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Ken Meisel’s piece “Desultory Refrain for Packard Plant, Detroit” 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 was born in Detroit. I suppose every empty field, every forlorn statue, every city park and every gathering of haggard trees influences me. Every darkened viaduct, every filled cistern and every factory, where time unravels itself, connects me to this region’s odd atmospheric distances. I love abandoned old cars, the way boys shoot hoops in the city parks, and I believe extravagantly in a city’s dusky winter evenings and also in its summertime festivals. The wind carries the pathos and passions of the Midwest. I also love the monotone chromatics of the hidden insects in a dark cornfield. Or along a lonesome river bed. Something about all this makes me slip backward, into imagination. Into a disorganization that makes me collect myself anew.
What do you think is the most compelling aspect of the Midwest?
Distance and atmospheric absence. Also, the way people search for one another. People seek one another to touch a sense of lonesome, but vital intimacy. We in the Midwest were formed along hope and opportunity lines. Our temperament is one of being forced together and then scattered or ripped apart, pulled open and wounded and then sewn up again. And we live with one another within a familiar and yet estranged tendency. The culture of the Midwest organizes in a terms of a long-standing economic and socio-cultural permeation. We’re a product of an arranged marriage with one another – all of us – as a Midwest culture. And we clash and separate and we re-unify along permeation lines. To write within such an arrangement is like fighting and making up inside a circumstantial, but filial marriage. The tension, the passion, the sorrow, the breakdown and the other-ache never truly
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?
My memories of living in Detroit during its fall from grace forms much of the interior atmosphere of my writing, especially when I am writing about the city. And that inner atmosphere is one of feeling chosen, of feeling warm and triumphant, and yet cold and misbegotten, like a strange, absorbed catastrophe. Something fervid and forlorn is forged together. My poem, Desultory Refrain for the Packard Plant, is about the absorbing state one finds oneself inexplicably in, when wandering through old, glorious buildings or abandoned factories. One is absorbed fully by oblivion’s muted, impersonal grace.
Discuss your writing process — inspirations, ideal environments, how you deal with writer’s block.
My writing is like wresting myself out of a dark cocoon. I start with a light and then I roll and I tumble into it – into a dark, lost remembering. And when I am fully into it, I remember, and then I write the poem. When I have writer’s block, I refuse to write. Mostly I read philosophy or other poets, or I walk alone through the city or into deep woods so as to clear myself completely out. Writer’s block usually means I’ve been very productive, and I now need to integrate who I’ve been; what I’ve done, what I’ve constructed and de-constructed. And I need to feel my otherness, apart from writing, in order to re-enter writing, and that’s because I mistrust my identity-formation as a poet. I get too attracted or too attached to a particular style, and I confuse myself that I am that style. I tether too easily to a style. Style becomes an approval audience that I am conformed to. So I must escape the style again, in order to get free; in order to maintain my free autonomy. Nothing in my writing process feels secure. I’m intrinsically like a pariah, opportunistic and unfaithful, like an anxious bird.
How can you tell when a piece of writing is finished?
A poem is complete when I feel no irritation at its ending.
Who is your favorite author (fiction writer or poet), and what draws you to their work?
I have no favorite, but I truly enjoy reading Larry Levis, Mary Oliver, Mark Doty, Galway Kinnell, Pablo Neruda, Rumi, Jack Gilbert, Walt Whitman, Louise Gluck, Wallace Stevens, Robert Hass and Philip Levine. What draws me to their work is their use of liberated color, imaginative discourse, and their propensity to argue for an intelligent and yet, anti-intellectual humanity, and I love their absolute willingness to confront the illusions intrinsic to the ego sense of self. The heart’s leaping into hope and rapture is defended in their work. Here in Michigan, I read Joy Gaines-Friedler, John Rybicki, and Russell Thorburn. Each of these poets’ style of writing wakes me up when I’m stuck.
What’s next for you?
I have a new book entitled “Mortal Lullabies’’ forthcoming from FutureCycle Press in May, 2018. It’s a book of poems about grief, mourning and loss. How the self deconstructs and is constructed once again during loss and its aftermath.
Where can we find more information about you?
I have no web site. You can read interviews by me at Geosi Reads and at Midwest Gothic. Or buy my last two books through FutureCycle Press. I donate the proceeds of my book sales to charities and/or worthwhile organizations. I will be donating the proceeds of Mortal Lullabies, my next book, to an organization that educates and provides resources to people regarding the very serious and troubling topic of suicide. It’s called Kevin’s Song, right here in Michigan. Interested parties can read about Kevin’s Song online. Donating my proceeds to an organization such as this one provides an additional, true value outside of just selling my books for a personal profit. It keeps me humble and honest, and full of hope.