Interview: Marianne Boruch

December 18th, 2014

photo of Marianne  Boruch by Will DunlapMidwestern Gothic staffer Jamie Monville talked with acclaimed poet Marianne Boruch about working in different genres, the influences teaching has on her work, visiting a cadaver lab for inspiration, and more.

(Photo credit: Will Dunlap)

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Jamie Monville: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Marianne Boruch: My mother’s family—named Taylor and Jones—has been in the Midwest for several generations. My father’s parents were Polish Catholics—that’s the Boruch in there—coming as immigrants in the early 20th century to Chicago. So both my parents were born in Illinois. Chicago was where I was born as well. And I didn’t leave the state for any serious amount of time until graduate school at UMass.

JM: You have taught at Universities in Taiwan and Maine, but continue to find your way back to the Midwest. What is it about the region brings you back, and how has the Midwest inspired your writing?

MB: The honest fact is that if you are seeking a teaching job, you can’t really call the shots on where that will be. There’s a pretty small window of opportunity on this, especially at the start. We went to Taiwan (Tunghai University) because my husband wanted to continue studying Chinese. Mainland China simply wasn’t open yet, at least for individuals in 1979. I had just gotten my MFA, and he was ABD in English, so we both applied to teach in the Republic of China. That was a fascinating experience. My first full-time American teaching job was at the University of Maine at Farmington—then, the so-called “undiscovered Maine”—a last-minute appointment, and great good luck. We were living in Madison, Wisconsin just before that–wonderful town—and both teaching part-time.

Eventually, yes, as you say above, I did find my “way back to the Midwest” via my job at Purdue, and have been here ever since. Unlike a lot of my colleagues and friends on the East coast then, the Midwest didn’t scare me. I like driving in a car, great calming expanses opening up all around, the sweep of bean and corn fields. I joked with people in Maine before I left: all these trees in the way, you just can’t see a thing!

I like the Midwest. I like how everyone doesn’t even think about region very much. The place doesn’t underscore and applaud itself. We just get on with things without a caption to it. Seems totally sane to me. You can just live your life and think your thoughts. Bravo to the secret life, and the fact that no one cares about us!

JM: How has teaching influenced your writing, if it has? How is teaching at Purdue different than teaching in Maine, Taiwan, or any of the other places where you have been a fellow or visiting professor?

MB: Teaching influences one’s poetry and fiction—and nonfiction too—in both obvious and subtle ways. You simply have less time to write, of course. But it’s balanced by how interesting the exchange in class and in conferences really is, how much you learn. I mean, if you’re called on to explain something, you have to find words for it. To do that, you have to consider and reconsider. It’s good for the brain. What a privilege really, to get paid to talk about poetry in public, for god’s sake. How crazy is that? I’m grateful I live in this little unlikely cube of history where such a mad thing is possible. I don’t imagine it will go on forever.

And teaching is teaching, wherever you are, though with my Chinese students in Taiwan, there were passionate responses I never expected. When I taught Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” for instance, they were immensely perplexed by his self-absorption, even as a dramatic device. It seemed shocking, utter braggadocio, or worse. They thought more in terms of the group. Individual nerve seemed a selfish, suspect concept to them. That was very instructive to me. But if I think about it now, it’s a bit like the standard self-effacing Midwestern temperament, but writ very large.

JM: 51qexzrdGML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Your latest collection of poetry, Cadaver, Speak, is said to have been inspired by both life study drawing and work in a cadaver lab. What drew you to these two things, and the cadaver lab in particular?

MB: I had applied to for an opportunity Purdue wisely offers its faculty—a fellowship for “the study of a second discipline.” If awarded such a thing, I’d be relieved of my teaching for a term to study something on campus. I had heard that the successful applications were in areas where one jumped not only departments, but whole schools. The idea was to get as far as possible from one’s usual habit of thought and focus of “research.” I figured the Gross Human Anatomy class in Indiana University’s School of Medicine division on Purdue’s campus was a pretty daring leap. I added the Life Drawing course in Art and Design for symmetry—bodies living and dead, I suppose.

But as I’ve gotten older, these issues concerning the body have grown more personal, of course—friends and family stricken, and lost. So I was already thinking a lot about the body and the many threats to it, how fragile we are. Plus, as a poet, I wanted to put myself in an odd place, to surprise myself, to experience something for which I had no agenda or preconceived notions. I wanted to go blank and see what would happen. And the anatomist James Walker, the artist Grace Benedict generously said yes, I could be underfoot in their classes for a full semester. Still, one applies to such things with little hope of success. I was as taken aback as anyone that the Provost’s office said sure, okay, now do it.

JM: What surprised you about the cadaver lab? What moved you?

MB: Are you kidding? Pretty much everything surprised me, and so much moved me. The first day seeing “spinal cords” magic-marker marked on a white plastic bucket, or the stillness of the four bodies of those formerly alive and kind enough to lend them to us. The many things the students and the teacher said. My own speechlessness—so much beyond words. Well, it’s all in the book—Cadaver, Speak—finally out last spring. Copper Canyon did such a beautiful job with it.

