"I think my work is primarily concerned with voice, a combina-
tion of tone (attitude toward subject) and mind (the specific language and syntax at work inside the piece)."

More Perihelion:

Bob Sward's Writer's Friendship Series

Book Reviews

Need to Know



Issue 8: Lily

Issue 7: Passages

Issue 6: No More Tears

Issue 5: Phoenix

A quick list to poets featured in this issue:

Valarie Duff

Nick Flynn

Jim Behrle

Fred Marchant

Jacob Strautmann

Vera Kroms

Henry Israeli

Daniel Gutstein

Joyelle McSweeney

David Dodd Lee

Daniel Bosch

Michael Perrow

Luljeta Lleshanaku

Miklós Radnóti

Nikolai Baitov

Drago Stambuk

Zafer Senocak

Featured Poet:
Michael Perrow

Mike Perrow received an MFA in Poetry from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and he currently lives in Medford, Massachusetts. His poems have appeared in Volt, Del Sol Review, The Hollins Critic, and elsewhere, including work that will appear in the Spring 2002 issue of Shenandoah.

Following is a conversation Perihelion had with Mike regarding his roots, aesthetic values, and poetic development.

Mike, you grew up in the south and many of your poems reflect that. Even though you now live in Boston, do you think of yourself as a "southern poet"?

A: I am constitutionally and verncularly a person from the south, but I don't conceive my poetic identity as particularly southern, no. Like most writers, I return to my childhood now and then where loads of images and ideas are still waiting for the right situation in a poem. But I'm more interested in the spatial arrangement and interplay of things than whether or not they refer to a particular place on the map. Regionalism feels like an old-fashioned notion. If editors and poets want to cultivate identities around a sense of region, that's fine -- many readers still insist that biography offers important keys to a poem's meaning. It just doesn't inform my own sense of the creative process.

How would you characterize the kind of poetry you write (lyric, dramatic narrative, etc)?

I'm interested in all of those, and I think readers should recognize these things as elements in all good poems rather than as strict genres. Steven Burt's notion of the "elliptical" poets suggests that he sees narrative, an incomplete one, in some of the best "lyric" poems being published today. For example, Forrest Gander's work is both lyrical and narrative and highly dramatic, and it's the constant intertwining of these elements that buoys his longer poems. I think my work is primarily concerned with voice, a combination of tone (attitude toward subject) and mind (the specific language and syntax at work inside the piece). Which means I am happy to "write about" anything as long as the voice interests me. Of course, the challenge is to guard against solipsism, which I don't often succeed at. That's why I try to write a lot, so something worth keeping will break through now and then.

Who are your major influences?

I've been interested in poetry for a long time, and I still hear the voices of Frost and Roethke from my early adolescent reading. The quality of sound from those two is still a powerful shaper for how I listen to new lines in my head. As a poetic intellect, Alan Dugan remains one of my strongest influences, for his wit and craft in the metaphysical realm; Plath, too, is a favorite in this category. Ultimately, Wallace Stevens is god. He's in a third category of influence along the lines of the French symbolists, where I also put James Tate and Ashbery. Oscar Wilde says "Those who look beneath the surface do so at their peril," and Stevens is clever enough to create surfaces you just can't help trying to peak beneath.

Mike, though you have an MFA, you earn your living in the corporate world. Can you tell us something about that decision--or condition? How did you get from A to B?

The decision wasn't hard. I didn't have the luxury of moving anywhere I might find a teaching job when I finished graduate school, so I started working as a tech writer for a computer company. Over the years, I've learned high tech marketing, and I actually like my job editing the online magazine for a decent software company. The experience you get in writing programs, especially the collaborative peer environment of writing workshops, can really pay off if you find yourself working as a writer for a largish company. In the software industry I've found lots of English, Music, and History majors who keep me on my toes. And I've managed to teach, between corporate jobs, here and there.

How do you think your work in information technology influences your poetry (if it does)?

Not one shred of influence on my poems, but I DO get a great laptop computer to lug home and bang on late at night.

Where are you headed with your work---of the poets working now, who interests you most?

Of the poets working right now, I'm exhilarated by a crazy variety of styles ... Jane Mead, Forrest Gander, Stanley Moss, Lucie Brock-Broido, Sidney Lea, C.D. Wright, Steven Dunn, Steven Dobyns. I'm terribly glad Alan Dugan is finally being given the spotlight he deserves, because most of his work has been out of print for so long. If Dugan's first book were brand new today, I think it would still feel fresh and shocking, the way John Donne can feel. His new collected poems should stir the imaginations of younger writers who've been wading in the swamp of all that "language poetry" published over the past 20 years. Hard to say where I'm headed. I hope I don't sound self aggrandizing by saying that I've never followed trends. (Especially that trend where you get lots of your poems published.) If I were pressed, I'd have to say the poems "Reunion Number 3" and "When It Comes..." represent a style I'm interested in furthering.

Thanks, Mike, for talking with Perihelion. Mike's poetry can be found here.