Writer in the Spotlight
In addition to having fiction published by several on-line literary magazines, Michael Keshigian is the author of five chapbooks and has earned two Pushcart nominations and a Best of the Net nomination.
Michael, we're really fussy here, rejecting almost 98% of what we receive... and yet two of your poems made it into our fall issue! Let's talk about "Two-Step" first. Comments about how you came to write it?
First of all, thank you for granting me this forum. I appreciate the opportunity you offered to add some insight to my poetry. I'm glad you selected these two, they are both favorites with special significance.
I remembered years ago in college catching Buddy Rich at a club in Saugus, MA, sitting no more than a couple of feet from him, close enough for eye contact. Well, his eyes were dancing that night and the band was charged, the jazz they played was all over the modal map. It was great stuff, but I noticed the crowd was small and I assumed somewhat sophisticated. Later, when I wrote “Two-Step”, I took the point of view of someone not in tune with the various tonalities of where jazz might take them.
I love the dance-like rhythm of the language, of course, especially "this babe be-bopped from behind." I really just loved that.
With Buddy Rich literally hopping in his seat, everyone else toe-tapping, legs swaying, I felt like it was necessary to get a rhythmic element going to capture the electricity he generated. The alliteration afforded by the line you mentioned goes a long way in establishing a pulse and allows the next sequence of words (really groove/danced through the night) to help reinforce the rhythmic tension. In the last line, the words help curtail the pulse and give the poem a sense of closure.
The second poem we accepted is "Thief." The word that comes to mind, for me, is "masterful." This one really made me jealous! Where did it come from?
Well, thank you for that. Sometimes it's difficult to tell where these ideas come from. Mostly experience, I suppose, sprinkled with imagination, then you start to write and follow the sentences wherever they go. Later you add a dash of technique.
With “Thief” it was political spinning that got me going in the direction of word exploitation. I decided to deliver it with more poetic themes in mind.
How long have you been writing?
Circumstances came together about 11 years ago that allowed me to get serious about writing. By that I mean not just the creative act itself, but the time it also takes to read good literature and study the craft.
Who are some of your influences?
That's also a tough one to answer. Every time I read something I enjoy, I walk away a bit more enriched. As a musician, I'm often asked about my favorite composer. I could listen to and appreciate Mozart as eagerly as Stravinsky. For months at a time, I'd exhaust a specific composer's repertoire and swear favoritism, only to be distracted by another's music and technical approach. With music, as with writing, I search for the composer's/writer's idiosyncrasy, the uniqueness he/she brings to the discipline. It's difficult not to appreciate the art once you have discovered that. Like any good student, I synthesize the words of my teachers and mentors to trickle out my own expression. With that said, I could read Lawrence Ferlinghetti all day, bouncing between him and Dylan Thomas, but the writings of Hermann Hesse probably weighed upon me most in the formative years.
Ferlinghetti? I knew you had a beat soul! Are you a fan of Allen Ginsberg? To me "Howl" is what gritty, honest poetry is all about. And I love his sutras.
I am a fan of the beats! "Howl" was one of the most intense and provocative pieces I've ever read.
And with regards to Hesse, I devoured him in high school and college. I once had a literature professor who opined that his writing was lovely, but at the end of the day, was flowery, unsubstantial, and really didn't mean anything... years later when I tried to read him again - I think I picked up The Glass Bead Game - I felt disappointingly as if I had outgrown him.
I'm not sure I agree with your literature professor, though I haven't re-read anything by Hesse since college. At that time I found him to be a profound, singularly insightful writer whose literature created a small but cult-like following because of its spiritual force and insight into the human psyche. Perhaps I should give him another read.
Do you have a favorite poem, what was going on while you wrote it, why do you like it best, and let's see some of it.
It is almost impossible to single one out since every poem captures a different aspect of my personality and no one aspect really jumps out. Some are definitely more revealing than others and strike nearer the heart. Some are perceptions of life, comments about career, just casual surveillance or comic relief. The closest ones seem to be those poems that attempt to wrap their arms around the reality of life. “Diversion” is one that comes to mind. I believe the poem speaks for itself:
He lies awake
during the small hours of quiet
after midnight and focuses upon
the husky rhythmic patterns of breath
which sustain her
in stark contrast
to the stillness of her soul
reflected on her face.
after sharing years of secure abandon,
about the first day he enters
this ritual of repose alone
should she render
to permanent slumber before him,
and realizes his ordinarily vivid imagination
dares not trespass
upon unfathomable ground.
