Thursday, December 18, 2014

Interview with Essayist, Novelist, and Poet Okla Elliott


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  

 
Michael T. Young: Thank you, Okla, for agreeing to an interview.  
 
Your new collection of poems, The Cartographer’s Ink, has such a wonderfully provocative title.  I wondered if you could comment on the title itself and the significance it has for the collection.  What is it meant to suggest?
 
Okla Elliott: I recall precisely when I came up with the title. I was taking what I call a brain-walk, which is when I take a break from work and just wander around aimlessly for about an hour, thinking through some movement of a piece I am working on, or just wrestling with whatever political or philosophical conundrum is caffeinating me at the time. That evening, I was running through possible titles for the collection, just letting random associations play out as they would. Then the title just popped into my head, and I knew it was the title for the book without any doubt at all. In a way, the entire collection is a mapping of personal, cultural, and literal geographies, thus the cartographer of the title seemed fitting to me. And there was something pleasantly undefined about the idea of a cartographer’s ink. I imagined it as still in its bottle, on an eighteenth-century desk, textured paper of an unmade map of some uncharted territory beside it. I know that’s very specific and awfully Romantic-sounding, but that’s how the image came to me along with the title that evening walking across University of Illinois’s campus on one of my little brain-walks.
 
 
Michael T. Young: Birds show up in this collection in significant places, at the end of sections and in the last poem.  What do you see as the significance of the birds in the collection, what they symbolize, perhaps?  
 
Okla Elliott: All of these dark birds and birds-that-aren’t-really-birds—but rather bats or war jets—kept popping up in my poems for about a year. In fact, I had to discard several poems because they got too repetitive, but my general rule is to trust these unconscious or semi-conscious obsessions, because the unconscious and semi-conscious parts of our mind are often smarter than the conscious parts.
 
It is worth noting that no pretty birdies show up, only birds of prey or death. The only colorful bird in the entire book is a dead cardinal, so it’s safe to say these aren’t spring birds singing in the joys of new life, but rather autumnal birds reminding us of death and human destruction. Not sure if that says something good or bad about me or the poems, but it is what it is. There is also something defiantly transgressive about many of the birds in the collection. And they often have companions in their apocalyptic landscapes. This suggests that even in a world in drastic decline, they are not without hope, and companionship can help ward off the sufferings of the world. They’re not completely bleak figures, in other words.
 
 
Michael T. Young:   A number of the poems, especially toward the beginning of the collection, deal with historical events or confrontations with the past such as the poems “Blackened,” “Visiting Lenin’s Tomb” or “Alien War, Human War.”  What do you see as the importance of confronting these elements in the past in the context of the collection?
 
Okla Elliott: The geography I am mapping is partially personal, but it is also cultural and historical. You might have seen one of the various internet memes showing all the violent conflicts around the world over the past century. If you haven’t, go find one. It proves that any cartography of human culture that leaves out war and other historical calamities would be delusionally remiss in its duties to historical truth and intellectual honesty. I teach Holocaust studies at the University of Illinois, and my dissertation deals with trauma centrally, so these are interests of mine, but we just have to read the Senate Torture Report or any number of history books produced every day to know that these sorts of events are ubiquitous.
 
 
Michael T. Young: “Learning Russian (a Letter to My Schizophrenic Mother)” says, “You’re not what I keep of you” and “Pointless Movement” says, “Our patterned selves, playing at being ourselves.”  Over the course of the book, the poems seem to wrestle with the conflict between our social or public self and our genuine identity.  Do you see this as central to the collection?  In what way?  Also, do you see this as a general problem we face in our society: that is, conflicting versions of the self?  
 
Okla Elliott: Issues of the self are philosophically and psychologically complex, which is part of my point in this book and other things I’ve written, particularly in my creative nonfiction. The first thing I feel pretty certain of—and there is very little we can be certain of on this subject—is that there is no stable self. Everything from Buddhism to existentialist philosophy to contemporary cognitive psychology bears this out. Our psyches are a series of patterns always in a state of flux, however subtle or slow that flux might be—though often it is incredibly fast (just think of the vast changes in our desires and demeanors that occur during puberty).
 
