Each month we post for your reading enjoyment literary works-in-progress…works soon-to-be-published…or works recently released.
The Sunday Blog Read is a glimpse into the working minds and hearts of writers with a Utah connection. And we’re pretty confident you’ll be inspired.
So…curl up on the couch with your favorite cup-a-joe and enjoy!
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In addition to his work at the Utah Humanities Council where, among other duties, he is tasked with directing the annual, statewide Utah Humanities Book Festival, Michael McLane has been, and continues to be at the nexus of the literary scene in Utah. He is affiliated with the local poetry journal, Sugar House Review, City Art, and, formerly, with Writers at Work, among other writing and book-related organizations, and he worked at Ken Sanders Rare Books where he hob-nobbed with writers and publishing industry folk. Today, however, we focus on Michael as a poet in his own right. But first…a few questions for the lit guy-around-town:
15B: Not only are you a poet but you have a perspective that perhaps many creative writers lack–the industry and community-building end of it, How did your time as an employee at Ken Sanders shape a) your own writing and b) your perception of the future of the literary arts in America as we’ve known it?
MM: In terms of my own writing, my time at Ken’s was most valuable because it seemed like I was always in the presence of other writers. Whether it was those coming in from out of state like Charles Bowden or Joanne Kyger, or more local folks that are part of Ken’s circle such as Scott Carrier and Alex Caldiero, there were always fascinating minds in that circle of chairs up front. The years I spent there also deeply changed and expanded my sense of Utah’s history, which I think shows up in the majority of my work.
As for the future of the literary arts, well, I think this whole notion of “the death of the book” is a bit of a joke at this point. Obviously, e-books have changed the outlook drastically and many independent bookstores are still struggling, despite their being allowed to finally tap into the e-book market. Nonetheless, I don’t feel like the overall readership, albeit a bit dismal in this country, has fallen off at all. In addition, the appreciation for the book as artifact/art has changed, not diminished. This was one of the real lessons of working at Ken’s. The popularity of book arts program and book artists is soaring and I’m perpetually amazed by the increasing production values of publishers both big and small. Many publishers seem to finally recognize that it is key for them to offer both digital formats and tangible products that cater to a far more discerning consumer. In poetry, the world I dwell in the most, the number of publishers is larger than it has ever been. Is the readership keeping pace? That’s the endless debate. But even the fact that so many out there want to publish poets gives me hope.
15B:Your colleagues at Colorado State University in the MFA Creative Writing Program are probably safely (or not so safely, as the case may be) ensconced in higher ed. But you are working in public programming at the Utah Humanities Council. Ever wish you were teaching somewhere?
MM: I was actually just in Fort Collins this past weekend and saw some of my former colleagues. Around this time of year, when they are really in the thick of things and are reading great papers and having amazing class discussions, that’s when I really miss it. Of course, May and December always roll around and they disappear down the rabbit hole with a thousand papers and then I miss it less. I won’t get into the politics of it, but adjunct work is hard and getting harder. Those folks are really underappreciated. That’s one of many reasons I took a different path. Fortunately, I have some friends that teach in high schools around the valley and they’ll throw me a bone a few times a year and let me come teach a workshop or something else with their class, which is great. It’s like being a grandparent – I get them at their best for a bit and when they start getting restless I just turn them back over to their teacher.
That said, I love my job. And I love that I can say that. The UHC is doing amazing work around the state and I get to work with so many communities and organizations that I would never have had a connection to otherwise. I’m constantly amazed just how far the reach of our little staff really is. We are teaching. It’s a different process, a much more indirect one, but we are teaching people, both at the individual and the organizational level.
15B: What inspires you to take off your programming hat and hit the keyboard with new material? Any favorite writers whose work you will never miss consuming? Who are you reading right now?
MM: That’s a tough question. I’m a bit manic about my writing. I’m not the type that works every day, at least not in terms of the physical act of writing. I can go weeks or months without touching a pen or a word processor and then the floodgates open for a few days or a week and nothing else can really be a priority at that point. Also, I’m finishing up a graduate degree in Environmental Humanities at Utah and I’m starting on my thesis work, so a lot of other things have been put on the backburner for a bit. Fortunately, that program is structured such that creative work is encouraged as a component of the thesis, so I am still getting a lot done. As I noted earlier, the history of Utah and the West has become pretty integral to a lot of my work (thanks again to Ken and the plethora of historians that make his shop a second home).
