Interview with Mark Magoon, by Jeff Handy

Published: Vol II, Issue I
Date of Interview: July 6th, 2014

Can you describe your typical creative process? Do you feel like your poems are most often the result of your channeling a muse, or do you begin a poem through sheer will?

My creative process varies. Big time. A month ago I wrote a poem that was perfect and it was perfect as soon as I got it down on paper—I wish I could find magic like that all the time—sit down, write, then read it back and, “Oh, well that’s all how it should be.” That almost never happens. My creative process is typically marred with obsession—something will get stuck in my head and it seems I hardly have a say in the matter. However, what that obsession comes to mean is a process that I am very much part of, thankfully. In my experience, poetry is special that way. It’s rare for my poems to end up where they started or saying what I intended them to say at the outset and I think that’s where “sheer will” comes into play. Lots of molding. My writing takes a ton of editing and reworking. Certainly my favorite thing about writing poetry is that there’s always some odd sense of discovery and I can write my way there—or perhaps I’m doing it all wrong.

Where do you write? Do you favor a particular ambiance while you’re writing?

My wife and I live in a smallish apartment in Chicago so I don’t have a desk or an office and that generally works out OK since many of my poems come from blurbs I write on my phone in bed at four in the morning or things I scribble in my notebook on the train. I don’t necessarily need a traditional workspace, but when things do get serious we have a large, old and quite lovely dining room table my folks gifted us when we moved in together. I love using that as my workspace. I write late at night when I can spread myself out and be a mess. I spread junk all over the table—notes, books, scribbles, and scraps of paper. Surface area is key. And so is music—I always wear headphones and never listen to anything with lyrics.

When and why did you begin taking writing seriously?

Tuesday, January 21 at 7:00 PM. I took part in a reading series earlier this year that was held at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago—my former professor, Kathleen Rooney, asked me to be part of The Open Door Reading Series which showcases the city’s writing programs and “emerging” writers. After that night, something clicked. I remember saying to someone, maybe myself, “I’m really going to be a writer now.” Up until then writing always seemed like an unreachable fantasy, likely because I treated it that way. I don’t know if the luster of the event inspired me or if the shame from comparing myself to the other readers at the event lit the fire, but since that day I’ve given writing my best shot.

How did education play a role in your development as a writer?

Education turned something of a hobby into something tangible. Nowadays there are all these Internet lists that tell folks what to do and so many education themed ones say to stay away from a degree in the fine arts—maybe don’t quit your day job, but learning about what you love is fascinating and incredibly rewarding. My professors and my classmates made writing a reality. For me education meant everything—education allowed for all the aha moments.

What are you working on now?

I’m starting to work on a collection of poems that are, sort of, travel themed or influenced by my most recent trip to Europe. My work always tends towards place and the relationships that extend or exist due to place—my first book of poems, forthcoming from ELJ Publications in 2015, focuses on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and my family’s roots. Right now I’m trying to turn my work as far away from the Upper Peninsula as possible.

Whose work interests you right now? What poets or presses are putting out work that you find exciting?

I am a chronic re-reader and I will always re-read John Berryman, Philip Levine, and James Wright. Contemporary-wise, Matthew Zapruder. Though he isn’t a poet, always Cormac McCarthy. Gary Lutz too.

What, in your opinion, is the state of contemporary American poetry right now? Where is it headed?

This question makes me feel small, very under qualified. It is all so new. My instinctive answer is that there is good work everywhere. It’s insane. And it’s easy to find. What has blown me away as I go deeper down the rabbit hole is the wealth of online publications putting out quality poetry. I keep finding poetry that moves me and it’s free. I think the medium makes what was once a waning art form a million times more accessible—connectivity allows folks to connect with poetry a good bit easier. For me, that’s something that poetry stands to benefit from, especially for the layfolk, accessibility. It’s tough to get the “common” American to read poetry—they shy away from footnotes and, well, anything they can’t find or understand—if people have to scroll through my poetry on a tablet or an iPhone, that’s great, I just want them to read. Period.