This is why, when I hear someone say “be yourself,” I cringe. There is no permanent, settled self for me to be. Even over the course of a single day, what I want or think will change drastically. We are ever-changing projects, and the only way we can judge our authenticity is at a given moment and in a particular situation. What is hardest is to not feel beholden to past selves and therefore stick to beliefs or patterns of behavior that are no longer valid for the new self we are and the new selves slowly emerging on the horizon.
 
If there is a conflict between this flux of selves and society, it is that society insists as often as possible that we remain one ossified version of ourselves in perpetuity. If you change your taste in music, your style of dress, or your political beliefs, etc., or if you ditch your religion, society tends to punish you as being fickle or flimsy of character. So, in effect, there is a lot of pressure to stay consistent in our patterns of self, even when those patterns are antiquated artifacts of previous selves that no longer hold authentic interest for us. I mean, how many times have you watched someone hold onto an affectation that was part of his/her identity long after an honest interest in it was gone? How often have we all done this?
 
Michael T. Young: Nikola Tesla turns up in more than one poem in the collection.  What is his importance to you and to the collection? 
 
Okla Elliott: I began college as a physics and computer programming double-major and remain an amateur enthusiast for science. Newton and Tesla both make appearances in the book, as does science more generally. I think I like those two figures because they were basically so smart it drove them insane, yet the visionary way they approached the world was something almost superhuman. That tension between the powers of intelligence and the dangers of it intrigues me. As it turns out, on a related note, depression is much more common among those with higher IQs. I think there are several explanations for this, but the one that comes immediately to mind is that intelligence can alienate people from those around them. I don’t imagine Tesla was invited to a lot of cocktail parties for his gripping conversation, ya know? And he must have felt so removed from the thoughts and concerns of others. Yet his vision of the world was transcendently genius. It is that tension that interests me, and I also like the idea of trying to understand the minds of such thinkers, to humanize their technical and theoretical pursuits.
 
 
Michael T. Young: Many of these poems seem – as one poem puts it – “fertile with bizarre need.”  They seem to suggest we are driven to sometimes dark places by those needs.  Yet, they also suggest there has to be some kind of acceptance of this, like the bat in the final poem that we are encouraged to “make its future our own.”  Do you see this embrace of or acceptance of the darker side of our nature as essential to our survival or at least some way of decreasing the violence in our world?  
 
Okla Elliott: Well, I would say that ignoring the dark cargo our species carries with it everywhere isn’t going to do much good. As the self-help cliché goes: you have to acknowledge the problem before you can fix it. As a person who teaches Holocaust literature and does research in trauma studies and the ways violence and suffering shape our lives, I spend a lot of time wrestling with some of the more horrifying things humans have done to each other and continue to do to each other daily. And even if we bracket the genocidal horrors and constant wars and daily reports of rape, murder, and general mayhem from every corner of the Earth, I find our species riddled with pettiness, greed, scorn, and small-mindedness.
 
There are, of course, generosity and love and kindness as well, but I think any honest assessment of the way the vast super-majority of us deal with our fellow humans, and certainly how groups of humans treat other groups of humans or animals (don’t get me started on our sadistic cruelty toward animals), would reveal that we bring much more suffering and destruction into the world with very little concern that we have done so, often not even being willing to acknowledge we’ve done anything damaging.
 
So, what’s my point? It’s not that we have no hope, but rather that we have to admit the depth and breadth of the violence our species has wrought on each other and the world around us before we can make the proper steps toward correcting it. It is only after we internalize the problem of homelessness—I mean really internalize it on an empathic level—that we might volunteer at a soup kitchen or donate to a homeless shelter. It is only after we fathom the suffering of animals that we might change our habits toward them. Only after recognizing the victims of our wars as full human beings who live full internal lives like we do will we stop agreeing so blithely to allow our governments to bomb the hell out of them. In effect, I want to show this stuff in visceral detail and get people to acknowledge it on both the abstract philosophical level and on the visceral gut level, because it is only by integrating our reason and our empathy that we have some small chance of improving the state of affairs in the world and reduce the amount of suffering that fills every second of every day.
 
