Featured Poet: Emily Corwin

I have been an admirer of Emily Corwin’s poetry for awhile now, and am a fan of her book tenderling, which was published last year. She’s a recent graduate of the famed MFA program at Indiana University- Bloomington, and I was excited when she agreed to be interviewed for Indianapolis Review. She graciously answered my questions and also contributed three new poems to this issue! In order to read those, you can follow the link at the bottom of this page, or find them on our Winter 2019 page. Enjoy!

NS: Your bio describes you as a “Midwestern girl” born in Detroit. I also know that you recently completed your MFA at Indiana University. Where did you grow up, and are you still living in Indiana? I was also wondering if you have any thoughts about the poetry community in Bloomington, Indiana, where you did your MFA. I think that nationally Indiana is not really thought of as a place for poets, yet we have so much talent here!

EC: I grew up in a suburb called Beverly Hills, daughter of a teacher and a nurse. The Midwest has raised me entirely—I went to school across Ohio and Indiana. The MFA program at IU was very fulfilling for me. I was able to write two manuscripts in my time here, one of which was published in 2018 and the other is forthcoming. The community here is rich with talent and energy. I was lucky enough to see the first-year students read during this last fall semester and I was knocked out.

NS: I was also wondering if you have any thoughts about the role that place plays in your work and how if influences the landscapes in your poetry. In your most recent book, tenderling, I noticed recurring themes of: winter, cold, meadows, cherry trees, milkweed, etc. , and couldn’t help but think of Midwestern landscapes.

EC: For a long time, I would purchase field guides on the flora of the Midwest and I used these heavily while writing tenderling. My poems are usually so saturated with interiority and bodily pain that I have often been asked to have more of setting, more of a sense of place. So, I am glad that it’s there and that you see it. The Midwest is magical to me. In my short life, I have traveled through different terrain—beaches and ocean, mountains, desert, urban landscape—but I don’t connect to any of it, not as I do with woods or lakes or even corn fields.

NS: Speaking of your book tenderling, I was very moved by it. It employs such a richness of language and subject matter and has a very distinct tone. Some of its subject matter, such as depression and anxiety and interrogation of the feminine, strongly resonated with me. You and others have spoken about your use of the ‘gurlesque‘, which is a style that combines the girly or pretty with the grotesque. I think that this, and your reimagining of fairy tales, gives the book a very unique feel. But besides these things that stand out, was there anything that you wish people would have talked about more regarding the book? Was there anything about it that you wish someone would have asked, but didn’t?

EC: That is an excellent question. I wish someone had asked me about who I was when I wrote it. Because books take time to produce, and so much can change in a year or more—your writing style, your interests, your personal life. By the time tenderling was in my hands I was surprised by how “old” the poems felt to me. They were new to everyone else, but so familiar for me, from the lived experience the poems evoked and from the many months of putting that book together. Of course we always love the latest thing we’ve made. I imagine when sensorium comes out that I might have a similar reaction.

When I wrote tenderling, I was 26 years old and in the final stages of healing from an old heartbreak, while also building my relationship with my partner, Joe. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and put on medication for the first time. I was thinking through how much my anxiety was triggered by images seen on my phone or on television, how technology had become my enemy. In 2019, I have dealt with much of pain portrayed in that book.

NS: I read an excellent essay of yours, “On Anxiety & Writing In The MFA“, that was posted on the MFA Years Blog. In it, you talked about how one of your workshops was an “Inquiry Workshop” where your peers asked questions about your work, including why your speaker was so vulnerable and fearful, and how it was difficult to answer those questions. I have had similar experiences, but not in academic workshops. I was wondering if you had any further thoughts on that particular teaching method. As a teacher, I am always interested in different concepts of how to run workshop, although I certainly try to stay away from the critiques that become more an analysis of the writer’s psychology, rather than an analysis of the poem itself!

EC: Definitely! In that particular workshop, I liked being faced with the questions, for the most part, unless they were coming from someone who brought a hostile energy, someone who was not giving me the benefit of the doubt, who was using the inquiry as a way to attack. But, yes, mostly I liked that model of workshop. Having been in writing workshops for the past seven years, I can say that there is no perfect fit, which is why, as you say, it’s important to try various approaches. Every cohort of writers is wholly unique, with its own mix of expectations and needs.

NS: You mentioned recently online that you miss teaching and wish to return to it. I know that in IU’s MFA program you had a lot of opportunity to teach. What is it about teaching that you love, and has it taught you anything about your own writing?

EC: I have been a teacher for the last five years and I was not sure, when I graduated last May if I wanted to teach as a career. My father has been a teacher for forty-five years and the rebellious part of me wanted to make my own path and try something else entirely. I went into the corporate world for several months and—this is still so raw for me—my spirit just felt broken by it. I realized, on a very basic level, compared with other kinds of work, that teaching is interactive, collaborative, impactful. There is a community inherent to teaching—with other teachers, with the school, with the community that you create in the classroom. I miss that connective tissue, that structure.

NS: I have to also give you a huge CONGRATULATIONS on the news that your new book, sensorium, won the Editor’s Choice 2018 Akron Poetry Prize! Do you have an estimated date of publication, and can you tell us anything about it?

EC: Thank you so much. I am honored to be an Editor’s Choice. I do not have an estimated date. All I can speak to is that sensorium continues to explore the gurlesque, how the living body is both pretty and monstrous simultaneously. When writing this book, I looked at horror movies, beauty products, traumatic experience, technology, and the Midwest, of course. For the horror movie poems, I wrote them, ekphrastically, during the month of October in 2017. They are, undoubtedly, my favorite pieces in the book and maybe my favorite pieces I have ever made. If you want a sampler of these poems, many of them have been published, in Ninth Letter, New South, New Delta Review, Dream Pop, and Cotton Xenomorph. I would love a bright pink cover for the book, to match tenderling and my chapbook, My Tall Handsome.

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