There are a few poets whose new books I never miss and whose work I always find myself returning to – Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Cole Swensen, and Bhanu Kapil come to mind immediately. There’s always a book from the great prose poet Russell Edson lying around my bedroom or living room. My graduate advisor at CSU, Matthew Cooperman, introduced me to the work of Theodore Enslin, who was originally a composer (he was a colleague of John Cage, I believe). The way that prior training plays into his poems is stunning and unsettling, often simultaneously. He was hugely underrated, I think. I could go on forever, but in terms of what I’m reading at the moment, I just reread all of Kate Greenstreet’s book because she’s going to be here next week for a reading with Janet Holmes. I adore her work. Also, I’m in the midst of Mark Fiege’s Republic of Nature, which is probably the most important environmental history of the U.S. done to date. Amazing. Greenstreet and Fiege, I should note, will both be joining us for the Book Festival this year.
15B: Arguably, the statewide, month-long Utah Humanities Book Festival is Utah’s signature literary event. Can you give us a preview of what’s going to happen this October in the festival’s 16th iteration?
MM: Well, I’m really excited about the Festival this year, but a lot of that excitement is tied to some names that aren’t quite final yet so, sadly, I can’t name them here. However, I can preview some things that are final at this point. As I noted above Mark Fiege will be here. Greenstreet will be joined by poet H.L. Hix. Poet Jane Hirshfield will be in Cedar City and possibly elsewhere, and, in partnership with Westminster College, poet C.D. Wright has been secured. Novelists Ron Carlson and Robin Hemley, familiar names to many Utahns, will be appearing in several locations. We are collaborating with HEAL Utah and UCAN to bring Ward Wilson, who is one of the leaders of the nuclear disarmament movement. Paola Gianturco, who has been doing amazing work on the roles of grandmothers in cultures around the world will be joining us a well. Last but definitely not least is Josh Hanagarne, whose book The World’s Strongest Librarian just came out last week. It’s already getting a lot of national attention. The book is his memoir about his Tourette’s syndrome and how he learned to contain, if not control, it through weight training and other activities. Josh works at the Salt Lake City Public Library so he’s a local. Add to that the fact that he’s hilarious and generous and delightful and I think I have to say that will be a highlight.
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(from This is Only A Test Site)
the photographs of Muybridge proved that when a horse runs there are brief intervals in which not one of its legs touches the ground. in essence the horse is flying. Zeno tells us the horse will never again touch the ground as it must first go half way to the ground, then half way through the second half, and half again of that on into an endless trajectory from which the horse will never again rise. of course, we have perfected this. detonation a thousand feet or more premature. one’s footing, the feel of things, is no longer necessary. impact is merely implied. in its place, a pudding of glass. the closest thing to touch is a doppelganger of sky.
a region of sacrifice. erogenous zone of faith. hold the federal wafer to my lips. I will take you into my body. transubstantiation of all things beyond the naked eye. and though I walk in the valley of death I will fear no light. I will rise from the ashes, sweep them from my childrens’ hair and go about your business.
from the ancient blessing Lilith abi or Lilith away as in a means to keep a demon at bay. they say she is beautiful . they say she is harmless. they say take this pendant and keep it close. sing a lullaby to forget. the song is easy. the meter a metronome. the click click click click click click so rapid. as if the very soil was afraid.
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it takes a village to raise a printing press
to throw it from the window
in the twilight easy
to mistake serifs and seraphim
leaden morningstars about the street
fall hard whisper lastly
in the dirt the street says
o’ lord my god
is there no help no preserve
from the dust devil tongue
drum rolls unrepentant
down the midway
what started with only
is now plural now staunch
a thousand veering
will have their pound
of flesh there is an abundance
in celestial bodies
and all things heavy or coerced
like portents from the sky
comes the gentle thud
the curvature of impact
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the last house built by hands had no windows. he painted the walls like tundra in the kitchen.
jungle in the living room. the sun always starting its arc from the quarter round. this was after
the rest had moved.
the fissure. earth rolling a young neighbor in its mouth. spitting him back
like disagreeable candy. occasional smoke plumes came from under the doors. they were easily mistaken for fog or blowing snow. he said
such colorful language for a place forgotten. fumarole. chamber. vulcan. pushed aside like an island or threatening mountain. nauseous and primitive
what is in the muscles is not memory. push hard against the earth to stay warm.
then they came for him. crouched in the early morning living room. when the door came down.
noise like a rendering. when the world opened. he would pounce.
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(Copyright by Michael McLane)
Michael McLane earned an MFA in Creative Writing at Colorado State University and is currently pursuing an MS in Environmental Humanities at the University of Utah. He is the review editor for Sugar House Review and his own work has been published in numerous journals including Interim, Laurel Review, Colorado Review, Sidebrow, Denver Quarterly, and Tuesday: An Art Project. He is currently the Literary Program Officer for the Utah Humanities Council. He lives in Salt Lake City with a bellydancer, two cats, a boa, and an iguana.