JM: How is Cadaver, Speak different than what you have written before?

MB: My usual drill is what I call my “begging bowl” method—to put out that bowl and see what images drop in. And then work with that, poem by poem. I did fear having a definite “subject” this time—feared it would dilute the mystery and be way too willed for any genuine discovery. I actually took a million notes, for instance—I had to, so much overwhelmed me, both in the lab and in the studio where the drawing class took place. So my method in that book was a bit different. And my “subject” pretty pointed. Even the first half of the book concerns the body in various ways—in visual art, in history and prehistory–those pieces written directly by me and not by my old cadaver as speaker. She takes over the second half, via the title poem.

What I found out was: it doesn’t matter. Once you’re engaged, you still don’t know where things will go and what you will find. And that emptiness, that wanderlust remains the crucial thing no matter how you think you’ve aimed things, or how many notes you’ve made.

JM: While you are best known for your poetry, you have also explored the longer form of the book of essays and memoir. These genres feel like a definite step outside of a potential comfort zone, and yet at the same time these three genres can often have the same veins of curiosity and self-reflection – more so than perhaps straight fiction. How and why did you decide to work in these other forms, and how does your process change in order to accomplish this?

MB: I’ve written essays on poetry for years, often in response to editors who want some thoughts on someone or something. (For instance, one of my first essays—“Dickinson Descending”—was in answer to a request from The Georgia Review to help honor the anniversary of that poet’s death.) And many of my essays started life as lectures at Warren Wilson College’s MFA program where I’ve been lucky to teach on and off since 1988. But I’ve come to value the essay—thought collects in pools, Wallace Stevens tells us. And the paragraph IS a pool, no question. Plus I enter an essay the way I enter poems: not knowing where in the world it will take me. That alone is engaging. And I get to think aloud, on paper, about poetry I love.

The memoir—my me-woir, I like to say—is different. I lived that wild story, and wanted for years to tell it. And did, to friends and family. I finally found a way to write it—and chops up to the task, I hope—using tiny chapters, figuring out the voice. It was great fun though pretty sobering to relive that era which is either vastly maligned and mocked, or idealized beyond recognition. My aim was to show what those years were like for most of us—clueless, inarticulate but often ironic and serious young people, just trying to grow up. So I guess it’s really a we-woir. Or so I like to think. I love to read from this book in public—it’s such fun, since some of it does seem hilarious to me. I don’t get much chance though since when I am asked somewhere, mostly poetry is the main event. Sometimes though, I can sneak it in.

JM: Who are some journalists or writers that have influenced your own work or style?

MB: Essays: still a thrilling book for me—one I reviewed years ago for The Georgia Review when it came out in the 80s—is Robert Hass’ Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry. I remember thinking: wow! You’re allowed write essays this way? Both reading close and thinking personally? It opened the genre for me. And of course, Jarrell’s wonderful essays, Seamus Heaney’s, Flannery O’Connor’s, etc etc.

Poetry: You mean whose love-child am I, or would like to be? You name it. Keats, Blake, Hopkins, Dickinson, Whitman, Williams, Moore, Larkin, Bishop, Lowell, Roethke, early Bly, Berryman.

From the more recent, more contemporary: my teacher in the 70s, James Tate. And Russell Edson, Simic, early Gluck, Ellen Voigt, Adelia Prado… People closer to my own age: Perillo, Hoagland, Brigit Kelly, Carl Phillips, Laura Jensen, Tom Andrews. Well, I could go on and on. As Chicago poet Paul Carroll used to say: it’s a big table.

But I’m not sure about influence, regarding any of the above. That seems awfully presumptuous, and perhaps not flattering at all to them! I just love their work, though it is so varied. It’s defined poetry for me over the years, which is no small thing.

JM: What’s next for you?

MB: I just completed my next collection, which is in manuscript now. We’ll see what happens to that. It’s always kind of a crap shoot. And I’m overdue on another book of essays. I just have to do some hunting and gathering to put that together, hopefully by the end of spring.
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Marianne Boruch’s eight poetry collections include Cadaver, Speak (2014) and The Book of Hours (2011), a Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award winner, both from Copper Canyon Press. She’s also the author of two essay collections, In the Blue Pharmacy (Trinity, 2005) and Poetry’s Old Air (Michigan, 1993), and a memoir, The Glimpse Traveler (Indiana, 2011) about hitchhiking in the early 70s. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry, London Review of Books, American Poetry Review, The Nation and elsewhere. She’s been awarded fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as artist residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and at Isle Royale, our most isolated national park. A Fulbright/ Visiting Professor in 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland, she first taught at the University of Maine at Farmington before establishing in 1987 and directing for years Purdue University’s MFA program Creative Writing where she still teaches. Since 1988, she’s also taught in the low residency Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Contributor News

Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman, who had work in Issue 9 and upcoming in Issue 16 respectfully, are the co-editors of a new anthology of prose about poetry, Local Ground(s) - Midwest Poetics: Selected Prose Verse Wisconsin 2009-2014 (Cowfeather Press). More info and the list of over 50+ contributors is available at http://cowfeatherpress.org/midwestpoetics.html.