 
Michael T. Young: The main figure in “The Philosophy Student,” thinks to herself, “There is no convincing proof that we have any right to happiness.”  Do you feel this is true?  If so, how do you see it in the context of the darker issues addressed in the book: war, violence, helplessness, etc.?  
 
Okla Elliott: Given the situation of the character in that poem—her brother is already at the Chechnyan front; the young man she has romantic feelings for is about to be sent there; and her family is haunted by Soviet oppression from previous generations—I was exploring how a deluge of horror can alter the way we philosophize about the nature of human existence. Given her situation, the philosophy student in the poem has deduced that our lot as humans is unhappiness and that we can’t really expect much more. I am not quite so pessimistic personally, though I see her point.
 
 
Michael T. Young: You are as much a philosopher as a poet; the influence of philosophy is very much in your poetry with references to Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Kant and others.  Outside the obvious references, how does philosophy influence and inform your poetry?  What do you see as the relationship between these two fields?  
 
Okla Elliott: Norman Mailer once wrote that literary writers are doing important philosophical work because they operate on the edge of the language system, and Martin Heidegger believed that literary language dis-closed truth to us much more than rigid philosophizing. I take from their two statements that the divide between literature and philosophy is not so great as it is often assumed. The greatest writers—Atwood, Beauvoir, Dostoyevsky, Mailer, Oates, Sartre, Shakespeare, Stegner, Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Wright, and a dozen more I could name—are philosophers and literary authors in equal measure, or there is at least a strong element of philosophy in their literary output. So, I guess I see the relationship as being one of a large Venn diagram overlap, where we of course have philosophy that is not literary and some literature utterly devoid of philosophy, but the truly great stuff merges the two seamlessly and productively.
 
 
Michael T. Young: What are your favorite activities that have nothing to do with poetry or writing?
 
Okla Elliott: I love to cook. I think it’s an unsung art form—and a highly practical one, at that! I am also an on-again, off-again gym rat. I really feel at my best when I am working on various projects intensely, and then take a break to go fully inhabit my body via a punishing workout. And then I get to cook myself a huge meal, since I’ve earned it, thus combining my other two loves.
 
 
Michael T. Young:  Thanks for your time, Okla.  Let’s close with your favorite poem from The Cartographer’s Ink. Which is it and why is it significant for you?
 
Okla Elliott: I have several that are tied as nearest and dearest to me, and even the poems on that list change every time I think about the book, but the one that most often makes it among my favorites, the one that if you put a gun to my head and forced me pick just one, is “Alien War, Human War.” It has political scope without being preachy (I hope), and I like the way the ending forces the reader to finish the incomplete line about the “gnawing void of the world.” Something seems very fitting to me that those words should be forced into the spaceless space of a reader’s mind.
 
Alien War, Human War
      written on the tenth anniversary of the Iraq invasion

       1.
Death is an underwater bird,
not a bird at all;
an eel with wings. It is a metal bird
loaded up with techno-artillery.

War, this war,
war between the eagle and other birds-of-prey
(different prey).

Death is depleted uranium, 

radiating strangeness into the cells of our victims.
It is a strangeness we are all born into,
borne by all of us.

It is a strangeness taking many forms,
natural and un-
in equal measure.

Stranger still to be guilty
of murders we did not commit.

      2.
Making ourselves alien to ourselves
we diminish all things.

That curve of a bell, the curve of buttocks
the bell-curve normalizing us all,
the image of a model’s ass that makes us want
to find that image in the flesh of the world.

Making others alien to ourselves
we diminish all things.

The curve of a bell,
the curve of a missile scudding
toward its living targets—
the curve of a line representing
fatality statistics over a six-week period.

When an alien dies, nothing human is lost.
When we make others alien,
we diminish all beings.

      3.
When the bird flies into the storm
it is gone to us. When the bird
swims into the earthquake
it is gone to us until       its perennial return.

