7 Questions with Max Garland

By Alison Wagener

Our “7 Questions” series has become a bit of a staple in the monthly CVWG newsletter, and in the coming months, we’ll be dedicating these local author featurettes to our esteemed and beloved 2017 Cirenaica summer residency leaders. 

Returning this summer to head our poetry residency is local literary advocate and poet Max Garland. When your audience consists of Chippewa Valley writers, it seems hardly necessary to give Max a formal introduction, but for those of you who don’t know, Max served as Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate from 2013-2014 and was appointed for a two-year term as Eau Claire’s Writer in Residence last April. He’s published two books of poetry, was an English professor at UW-Eau Claire from 1996 to 2015, and continues to provide us with accessible poetic commentary on a world that often seems just out of reach.

Over the holidays, I had the chance to ask Max about his writing, his work, and his reflections on Cirenaica for a brief but insightful interview. 

Did you always know you wanted to devote your life to writing and promoting literature?

No. I originally wanted to play shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals, but Ozzie Smith turned out to be more qualified, so like many other mediocre athletes, I fell back on poetry. 

Who (or what) most influences your writing?

I think hearing hymns and sermons in childhood, then discovering later that poems were like that-- attempts to say something slightly beyond the ability of words to say. 

What was most memorable for you about your Cirenaica residency last year?

The generous range of experience among those who attended and how well the participants interacted regardless of their differing levels of experience. Also, I was impressed by the amount of writing the residents did. When I arrived early in the mornings, everyone was already writing, sometimes four or five people sitting in a large room, at tables, on couches, some outside, some upstairs, but all quietly working on new poems, or revising poems from the previous day. 

Is there anything you’re currently working on?

I'm revising a new book of poems called The Word We Used for It. I'm also writing songs and essays, and trying to figure out how to stay calm in exceedingly alarming times.

What do you hope your readers gain from reading your work?

I hope people feel something, and recognize that a poem can be a very strange and yet strangely useful thing once readers assume partial ownership. 

What do you find most purposeful as Eau Claire’s Writer in Residence? As Wisconsin’s Poet Laureate?

Poetry is not as far away as most people think, nor as far from the practical concerns of ordinary people. It's so important and potent we often pretend we don't feel the need for it. But try and find someone who hasn't wanted better words, more beautiful or profound language, and you'll be looking a long time.

What’s the hardest facet of writing? Which do you look forward to the most?

The hardest part of writing is granting yourself permission, and then doing it again and again until the habit is part of who you are. 

Photo: Lisa Venticinque