Devin Kelly, who has work upcoming in Issue 16, recently had an essay published with Big Truths.

Brian Petkash, who has work upcoming in Issue 16, has a piece being published in January in Southword Journal (it was runner up in the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Competition).

Laura Donnelly, who has work upcoming in Issue 16, harecently saw her poem “In the field with the god” nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Front Porch. In addition, her first book of poems, Watershed, won the Cider Press Review Editors’ Prize, which you can read here.

Congrats, all!

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Contributor Spotlight: Corey Don Mingura

FullSizeRenderCorey Don Mingura’s piece “VHS” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 15, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I started writing awful horror novels around the age of 11. I never finished them, of course, but their hand-drawn covers were nice. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I really got into writing poetry. I honed my craft by writing and recording several rap albums in my bedroom. My second album sold 10 copies, so that was pretty cool.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I’ve lived, worked, and studied here all of my life.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
I think is has everything to do with my writing. I’ve never really left here. All of my personal experience is in the Midwest, so it’s inevitably going to be reflected in my work.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
I think a lot of that has to do with the lack of a distinct and unified culture of the Midwest, which is much unlike the culture they have in the South. Everyone has a clear idea—whether it be wrong or not—of what the South is, but no one thinks of the Midwest like in those terms.

I’ve heard Illinois is nothing like Oklahoma, yet we’re still both identified as Midwestern states. This incredible diversity within the Midwest makes it is difficult to illustrate exactly what “Midwestern” means in succinct terms. Because of this, people just end up comparing the work of Midwestern writers to that of other regional areas that have a clear identity. I’ve often been told that my writing is very “Southern,” but no one has ever called my work “Midwestern.”

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I use it as often as possible to showcase any progress with my work or any new publications. I’m also the editor of the Online Sundries blog for Arcadia, so I’m constantly promoting posts from other writers through Twitter and Facebook. Social media is an incredible tool to promote independent writers and publishers.

Favorite book?
Russell Edson’s The Tunnel.

Favorite food?
Cow tongue.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
Tea with Flannery O’Connor.

Where can we find more information about you?
I’m always lurking behind the scenes at www.onlinesundries.org, so you can drop me an email there. You can also reach me on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/corey.mingura.

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Interview: Alice Friman

A's photo-1-1-2Midwestern Gothic staffer Jamie Monville talked with acclaimed poet Alice Friman about what draws her to poetry, her influences, moving to the South, and more.

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Jamie Monville: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Alice Friman: I’m from New York City, born and bred, but ended up—from some fluke of circumstance too long and complicated to go into here—in Dayton, Ohio, for five years and then in Indianapolis for forty-three. It was in Indianapolis where I went back to school, where I got a divorce, where I subsequently buried my ex, brought up three kids, bought my first very-own house, began to teach, and started to write poetry.

I am a charter member of what is now the Indiana Writers Center.

JM: You taught for a number of years in Indiana and are now a poet in residence at Georgia College & State University. How have these different roles affected your poetry? What do you think is the biggest difference between Indiana and Georgia and how has it affected your poetry?

AF: Well, I now only teach one class in the fall, so I have more writing time. When I taught for the University of Indianapolis, I taught 28 hours a year, a very heavy load. Too, I find that the more you write the more you have to write, so my writing here in Georgia has accelerated. I write pretty much every day. Since 2003 when I moved here, I’ve brought out three full-length books: The Book of the Rotten Daughter from BkMk, and Vinculum and The View from Saturn, both from LSU. I think retirement has made me more prolific, and I like to think a better writer. Of course the kids are grown and gone, and I have a house with a large, lovely studio, so I have more time and space to concentrate on the work. In Indianapolis I used to rent out space in an old office building: a little studio where nothing was done but the writing. That’s important, you know, for poetry to have its own space, no matter how small it is. In my last six years in Indianapolis, I was in charge of my mother’s last days and spent hours with her every day in the nursing home. That little studio saved my life–let alone my sanity.

Here in Georgia where I live with my “sweet young thing,” which is what I call my husband, our house is surrounded by forest. As I look out my studio window I can watch the hawks circling. I write about them along with all the different kinds of plants, so lush, so different from the midwest. And, oh yes, the terrible heat. Too, in Georgia I can go to the beach at Tybee Island just outside of Savannah and not at all far away. It reminds me of childhood summers on Long Beach, which, when I was a child was wild, empty and wonderful. A child’s paradise.

But I have a soft spot in my heart for the midwest. After all, I started writing there. And I guess I still consider myself a midwest poet. Funny, I never write about New York City where I was born and grew up, and I don’t know why.

In some ways Indiana and Georgia are alike. They are both very politically conservative, which I don’t much care for.

JM: You have said that you “did not set out to write poetry: to choose a life dedicated to the lonely struggle of stringing words together.” What did you set out to do before you became a poet?

