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Alysse McCanna’s piece “Taking Up the Dock” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Winter 2018 issue, out now.
What’s your connection to the Midwest, and how has the region influenced your writing?
I grew up in Oshkosh and Appleton, two small cities in eastern Wisconsin. My family has a cabin on Washington Island, a rural part of Door County off the northernmost point of Wisconsin’s peninsula. I spent a lot of time there when I began seriously writing poetry, and creating in such a peaceful, productive place (swinging on a hammock, watching the waves of Lake Michigan) was a blessing. Even in a Midwestern city, nature is never very far away, and I know that as a writer I can venture into nature, wherever I am, to find inspiration and solace.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
I’ve lived my entire adult life outside of the Midwest, and I still miss the people and the dialect. There’s a genuine friendliness to Midwesterners—they’re welcoming and generous. Also, I love the nasally lilt of Midwestern accents, and immediately feel a kinship with anyone I meet who speaks with one—plus, I know I’ve stayed too long at my parents’ when I start to speak with a UP drawl!
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?
Place-based writing can be immediate or might follow me around for a while, waiting for the right moment to reenter my consciousness. “Taking up the Dock” draws on specific childhood memories from the shores of Lake Butte des Morts in Oshkosh. My parents and I lived in a little house with a lush backyard, full of tall trees, that sloped down to the lake. Each spring my father’s many brothers would visit with their wives and kids and help put in the dock. In the fall, everyone would visit again and bring the dock up for the winter. This seasonal routine, and its eventual end when we moved away, rattled around in my brain for years before I found a place for it on the page.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
I usually write best in the early morning with a cup of coffee, although inspiration can strike anywhere. While my academic writing requires silence and no distractions, my creative writing thrives on the interruptions of daily life. I wash a few dishes, fold laundry, walk the dog, or sweep the house to let ideas percolate. Physical movement allows my body to feel and occupy spaces in a way that can unlock the words for which I’m searching.
I don’t believe in writer’s block—I think there’s times of intense productivity and times where words on the page are few, but we’re always composing and editing and revising in our heads. We’re always storing memories, images, conversations, words. If I’m feeling stuck, I try to pay closer attention to the everyday—there’s magic hidden there, you know. If that doesn’t work, I pick up a book and read what someone else has written—it’s a guaranteed way to bring something to the surface.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
I rarely feel that a piece of writing is finished! Sometimes a tight, concise poem can’t get any smaller, and I feel it’s as close to done as can be. Usually, though, I fiddle with my poems until submission deadlines approach—then I just cross my fingers and send them off into the great unknown.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
I’m obsessed with the poet CAConrad. His last several books are what he’s termed “(Soma)tics,” guides to unlocking the oft-unnoticed, weird and wonderful intricacies of daily life. He’s wildly funny, heartbreakingly genuine, and completely unlike any poet I’ve read before.
What’s next for you?
After completing my required coursework in the English graduate program at Oklahoma State University next year, I’ll be studying for qualifying exams, then drafting my creative dissertation and preparing for defense. With any luck, I’ll receive my PhD in 2021!
Where can we find more information about you?
alyssemccanna.com, @alyssekathleen on Twitter.