From the Paris Review series of Poets on Couches.
Mark Wunderlich interviewed for the University of Arizona Poetry Center.
MW: “I can’t think of any other part of writing poems that feels more magical to me than rhyming. Rhymes make a poem incantatory, transform it into a kind of spell. The feeling of writing a poem and working into that moment when the poem begins to sing, when the gear of one word locks into the cog of the next, and the whole machine begins to turn—there are few experiences I love more than that, and the hope of inhabiting that state once again is what makes me keep returning to the page and to my desk. I should mention that many of these poems were written in a period of dramatic and rapid composition when I was writing one or two poems a day for weeks. It felt like demonic possession, or divinity, or maybe a bit of mania or madness, and all I want is to return to that state when everything I saw, all the material world around me, all my memories, all the poems I have read and absorbed and love, all the art I have seen, the people who shaped and made me, the languages I know—all that was alive and graspable, and every day I funneled that into my pen and scratched it into a big red notebook. Being in that state of vivid embodied poetical connectedness in which I had access to all parts of my subjectivity—I feel like that state—rare, granted only after years of work and study and discipline—was a state in which my selfhood was breached, and something else came spilling over the top. When people speak about meditating for days and days, and entering a state in which one sees the connections between things—that was the state I was in last summer as I wrote these poems, and I only hope that I have that experience again in my life. Nothing compares to it.”
Mark Wunderlich interviewed by Amy Beeder, for Plume
“I have come to see both the factory farming of animals and intense veganism that stems from a commitment to animal rights as manifestations of the same desire, which is a desire to separate oneself from death. You can buy denatured chicken in the store and barely have to think about it having once been a living bird and therefore not have to contemplate how one’s own appetite caused the death of another creature. Veganism attempts the same thing—to remove the self from the process of animal death. There is a truth we can’t escape, however, which is that in order for us to live, other living things must die.”
I Am Your Little Ram:
An Interview with Mark Wunderlich
Caitlin Cowan, American Literary Review
Landscape and Time:
Q&A with poet Mark Wunderlich
Marcia Ratliff, Winona Daily News
Living in Letters: On teaching Rilke by mail, from Popula.
All over the world, teaching and learning have become something that happens between the student and a teacher talking from a screen. Like teachers across the globe, after the pandemic struck I taught the remainder of the spring semester online, and while my students tried to make the best of their new circumstances, and some seemed unfazed in the new digital classroom, others seemed to fade. Throughout my whole career as a teacher, I have relied on walking into a classroom and being charismatic, holding my students’ attention by putting on a show. While I think we all did our best to make our spring class engaging, it was clear something important had been lost. I feared it was the depth of connection to the work at hand, to the enterprise of figuring out difficult texts together, which has been one of the central joys of my career as a teacher of literature and writing. I found myself wondering if any of this was working and if my students were learning. Rather than feeling energized after leaving a classroom, after finishing a digital class I felt enervated and low.
Island of Books, from the Los Angeles Review of Books
LAST WINTER, I FLEW TO ICELAND. On the night of my departure from JFK, sitting outside on the dark tarmac, service vehicles busied themselves, blinking and rotating around our plane, while inside flight attendants helped people settle into their seats. A light, wet snow was falling, but inside the plane smelled of fresh coffee. I love international flights, but when I got to my row I saw I had the middle seat. For some time I situated myself, then flipped through the Icelandair magazine, sipped some water. I began to think I had the row to myself when I was startled by a light tap on my shoulder. Standing beside me were two enormous men. Both had light-colored, close-cropped hair, both wore thick sweaters and carried parkas. They brought to mind a pair of fairy tale brothers — large, oafish, difficult to tell apart, and for a while they loomed in the isle, one’s head barely visible over the other’s meaty shoulder. The anticipation of the luxurious privacy of an empty row was dashed as the first man squeezed into the window seat while his companion took the isle. I was lodged between them, and soon resigned myself to five hours of being unable to move my arms.
After settling in, both men folded their coats and placed them neatly on their laps. Each carried a small backpack — the size a child might carry — and almost simultaneously, they began to paw around in them before drawing out books. Each man found the switch for the in-flight entertainment screen and turned it off, then they both opened large novels and began to read. They did not bother to turn on the overhead light, but hunched a bit and brought the books closer to their faces. They drew in on themselves the way readers do when they become absorbed in what they are reading. No meal was served on this flight, and so they did not pause. For five hours they read, turning pages with a forefinger they dabbed lightly on their tongues, as Greenland’s glaciers passed, invisible, beneath us. As we approached Keflavik, they looked up to accept a cup of coffee passed to them on a tray. It was morning in Iceland, and time to put away the books.
Why Do I Write
My Book House
I learned to read when I was four and soon discovered the set of books on a small shelf in my room; I would spend much time reading and re-reading these books over the next dozen years. The set had once belonged to my father and had been published in the 1930’s. There were 14 in total—My Book House—edited by Olive Beaupré Miller. Beaupré. Beaupré! This name confounded me, irritated like a pebble in my shoe. That choking gobbet of vowels! That accent like a bee’s stinger! How was I to know how to say this name? No one I knew could tell me, and so it remained a mystery, foreign and untranslatable, as far away as France. Someone was able to tell me this name was probably French, and so I came to think of France as the place books came from.
At some point, I was given or I found a Canadian nickel. Here too was writing in French! I began sorting through my parents’ change purses, looking for Canadian money. The quarters and nickels were uncommonly beautiful; what kind of a genius puts a beaver or a caribou on one side, and the profile of a queen on the other? More importantly, this money, like the books, suggested a world to me that lay beyond the rural corner of Wisconsin hemmed by bluffs on either side; you could see up the river to the first bend, and down the river to the wooded slough, but no further. This money which was familiar and yet altogether different, had made its way to my small town; it was useless there, but it had arrived nonetheless. The fables, poems and stories in My Book House were equally out of place with their allusions to Greek mythology and Shakespeare, though both the books and the money were useful, somewhere, to someone.