Monday, June 29, 2015

Michigander Monday: Emily Van Kley

I'm pleased to welcome Emily Van Kley to Michigander Monday!

Debbie:  Emily, please tell us a little about yourself.

Emily:  I  grew up in the U.P., mostly in the small towns of Ishpeming and Wakefield. Currently I live in Olympia, Washington, where it tragically never snows but where there are plenty of trees and big water--salty though it may be---all of which helps me feel at home. I met my partner, Allison, when I was in graduate school in Spokane, Washington, and she and I have been adventuring since then, living for a while in the North Cascades, learning to keep chickens, braving canoe rides among the jellyfish of the Puget Sound. I currently work for the Olympia Food Co-op, a collectively-managed grocery store, love to practice aerial acrobatics in my spare time. I have a website! A brand new little thing a friend helped me set up:

Debbie:  And, of course, we want to know all about your writing.

Emily:  I have an MFA in fiction, but for the last five years or so I've found myself pretty much exclusively writing poetry. I'm hoping I'll be interested in stories again at some point, (I love to read them) but there's something about poems--their flintiness, their compression--that is just so compelling to me. Seems like that's what I'll be focusing on for the foreseeable future. People have introduced my work by calling it "idiosyncratic" and "muscular," adjectives I kind of like if applied to me as a person, but am mostly just confused by in regards to my writing.

Debbie:  New projects on the horizon?

Emily:  I've recently finished my first poetry manuscript and am working on a second. Poems from both collections have been published in a variety of journals: The Iowa Review, The Mississippi Review, etc.--I have a bundle forthcoming in Nimrod later this year. Recently I had the chance to collaborate with a book artist, (Catherine Alice Michaelis) an etymologist (Emilie Bess) and a musician (Melanie Valera) on a artist book project called Soil Dwellers, which will show at the University of Puget Sound this fall. And, let's see, I'm working on a Michigan-themed essay for Essay Daily, which is scheduled to be published this fall (though it could come out earlier). Also, this winter I had the chance to perform a poem as an aerial piece for the first time: I'd like to do more of that!

Debbie:  Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?

Emily:  I have really fond memories of the Carnegie Public Library in Ishpeming, where I spent countless summer hours checking out my limit of books and signing up to play super cool computer games like Winnie the Pooh back in the 80s, and where there's a floor made of glass(!) which when I was a kid seemed like pretty much the most magical thing.

My parents now live in Marquette and I love Snowbound Books: one of those lovely community bookshops with lots of fantastic nooks and crannies to explore, really interesting staff recommendations, and a strong sense of what's great out there in the literary world. I could happily spend hours there.

Debbie:  How about a favorite place in Michigan?

Emily:  Oh god. Well, I adore Lake Superior for its vastness and depth and sometimes brutal beauty. The lake and snow are the most salient landscapes of my child and early adulthood; they tend to dominate my thinking (and therefore my poetry) about the U.P. So most of my favorite places in Michigan are related to Lake Superior: I love Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for its proximity to the lake and its wild variety of beaches: everything from rumpled boulders to white sand to otherwordly-looking shale that sounds like broken pottery underfoot and cuts away under waves ahead of you so there's no telling if it's an inch or a hundred feet thick.

I have an adopted elderly uncle whose camp is another one of my favorite spots: an a-frame right on Superior near Marquette, with a cement and cedar sauna that sits just above the massive rock formations that make up the shoreline. The sauna has three benches and a hulk of a stove topped by lake-smoothed stones upon which you throw water until steam fills the room and threatens to cut off your breathing, at which point you burst out the sauna door, run down a few steps and huddle in a wave-carved rock hollow where you are pummeled by the most mind-numbingly cold water you can imagine, then fly back to the sauna to repeat over and over.

I love the mouth of the Black River where it meets Lake Superior, the tea-colored water of so many U.P. rivers feathering out into more blue than you can your eyes can properly take in.

I'm not actually very familiar with Lower Michigan--my family tended to head west through Wisconsin when visiting Chicago and points south--but I will say that I feel really inspired by the work of community activists in Detroit and other parts of the state where people are finding ways to grow their own food, oppose the shutting off of water and other basic services, and otherwise confront the effects of the natural resources/ manufacturing sector collapse that has hit the whole state. Even if specific conditions in the rural U.P. are different than those in more urban areas, nearly every community in Michigan is dealing with the same economic struggle and I feel a lot of solidarity and a great tenderness for folks throughout the state because of that.

Debbie:  Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?

Emily:  Well this summer there will be another installment of the U.P. book tour, which is a really special event: writers from the U.P. or whose work is set in the U.P. will visit all these small towns up north, reading in libraries and high school cafeterias, talking with folks about what inspires them to write about the U.P. I'm not able to make it back to read this year, but had a great time when I participated a few years ago, and anyone who's able should look for an event near them. This year the tour is promoting Here: Women Writing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a cool new anthology edited by Ron Riekki, where a couple of my poems appear. Tour dates at

Debbie:  A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?

Emily:  I really appreciate the poetry of Catie Rosemurgy and Ander Monson, two folks writing about the U.P. whose work I love to read.

Debbie:  Last question.  Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally: are you a Michigander or a Michiganian?

Emily:  Michigander all the way. Michiginian is not nearly as fun to say and besides is super annoying to spell. Plus what's good for the goose, etc.

Debbie:  We'll add you to the Michigander column!  Emily, thanks so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday.

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