with Jory Mickelson:
Jory Mickelson’s first book, WILDERNESS//KINGDOM, is the inaugural winner of the Evergreen Award Tour from Floating Bridge Press and winner of the 2020 High Plains Book Award in Poetry. Their publications include Court Green, Painted Bride Quarterly, Jubilat, Sixth Finch, and The Rumpus. They are the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and were awarded fellowships from the Lambda Literary Foundation, Winter Tangerine, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. You can learn more about them at www.jorymickelson.com
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
It seems like I have always been scribbling in notebooks. My first clear memory of writing in the second grade (age 8?), a short story about my friends based on the board game Candyland. You could say that candy was a great influence on my childhood imagination.
I didn’t begin to write poetry until middle school. Then, I wrote a lot of drafts and never really revised them. They weren’t for public consumption, though I did share a few with friends. Embarrassingly, I didn’t start reading poetry until my freshman year of college when a romantic interest gave me Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg. The Beats were probably my first real poetic influence.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
This is a tough question! Perhaps influence isn’t the best word, but I read it as who am I learning from. I feel like I learn a little bit from every book of poems I read. In 2020 I read women poets almost exclusively and feel as if my writing shifted under their tutelage. Some highlights for me this past year have been Linda Gregg, Jane Kenyon, and Lisel Mueller.
Hmmm, who else? Joanna Klink, Corrie Williamson, and Jessica Jacobs. I am easily influenced!
Q3: Any pivotal moments when you knew you wanted to be a writer/artist?
Jory: Funnily enough, I started college as a studio painting major. My parents were art teachers and I grew up painting and drawing; it seemed like a natural thing to do. However, I realized I didn’t have a passion for it. It was only in 2007, when I went back to finish my B.A. that I realized I wanted to write poetry all the time. That it didn’t have a bottom for me. I could go deeper and deeper and still feel passionate about it.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Jory: Although I did get an B.A. in English and an MFA in poetry, and had some excellent teachers in both programs, I think I have been most helped by my writing group. We formed a few years after I graduated from my MFA program. The four of us have shared and offered feedback on our each other’s work for years. They know me. They know my strengths and weaknesses. They keep encouraging me to keep writing and sending poems out into the world. They provide an example by doing it themselves. They are my believing mirrors.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away influence your work?
Jory: I grew up in rural Montana. Landscape, wilderness, place is always showing through in my work. Place or setting is as much a character in my poems as the speaker in the poem. So often, the landscape is working with or against the characters in my work. I live in the Pacific Northwest now and these surroundings are slowly making their way into my work, especially the ocean.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Jory: I think my most meaningful work, is the work I do every time I sit down and put something on the page. I’ve had poems published in fantastic journals. I published a book that won a few awards. Poets I respect have said kind things about my work. For me thought, it comes down to the work I am doing right now. I think the ability to give time, attention, and care to my writing whatever the rest of my life might look like is what really matters to me most.
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Jory: I read wildly and voraciously. I don’t just read poetry or fiction. I read history and memoir and graphic novels and urban fantasy. Reading widely is one way I allow my mind to roam as it will. I also like to hike and take walks. Walking puts me in contact with my environment and also allows my mind not to stare at a screen or a page. My body gets to move around and my mind wanders. It is a win-win for my whole person.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others?
Jory: I would have to say Wallace Stevens’ “Perhaps / the truth depends on a walk around a lake.”
I’ve been living inside that phrase during the whole pandemic. Walking through the seasons, circling the same neighborhoods. Turning and turning again, what my life looks like when there is less distraction. I like the idea that what we call “truth” most often, is our own perspective.
We also have to acknowledge that our perspective shifts and changes all the time. I am not a static being. The world is not a static place.
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Well, I am always happy to talk about my book WILDERNESS//KINGDOM (Floating Bridge Press). It won their Evergreen Award Tour prize and also was the 2020 High Plains Book Award winner in poetry. It is my first poetry book and my first child in so many ways.
I also have a new poetry manuscript circulating among publishers. It deals with Western US history and how those legacies impact us today. I have loved researching and dreaming those poems into a book and can’t wait for someone to publish it.