AF: I started college in 1950. I was sixteen and didn’t know my head from my elbow. In those days the only choices a young woman had were to go into education or nursing. That’s probably not true, but that’s all I could see, and no advisor told me differently. What I wanted? I wanted to be a dancer. I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to do something big and exciting. I ended up, barely twenty years old, teaching third grade in Harlem in a school where the windows were broken out, and the only workbooks we had were not to be written in. Where the blackboards were so old and pitted, they were not usable. In retrospect, I think I was probably, if not an out-and-out bad teacher, surely an ineffectual one. As a result of my two years spent teaching 3rd and 4th grades, I want to say that I think those teachers working in the trenches of American schools—overworked, under-appreciated, and underpaid—are truly our unsung heroes.

You ask, what I set out to do. I had three kids and went back to school. I became an English professor. I did “set out to do” that, yes. In the meantime I wrote poetry and hid it in a drawer. I did that for fourteen years. Then I got a divorce and took the poetry out of the drawer. That sounds glib, I know. I don’t mean it / want it to sound that way, for those last years of my marriage were painful ones. But once the poetry was literally and figuratively “out of the drawer,” I can say, in retrospect, that that meant I was beginning my second life. The more you write poetry, the more you write poetry until it becomes who you are: the way you think, the way you figure out what’s happening and how you feel. Did I “set out to do” that? I don’t know. I like to think I didn’t find poetry as much as poetry found me. To save my life maybe. Who knows.

JM: What draws you to poetry?

AF: Well, poetry boils down an experience, a thought, a feeling, to its essence. For me, writing is like high play, perhaps closest to mathematics. I don’t know why I say that nor can I quite explain it, but I know it’s true. Here’s a quote one might find interesting. It’s from The Body Show. The quote is about what happens in the brain when one is doing creative work. “The creative process generates the new by seeing the known in an unusual way. It is founded on a sense of wonder and fed by the ability to pursue an idea simply to satisfy our curiosity…. The hormone dopamine stimulates the neural networks in the frontal brain. These networks have access to the long term memory located in the back of the brain.” And then it says, “These two regions are usually not connected. But in a creative process they are brought together in a state of exultation.” Exultation! Yes. After I write and rewrite the same eight lines for days and days, when the words finally fall in, yes, there is a flood of exultation. No other word will do.

FrimanVIEW_covfront-2JM: The View From Saturn focuses on looking at life both from a large distance as well as intimately by zooming in or out depending on the level of that objectivity or subjectivity. Do you find that as a poet and or as a person one end of the object vs subjective spectrum comes more naturally than the other? Or are you constantly toggling back and forth?

AF: I am constantly, as you say, toggling back and forth.

JM: What was the inspiration for the title: The View From Saturn?

AF: Probably a trip my husband and I took to New Zealand and Hawaii where we went to the top of Mauna Kea to look through the telescope, and I saw Saturn. It was thrilling. But that story is in the book.

JM: Which poet and or writer has most influenced your style?

AF: I don’t know if I can answer that, it being a job for the critics. But I do think that one’s “style” has to do with who you are and how you speak. If I’m right, that’s what comes out in the poems. I hope so anyway

JM: What’s next for you?

AF: Well, I’m eighty-one years old, so I don’t want to entertain that question too seriously.

I look forward to writing for as long as I can. It’s my passion, my raison d’etre, my sweet hell. To celebrate the new book, I have quite a few readings coming up across the country which I’m pleased about and which will keep me busy. My husband (my sweet young thing) and I have some overseas trips planned, and in the meantime I spend my days up here in my studio which looks out over the tops of trees and where I often watch the storms come in and the hawks circling. Sounds good to me.

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Alice Friman’s sixth full-length collection is The View from Saturn from LSU Press. Her previous collection is Vinculum, LSU, for which she won the 2012 Georgia Author of the Year Award in Poetry. She is a recipient of a 2012 Pushcart Prize and is included in Best American Poetry 2009. Friman lives in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she is Poet-in-Residence at Georgia College. Her podcast series, Ask Alice, is sponsored by the Georgia College MFA program and can be seen on YouTube.

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Contributor Spotlight: Marisa Moks-Unger

