Garin Cycholl

recorded in Chicago, IL

 

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Garin Cycholl

This is Garin Cycholl. I live in Homewood, Illinois, now. I’ve lived down there for a couple years. Prior to that, I lived in Chicago for ten years. I teach here at UIC, and at the University of Chicago. I moved to Chicago in the late ‘90s after living in downstate Illinois near a small town called Dundas. I pastured a couple of churches down there and moved to Chicago to do graduate work, and then ended up staying here and I love being here. One of the things I particularly love about Chicago is that you’ve got all these different communities of writers that are all over the place and you get to move between them and get to know them and get the sense of where they feel their work is going, in various ways. And Chicago has been very fertile that way in the last couple decades, as well as before that, for poets I think. Particularly now, I seems like there’s a lot of different groups that are talking together. You get a lot of cross-pollination from where the writers are coming from. That’s where Chicago has been really helpful to me. One of my teachers in grad school was really helpful, too, because he kind of introduced me to some Chicago photographers I didn’t know, and their work has been really influential.


The Knox Writers’ House

Do you think there’s a Midwest voice?


Cycholl

I think it’s always there. It’s kind of elegiac, right? You’re always looking for the place that you thought was there but never really existed. And it’s a pastoral thing. The same thing when you graduate from college, you look back and you go, “God, I wish I was back in college,” and when you’re in college, you look back and say, “God, I wish I was in high school again,” and it just goes back to the crib, you know? [Laughs]. So, you always want that place that was never really there, but you’re always writing back to it, and I think the long poems I write definitely do that. So, the spaces I’ve been trying to engage in become more and more… It started with the region of southern Illinois, and then it worked it’s way to the highway between Chicago and Springfield, and then it was the Cook County emergency room, and now it’s so small it’s, you know, how do you define the word “here?” Trying to find that voice is a matter of coming to terms with elegy in American poetry in general, in the end.


KWH

How do you think your writing has been influenced by working as a pastor?


Cycholl

Yeah, I pastured a pair of small churches. One was in Olney and one was in Dundas, which was a small, country, Swiss Reformed church. It was interesting. You get this great access to people’s lives, in ministry. You get to see people at their most unguarded moments and you get to try to understand how we keep ourselves together in some way. That was a great period in my life I really enjoyed.


KWH

How would you feel if someone referred to you as a Midwestern writer?


Cycholl

I embrace it. The question then becomes how you define that geography of the Midwest. That was always funny about being in Michigan this last week was trying to figure out, are Michigan writers Midwestern writers? Are they Northern writers? Are they Eastern writers? Where do you put them? As long as I can migrate between places, because sometimes I feel closer to Southern writers, like with Hannah’s way of how he deals with narrative, I feel closer to that in some ways than a Carl Sandburg kind of approach, which is what the Midwest might be. That, partly, I think, is just because of the region I grew up in, which we could never figure out if we were South or Midwest. As my cousin used to say, the South starts five miles south of here. So, I wear it proudly.

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