I'm pleased to welcome Beverly Matherne to Michigander Monday! Beverly is one of the five finalists for U.P. Poet Laureate. Let's get to know a little bit more about her and her writing.
Beverly: I was born along the Mississippi River, just west of New Orleans, to a French speaking family. To maintain my Francophone identity, I've studied French over 40 years, earlier as a young student at l'Institut Catholique in Paris and later in the MA program in French at University of California, at Berkeley. Because I do all I can to foster a lasting French presence in Louisiana, I publish my books in facing pages of French and English, and I've received positive feedback for my efforts, in a review of my blues poetry in the international edition of Le Figaro, for example, and in a completed dissertation from University of Paris III that investigates my bilingual writing process alongside that of seven other authors, including Samuel Beckett.
As tenured professor in the Department of English at Northern Michigan University, I've taught dramatic literature and playwriting. I've also taught technical writing from introductory to graduate levels because of a seven-year stint in the computer industry in California before I arrived at NMU. Even though I had published eight articles on the drama and produced 28 articles and collaterals on relational database technology, I was also publishing a lot of poetry and receiving invitations to read nationally and internationally. I was soon allowed to put aside other areas of concentration to focus sharply on poetry. In addition to teaching poetry in our creative writing programs, I served as director of the MFA Program (four years), director of the Visiting Writers Series (seven years) and poetry editor of Passages North literary magazine (four years). Because of my Francophone background, I also taught first-year French language courses at NMU for six years.
I've done over 240 readings and poetry performances across the U.S., Canada and France, and in Spain, Germany, Belgium and Wales. Venues include Cornell University, Tulane University, Shakespeare and Company in Paris and the United Nations in New York. I was also the guest of poet Grace Cavalieri on her radio show, “The Poet and the Poem,” broadcast live from Washington, D.C.
My work appears in many French publications and in Great River Review, Interdisciplinary Humanities, Metamorphoses, Paterson Literary Review, and Verse, to name a few.
I have a Ph.D. in Drama from Saint Louis University and M.A. and B.A. degrees in English from University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
In June of 2014, I retired from NMU and now enjoy writing fulltime.
Debbie: And, of course, we want to know all about your books.
Beverly: My sixth book of poetry, Bayou des Acadiens / Blind River, stories and prose poems endorsed by John Smolens and Jack Driscoll, is due out any day, from Éditions Perce-Neige. My fifth book, Cadillac: Sa Jeunesse En France / Cadillac: His Early Days in France, a collection of linked prose poems endorsed by Jim Harrison and Dyane Léger, is from Éditions Tintamarre. My fourth, La Grande Pointe / Grand Point, and my third, Le Blues Braillant / The Blues Cryin', free verse and blues poetry respectively, are both from Cross-Cultural Communications. My second and first, chapbooks in free verse, are Les Images Cadienne / Cajun Images, from Ridgeway Press, and Je Me Souviens de Louisiane / I Remember Louisiana, from March Street Press. Folks endorsing earlier titles include Jim Daniels, Jane Hirshfield, and Judith Minty.
I've received seven first-place prizes, including the Hackney Literary Award for Poetry, and four Pushcart Prize nominations. In 2010, I received the Outstanding Writer Award from the Marquette Arts and Culture Association.
Beverly: In 1999, I was invited to write an epic poem about the arrival of the Acadians, today’s Cajuns, in Louisiana, for Congrès Mondial Acadien / the Acadian World Congress. I’m expanding that prose poem, consisting of six dramatic monologues, into a full-length book. I also continue to translate Stanley Kunitz’s poems, ten of which already appear in a special portfolio edition, The Artist / L'Artiste, with lithographs, from Cross-Cultural Communications. I’m now planning a book-length translation of Kunitz’s poems.
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Beverly: I’m in Sonoma County, California, until the first of April. In May, I’ll read for the Northern Center for Lifelong Learning at NMU, and in August, I’ll be one of three poets reading at a Chopin recital by pianist Nancy Railey. This summer, I’ll be touring with the new book in Louisiana. I post upcoming readings on my website: beverlymatherne.com, where you can also see samples of my poetry and hear me perform one of my blues poems with fiddle and slide guitar accompaniment.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore? And/or a favorite Michigan library?
Beverly: Snowbound Books is my favorite bookstore. They carry excellent new and used books and support local authors. I order my poetry and fiction books there. I enjoy working with owner Dana Schultz on Marquette’s One Book One Community Committee, for which I serve as co-chair.
As for libraries, my favorite is Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library. I love its Neo-classical revival style: Doric columns at the entrance, stunning copula. I love the small-town feel of the library and the helpful librarians. They support local writers, and I've read there many times over the years.
Debbie: How about a favorite place in Michigan?
Beverly: Ishpeming, a small town of 6,000 folks, about 15 miles west of Marquette, is my favorite city. I love its magnificent City Hall, its red sandstone, huge arched entrance, and square tower with pyramidal roof. Once the center of iron ore production, the city boasts of several recently restored buildings, including that of Globe Printing, famous for fine printing and publishing and for The Roosevelt Nightclub, where the cast of Anatomy of a Murder used to convene after hours. You can still see autographs of Jimmy Stewart, Lee Remick and others on the wall.
The city’s Victorian homes so caught my attention that I purchased one, a Queen Anne, in 2004. I've been restoring it ever since, doing much of the work myself; I maintain its retaining wall, for example, having learned how to tuck point from a local mason. My longish prose poem “The Poet’s Vision,” in Here, Women Writing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is set in this, my home, known as the Butler House.
Debbie: Do you have a Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Beverly: I love attending the UP 200 Sled Dog Races, the take-off, in Marquette. Coming from the Deep South, I had never seen anything like it, huskies and malamutes in booties, wild for the run, the below zero weather—burr! I also attend Marquette Symphony concerts regularly, having served on its board for four years.
Debbie: A few fun Michigan people we should all know about?
Beverly: I love the Finnish-American writer and TV personality, Carl Pellonpaa (Finland Calling). I've never seen the man without a smile, a sparkle in the eye, and a good joke to tell.
Michigan writers who also make me smile include Martin Achatz, Charles Baxter, Jim Daniels, Jack Driscoll, John Gubbins, Kate Myers Hanson, Jim Harrison, Jonathan Johnson, Judith Minty, and John Smolens.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Beverly: As someone who grew up along the Mississippi River and among bayous, all muddy waters, I would like others to know that Lake Superior is so clear you can easily see rocks on its floor, from lookouts as high as 40 feet. Winter is another matter: snow is frequent, this season’s first Polar Plunge having buried my Subaru in a six-foot drift. Mornings after storms though—trees laden with snow, sometimes ice, the white expanse—transport you to holy silence.
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?
Beverly: I say Michigander. When I was 19-21, I had a boyfriend named Bill from Ann Arbor, who always said Michigander, so I do, too. I've never heard of Michiganian and I've lived here for 24 years. By the way, I've fallen in love with this place.
Debbie: Beverly, we'll add you to the Michigander column. Thank you so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!