      4.
The imbricated self, the implicated subject.
The guilt-threads are tightly knotted.
Imbrication, implication—the nouns sound
so alien, so Latinate
I can’t feel my way into their fact. Abstraction
alienates lived life. To make others alien
we must abstract them to mere ideas,
not particular flesh and thoughts peculiar
to them. To kill others we must       make them alien.

Murder, therefore, is an abstraction abstracted.

      5.
Our appetites and terrors fill the gnawing void
of the world.

Our appetites and terrors fill the gnawing void
of the world.

Our appetites and terrors fill the. . .
-----------------------------------------------
Keep up with Okla Elliott and his work at his website: http://oklaelliott.net/
http://www.amazon.com/Cartographers-Ink-Okla-Elliott/dp/1630450103/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1418735389&sr=8-1&keywords=the+cartographer%27s+ink

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Interview with Publisher, Editor, and Poet, Emily Vogel: Cat in the Sun Press



Michael: Hello, Emily.  Thank you for agreeing to an interview. 

Cat in the Sun Press is a new press.  Its first book, Micah Towery’s collection, Whale of Desire, was published only at the end of last year.  I’m interested to find out why you and poet Joe Weil decided to start a press.  What need did you see that prompted such a large undertaking?  What void do you hope the press will fill?


Emily: The original idea for the press arose when Joe and I were visiting with our friends Lucas Rivera and Sharon Zetter. We wanted to launch an online journal and also each Joe and I and Sharon and Lucas a kind of consortium. Sharon and Lucas named their press “Called Back Books,” and we named our press “Cat in the Sun” because I kept thinking about our cat, Pushkin, languorously sleeping in the sunlight. Joe had always wanted to launch his own press. He was the editor and publisher of the journal “Black Swan,” and also one of the founders of Monk Books, as well as various other low budget journals over the years. One of the original intentions of the press was to curate “art books” by painters or photographers that were also poets in their own right.
 
 
Michael: What in particular about Micah Towery’s work drew your attention?  What singled it out as a good book for the press’s debut collection?
 
Emily: We had been wanting to do a book of Micah’s for a while. This was his first book, and we liked his poetry and thought it should be recognized. We wanted to do first books as well as the books of well-known poets with extensive publishing histories.
 
 
Michael: What are your plans for the press?  Do you foresee Cat in the Sun Press publishing a certain number of books per year or only as you come across those you want to publish? 
 
Emily: We’re planning to publish two a year---one in the spring/summer and one in the fall/winter. We’ve just completed an art book (with poetry) of Maria Gillan’s which will be made available on Amazon very soon.  (Since this interview, Maria Gillan's book, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets, has been published.  An image of her book is at the end of the interview.  You can click it to be taken to Amazon.com where it can be purchased.)
Poet Joe Weil, cofounder
of Cat in the Sun Press
 
 
Michael: Sorry to ask what may be rather pedestrian questions, but I think it might be interesting to see what a poet and publisher thinks on these things. What do you think is the role of poetry in American society?  Are our poets doing their part?  If not, what should they be doing differently?
 
Emily: I tend to consider poetry that is being written today as being circulated only amongst other poets. It feels very self-contained to me (and almost “incestuous”) because from what I’ve seen the only American citizens that actually read the work of living poets are other poets, who are ambitious perhaps and seeking to emulate their work. I don’t see a lot of people other than “poets” who are reading poetry. And if they do read poetry, then they seek to compete with the poets that they are reading. Poetry has lost its purpose in being an exclusive art that ordinary citizens admire and appreciate. If my students (who are not English majors) have read poetry, it is the work of dead poets, like Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe, and Emily Dickinson. Good poets, and rightfully so---but in my opinion poetry has become a “scene” which every aspiring poet wants to leap upon. It has, in my opinion, become more of a business than an art. There are more MFA writing programs than I can count on my fingers, toes, and my children’s fingers and toes (and furthermore) and it seems to me an industry. Some even call poetry a “career.” I write poetry, so I can tell you just how much I loathe the utilitarian “ins and outs” of the poetry biz. Because I am a writer myself, I can tell you that I do everything I can to stay away from this nonsense. Sure, everyone needs a publisher, but in the meantime I’d like to muse upon the trees without contingency and write well, and write out of something rhapsodic and holy. America prides itself on trophies and awards, and everyone gets one because this is an equal opportunity society. But which poets do we remember from the past who are now dead? I can tell you from the romantics: Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelly, Keats, and Blake. That’s six. And how many so-called “important” poets do we now have swarming our nation?
 