Yet, he persists conjecture,
still unable to complete the thought
and as unnerving sensations invade his psyche,
he rises to write these lines
in hopeful diversion
to an inevitable confrontation
from his perspective or hers.
On the other hand, when I use to battle migraines on a daily basis, the headaches drove me to write this poem, which actually helped when I visualized it in this manner:
Microscopic migrant construction workers
inhabit my skull,
though their exact location is a mystery,
yet I believe them to be
a nomadic tribe of insolent carpenters
in the blood vessels of my brain,
back hoeing plasma
and blasting capillary walls
from the cranial dome
to the base of my neck
and forward to the temples,
paving and leveling
while hammering mercilessly
in an attempt to reconstruct
though they cease their efforts
for a day or two
en route to another site
when their task begins again
with the heavy rumble of their work
weighing profoundly upon
curtailing my progress
as the constant pounding
begins to create slight fissures
upon my scalp
and a reddish hue
in my eye.
Ouch, sorry about the headaches, but great imagery!
Thankfully, they're a thing of the past.
Okay, five chapbooks is a lot of chapbooks! Can you tell us a little bit about that process, and where we can get a look at them?
For me a chapbook might be defined as a momentary state of mind, a collection of poetry reflective of my disposition on subjects with loosely related themes connected by my perception at the time. It all changes as we grow, but the permanence of a print or online chap captures the experience that once was or still might be you.
Of course, getting a publisher to see it that way is another story. Some have specific ideas about what a chapbook might entail. Luckily, my experiences have been good ones. The publishers I experienced embraced the same perspective, respective to the quality of the poetry, technical expression, language and rhythm.
My latest chap (Warm Summer Memories) was just released in July, 2007 by Maverick Duck Press. Kendall Bell has been a great editor to work with in the chapbook world.
Also in June, 2007, my first online chap (Seeking Solace) was published by Liz Fortini at Language And Culture. Net. My first (Translucent View) and third (Silent Poems) chaps came from Four-Sep Publications, while my second chapbook (Dwindling Knight) was published by BoneWorld Publishing (3700 County Route 24, Russell, NY).
Oh, and one more link: http://hometown.aol.com/ekimmk/myhomepage/index.html.
Okay, thanks for all the leads! Tell us about the Pushcart nominations and the Best of the Net nomination.
Red River Review nominated Diversion back in 2003 for the Pushcart Award, while Ibbetson Street Press (Doug Holder and Robert Johnson) just this year nominated Morning Trek. Kendall Bell, whom I previously mentioned, also edits Chantarelle's Notebook with his wife, Christinia. They nominated Homeless In NYC for a Best Of The Net Award.
And you're a musician too?
Actually, you could say I am a musician first. My undergraduate degree came from Boston Conservatory, with Master's work at New York University and Doctor Of Musical Arts courses at Boston University. I play clarinet and saxophone as a freelance performer in a variety of symphonic ensembles and jazz groups as well as teach those instruments on a contracted basis at various institutions in and around the city.
You sound like one of those people who is living the life he always dreamed of! I'm so glad to know that's still possible!
There's up and down days no matter what you may be into. I'm just glad I am able to pursue some of those things which interest me!A good family support system helps to add balance and for that I am indebted to my wife. It sort of goes like this:
HIDDEN AMID THE STARS
It wasn't easy,
living with him,
his moody character
and need for privacy,
the all night creative fits
while she tried to sleep.
She interrupted him
in the middle of a thousand poems
for household information,
invaded his reverie
on the blue hill mountain pass
as the view sung an ode
in his brain,
even conquered his triumph
over an elusive phrase
when she yelled up
But he clung to her,
his raft on the white water swirls,
stability upon the rumbling current
of perpetual thought.
Often, he floated alone,
submerged in foam,
gagging for the tangible
and she would grab a handful of hair,
yank his heavy head up.
They stumbled through silence,
blundered through varied perspectives,
yet when the river calmed,
they studied the stars
to find out exactly
where they were going.
Great, great stuff! I look forward to reading more from you. Thanks for being our Writer in the Spotlight, Michael, and best of luck with your future writing!
Thank you, Robin.