Debbie: Cynie, please tell us a little about yourself.
Cynie: I live in Northern Florida. The heat and humidity are extreme as the cold and Lake Superior wind up in Marquette. I was a serious athlete in my formative years which included ski racing, but I was also a closeted poet, writing poems in chemistry class, for instance. My mother was a reader and had Sexton, Plath, Lowell and Dickinson in the house which stirred my imagination and most certainly impacted the way I stylistically approached poetry. It also gave me the freedom to speak honestly, which was critical for me as a poet, coming from a densely pressured psyche.
I currently teach International Baccalaureate Literature at a predominately African-American high school in the deep south. I’ve been invited into a culture that teaches me daily about white privilege, among other things. Most students allow me to play with them about our cultural differences. In six years, I have exponentially changed, much in the way living in another country changes you. For instance, it was not until I lived in Europe that I learned what it means to be an American. Certainly, there are tremendous challenges in this kind of immersion, the key is wanting to learn and that process necessitates play and humor and a light heart. Not always easy when most of your reference points no longer help you.
Debbie: And please tell us about your publications.
Cynie: The two poems you’ll see in And Here are from American Girl (New Issues) which was selected by Brenda Hillman, a fine poet in her own right. And a really nice person. “The Iceberg” and “The Smell of Snow” are the opening poems in the book. The latter is a prose poem. There’s a longing to the voice, and it’s pretty romantic, which is not representative of the collection. “The Iceberg” is one of those pressured poems. It’s tight and gives up the heart. “The Smell of Snow” found itself as prose which dictates a looser, more natural speech.
I wrote a full-length play – which was very intense and fun. “Wolf in Daylight,” set in the UP, is about a family who is unable to live inside the truth of their lives and are bound to this unspoken contract. There is a blizzard that literally takes over the house. It’s Shepardesque in that his plays tend to disallow and disavow a single reality. “Wolf” had a reading with actors and an audience but I’d still love to see that wild, unwieldy play produced.
I began writing a collection of sonnets, mostly in Europe, when I was teaching for FSU. I wrote over 150 of them. So many were bad. I mean just bad. I pulled what I thought were the ones that best worked and narrowed it down to 64, about the size of a book. It was nearly picked up by half a dozen publishers. I was finishing “Wolf” at the time and wanted to clear the way. So I narrowed the manuscript to 24 poems and sent it off to a chapbook contest at Finishing Line Press. They screwed up the cover title. It was supposed to be, Self-Portrait as Fiskadoro’s Lover After the End of The World. When people buy the book at readings I draw a huge arrow in ink and write in the missing words. What a joke. You work hard to get the jet off the ground and then they don’t care about the wheels. Unbelievable.
Debbie: Other books or projects on the horizon?
Cynie: Here on Rue Morgue Avenue. I have recently found a publisher, Hysterical Books, who will publish the book in its entirety later this year. It’s lengthy for a book of poetry. The poems alone are 110 pages. There are several partitions rather than chapters that contain alternating quotations from Bob Dylan and George Byron which, among other things, allow the reader to rest and the narrative to manifest. They are brittle little poems that look like icebergs. Just a small space in which to breathe. Although the poems are quintessentially lyric, it is my intention to tell a story as Byron does in “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” which I completely fell in love with while reading in London.
Currently I’m working on a novel that I’ve been writing for two or three years. I can’t talk about it too much right now since it’s in its first draft. I can say it’s about two young brothers who run from home, in the U.P., because they are caught up in a crime. The problem is there is only one way to run: the lake. And it is dead winter.
As a poet, playwriting makes sense, nonfiction makes sense. I find myself doing the things that you hear poets doing when then they write novels: There’s no storyline, the characters are in their heads, blah blah blah. The novel is unforgiving. It crushes your self-esteem.
I’m also collaborating on a television pilot with a friend who lives in San Francisco. It focuses on a black high school in the South. I want it to be funny and I’ll tell you, you can be funny in life but it’s so difficult to write funny.