Michael: You say that “poetry has lost its purpose.”  What is that purpose?
 
Emily:  When Shelley said "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" in his Defence of Poetry---I think he meant something quite different from the way that poets see themselves in today's world. I think he may have meant that there are (or were) very few poets that could rightly refer to themselves as "poets." Wordsworth said something similar in Preface to the Lyrical Ballads: something along the lines of the poet "being a very particular kind of person." There are so many poets who are publishing their books now that I think poetry has become too commonplace and ordinary---maybe even mainstreamed? Poetry was once written by the drunks and madmen---eccentrics and recluses. Now it seems to be written by any academic that writes well enough to be accepted into an MFA program. When the business of submitting work online, filling out applications for residencies, and collating manuscripts becomes just as important (if not more so) than the actual art, I do think at least some of the purpose gets lost.
 
 
Michael: What American poets do you see as great voices that aren’t being acknowledged or, perhaps, even published?
 
Emily: John Richard Smith, a poet from New Jersey is one of my favorite poets. Also Adele Kenny (another NJ poet), and Nicole Broadhurst, who writes this really wacky and almost religious poetry, which reminds me of Ginsberg.
 
 
Michael: What are the press’s current plans and projects?
 
Emily: For the fall and spring, we’re looking to do a couple of art/poetry books, or collaborations. We also want to do conversation books. We’re eclectic. We want to tailor our press to those voices of artists who are damn good and sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve. We want to do beautiful books that you wouldn’t dare leave under the passenger seat of your car.
 
 
Michael: Thank you, Emily.  It will be a pleasure to see what poetry comes out of Cat in the Sun Press. 
 
http://www.amazon.com/Girls-Chartreuse-Jackets-Mazziotti-Gillan/dp/0991152328/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1411490237&sr=8-1&keywords=The+girls+in+the+chartreuse+jackets
Please click the image to be taken to Amazon.com
where you can purchase Maria Mazzioti Gillan's book
The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets





Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Interview with Poet Micah Towery


Michael T. Young: Thank you, Micah, for agreeing to an interview.  
 
Your new collection of poems, Whale of Desire, has such a wonderfully provocative title.  I wondered if you could comment on the title itself and the significance it has for the collection.  What is it meant to suggest? 
 
Micah Towery: I misremembered a line from my own poem, but it stuck. It also seemed to evoke the whole gist of the book, the idea of largeness, the appetites. Also, I like whales. 
 
 
Michael T. Young: The poem “It’s Not That I Don’t Like Charlton Heston,” says, “who among you/would rather be understood than//thrown over my shoulder/and hoisted to/the highest point in the city/with the thrilling fire of bullets/from jealous fellows following?”  This suggests that being desired is greater than being understood.  Do you feel this is true?  How do you see this as significant in the collection?
 
Micah Towery: Well, certainly that line tugs at those two possibilities. I want to say that what we often desire when we desire is to be known. One could differentiate mere understanding from fuller knowledge. In that sense, desire is bound up with true knowledge. In most theistic traditions, bliss is the fulfillment of the desire to know, to be mystically unified with the source of being.
 
 
Michael T. Young:   Your poem “On the Closing of the Coca-Cola Plant in Binghamton, NY,” seems central to the collection, bringing together both spiritual and economic realities.  In fact, the end of the second section where the milk men say, “You Coke guys eat more shit//than my dog,” made me think of near the end of “To Elsie,” where Williams says that we are “degraded prisoners/destined/to hunger until we eat filth.”  Your poem somehow seems to be the belly of the whale: where we descend into the murkiest depths to recover that little bit of light.  Could you comment on its place in the collection and its importance: what it addresses in the arc of the book?
 
