I'm pleased to welcome Matthew Thorburn to Michigander Monday!
Debbie: Matthew, please tell us a little about yourself.
Matthew: I’m a misplaced Michigander. I grew up in the Lansing area, when to college in Ann Arbor, worked in Detroit for a few years, then moved to New York for grad school. I thought that would be a good way to try out the city and see if I liked it. I did—and still do. I’ve lived here almost 15 years now. But of course I keep going back to Michigan to see my parents, family, old friends. And even now, if someone asks me where I’m from, the answer is Michigan. (Of course hardly anyone I know in New York is actually from New York….)
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.
Matthew: I’m the author of three books of poems. My most recent book is This Time Tomorrow, published in Spring 2013 by the Waywiser Press both here in the U.S. and in the U.K.
This Time Tomorrow is a collection of poems about traveling and finding your way in other cultures and landscapes. All of the poems take place in Japan, Iceland and China, countries my wife and I were fortunate to visit some years ago. The book is built around “Disappears in the Rain,” a long poem written loosely in the shape of a renga, that describes a journey around Japan. That’s preceded by a sequence of poems set in Iceland, and followed by a group of poems that move between China, Japan, and home again (New York, New Jersey and very briefly Michigan).
As I noted a while back on The Best American Poetry Blog, I wrote about being in China, Japan and Iceland to create “verbal devices” (as Philip Larkin once described his poems) to enable me to go back to these places, if only for a few moments, and only in my imagination. It’s my hope that interested readers may want to do the same. The experience of writing these poems was one of remembering, but also re-imagining, what it was like to be there—and so the poems are a mix of memory and imagination. You can read a couple of poems from the book in the excellent literary journals Linebreak and Memorious.
My previous books, also poetry collections, are Every Possible Blue, published by CW Books in 2012, and Subject to Change, published by New Issues Poetry & Prose (a.k.a. Western Michigan University Press) in 2004.
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
Matthew: I’ve been working on two new poetry book manuscripts for the past couple of years, which are slowly taking shape. One is a collection of poems that I’m discovering revolves around thoughts on spirituality—losing faith, and in some ways finding it again—and death. As a poet, it can be very interesting to write a few dozen poems over several years without some larger project in mind, and then lay out all the poems on the table and see how they might fit together as a book. As the shape of the manuscript emerges you may suddenly realize, Ah, so these are the things I’ve been mulling over all this time!
My other project is a book-length poem that takes place over the course of a year, from one spring to the next. Part travelogue, part book of days, part meditative prayer, it has to do with a couple’s struggle to “deal with” a miscarriage: how do we grieve for someone we never knew, exactly, someone we loved but never met? The poem is about 60 pages in manuscript, and probably the closest I’ll ever come to writing a novel.
As I answer this question, it occurs to me these both sound like pretty depressing books! But both end in a kind of hope, in a renewed, older-but-wiser sense of promise and possibility… or will when I’ve finished them. And this second project has a happy sequel that takes place off the page: I actually haven’t been doing much writing just lately, being happily busy taking care of my son, who was born this summer.
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Matthew: I did a number of readings when This Time Tomorrow was published, including at the AWP Conference in Boston, at McNally Jackson Books in New York, at the wonderful Art House in New Jersey, and of course back home in Michigan – at the Delta Township District Library in Lansing and at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor.
I’ve been lying low this summer and fall, busy being a dad, but plan to do more readings in 2014. I’d love to read in Massachusetts again, and maybe read in Washington, D.C., and am working on putting some plans together. I’m also always up for class visits, either in person or via skype, if there are teachers out there who would be interested.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?
Matthew: Some of my favorite Michigan bookstores are just memories now. As a high-schooler I loved going to Jocundry’s in East Lansing. I bought my copies of Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish and Howl there – a pivotal experience for the young poet I was in the early 1990s. That store seemed a world away from the mall’s Waldenbooks, or any other bookstore I’d experienced.
