Dunes Review Interview Series: Michael Mark
Michael Mark is a hospice volunteer. His poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Cimarron Review, Cutthroat Journal, Poet Lore, Pleiades, Potomac Review, Rattle, Sugar House Review, Spillway, and The Sun. His poetry has been nominated for three Pushcart prizes. Find him online at michaeljmark.com.
What first inspired you to write?
Two things: I couldn't hear well as a kid and made up stories to fill in the gap. That habit stuck around. I think I liked what I told myself more than what others did. And in college I was put with a roommate who wrote. I was too shy to meet girls on my own so I wrote, too.
What is your writing routine like?
I see myself as a radio, always on. The reception is clearest early in the morning, before light. I have a few places to go in the house and will sit with a cup of hot water, a blanket, books, other writing and my laptop. I've also found walking opens me up; I'll tap on my cell or use a recording app.
What's the first thing you do when starting a new piece of writing?
Stay out of the way. I listen, take dictation of everything that comes. Later I’ll hunt through the muck. When nothing's happening, I look at my notes - I'm always jotting down what I observe, hear – to see if I pick up a frequency. If I do, I go as long as it goes, try to stay with it but not get ahead, not guide.
What's your least favorite thing about writing?
Writing ugly or telling the same story in the same way over and over. Worrying that it's never going to be good again. That I’m wasting my time. Worrying that what I thought was good wasn't. Loving something and the next day it's got nothing, it's bad. And saying "no" to people or to do something in order to write and finding I have nothing of quality to show for it.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
Those I think are done have a vibration that I feel throughout. I'll think it's done then I'll read it months later and they'll be dull spots. I'll rewrite long after it's published.
How do you feel about sharing your writing with readers?
I want people to get something, be touched by my poems. I don't know more than that. I've been told "I understand my parents or a sibling better" by readers - that's the best.I’ve gotten all sorts of reactions including getting work back in ashes.
Whose writing inspires you?
So many: Adam Zagajewski, Jim May, Philip Levine, David Romtvedt, Jane Hirshfield, Alison Luterman, Tony Hoagland, WS Merlin, Kathleen McGookey, Ellen Bass, William Carlos Williams, Peter Krumbach, Mary Szybist, Terrance Hayes, Elizabeth Bishop, Stephen Dunn. I think I'm inspired by the vernacular, the talk of the folks, work talk, yelling, effort, my hospice patients and family. The stuff in Queens at the pizza place. But then some fancy twirly talk will get me, too.
Who are you currently reading?
Tony Hoagland - Donkey Gospel and Twenty Poems That Could Save America, Jane Hirshfield - Nine Gates and The Beauty. Tiana Clark - Equilibrium. Kathleen McGookey - Heart In A Jar is stunning. I read lots of journals and reviews. And I listen to podcasts.
If someone were to write a book about your life (either fiction or nonfiction), who would you want that author to be and why?
My grandmother Tillie. I’d like to see if I lived a life of value - she'd know.
What is your favorite thing to do when you're not writing?
Walk - I take long walks. Just back from walking Offa’s Dyke in Wales with my son.
I listen in on people's conversations. Watch people.