Micah Towery: Those 5 poems took me several years to write—most of which was not spent writing but processing those feelings and experiences. In one sense, they layer together various parts of my life and unify them in a way that I can’t do outside of poetry. It catches the kind of strange feelings of how I related to the other men at the Coke plant and how, in them, I saw the ghosts of my family history. The connection with “To Elsie” is perceptive because the whole series is unified around working with America’s best known “pure products”: Coca-Cola. 
 
 
Michael T. Young: The poem “Poem in Honor of My Own Birthday,” says, “I think it’s clear I like/cold things, like the chilly offices/of love.”  There is also a series of love poems in the collection.  What do you see as love’s place in the collection’s progress and development?  
 
Micah Towery: Most of the love poems are pretty personal in the sense that they arise out of personal experience. Because the book spans some 10 years, it’s hard for me to not feel there is some deepening/development of my idea of love in the book itself. Yet on the more ‘cosmic scale’ of love, as a Christian, I believe that “God is love” and, therefore, love animates the universe itself: the awe of being, the unfathomable diversity of it and the almost terrible creativity—unaccountable and unable to be accounted for—the kind of thing that mystics speak of as both God’s darkness and light. I hope there is an arc in the book in which the personal experiences and that cosmic sense begin to meet.
 
 
Michael T. Young: Roethke said, “I believe that the spiritual man must go back in order to go forward.”  I was reminded of this because so much of your work engages the past.  I wondered if you could comment on the importance of engaging the past within the collection, referencing or engaging everything from Psalm 39 to Miles Davis.  Do you feel a spiritual journey must engage the past in this way?  If so, why is it important?
 
Micah Towery: I think it was Faulkner who said “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” I am a little obsessed with understanding how different peoples conceive of time and what that says about their aspirations, their sense of history and memory. We use the past, in combination with our aspirations for the future, to construct our present. And poems are nothing if not an attempt to be present, to present and make living a self for the world. This is a spiritual act, a tradition of speech you learn from other poets. The biblical Psalm writers, as well as contemporary writers like Michael S. Harper, are powerful models for these modes of poetry.
 
 
Michael T. Young: Your poem “Image of a snake striking the eagle while being carried away,” ends saying “In this way/we rescue the light/from the darkness.”  Much of the collection seems to be an effort to do just that, dive into the dark areas where light has been stolen away and bring it out.  It reminded me of the old Gnostic view that the serpent was the true god who stole into Eden to free Adam and Eve from the false god that kept them enslaved.  Do you see this as an element in the arc of the collection?  What do you see as its significance in the collection or in a spiritual journey?
 
Micah Towery: The telling and retelling of stories creates an interesting space for the exploration of truth and human recognition of it. What I think is interesting about the Genesis accounts is that, taken on their own terms (literally), they are pretty clearly redacted versions of polytheistic creation accounts. In it, the divine figures are petty, jealous of their prerogatives. Yet, at some later point, they became the cornerstone of the major monotheistic religions. In that sense, the redactions are not a flaw, but rather the very integrity of the text: evidence that people over time have ‘sat with’ the elements in the text and tested them against collective knowledge and experience, recognizing what they saw as truths. I reject gnosticism generally, but insofar as I think humans generally seek the truth, there must be some genuine truth. I do think the ‘slow emergence’ of truth is a theme in the series you mention.
 

http://www.amazon.com/Whale-Desire-Micah-Towery/dp/099115231X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410286370&sr=8-1&keywords=whale+of+desire
Click image to be taken to Amazon.com
to order Whale of Desire
 
Michael T. Young: The spiritual yearning of the collection takes place in contemporary America with gas stations, a Coca-Cola factory, Jazz, etc.  What do you see as a particularly contemporary problem in man’s spiritual needs?  What do you see as the solution to that problem?
 
Micah Towery: For some time, art denied the spiritual aspirations of ‘low’ art, art that didn’t fit class or race assumptions. Now we tend to embrace low art but deny spiritual aspirations. I see this true in a broader sense as well: the inability to recognize something as a spiritual need, generally. So, for example, we look at unemployment as a social or economic problem, but we don’t recognize that it’s also a spiritual problem. I think our common discourse suffers from this flattening. We live in “a secular age,” it’s true, but I believe we need to find a way to bring spiritual needs back into the discussion. We can probably start by acknowledging that even in our diverse and divided society we hold a lot more in common than we acknowledge. 
 
