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Interview With Poet Mary Biddinger

Originally published at La Fovea

MY UPPER PENINSULA
by: Mary Biddinger

We were all suffering from a kind of incandescence.
Would rather fling all the freshly-baked rolls
down the stairs than face the accuser.
I wondered if I was moldering. My mother
didn’t even recognize the ravioli that I edged
with my spinner. I’d filled it with scraps of cloth
anyway. All the girls in my class had hair like Journey
and mouths the slashes of red a wolf leaves behind.
Save me, oh god of direct and swift evacuations.
Some day I would be lecturing a class of students
or getting tangled in the horizontal blinds
in the middle of an emphatic statement. Nobody
there to wield the tin snips. My pack of girls only
a trigger on a night at the county fair, the reek
of funnel cakes scissoring long-sleeve blouses
into the ratty tanks we’d stash in our purses for later.
There was something dangerous under our skin.
I ask my class agai
n to mark up this draft of the globe.
They’ve never been drunk in Nice and vomiting across
multiple electrified rails. In a dream, the double that is more
authentic than the original walks down a street with me.
We stagger in unison. We’ve both had to begin the dessert
again from scratch, not being able to resist a swift punch
to the center of the springform pan. We’d both rather
surrender all of the wooden coins before anyone asks.
Is there anything more exhilarating than a good wait
in damp clothing, or the moment you open your mouth
and realize you know the language after all, you can call
off the dogs or invent the numbers for the payphone,

and the man who shows you to your room won’t leave out
a tour of the aluminum shower down the hall.
He whispers you can both fit in there. He’ll write down
every stranger who leaves a card at the front desk.

I’ve been working on a interview project with Deborah at 32 Poems magazine, and she kindly allowed me to interview past contributors to the magazine. We will be posting the interviews throughout the coming months, and our sixth interview posted on Deborah’s Poetry Blog of 32 Poems on March 3.

I’m going to provide you with a snippet from the interview, but if you want to read the entire interview, I’ll provide you a link for that as well.

For now, let me introduce to you 32 Poems contributor, Mary Biddinger:

1. Not only are you a contributor to 32 Poems, you also founded Barn Owl Review. What “hat” do you find most difficult to wear and why?

As a kid I loved the Dr. Seuss book The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. Little did I know that it would be a literal representation of my future. I’m a poet, an editor of Barn Owl Review and the Akron Series in Poetry, and a writing program administrator moving into the directorship of a large, consortial MFA program (the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program, or NEOMFA). Outside that, I’m a mother and homeowner, a book club facilitator and a photographer of random Rust Belt detritus. I’m a person who rarely knows what day it is, but who plans what to cook for dinner a week in advance.

The only conflict between hats seems to be the administrative hat versus the artistic hat. They don’t want to stay on at the same time. The administrative hat wants to cover up the artistic hat. The artistic hat tells me to lie on the floor of my office and think about poems, while the administrative hat tells me to run down the hall and start ransacking the filing cabinet. Thankfully, the editorial hat doesn’t conflict with any of the other hats. It’s sort of the best of both worlds for me.

2. Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

I remind my students that poetry predates literacy, and that it belongs to all of us. I’ve found that today’s young people (school-agers) are more open to poetry than they were in the past. I think it’s the convergence of freestyle and academic poetry that creates the rift, though it really doesn’t have to be a rift. I try to keep my own poems out of the realm of the allusive and grounded in the everyday. If you’ve seen rebar before, you can “get it.”

3. How do you stay fit and healthy as a writer?

I work out at the gym about four days a week. I lift weights, run on the treadmill, attack the elliptical. I’m naturally an antsy person, and sitting at a desk doesn’t suit me for long periods of time. Working out gives me some balance. Otherwise, I try to eat healthy all of the time. No sweets, lots of protein, fruit, veg. There were times in my life where I existed only on pasta, and now I avoid it. I have a penchant for Basmati rice.

I used to get sick a lot, but so far 2009 has treated me well. I believe in the power of citrus. I drink too much coffee and diet coke, but hope that my good habits outweigh the bad.

4. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

My follow up to Prairie Fever, currently titled Hot Corners, is just starting to circulate to some publishers. This book contains a series of persona poems on a fictional reinvention of Saint Monica, patron of wives in bad marriages, among other things. Hot Corners includes non-Monica poems as well, and you can find poems from the book in current or forthcoming issues of Gulf Coast, Fifth Wednesday Journal, The Laurel Review, Memorious, Ninth Letter, North American Review, /nor, Third Coast, and many other journals.

The poem that’s forthcoming in 32 Poems, “The Velvet Arms,” is part of a new series that explores the urban transient hotel as a locus of everyday desire and transgression. The poems aren’t cemented in any particular timeframe, and slide between the 1940’s rooming house and the contemporary SRO (single room occupancy). I was inspired to write this series thanks to an apartment building I lived in for many years when I was in Chicago. It was an old vaudeville-era hotel, and I kept thinking of how I wasn’t so different from the people who had inhabited it before me. A number of the poems from this series, including “The Velvet Arms,” are written in exactly twenty lines of blank verse.

Beyond that series, which may be more of a chapbook that a book-length collection, I am working on a new manuscript that begins where Hot Corners ends. It’s coming together organically, rather than as a premeditated project. I’m not sure where it will go, but I can promise that there will be dirty snow, trembling baguettes, a terrifying carousel pony, and a watermelon tied up in a tree.

Want to find out what Mary’s writing space looks like? What music she listens to while she writes? Find out what she’s working on now, her obsessions, and much more. Check out the rest of my interview with Mary here. Please feel free to comment on the 32 Poems blog and Savvy Verse & Wit.

Mary Biddinger Bio:

Mary Biddinger was born in Fremont, California, in 1974. She grew up in Illinois and Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan (BA in English and Creative Writing), Bowling Green State University (MFA in poetry), and the University of Illinois at Chicago (Ph.D. in English, Program for Writers). She is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Akron and NEOMFA: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program, which she will begin directing in the summer of 2009.

***Current Giveaways for the Carnival are here, here, and here. The Kingmaking has one international ARC available and 3 copies for U.S. and Canada residents (no P.O. Boxes). Drood is U.S. and Canada residents (No. P.O. boxes) only.***