Diane Seuss

recorded in Kalamazoo, MI

 

Diane Seuss

This is Diane Seuss and I live in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I’m from Southwest, lower Michigan; I was born outside of Three Oaks, Michigan. My parents had to drive to eh hospital quite a ways and back when I was born there was no awareness of what you ought to and ought not do as a pregnant person so they stopped for coffee on the way to the hospital. I was born into the hands of nuns. It was a Catholic hospital on a very foggy night in May. Three Oaks was a little town right near Lake Michigan. We soon moved to Edwardsburg, which is where my mom grew up, next to a cemetery, which is a great playground if you’re going to grow up to be a writer, and that town, that village, was just full of amazing ghosts, stories, and, um, humans. So I would say a great deal of my internal landscape that I still draw from as a poet emerged out of that place—that theology, that mythology, that lexicon. My dad got sick when we lived there. He was a high school teacher and then he became a guidance counselor. And he died when I was seven, by which point we had moved to Niles, which is where my mom and sister still are. That’s another spooky, freaky place. I rarely go there because it makes my tuning fork buzz. But it’s good for my inner life to remember it. A lot of what comes up in my most recent collection comes out of Niles and Edwardsburg. I live in Kalamazoo which is enough distance from the freaky places that I don’t go insane [laughs] but if I need to, there’s a nice regional psych unit right up the street—where Malcolm X’s mother was, by the way.


Knox Writers’ House

Wow


Seuss

Yeah. I teach a Kalamazoo College, so I’m kind of on the—I think of myself as Writer in Residence, which, actually, one student thought meant I lived on campus, like they chained me to a wall and I wrote. But actually, I live very near campus so I see myself as a writer in Academia, as sort of having a little outpost on the edge of things and students come to me, we light a fire, we sit in a circle, I like dumb classrooms rather than smart classrooms, so no computers and stuff in my classroom, and think about being a writing tribe, which is the way I’ve found to survive. Kalamazoo is a great place to be a writer. There’s Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, there’s a very healthy writing community here that has a lot of flux and a lot of comings and goings because of the programs at K and Western. So I feel like we have, for a city this size, we have a lot going on, a lot of juice. But at the same time, it isn’t just a place devoted to writing, so there’s just people living, which is nice. I like living; it’s fun. So I draw a lot from living in Kalamazoo too, and the landscape suits my imagination—it’s a very similar landscape to what I grew up in, so it’s not dramatically beautiful, it’s kind of weeds and cattails and redwing blackbirds and junk, curbs, broken glass; I like that. And I’ve found—I’ve lived other places, I lived in New York for quite a while—that there came a time when I felt like I couldn’t function as a writer because I couldn’t see the horizon. And you know, people who grew up in the city probably feel the same way. I remember Woody Allen being quoted, he was in the country for a while and just the sound of crickets was horrific to him. For me, the sound of crickets is how I keep from going under. I wouldn’t call myself a nature child, but I draw a lot of my images from the natural. My new book is called Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open and there is a Wolf Lake out on M-43, about eight miles from here and it’s a really cool space because there’s no houses around the lake. It’s a small lake, but it’s really deep, I don’t know how many feet, but very deep, spring fed and I spent a lot of time out there. When my marriage was falling apart, we had this shitty fishing boat, really heavy, and we’d hoist that fucker up on this crap van we had and I have a son, at the time who was about twelve and my ex-husband and we would go out to Wolf Lake about every night in the summer and fish. And I think what I thought I was doing was trying to rescue my marriage and, um, I caught a lot of fish [laughs]. The marriage, not so much. But there were glow worms around the edge and it’s just a very beautiful, strange, spooky place. The title poem in my book, if you read that, you’ll see that. I find it erotic and scary and sort of a great whirlpool of sorrow, too. And did I say beautiful? So that place is very important to me and to have access to places like that while still living in a small city where you can go hear readings and all is very important to me.


KWH

Something we ask everybody, because of the nature of this project is—do you think there’s a Midwestern voice or aesthetic.


Seuss

I do. I think there’s a Midwestern aesthetic. And I hope it isn’t pedestalizing the rural or a conventional folksiness. How would I explain…I think there’s a Michigan voice. We’re defined partly by the Great Lakes. Also, when you say where you’re from, you always show your hand.


KWH

Yup.


Seuss

So we’re also defined by a body part. Luckily, we’re not Florida with our penis that we have to show you [laughs]. “I’m in the scrotum area” [laughs]. No, we’re just a hand: “I’m the life line.” So there is a Michigan, what is it? There’s always a feeling in Michigan poets of…I feel like anything I say is going to be a lie [laughs]. I could make something up though. We’re always trying to get to the water. We’re always trying to not be landlocked. Economically, we’re always fucked. So there’s that. There’s something about a tendency toward solitude or even isolation. I think Midwestern poets generally, and this could be all full of shit, are more likely to look at things really closely and know the names of things rather than “It’s a flower.” We think about the rust-colored tiger lily and we kind of look in there and see the pollen is like rust too, and it has freckles, and then the next day it’s dead. We really know the names of things. I don’t know…maybe a melancholy, maybe a self-determinedness. Have you read Maurice Manning’s Bucholics?


KWH

No


Seuss

Oh, that’s one you should read. I don’t know where he’s teaching now but he’s in Indiana. I think he’s an Indiana or Kentucky poet. And it’s spelled like Maurice.


KWH

Oh, he’s in Indiana.


Seuss

Yeah. Amazing. And Bucholics is all in the voice of a farmhand who calls –all the poems are addressed to Boss. And Boss is sort of God. If you read that, you’ll know what the Midwest poet is, I think. So I’m a Midwest poet in a certain way, but interfaced with my experiences elsewhere. I think I’m more, maybe openly, erratic than most Midwestern poets. But that’s probably a cliché too.


KWH

You said Kalamazoo is a great place to be a writer, do you participate in a community of writers, whatever that means?


Seuss

Yeah, I used to be in a group, you know, a group of writers. It’s hard for me to have the time for that now. I teach a master class every summer, Bonnie Jo’s in it, Con is in it, and, oh, 12 to 14 publishing poets, and that’s been a very good thing. In a way, as the teacher of it, it’s not a fully egalitarian community, but the good part is it keeps me in contact with those people. My tendency is to be sort of an isolate.


KWH

And you think it’s a good thing to force yourself to interact with other writers.


Seuss

Yes. And I do have to force myself. I sometimes am living in the work like a snow globe and somebody has to crack it now and then.

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