Z.G. Tomaszewski’s poem “Ethel Ave” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 20, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
My Midwest was initially inherited. I was born in Grand Rapids, to Manistee-born parents. My chosen Midwest is mostly water and woods, it is also all the abandoned factories from childhood, those ages not all too long ago misplaced, but being explored.
My earliest influences were rivers—naturally, they still are. What I find irreplaceable, beyond that, in our great state, are all my fellow writers, those who have come before me. When I was younger, acknowledging my own seriousness toward writing, I would walk into a bookshop, new or used, and be thrilled to pull from a shelf the books from Wayne State or New Issues. These presses have had a significant role in my writing. If I wasn’t reading and connecting to many of the Michigan poets they published, there’s no question I would not have been as encouraged to write, keep writing, and enter the conversation. So, for me, Midwest writers, rivers, forests, lakeshores, alleyways, old houses, all that’s on the map.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
It’s an incredible, ill-defined territory. Seems as though every time I consider the Midwest it gains shape or losses something. I like that orphic quality.
How do your experiences or memories of specific places—such as where you grew up, or a place you’ve visited that you can’t get out of your head—play a role in your writing?
One role as a writer has been as the anthropologist-traveler. Or, a river. Leaving the known, collecting and depositing, and so on, then returning to the known and making it unknown again.
Place is central. I once heard someone say, “We’re all born with a way of walking through space.” That’s poetry. The poem, then, is realizing how we’re walking through what space.
Of course, I have lived outside the Midwest: Vermont and Montana, and have journeyed at length elsewhere. I think saying I’m from the Midwest is just to say ‘I’m from some where.’ Generally it’s easier to identify our geography than who we are or what we’re all about. Place gives us a starting point. Well, at least some coordinate on the map of the other. We are born of place, to be placed. One is harder than the other.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I’m not inspired to write. I’m inspired to paint, draw, sculpt. Do I do these? No. So I struggle to for a second and, ultimately, resign to write. I do not experience writers block. There’s no invisible wall put up by metaphysical masons in my mind. I do not need Murakami’s “entrance stone” to push through. Look at it this way: I’m living, breathing. How is that not composition? You know, it’s a matter of metabolizing. When I’m not actively writing, which is more often than doing so, I’m still thinking about writing, reading, experiencing the world and its sensory stimuli. Now, if I think I wrote a masterpiece a year ago and haven’t written what’s felt like another since, well, that’s another thing altogether that I do not choose to be involved with. Call it writers block if you must. Maybe you’re trying to hard. Maybe there’s too much ego at stake.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
There’s that troubled question. To answer it is more troubling. How do I talk about a feeling I have especially if I do not know where its source is? When one writes, has been writing for a long time, and that person is all the while reading and rereading, then I believe they will come to encounter their intuition more. Intuition is a primal wisdom. It’s reaction already born within the action. All I’m saying is, trust it; it knows its place better than you know its place. Listen and listen and listen to your response. After that, listen and listen and listen to other responses. Those perceptions will enhance your own. They will, believe it or not, inform your view of what you have been working on.
A mountain has a different view of the river than a tree or the bird flying out from the tree or a grasshopper or the fern.
It’s like the cycle of rain. Remember making a pinwheel in elementary school, how the rain comes from clouds, how the clouds form from groundswell and all that? The poem is elemental. Catch the instant of transition and you’ve got something.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
I’m drawn to a shared awareness of emotional truths. When it’s written with unquestionable honesty—whatever that means—and if the imagination informs reality or vice versa, that’s enough to attract me. There’s not one topic or motif that I’m brought in by. Anyhow, I return to Stanley Kunitz, Li-Young Lee, Patricia Fargnoli, Hermann Hesse, Seamus Heaney, Huraki Murakami, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the works of Rilke. Tomorrow I might add the brotherhood of James Galvin, Donald Hall, Philip Levine, James Wright, and Galway Kinnell. Yesterday, at any given minute, you could’ve heard me mentioning at the bus stop Robert Haight, John Rybicki, Robert Fanning, Judith Minty, Patricia Clark; then, before the door closed: Russell Thorburn, Chris Dombrowski, whispering ‘Oliver’ and ‘Frost’ to myself as the engine heated back up.
What’s next for you?
My first book of poems, All Things Dusk, was just published by Hong Kong University Press—chosen by Li-Young Lee as the 2014 International Poetry Prize winner. So, I’m going on the road, periodically, reading here and there. Furthermore, my second volume, from which “Down on Ethel Avenue” is on loan here, feels situated but waiting to be housed.
Where can we find more information about you?
HKU Press/Columbia University Press. My author WordPress. Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters. Plus, new poems in The Cortland Review, Ruminate Magazine, diode, and The 3288 Review.