MarisaMoksUngerWebMarisa Moks-Unger’s piece “Vernation” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 15, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I have been writing daily since I was 10 and professionally since my teens – so over three decades. Journal Writing, or as the once Chicago-based The Artist’s Way author, Julia Cameron, calls “morning pages” have been a cherished ritual of mine before I even had a name for it. Cameron likens the three page stream-of-conscious writing to “cleaning off the windshield of a car before driving it” that results in clarity of thought in whatever writing is done after that early morning exercise. Indeed, many of my poems and essays come from such uncensored writing experiences.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
My paternal grandfather immigrated to the US from Poland prior to WWI and lived and worked in Chicago before moving with friends to find better paying industrial jobs in Northwestern Pennsylvania. He ended up settling in Erie and married my grandmother, an immigrant herself, who later learned that they lived only 30 miles apart in Poland. Also, my oldest daughter resides in Chicago after attending college there and enjoys the neighborhood settings of the city.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
I believe that there is a sense of sustainability and ritual in the Midwest that the other regions of the county do not really consider, because it is the nation’s proverbial breadbasket. So the act of writing is organic. Just as a seed is dropped into soil, and the elements bring about the crops with assistance from irrigation systems, then harvested, so are words and phrases, which quite literally grow into articles, poems, essays, books and social media.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
Perhaps for the same reason that the rest of the country takes the Great Plains for granted: it provides sustenance without drama, which is to say that there is a certain sense of expected production of crops for feeding the masses. The industrial voice of Carl Sandburg, who speaks in the voice of the common man observing the manifestation of a nation, is a good example of why Midwestern Regionalism has been overlooked. Not very exotic or intoxicating, but classic and easily recognized as classic American canon. After all, the South is known for its tobacco and the West Coast is known for its gold mines. There is much more of a lure to Southern Gothic with grotesque characterization as painted by Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner and the like. And, too, there is a sense of bitter desperation, resignation and possible redemption in California’s literary regionalism as noted in writers such as John Steinbeck and Arthur Miller. But with the rising of humanism and the decline of many organized religions, the call for Midwestern Gothic as a literary movement may very well be on its way to its own organic emergence.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I have not used very much of it, but have begun to create a blog at the suggestion of a literary agent. I do use Twitter and Facebook at this time.

Favorite book?
Loving Each Other: The Challenge of Human Relationships by Leo Buscaglia and anything by Julia Cameron.

Favorite food?
Center cut, boneless pork chops with applesauce

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I would probably want to have tea with the Midwestern-born poetess, Ella Wheeler Wilcox. I have dog-eared copies of several of her books of poems. Her writings are reminiscent of William Butler Yeats in terms of mysticism and the occult. The theme of resurrection is predominant in her works. I, too, would want to know the details of her writing community in both Connecticut and Long Beach.

Where can we find more information about you?
By the time my week comes up to run I hope to have my blog up and, too, a Twitter account.

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Contributor Spotlight: Emily Jo Scalzo

Santiago - Mountains and meEmily Jo Scalzo’s piece “Growing Pains” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 15, out now.

How long have you been writing?
Since I was extremely young. When I was about 4 or 5, I decided I wanted to rewrite Disney movie stories with a heroine rather than a hero, as I just couldn’t relate to the damsel in distress. I’d dictate to my mother, who would type them up for me. Once I learned to read I just kind of exploded with writing, though most of what I wrote as a child is lost on an extremely old computer operating on DOS with Windows 3.1. I think I’d probably be embarrassed to read it now. I wrote poetry and fiction in high school, as well, and was an honorable mention in the poetry contest for the high school literary magazine.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, and then spent my undergraduate years at Purdue. I kind of consider myself a hybrid Chicagoan-Hoosier. I left the Midwest for graduate school but missed it and returned right afterward. I taught in Chicago Heights and Kankakee, Illinois, and Gary, Indiana before moving to Muncie, Indiana.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
A lot of what I write is very place-based, and heavily influenced by my experiences in the Midwest. It’s difficult for me to imagine a place without thunderstorms and humidity, piles of snow in the winter, fields of corn and soybeans. That’s why I felt out of place outside of the Midwest. Often my written settings are in the Midwest when I write fiction, and form a real basis of my poetry. I also read a lot of place-based writing, and much of it from or set in the Midwest.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
Really, the Midwest is the breadbasket. In some ways, maybe people felt there wasn’t a need, or that it might be boring? In my experience, there has been a push, but while I was also studying and writing in Indiana, and we explored Hoosier writers especially. Regional Midwest writing isn’t a new thing; after all, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio is a fairly famous piece of regional Midwest fiction. Also consider Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as regionalist literature. Even Ray Bradbury, normally associated with science fiction, wrote about his Illinois hometown experience in Dandelion Wine. In terms of nonfiction, one of my favorites is A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, focused on Michigan. I don’t think it’s really a new thing, though maybe it hasn’t been as recognized everywhere.

Of course, something to explore is this almost cultural misconception that the Midwest was a place to escape for the West Coast or New York City, and somehow with less history than the South. Perhaps that’s wrapped up in the smaller regionalist push for Midwestern writing?

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I use it erratically, to be honest. Sometimes I’ll post to Twitter, though honestly I use that more often to interact with the Cubs sportscasters and fans during games. (Go Cubs!) My Facebook is locked down, so it’s mostly just to let friends know about publication. Although I don’t use it much, I really don’t mind if my writing is promoted via social media, and many of the literary journals and magazines I’ve been a part of have promoted through social media.

Favorite book?
You’re going to make me choose? That’s evil. I’m going to cheat a little and go with genres, and books I’ve read recently or are currently reading. For fiction, I’m savoring Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine currently, though I’ve never come across anything by him I disliked. For poetry, I recently read Urban Tumbleweed: Notes from a Tanka Diary by Harryette Mullen, and I loved that—though I’m also fond of Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Pablo Neruda. For nonfiction, my most recent read, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was Oh Myyy! (There Goes the Internet): Life, the Internet and Everything by George Takei.