Debbie: Upcoming appearances?
Cynie: I’ll be at Philville (Phil’s 550) in Marquette on August 4, 2017. In December, I will be touring the UP to promote And Here. Also a few cities in Florida and Georgia, including Atlanta which will most likely happen in the fall.
Debbie: Do you have a favorite Michigan bookstore or favorite Michigan library?
Cynie: Snowbound Books is an independent bookstore in Marquette. It has an amazing inventory for a small place. I always make it a point to get lost there, whenever I’m home. You can find people like Paul Bowles, Denis Johnson, Haruki Murakami as well as the classics, local writing and a good bit of poetry. The place is cozy and warm, especially coming in off of Third Street in winter. The staff tend to keep to themselves, as you would expect in the Midwest, which I like very much. On the other hand, they are friendly and knowledgeable, and will give you an opinion if you ask for one, on a writer or book. It seems they’ve read nearly all the books on their shelves.
Peter White Library is the best library in the world. I spent a lot of time there with my sister when we were growing up. We’d walk up Front Street pulling an empty radio flyer wagon that we’d fill with books. My mother had an affinity for reading and writing, and she instilled in us the importance of a good book. She had requested upon her death that people donate to Peter White. In fact, the Ivory keys and their respective hammers for the grand piano were donated to the library in my mother’s name. I’m proud of that.
Debbie: Favorite place or places in Michigan?
Cynie: Phil Pearce’s store on the Big Bay highway. Phil’s 550. Phil’s nifty 550. He has a garage there where he works on cars, drinks beer with friends, family and neighbors. He sells beer and wine and pop and the regular stuff. Night crawlers. He sells t shirts with his face on it. There are always books to take or to buy for nothing. The best part for me and for many people is seeing him. He has a huge heart and a silver tongue. I feel like I’m a kid when I’m there because he won’t let me buy anything.
There’s the Mackinac Bridge. When I was a kid, my parents and sister and I would drive across it. We never tired of it. It was mind blowing for my sister and me who lived in a world where our perspective was limited to the lake, horizon, and woods. When my dad pressed the gas, there was an exhilarating rush of speed, then the whole world opened up. You could see we were leaving one world for another. For me, the Mackinac Bridge represents possibility, imagination, and therefore freedom. It is the horizontal version of the Eiffel Tower at the fin de siècle. It profoundly altered my view of the world and the self.
Debbie: Favorite Michigan event or happening that you love to attend?
Cynie: In Marquette, the Greek Food Festival is outstanding. So is Art on the Rocks. One fourth of July parade not to miss is in Big Bay. The children and adults of Big Bay Health Camp are its participants.
Debbie: A few Michigan people we should all know about?
Cynie: Definitely Phil Pearce, my uncle, who you can catch at Phil’s 550 on the Big Bay Highway. There have been a few films about him, along with newspaper articles. The Detroit Free Press wrote a nice piece on him last December or January. NMU students and others send Phil photos of themselves from around the world donning Phil’s 550 tee shirts. He is well loved and tells stories that make you laugh. A month or so after Christmas he was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer. He’s still working at his store.
Maggie Linn is someone everyone should know everywhere. She is Chinese-German American who is a nationally recognized watercolorist who lives in Marquette. She doesn’t have a studio any more but she works at home. She paints nature scenes that are anything but cliché. Maggie is in her eighties now. If you get a chance to see her work you won’t regret it.
Debbie: Something you'd like a non-Michigander to know about Michigan?
Cynie: There are no poisonous snakes in Michigan and there is no poison ivy, either. That’s what my father always told me!
Debbie: Well, there's at least one patch of poison ivy, because I recently found it in my yard (or should I say, it found me!). 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?
Cynie: People are out of their minds. There are only Michiganders and I will always be one. There is no option.
Debbie: We'll put you firmly in the Michigander column! Thanks so much for joining us today for Michigander Monday!