Carl Winderl is Professor of Writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. Born in Ohio, grew up in Florida, went to college on a basketball scholarship, parlayed that educational opportunity into an M.A. in American Literature from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from New York University. In the words of friends, family, and former hoop teammates, Carl’s never had a real job: all he does is teach, write, and travel the world. Carl thinks it’s a good gig.
Daniel: You’re well known for being a “Marian” poet; can you explain what this means?
Winderl: I think it means that I write poetry that focuses on Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Poets have been writing poetry about Mary for nearly two millennia, but I appear to be the only poet, according to reliable sources, who features the narrative persona in my poems to be Mary herself: hers is the voice readers hear in their head as they read my poems. I think, too, it means I’m a part of that academic pursuit called “Mariology”—similar to “Christology,” being about Jesus Christ.
Daniel: There is a long and honored tradition of Marian literature, going back at least as far as Chaucer and Donne and up to and including modern writers such as Thomas Merton. What writers and works have had an influence on your poetry over the years?
Winderl: Funny you should mention Donne and Merton . . . on the Marian Poetry Index hosted by the International Research Center and the Marian Library under the auspices of the University of Dayton (a Marian institution), I am linked twice on that page right after Donne and Merton (and the Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini). I can’t say any of them directly influence or have influenced me, although I am very well aware of their Marian poetry—I even have roughly translated some of Pasolini’s poems. I’m a pretty voracious reader in general, and in particular all things Marian. For example, I’m currently reading Saint Faustina Kowalska’s Diary, Maria Valtorta’s The Gospel as Revealed to Me (Volume 7), two books by Father Donald H. Calloway, the recent National Geographic issue dedicated to “Mary: the Most Powerful Woman in the World,” George Weigel’s biography on Saint John Paul II (a most devoted Marianist), Witness to Hope. And a few others . . . this collateral reading habit I think I learned in grad school . . . but never broke that habit. Of course, too, the Bible.
Daniel: Your newest book, Behold the Lamb, is generating some buzz, in part because of the unconventional fashion in which you’ve approached the subject. What are you doing here that puts “new wine in old bottles”? Where do you see these poems fitting in the long tradition of Marian poetry?
Winderl: As I mentioned above, with part chutzpah and part hubris I’ve chosen to give Mary a voice in my poetry: that’s not really been done before, that I know of, nor that the scholars at the Marian Research Center/Library have told me otherwise. It is cheeky, I know, but it’s something I felt inspired to do while in grad school at the University of Chicago. And every day I keep at it and will continue to do so until inspired or released otherwise.
Daniel: You’re a distinguished professor and a poet. Talk about how you see these dual elements of your career and how each impacts the other.
Winderl: Back east at the college I taught at for what seems like a half a century or so, I plied my trade in the long shadow of Bertha Munro, legendary professor who left this legacy at the college: “there is no conflict between the best in education and the best in the Christian Faith.” I hijacked that to say: “there is no conflict between the best poetry and the Christian Faith”—which I heartily subscribe to. Plus, I feel blessed to have a day job (teaching literature and writing) that directly supports, impacts, and influences my night job (writing poetry).
Daniel: In addition to teaching and reading, what are some other things—travel, for instance—that feed your muse?
Winderl: I am also blessed to have as part of my regular faculty assignment to teach each fall semester in London. I have pretty thoroughly scoured the cities and countryside for Marian locations, museum galleries, churches, cathedrals, apparition sites, and book stores. I also do that on the Continent where my wife and I spend one out of almost every three 4-day/3-night weekends touring and seeking images, scenes, and settings that feature the international symbol of a lovely young woman seen ever so often holding a young infant in her arms, all the while usually expressing perfect peace and equanimity worthy of eternal adoration. I do that worldwide as well. For example, I’ve stood at the base of a 134-foot aluminum statue of Mary overlooking the city of Quito, Ecuador; she’s in the pose John describes in the 12th chapter of Revelations with her foot on the moon and wearing a crown of 12. And of course I see the cathedral of Notre Dame a couple times or so every year. Cities with those kinds of remembrances make a lasting impression for what those cultures think is important about portraying Mary in such a public piece of religious art.
Daniel: What one question do you wish we’d asked, and how would you have answered it?
Winderl: Actually, I have two questions:
(1) Why the photograph on the cover of Behold the Lamb and where did it come from?
That’s my photograph of a sculpture that I made expressly for the purpose of creating a confluence for my poetry and my photography. As part of my doctoral work at NYU, I was to choose a primary art form and a secondary one. Poetry became my primary focus and photography my second (pun intended, I suppose).
(2) Do you write and publish anything besides poetry. I’m currently having numerous pieces of my creative nonfiction find their way online. In fact, two pieces recently received awards for Best Biographical Nonfiction for the years 2014 and 2015:
“The Girl on the Cover of Seventeen” and “A Half-Empty Mayo Jar.” They can both be found at www.storyhouse.org and once there clicking on ‘Contest Winners’ will provide a list of winners to scroll down through. Or going to Google and typing in the search bar my name and the titles of the two pieces will take the typist right to the site for the nonfiction pieces.
David Daniel has published a dozen novels and more than 150 short stories. Among his books are Reunion, White Rabbit, and The Marble Kite. Recent short fiction can be found in the anthologies Insanity Tales I and II, at thestoryside.com and in sleetmagazine.com and poundofflash.com. His books are available at Amazon.
He teaches at the Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School. Visit him at Facebook or Macmillan books.