And as a college student I loved Shaman Drum in Ann Arbor. I bought a lot of books there, browsed through many more, and attended lots of readings. It’s where I bought my first copy of The American Poetry Review – with Charles Simic on the cover – and first discovered the world of literary magazines. And when Subject to Change was published in 2004, it was a wonderful treat for me to come back to Ann Arbor and give a reading there (introduced by Ray McDaniel!) to a store packed with old friends.
This is not to say that all good bookstores are in the past, though – no way. When I’m home for a visit, I always like going to Schuler Books. It’s easy to lose a few hours there. And I had a great time reading at Nicola’s, and just wished I had longer to browse their shelves.
My favorite Michigan library is the new-ish Delta Township District Library. It’s beautiful – what a wonderful space in which to read and think. I loved learning that they intentionally built it larger than their collection of books – meaning at first the shelves might have looked a little bare – so that they’d have room to grow. As I mentioned, I was thrilled to give a reading there for National Poetry Month in 2013, and share poems from This Time Tomorrow with a great local audience (including lots of family and old friends).
I wish this library had been around when I was a kid! The library I used to hang out in back then, which I believe had previously been a school, is now the Delta Township Enrichment Center. I had a chance to go back there recently and felt a strong sense of déjà vu. It looks very different, but is still a patch of hallowed ground for this writer-reader.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Matthew: There are lots. But one area I love is up around Crystal Lake, and the villages of Beulah, and Frankfurt, and Leeland—that whole area is gorgeous in the summer, and filled with good memories for me. We used to rent a cottage on the lake there when I was a kid, and I had the chance to take my wife up there for a few days not long after we were married—a sort of second honeymoon. The one-two punch of the Cherry Hut restaurant and the Cherry Bowl Drive-in is hard to beat!
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Matthew: The thing I think of immediately is the Ann Arbor Art Fair, though I haven’t been there in quite a few years. My college orientation at U-M took place during the Art Fair, which made my first real taste of Ann Arbor that much more surprising and overwhelming.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Matthew: I was happy to learn recently, when my dad sent me a clipping from the State Journal, that Wally Pleasant is still writing songs and playing shows now and then. In high school, my friends and I used to go see him play in East Lansing—and he actually performed at one friend’s graduation open house, out on the back deck.
This is also the perfect place to mention a wonderful anthology called Poetry in Michigan/Michigan in Poetry, edited by Jack Ridl and William Olsen, and published in Fall 2013 by New Issues. It brings together poems by dozens of wonderful poets, as well as beautiful reproductions of visual works by Michigan artists. It’s a gorgeous and hefty volume—and the perfect introduction to many poets who live in or are from Michigan. I’m proud to appear in this book alongside so many poets I admire, like Keith Taylor, Diane Wakoski, Richard Tillinghast, Jim Daniels, Mary Ann Samyn, and the late Herb Scott (who founded New Issues and published my first book) – to name just a few Michigan poets readers should know about.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Matthew: Well, if you’re a writer looking to attend an MFA program, you need to know about the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. If I wasn’t from Michigan, and hadn’t gone to U-M as an undergrad, and hadn’t felt the need to try finding my way in a new city—well, all those Ifs aside I would have applied to the U-M MFA program in a heartbeat. Amazing faculty, incredible funding, a beautiful campus in Ann Arbor, hanging out in the Hopwood Room—really it’s just about perfect.
Debbie: Last question. Some folks in Michigan refer to themselves as Michiganders, others as Michiganians. For our ongoing vote tally, what’s the better term: Michigander or Michiganian?
Matthew: I’m with you: “Michiganders” is what we are. What a wonderful word! I wrote a poem about looking back and feeling nostalgia for earlier days in my home state. It’s in my book Every Possible Blue and is called – what else? – “When We were Michiganders.”
Debbie: Once a Michigander, always a Michigander! Matthew, thank you so very much for joining us today!