 
Michael T. Young: This may seem a rather pedestrian question, but what American poets are most significant for you?  I’m curious especially because of the spiritual engagement in your poetry.  What American poets do you find important for that spiritual engagement?—maybe poets you feel are important not just for you but perhaps for our larger cultural growth.
 
Micah Towery: It’s a really important question to me, actually. I have to acknowledge some of my teachers--Joe Weil and Tom Sleigh, as well as Christine Gelineau, Donna Masini, Jan Heller Levi--these folks put a mark on my poetry because they actually explored it with me line-by-line. They also had a profound impact on my spiritual outlook. In the scope of larger American poetry, though, Eliot, Williams, Bishop, Lowell, and O’Hara, as well as Michael S. Harper, Allen Grossman (at least as a poetry ‘theorist’), and Frank Bidart. Anyone with a knowledge of American poetry will see a pretty clear lineage in that list. I can’t deny it. To me, these poets model not just voice and style that I find engaging, but also a way of being in the world and manifesting that presence through poetry. Eliot really sparked my love of poetry. For a while I drifted away from him, but after many years I’m coming back to him as a touchstone. He expressed such strong critical opinions, and I suspect that people assume a similar stance underneath his poetry (especially his post-conversion stuff). But I find a profound ambiguity in a poem like “Ash Wednesday” that doesn’t cut corners.
 
 
Michael T. Young: What is your favorite poem in the collection?  Which is it and why is it significant for you?
 
Micah Towery: I’m really proud of some of my poems--like my Horace translation--as personal poetic accomplishments. But the poems I enjoy returning to are some of the love poems to Jill. In my humble opinion (!), the second is probably one of the best poems I’ve written.
 
 
Michael T. Young: Are there any prose works that have noticeably influenced your work as a poet?  What are they?  Can you say in what way you feel this work or works influenced your poetry?  
 
Micah Towery: Definitely Augustine’s Confessions. That sense of inwardness, but also his willingness to use personal events to explore profound philosophical issues. I love that he shifts from his last memories of his mother into his deep meditation on the nature of memory, time, and creation. When I first read these sections of Confessions, I felt like I was seeing into the heart of the universe itself. Further, Augustine is such an amazing writer that his ability to craft a sentence comes through even in translation! I think his prose style probably did impact my poetry on a stylistic level as well.
 
 
Michael T. Young: What do you like to do that has nothing to do with poetry or writing?
 
Micah Towery: I enjoy fantasy baseball. I also like to make wine & beer and roast my own coffee. Cheese making is next on my list.
 
 
Michael T. Young:  Thanks for your time, Micah.  Let’s close with your favorite poem from Whale of Desire.
 
Second Love Poem for Jill
. . . . . . . . . . . In Idaho

Down at the boat launch, on the river that feeds
. . . . . . . into Lake Pend Oreille,
the slanted concrete slab still warmed us where
we sat, and the mountains faded into the sky
. . . . . . . as the train went by
. . . . . . . to Coeur D'Alene.

I stared into the clear and moving water
. . . . . . . at the rocks
until I saw how full the water was of fish--so full--
such as the light--after a while I saw only
. . . . . . . the fish after the rumble
. . . . . . . passed away.

On that evening when we'd spent the day
. . . . . . . negotiating, careful,
you said to me, I'm figuring out marriage
and you and figuring out me, and the river
. . . . . . . in its wisdom
. . . . . . . said nothing wise.

And the water glinted with the last light of the bugs
. . . . . . . that broke
the surface, and it sounded with the fish that ate them.
And the mountains kept fading into the sky.
. . . . . . . Then you said,
. . . . . . . I love. . .

and didn't finish.  So we left the launch
. . . . . . . and drove
away, and the river echoed that I love.  And
afterwards, a moose began to wade across
. . . . . . . the water
. . . . . . . slowly.