Favorite food?
This is similarly a difficult question, but I’ll go with saag paneer. Give me that, naan, and maybe some gulab jamun, and I’m happy. I love various cuisines, though, and could also happily choose sukiyaki and unagi nigiri, bul-go-gi, or of course (being a Chicagoan) pizza.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
No contest, Walt Whitman.

Where can we find more information about you?
The Google has some information on me, of course, as well as other publications. I also have a faculty profile at the Ball State University blog: http://bsuenglish.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/new-faculty-profile-prof-emily-scalzo/

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Issue 16 cover and contributor listing

The frantic pace of the holidays is almost upon us, and the Midwest doesn’t make it any easier with more than our fair share of cold, snow and more cold. With the holidays comes the new year, and that means a new issue is right around the corner! Take some time out from decorating and shopping to check out the cover for Issue 16 (Winter 2015)!

Issue16_Winter2015_cover copy

Cover image copyright (c) Michael Lambert.

And what an absolutely rock-solid line-up we have in this issue. Check it out:

Issue16_Winter2015_cover

We are so excited for Issue 16, and hope you will be too. It is slated to release January 1, 2015—mark your calendars!

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Contributor Spotlight: Mark Maire

P1070173 (2)MarkMark Maire’s piece “Downstate Summer” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 14, out now.

How long have you been writing?
I still remember a tenth grade English assignment to describe a room. I don’t remember if it could be a room of our choosing, or if we all wrote about the same room as depicted in a book or magazine—this was about 1971, long before photo sharing sites or even home computers. I liked the assignment, and sensed the beginning of something while working on it. At the time the only school subjects I remember liking much were Art and Geometry, so this assignment gave me at least part of a third one to like. It was around this time that I made my first attempts at writing poems. I hope there are no surviving copies of any of them.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I’m a lifelong Midwesterner, and for most of my adult life have been a Northlander. About thirty years ago a new job brought me to the small city/big town of Duluth, at the western tip of Lake Superior in northeastern Minnesota. I’ve lived here ever since.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
As much more than a stage setting or a backdrop, something that operates at the level of instinct.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
Maybe it’s just as well that there hasn’t been. A sense of place can overwhelm the subject matter so that it’s no longer just an element of the whole. Another factor may be that the Midwest is far more varied than many people realize. People tend to identify with their sub-region. The landscape of Duluth and the north shore of Lake Superior is often compared to coastal Norway, and indeed Duluth is a very Nordic town. Few picture this landscape when they think Midwest, but it’s all part of it.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I haven’t really to promote my own writing, but I think it’s a good thing that people can.

Favorite book?
If I had to name just one it would be Swimming in the Flood, a collection of poems by John Burnside. My favorite novel is The Red and the Black by Stendhal. I love the short story collections Next to Nothing and The Smallest People Alive by Keith Banner. A recent favorite is the story collection Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry.

Favorite food?
Homemade blueberry pancakes with strong coffee.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I don’t really want to meet any of the living authors I like most. If the experience went badly, my appreciation of their work would be tainted if not ruined. To me it’s just not worth the risk. However, since they are all long dead and we will never meet in the flesh, I would say coffee with Caroline Gordon, blackberry brandy with Emily Dickinson, and retsina wine with Marcus Aurelius.

Where can we find more information about you?
One question I’m always asked—how do you pronounce your last name? That’s easy. It rhymes with Voltaire. Other than that, I think some mystery is a good thing. If you’re wondering about something, though, feel free to ask: mark3133 (at) gmail.com.

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Interview: Jim Daniels

DC H&SS, Jim Daniels, March 14 2014Midwestern Gothic staffer Jamie Monville talked with author, poet and screenwriter Jim Daniels about working in different genres,  the relationship between Detroit and the rest of Michigan, collaborating with other artists, and more.

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Jamie Monville: What’s your connection to the Midwest?

Jim Daniels: I was born in Detroit and lived in Michigan until I went to grad school in Bowling Green, Ohio, and from there I moved to Pittsburgh, where I have lived ever since, so I’ve lived in the Midwest all my life. Some may disagree, but I believe Pittsburgh is the eastern edge of the Midwest. We’re certainly not east coast.

JM: Both Detroit, where you were born, and Pittsburgh, where you have lived for many years, have a similar story of their main industry failing and a strong will to rebuild, which Pittsburgh found a way to do fairly successfully and Detroit is still working on. Being from both places, how do you view the similarities? What do you believe makes the two cities distinct?

JD: definitely true that I felt at home in Pittsburgh rather quickly. Of course, you can’t generalize about an entire population, but I do feel that Detroiters and Pittsburghers tend to be pretty straight and direct—they tell you what they think—everything’s up front, and I like that. Pittsburgh is much more compact than Detroit, which is one of the reasons it was able to recover from the decline of the steel industry. The neighborhoods here are still intact, whereas in Detroit, many neighborhoods are simply gone.

JM: Eight Mile High is the third of your short story collections that focuses specifically on Detroit. What is it about Detroit that inspires you to write a short story as opposed to a poem or a screenplay?

