M.V. Montgomery is an English and film professor at Life University in Atlanta. He is the author of three previous poetry collections: Joshu Holds a Press Conference, What We Did With Old Moons, and Strange Conveyances, which Muscle & Blood Magazine named best poetry book of 2010. His creative work has appeared in over a hundred literary journals and e-zines in a dozen countries and has been nominated for Best of the Net, Pushcart, and PEN/Faulkner awards. He sat down with Midwestern Gothic poetry editor Christina Olson to talk shop and his new collection, The Island of Charles Foster Kane.
Midwestern Gothic: Describe the process of putting a collection of poetry together–particularly The Island of Charles Foster Kane, which alternates between prose, prose poems, and poems. Do you start with individual poems, and look for themes? Or do you start with a theme and write around it? Or some other process?
M.V. Montgomery: What the poems and short pieces in CFK have in common are pop culture references and the use of pop forms such as tweets, dialogue fragments, songs and jokes. At first, this was only a loose connection, a way to group together different pieces I had recently published, and then it became a dominant as I looked to expand the book around the theme. That’s typical for me: my first poetry book (Joshu Holds a Press Conference) found its focus as a commentary on a series of historical figures, and my previous book, What We Did With Old Moons, gradually evolved into a collection of made-up mythologies.
MG: Poetry isn’t as widely read as fiction–why do you think that is?
MVM: Primarily because poetry isn’t fiction. This may be a hobbyhorse of mine, but nearly all contemporary poetry is expected to be autobiographical, with an “I” as a speaker who is interchangeable with the poet as a waking person. That is rather limiting, and sometimes not so fun. Contrast this with the kinds of poetry kids like to read, which is more often fiction, unapologetically—verses about made-up creatures, journeys to faraway places, or comical narratives with surprising twists. Kids have a natural affinity for poetry, as I can attest after a recent reading at an elementary school. What I set out to do in What We Did With Old Moons was to try to bridge some of that lost gap between a childhood and an adult response to poetry.
MG: How would you “sell” someone who’d never read a book of poetry on picking up their first book?
MVM: For The Island of CFK, I think it helps to mention that there are a lot of jokes in it. I know a lot of people who don’t read who will read joke books. Or I might say, there’s a poem about Oprah in it. I know a lot of people who don’t read who miss Oprah. What I might neglect to point out is that some of the jokes are somewhat literary and surreal, or that some of the celebrity encounters didn’t actually happen as such.
MG: I notice that there are series of poems in this book–
“Three Poems for Children,” “Three Songs,” “Three Gothic Poems”–as well as pieces that aren’t quite poems but have a similar structure (“Sixteen Stories Without Beginnings or Endings,” etc.). Can you speak a little bit about this concept, and how you decided to work in these series?
MVM: I’m always interested in back-to-back dreams, how they may pick up a motif or tonality from each other (“Sixteen Stories”). I also, quite often, like to practice a little indirect exegesis of a literary form. “Three Gothic Poems” illustrates, consecutively, some of the characteristics commonly associated with the Gothic such as morbid subject matter, ever-more outlandish twists, and a speaker who is “haunted” by the past. And last, whereas I tend to be a minimalist at most times, sometimes it is really is much like those AT&T commercials insist; that more is just better: more poetry for the kids, more musical tracks on the playlist.
MG: Are there ever times where you feel uninspired? How do you work through that?
MVM: I usually stay busy with things other than writing, so it’s a luxury to have a morning free to sit down to write. There always seems to be more than I can keep up with re. submissions and e-mails, , so I’ll work on those if I don’t feel particularly inspired, or just start expanding on an idea and see where it goes.
MVM: I don’t believe, if you scanned these works into a computer programmed for such a purpose, you would necessarily get a “Midwestern” read-out: the themes and celebrity guests tend to belong to society in general. But in terms of the sense of humor, there might be a more nebulous Midwestern quality. My speakers tend to be a slightly self-effacing and sentimental. They aren’t exactly movers and shakers.
MG: Anaphora Literary Press publishes a broad and dynamic range of work, both fiction and poetry. What drew you to them?
MVM: Initially, CFK was actually accepted by another Press, Ephemera, which unfortunately lived up to its name by going out of business. So I was pleased to run across Anaphora in New Pages and agree that it doesn’t really specialize. What authors can expect from them, I think, is a prompt turnaround time and quite a lot of control over production design.
MG: What’s next for you?
MVM: I just had a collection of fiction called Beyond the Pale published through Winter Goose, the publisher of What We Did With Old Moons. It contains fifteen short stories with a Hollywood-meets-the-supernatural theme. I also have an e-chapbook of poems coming out soon through Kind of a Hurricane Press called Animal Symbols. I hope to expand it into a full-length collection sometime next year.