Corey Mesler has published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Good Poems American Places, and Esquire/Narrative. He has published 8 novels, 4 short story collections, numerous chapbooks, and 5 full-length poetry collections. His new novel, Memphis Movie, is from Counterpoint Press. He’s been nominated for many Pushcarts, and 2 of his poems were chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. With his wife he runs a bookstore in Memphis.
TCR: If you’ll forgive the pun, “Backyard Garden” seems really grounded despite dealing with marital discord. How did you find the balance?
Corey Mesler: Living an unbalanced life I suppose one yearns for balance on the page. Not that I start any poem with the idea that I will find balance, or hope, or clarity. My poems almost always begin with a phrase rather than an idea, and I follow the words and, you know, words love other words. When I started this particular poem I did not think it was about my broken first marriage. I thought it was going to be about vegetables.
TCR: Talk about the choice to use short lines, some of which have bold line breaks.
CM: This stylistic quirk is relatively recent in my poetry. I can’t say for sure why I came to it. I’ve been reading a lot of William Carlos Williams and the good doctor had beautiful line breaks, unexpected but very often right. Sometimes I wish I could write the long-line epic, like the late C.K. Williams, but, mostly, I am a short line poet. Perhaps because I feel I have little to say.
TCR: Were you thinking about the love poem tradition of long litanies when you only included two garden plants in this love challenged poem?
CM: No, as I say, I was thinking, seriously, about growing food. It may have seemed a ripe image, a ripe metaphor, for poetry—I honestly don’t remember–but then it suddenly took a U-turn and I found myself in a poem about mourning.
TCR: How does running a bookstore influence your writing?
CM: Well, you know, love is all around me. Any writer worth reading has spent more time reading than writing. My wife and I often shake our collective head and marvel at our good fortune, in that we can read any book we want to. It’s heady, often inspiring, occasionally a burden. If one can read anything one has too much choice. And, of course, I was a reader before I was a writer. I started in the book business at 19, and when I first read Mark Strand and James Tate and Anne Sexton, I had no notion that I would attempt to also try to make sense of living by scratching words on my cave wall. I was cowed if anything. But, gradually, after keeping my late-night poetry lab clandestine for a while, I began to show my poems to friends.
TCR: What challenges/benefits do you find working and publishing in multiple genres?
CM: When one form isn’t working there is a possibility that another will. Sometimes I get bogged down in the middle of a novel and am thankful to Euterpe that I can instead work for a while on a small bit of verse. It’s like taking a break from building a house to start building a ship in a bottle.
TCR: What’s your next project?
CM: I am deep in the 4th draft of a new novel, perhaps my best novel yet. And I am slowly, slowly, like building a sand castle drip by drip, putting together another poetry collection.