JD: A lot of my poetry focuses on Detroit too—while I write about many other subjects, I keep coming back to the Detroit area in all genres. It’s not so much that I keep coming back, but I keep getting pulled back. I think my writing about Detroit is a way of trying to figure out the answer to that question. In Eight Mile High, I decided to zoom in further on a very specific location, a working-class suburb on the edge of the city. Eight Mile Road, made famous by Eminem’s film, Eight Mile, carries a lot of symbolic significance in the Detroit area. While in the other collections, I might have been blurring the line between Detroit and the suburbs, here I wanted to highlight that line. I carry that place around with me—so even when I’m writing about Pittsburgh, I’m still writing about Detroit. Since Detroit is only a few hours’ drive from Pittsburgh and I still have a lot of family and friends there, I get back often, so it is still an active part of my present life as well.

JM: You started your career primarily publishing poetry collections, and since 2003 have consistently come out with short story collections every three to four years—like Detroit Tales in 2003, Mr. Pleasant in 2007, Trigger Man: More Tales of the Motor City in 2011, and Eight Mile High in 2014. In addition, you have release a poetry collection almost every year—like All of the Above in 2011, Birth Marks in 2013—as well as the occasional screenplay. Why do you think that your writing has followed this specific trend?

JD: I tend to write a lot, and it’s fun and stimulating to shift gears into totally different forms with their own challenges and techniques. Writing fiction allows me to challenge myself in a different genre while continuing to find outlets for my work. I probably read more fiction than poetry, so it’s always been a part of me as a writer, but I’ve enjoyed focusing on it more since 2000, writing more extensive, complex narratives ( I don’t think I have a novel in me—not that extensive). I love the short story and what I can do with dialogue and character that I can’t do in poetry.

As I’ve gotten older, the challenge of trying new forms and changing things up has been very stimulating. I’ve enjoyed collaborating with other artists in both the films and the work I’ve done with the photographer Charlee Brodsky, pairing my poems with her photos in the books Street and From Milltown to Malltown. Charlee and I are working on two new collaborations, “Trace” and “The Rocks.” Her subject is often urban landscapes and people, just like me, so we work well together.

I am also collaborating with my filmmaking partner, the director John Rice, on a new film, The End of Blessings. We’re in post-production on that. I find the collaborative process very stimulating so that when I go back in my tiny room alone to write I feel rejuvenated through working with others.

JM: How do you see your story collections in conversation with each other as well as contemporary literature about the state of Michigan and Detroit specifically?

JD: Last year, I wrote the introduction to a great anthology of poems about Michigan, Poetry in Michigan, Michigan in Poetry, edited by Jack Ridl and Bill Olsen, and reading those poems reminded me of all the rich poetry that uses Michigan as a setting. I certainly want to be part of that “conversation”—I was thrilled that my last book of poems, Birth Marks, was selected as a Michigan Notable Book last year. The relationship between Detroit and the rest of the state is very complicated, and I like the tension and energy that creates. I’ve written about how some Detroiters mythologize the idea of getting a place “Up North.” You’ve got all this incredible natural beauty up north in contrast with the grit of the city.

In terms of my story collections, it’s hard for me to articulate how they are different from each other, beyond the zoom on Eight Mile in the new book. I think there’s a tension between leaving and staying put that shows up from book to book.

9781611861426JM: You have written a screenplay that expanded into a short story collection (No Pets), a story collection that expanded into a screenplay (Mr. Pleasant), and a screenplay that stands alone (Dumpster). What was it about No Pets and Mr. Pleasant that required more attention in a different genre?

JD: In both cases, the choice of stories to adapt into screenplays came from the directors of the films. One thing that’s been great about Pittsburgh is the outstanding arts community. Because Pittsburgh is a lot smaller than most people think (we continue to lose population, just not at the same rate as Detroit), you get to know people in the other arts and most of them are more than willing to collaborate on projects. Tony Buba, who directed No Pets, and John Rice, who directed the other films, have both become good friends. They each read the stories and suggested that I try and turn them into screenplays. I write and produce the films, and—since we basically are making no-budget films—participate in everything from casting to editing to making sure cast and crew get fed. The directors have the visual sense of what stories might make an interesting film, so I tend to trust them on that.

The big challenge—and I’m always looking for challenges—is to translate the story to script without being able to say what anyone is thinking. In fiction, I do that all the time, but on screen, there are no thought bubbles. And I have to rely and trust the director, the cast, the crew, etc., to help make the internal external.

JM: What is your process to figure out in which genre you want write the story you’re trying to tell?

JD: I guess I don’t exactly have a process—it ends up being instinctual at first. I just start writing and see how things start to fall. Though dialogue ends up being an important factor in the decision. If I find myself writing a lot of dialogue, that’s probably going to be a short story rather than a poem. And if there are a couple of central characters of relative equal importance, that might lead to a story too.

JM: What’s next for you?

JD: I think I mentioned the new collaborations with Charlee Brodsky. We’re starting to publish that work in journals and are working on a gallery show for next year, and we should be done editing the new film within the next few months, then, of course, new poems and stories. Keeping busy. Always keeping busy.

