Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Michael Prihoda

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.

The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Michael Prihoda

is a poet and editor, born and living in the Midwest. He has published two chapbooks and eight full-length collections of poetry, with another forthcoming in 2019. He has a blog to share his typewriter poetry. A full list of his creative publications appears here publications

He is the founding/managing editor of After the Pause (an online literary journal of experimental poetry, fiction, and artwork) as well as its small press imprint a…p press. In addition, he runs the After the Pause Review of Books.

He would love to hear from you:

You can find him elsewhere at:

Twitter: @michaelprihoda

Facebook: facebook.com/michaelprihoda

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I started writing poetry in college but I began writing fiction well before that while I was in high school. I think I began as a means of self-discovery, of gripping and coming-to-terms with who I was and who I wanted to be and how I saw the world. It was therapy and self-discovery. Now, I see poetry as a vehicle of philosophy, an avenue through which to draw back a curtain to show an audience only things language can display and explore. For all that the world sways digital, there’s magic in paper pages, in what remains possible through the agglutination of words and phrases in both physical and metaphysical ways.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Literature was baked into my childhood. My earliest memories are of learning to read, specifically the first book I ever read solo: See the Yak Yak. I loved books of all kinds through school, was more of a book locust than just a book worm, and I believe what truly cemented the power of books in me at a young age was being read to by both my parents, not just as a toddler, but probably up until middle school. I would sit on the floor and play with Lego or do a puzzle and my parents would read classics like Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, The Gammage Cup, The Chronicles of Narnia. While my tastes have danced through different genres as I’ve grown up and been exposed to more and had a variety of adult experiences, I’ve remained obsessed with literature and read anything I can get my hands on that sparks that special something inside the literary chunk of my brain.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

Aware, but not willing to let that detract from my passion to pursue poetry. I also think that is starting to change. Poetry is being fully embraced by younger generations and I’ve seen poets achieve remarkable levels of success and exposure in their 20s and 30s. Poetry in America isn’t stuffy, archaic, and dying with some last cohort of old white American men who were renowned for their 20th century contributions. Poetry feels incredibly diverse and exciting and I think youth are driving the movement.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I have honestly never kept a regular routine for the actual writing I do. Writing has always been contained to my spare time as I have a full-time job that is separate from my creative pursuits. I write sporadically, often in bursts, and will sometimes go weeks without writing a thing that is creatively productive. However, I have oriented myself toward the world in such a way as to always be a consumer and processer of information and literature. I see the potentiality for poems and stories everywhere and I make an effort to jot down ideas or phrases that I believe might grow into something more. My writing brain is always on, whether or not I do any actual creative writing in a day.

5. What motivates you to write?

I’m motivated by my experiences. I feel the constant urge to create based on what I see in the world around me and my emotional response to it. Sometimes that’s in the form of very short poetry, sometimes it becomes longer stories but I feel that the connective thread tying all my work together is a disorientation that I feel and see in the world around me between what this life is supposed to be or could be and what this wreckage ends up being for so many of us. There’s a line in one of Jeff Vandermeer’s books that runs through my head almost daily that (apologies to Jeff if this isn’t exact), “We are vessels filled with light. Broken vessels, broken light. But vessels nonetheless.” I’m another broken vessel filled with my own kind of broken light, hoping that I might share that light with people out there for the moments their light feels weak.

6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

What always catches my attention most, and what always has since I was very young, is when an author is able to craft a compelling world, one that could only come from that person’s brain. Or if in poetry or realist fiction, I look for a compelling voice, something that sounds and feels unique, lives and breathes on its own terms and is unapologetic about doing things differently or taking risks in the approach and execution. Of course I am influenced by myriad writers who have come before me, as are all authors, but the great ones take their influences and produce some new tonic. I would hardly call myself a great writer, but that is what I try to do with my poetry and my fiction, having attempted to distill and absorb as much as I can from the writers I most admire: bloom something into existence that could not have come from anyone but myself.

6.1. Which older writers “spark that special something inside the literary chunk of (your) brain.”?

Non-exhaustive yet comprehensive of who I think of as particularly special: Don DeLillo, Kurt Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace, Jeff Vandermeer, Lydia Davis, Kelly Link, Rae Armantrout, Claudia Rankine.

6.2. Why are they special?

Each brings something unique to the literary landscape and is wholly an individual stylist. DeLillo is perhaps the most concise writer I’ve ever encountered, not necessarily in brevity of writing, but in the meaningful usage of sentences. Each feels weighty and philosophical. Vonnegut is the original fabulist, speculative before that became a genre. Foster Wallace practically invented a new dictionary to write Infinite Jest and it is some of the most compelling prose I’ve ever seen. Vandermeer is inventive and able to morph his style into myriad genres while never losing his flair for the strange and unfamiliar. Davis is perhaps the best writer of realist short fiction, pared back and brimming with constrained emotion. Link is an incredible modern fabulist, marrying wild concepts with deeply human ambitions and themes. Armantrout’s poetry is so sparse yet packed to exploding with meaning and societal references. And Rankine is a standard-bearer in creating literature that strives to impact the racial conversation our country needs to have.

7.  Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Writing feels like an activity that is necessary for my mind to feel as if I’m living a valuable life and contributing in the ways that I have been equipped to contribute to the world. Similar to spending time with my favorite people or going to work at the education nonprofit where I spend my days, it is a life-giving thing. I’ve done plenty of things in life that ended up not feeling useful or valuable. But I’ve never sat down to write and gotten up again without thinking I had just done something deeply meaningful and valuable, whether or not what I wrote in that instance ever sees the light of day.

8. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I believe becoming a writer begins with becoming a serious, avid reader. You learn so much about the writing craft through reading, and here I don’t just mean serious, classical literature. Anything applies. But I don’t think anyone can call themselves a writer unless they’ve put in the legwork being a reader. Secondly, you have to be okay with failing and here I don’t even mean rejection. Of course that will come. But rejection isn’t even close to the first obstacle writers will face. You have to be okay with writing things that are pure trash, that just aren’t good, that are so deeply flawed it would be embarrassing to show them to anyone else. The quickest way to become a good writer is to practice the art of writing and to become good will require writing a lot of bad along the way. I have an untold number of stories, poems, and novels that are bad and will never be published and will never to be shown to another soul but I had to write them in order to hone my craft, my voice, my style, to understand the intricacies of writing and the process that I would have to use to create something meaningful and valuable and, ultimately, publishable.

9. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

The major project I’m working on is a manuscript of poems that has been a result of reading Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was unfairly detained for over a decade and never charged with a crime. His diary is gripping and became the inspiration for a series of poems that also owe a debt of gratitude to the books The New Jim Crow and The History of White People. The poems grapple with how white supremacy has infiltrated everything about the United States and the experience of living and working in this country and how our country has abused and continues to abuse its power, especially against minorities. In the case of Mohamedou, the long arm of the United States stretched into Africa to take him from his homeland, away from his family, with no actual basis. As if the way my country persecutes some of its own citizens wasn’t enough. I often find injustice a trigger for my poems and this project has been an experience in attempting to find a foothold on the side of human dignity as I desire and work toward a world of actual equity.

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