Poetry & Conversation: Megan McShea

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By Shaileen B.

A Mountain City of Toad Splendor: what a deliciously playful title! I suspect playfulness will be in the air at our next Poetry & Conversation, Tuesday, September 24. That's when the author of that book, Megan McShea, will take the stage with Joanna Pearson, reading from their work and fielding questions.

Megan McSheaMegan McShea did a mini-interview with us in advance:

What book are you reading now?
I just finished Don Delillo's The Body Artist. I always have a stack I pull from when I sit down to write, which right now includes Robert Walser's Microscripts [on Amazon], Jack Christian's Family Systems [on Amazon], which I picked up at the great Baltimore reading series "Say It With Writing," and Rachel Levitsky's The Story of My Accident Is Ours [on Amazon], which is a book-length philosophical prose poem about the Occupy movement. It's fantastic. They're all fantastic.

What three books would you take to a desert island?
You must know how difficult that question is for a book lover! I'll try. The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara, Blaster Al Ackerman's The Complete Works from Lost and Found Times [on Amazon], which just came out a few months after his death this year, and maybe At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brian. Maybe I'd finally get through it!

What is one poem by someone else that you wish you had written?
"Joe's Jacket" by Frank O'Hara.

Do you have a favorite line of poetry or sentence from a poem?
I'm not sure if it's a favorite, but there is a Walt Whitman line from "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" that is etched into the pier there in Brooklyn that I can't say out loud without choking up.  Here it is: "Throb, baffled and curious brain! Throw Out Questions and Answers!"

How did you come to write poetry?
I started writing when I dropped out of grad school in my early twenties. At the time, I was using writing to free my brain from that academic way of thinking and using language, so what I needed most was freedom. Freedom to play and make beautiful noises without having to worry too much about sense.

What came out was very fragmented, and at first I thought it was an artifact of where I was mentally, and that I would get back to something more conventional once I'd sort of worked it out.  But I never got tired of going to that place of total freedom with language. It still makes me feel better to play with language and see what it does. It's a limitless project.

Tell us a little about your writing process.

I write in the morning, before the demands of the day can distract me. I get some coffee, write in my journal for a while, then pick up something to read, I guess to sort of shift my focus from myself to language.  Then I read the last thing I wrote and pound out something new on the typewriter.

Down the road, I go through the stack of morning writings and pick out things I like and I work on them, trying to make them readable without losing too much of the original impulse. Years ago I never edited anything. I think I thought I'd have to make them make sense, and I was sort of terrified of doing that to them. Doing readings actually helped me realize how great it could be to shape a piece in terms of improving its delivery. Now I love revising, making things more readable.

Living in Baltimore, where there's a great tolerance for experimentation and a very supportive creative community, I was able to figure that out. I am not sure I would have figured that out if I hadn't been lucky enough to wind up here.

Would you share a poem or two with our readers?


Spends the whole future drying the dampness made from years of humid suitors. An old way of talking or of being. Sneaks around the shadowy halls while we blank the blank blank house at the what what road, but we had to admit, over our dead bodies might take too long. Inching towards catharsis, brainy moods overtook our lazy hearts, ambling up a narrow path towards our goals: a tree, from the past, still there, no matter what. Then: a dirigible. However unlikely. Stomach contents revealed a nurtured life. And then, look here, say it’s blue, say it’s worn out, beautiful, say it’s new today and noisy, say mighty things. Make fly, leave waste. Sound it out: di-ri-gi-ble. Stony glares from the media gallery. But our spirits were buttressed by the hair and makeup treatment and our new fruit. No native poise so great that it cannot be improved by a mango. Another day, a beach date: walk walk walk walk splash splash flop down quiet then hot and lean in, smooth around the ankle area. Then: hot dogs.

The orchestra blinks
wonders why when over-tired
whales rise rather than sink
And their voices hum a lot
Their whole outward countenance
goggled with finery as if underwater
keeping one eye on the conductor
one eye on the music
and one eye on the whale

For more Poetry and Conversation, come to the Poe Room Tuesday, September 24. Follow @librarypoems to learn about other poetry events at the Pratt Library, and join the conversation at #PrattPoetry.

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