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Jim Daniels’ fourteenth book of poems, Birth Marks, was published by BOA Editions in 2013 and was selected as a Michigan Notable Book, winner of the Milton Kessler Poetry Book Award, and received the Gold Medal in Poetry in the Independent Publisher Book Awards. His fifth book of short fiction, Eight Mile High, was published by Michigan State University Press in 2014. Other recent books include Trigger Man: More Tales of the Motor City, fiction, (Winner, Midwest Book Award), Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry, (Poetry Gold Medal, Independent Publisher Book Awards), and All of the Above, all published in 2011. In 2010, he wrote and produced the independent film Mr. Pleasant, his third produced screenplay, which appeared in a number of film festivals across the country, and From Milltown to Malltown (a collaborative book with photographs of Homestead, PA, by Charlee Brodsky), was published. His poems have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, in Billy Collins’ Poetry 180 anthologies, and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry series. His poem “Factory Love” is displayed on the roof of a race car. He has received the Brittingham Prize for Poetry, the Tillie Olsen Prize, the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and two from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His poems have appeared in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry anthologies. A native of Detroit, Daniels is the Thomas Stockham University Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. He lives in Pittsburgh with his family.

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Contributor Spotlight: Brendan Williams-Childs

036Brendan Williams-Childs’ story “Outside New Knoxville” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 15, out now.

How long have you been writing?
It feels like it’s been a long time! But really, I’ve only been writing seriously for the last three years. Before that, it was all high-school and middle-school stuff about vampires and robots. I still write about robots, but, you know, better robots.

What’s your connection to the Midwest?
I have a lot of family that comes from the Midwest in round-about ways. My paternal grandmother is from Ohio, actually not too far from where I set my piece. My mother and all of her family are from Flint, Michigan. My roommate is from Minnesota and one of my best friends from high-school went to college in Northern Ohio. I’ve been a frequent visitor to the Midwest, and I’ve been living with Midwesterners all my life in some way or another.

How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
Being from Wyoming, I’m used to the idea that, for many writers on the coasts, the West is a place of legends. It has a legendary kind of status. But for me, I grew up with the Legends of the Midwest. Spending time with my mother and her family in Michigan, hearing from my father about “summers in Ohio” when he was growing up… All of these things created a kind of mythic Midwest for me. I try to capture the kind of myths I grew up with, while also trying to get the details right about the time I’ve spent in the Midwest as an adult. The Midwest is different for everyone who comes from it or goes to it, so finding the peace between the idea and the lived experience is what drives my writing.

Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
Well, the South is one thing and the West Coast is another entirely.

Southern Gothic, as I’ve experienced it, arises from the deep and visceral need to express pain. The pain of the Civil War and the struggles that came after that etc. John Counts, who was a contributor in Issue 14 of Midwestern Gothic, said that the conflict and aftermath in the South was “downright biblical” and I think he hit the nail on the head with that comment.

And I don’t know how to best express how I feel about West Coast lit. While there’s certainly the element of disillusionment that you’ll find in its mysteries and dramas, I always get the sense that it’s very proud of itself. Which isn’t a bad thing, but when you think about, say, California, you always think about the end of a long journey. For pioneers to aspiring actors etc, it’s very much a place that feels like it deserves to be celebrated through the struggles. Of course, California doesn’t define West Coast lit. I’m just tragically unfamiliar with works about Oregon or Washington.

Anyway, I think for a long time that, because the Midwest was seen as part of a journey and not a destination, people didn’t feel comfortable writing about it the same way they would write about the South or the West Coast. But, and I know a lot of other contributors have said this, I see a huge push against this now. Everyone I know from the Midwest is very proud of their home states or has a better vision of where they’re from, and they want to share it. And with the internet, there’s no reason that a writer has to move to New York or Los Angeles and write about those places to be considered legitimate. Thank goodness.

How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I wish I was better at it! But right now I don’t feel totally confident in trying to promote myself on any social media sites because I’m still so new to the game. Eventually, I think, I’ll set up a little CV or a blog, but for now I use social media recreationally. Although I do have a LinkedIn.

Favorite book?
It’s a very real three-way tossup between Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories (which I know isn’t really a book, more an anthology), Joyce Carol Oates’ The Rise of Life on Earth and Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho.

Favorite food?
My favorite regional food is anything with elk but my favorite anytime food is definitely macaroni and cheese with hotdogs.

If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I used to think Hemingway, but I don’t think I could keep up if I tried to get drinks with him. I’d have to say either Ray Bradbury (“The Martian Chronicles” has really inspired a great deal of my speculative fiction work) or Joyce Carol Oates, who I actually met at the National Book Festival last year, which was really neat. She seems like a very nice woman, and I feel like she would have great things to say about regional literature.

Where can we find more information about you?
Right now, maybe on Twitter? I’m trying to get better at using it, but I get a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of great small presses and news orgs that I follow. Anyway, you can tweet at me at @bwilliamschilds or, until May of 2015, you can e-mail me at amlitmag@gmail.com which is the e-mail of the undergraduate literary magazine I’m running on campus.

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