are a couple of poems, just for the fun of it.  
Food Flight
(or, Pass the Napkins Please)  
I love to slurp spaghetti
and drip sauce down my chin
and when it slips
between my lips
it always makes me grin

I love to suck up Jell-O
Between my teeth I squeeze it
but how it flies
a cool surprise
that splatters when I sneeze it

Nothin' Good To Eat*
(or, I Turn Up My Nose At Turnips)  
The house is full of groceries
they're stacked up nice and neat,
but how come when I want a bite
there's nothin' good to eat?

I don't want soup or salad
and I won't eat ham on rye.
I don't feel like spaghetti
or bologna, stew or pie.

I really don't want fish or beans
nor will I nosh on cheese.
I sure won't touch those sausages
and eggplants make me wheeze.

I don't feel like a barbeque,
some fruit or pork fried rice.
I don't eat squash or red beets
and those noodles don't look nice.

Can't stand the smell of chicken,
pancakes, pork chops or bread crust.
I guess I'll have to go downstairs
and gobble down sawdust.

So even though the pantry's full
and shopping's been complete,
a person still could starve to death -
there's nothin' good to eat!

* Laughing Out Loud, Iss. #15, September 1998