Our last Web Wednesday featured an impressively gifted and engaging, hitherto unpublished poet whose formal education ended with Grade Eight. This week, the pendulum swings the other way. mike Maher, Editor of Sea Giraffe Magazine, has quite the notable bio. Here is an excerpt:
[mike’s] poetry, fiction, and personal essays have appeared in several publications, including Contemporary American Voices, The Smoking Poet, Paper Darts, Hippocampus Magazine, The Subterranean Literary Journal, and The Copperfield Review, among others. He has a BA in English from East Stroudsburg University, where he served as the Vice President and Forum Editor of The Stroud Courier, won the Jim Barniak Award for journalism two times, and won the Martha E. Martin Award for poetry, before graduating cum laude.
QUITE impressive, eh?
In part for the sake of introduction, and in part because I find it enormously charming and entertaining, the poem I chose to share with you first is a self portrait. So, here is mike Maher.
Three parts self centeredness, a dash of not answering the phone.
You can add a little salt to almost anything.
If I were a cartoon I’d be an octopus bartender
or a duck playing the piano,
something awkwardly practical.
20% wearing pairs of socks until they disintegrate.
Five tablespoons of overdue haircuts.
A sprinkle of ego,
the self conscious kind.
Chocolate sprinkles if you have them.
.5% wolf howl.
One part floatation device.
Four and a half teaspoons of belief.
Bake on low for twenty five years.
Smother it in loneliness.
© mike Maher.
Marie Elena: I remember this poem, so it must have been written for a Poetic Asides prompt, and impressed me enough to “stick.” It certainly makes one curious to know more, doesn’t it? And speaking of curious, are you curious as to why he uses a lowercase “m” for his first name, and a “.” following his last name? Well, I had to ask! So, mike? What say you?
mike: I write my name as “mike Maher.” for a number of reasons. The first reason is the lowercase “m,” which I write to take the emphasis away from my first name, mike, since it is one of the most common names in the world. The “.” is placed at the end of my name because I want my name to be a statement, not just an abstract thought floating around. Putting a period at the end gives it closure, punch. Using the lowercase “m” and the “.” together also gives me a way to brand the name as my own.
Marie Elena: That certainly explains it. It fascinates me whenever someone thinks of something in a way that would never occur to me. Very cool, mike.
I see you have at least two books of poetry in the works right now. What can you tell us about them, and what steps you are taking toward publication?
mike: I do have two books in the works. The first is Machine Wash Only Greyness, and it is my first full length book of poetry. Surprisingly enough, it is completely finished. It’s currently being considered by a small publisher in the UK who, after seeing some of my work in a magazine, requested to see a full length from me. Nothing is set in stone, but things are looking good on that front.
The other book is a chapbook, Sometimes in Distant Parts. A few of these poems overlap in MWOG, but this serves as a shortlist or quick peak of my work. I believe in having both full length and shorter versions of your work available, and I included some of my favorites in SIDP.
Marie Elena: Excellent! Please do keep us informed on their progress.
Now, tell me about Sea Giraffe.
mike: Sea Giraffe is an online literary magazine I launched last year. I have had some help along the way, but it has mainly been the result of my desire to read and share enjoyable work by authors I have encountered. The idea just came to me one day last year, and SG took off almost immediately. The end of 2011/beginning of 2012 was a bit of a lull for SG, but that is 99% my fault. I got tied up by hurricanes, a new job, moving twice, and, well, life. Sea Giraffe will be hopping busy again soon, though. I’m excited about it.
Marie Elena: Hurricanes?
mike: The hurricane was the least of the issues, and it was mainly a major inconvenience because of its timing. Tens of thousands of people in the Poconos lost power for more than a week, and it was right when I was getting ready to move.
Marie Elena: Wow. No fun at all. Yet, I’m glad to hear it was more of an inconvenience than something that harmed you. So, you live in Pennsylvania’s Poconos? I’m envious! Does the beauty around you affect you poetically?
mike: False! Haha, I actually don’t live in the Poconos anymore. I live in Philadelphia now. Parts of the Poconos are very frustrating, but yes, there is definitely still beauty to be found up there. It’s easy to find inspiration up there. The images in this poem are all inspired by that area:
To be or not to be, what’s the big diff?
How strange it is to arrive somewhere
wearing the same body but feeling as if you had new armor
or were looking out from behind the eyes of an unrecognizable salamander,
our lives cursed and blessed with moments
of self awareness and self realization.
It took 25 years to learn to difference between be and will be,
between living and living.
For some it takes even longer
or never occurs at all.
Who wouldn’t want to be a hummingbird
humming and birding near the feeder on the back deck,
or any one of the 16 Eastern Goldfinches eyeing the ceramic monkey
unconcerned about their financial security
or how they would go about their sobriety today?
We’re all alone and not alone.
The storm was so small
you could see both ends of it in the backyard,
its roar bigger than its puppy nip,
but hey, someone has to bring the thunder.
You don’t need a clue
or don’t need to look for them
because you are not entrusted with the mystery.
The darkened clouds come and go
but they do not darken the world.
© mike Maher.
Marie Elena: Thank you for sharing this poem, mike. It speaks of the beauty and simplicity of your surroundings there, but also addresses your own quandaries. Nicely done.
mike, I’ll be honest with you: much of what you write is rather, what would be the word? Perhaps abstract … a style I often can’t grasp. Yet, I’m attracted to yours, and find it absolutely draws me in. Does it come easily to you? Is it something you studied?
mike: My style of writing is my own form of surrealism. I discovered it in college when a professor of mine introduced me to the works of Dean Young, Tony Hoagland, and others, and I continue to find myself and my own style of poetry. I immediately identified with surrealism, and I keep falling deeper and deeper in love with it. The style is a kind of mix of deeply rooted metaphors, stream of consciousness, and concrete images to connect the two. While some of it comes off as abstract, you can often put the puzzle together after multiple reads, especially as you learn more about the author. The style seemed difficult, almost alien, to me at first, but I have really embraced it and think I am starting to find my own niche. I write some poems – especially the prompt pieces for Poetic Bloomings and Poetic Asides – in one sitting, while others take days, weeks, months, and several reads and rewrites.
The best part of some forms of surrealism is how you can read a poem one day and not entirely grasp everything it is saying, but you can read it a few months later and find that everything makes perfect sense and seems to do so clearly. Sometimes you have learned more about the author or found clues in other things he/she has written, but other times you just happen to be in a different state of mind while reading the poem, maybe one similar to the one the author was in while writing it. That, I think, is my favorite part of surrealism.
Marie Elena: “Surrealism.” Yes, that’s it. “The best part of some forms of surrealism is how you can read a poem one day and not entirely grasp everything it is saying, but you can read it a few months later and find that everything makes perfect sense and seems to do so clearly.” Again, yes! Thank you for this “light bulb” explanation, mike!
Having never formally studied poetry in a university setting, I’m curious as to how your studies changed and challenged your own writing.
mike: Going to college and studying poetry – and really all forms of literature – completely changed how I write. One poetry class in particular completely changed how I felt (and how I feel) about poetry. That class changed the definition of poetry for me, and it was the class where I really began the process of playing with new forms of poetry. One of the first poems my professor showed us was “True/False” from Dean Young’s elegy on toy piano. At first glance, it seems like a list of 100 nonsensical statements. But, after reading it several times and talking about it in class, I discovered a lot about the poem and the art of poetry.
Marie Elena: There are classes offered at the University of Toledo (where I work). You’ve given me the itch to take a class or two.
Now: “Shakespeare: 154 mike Maher.: 0” ‘splain, please? 😉
mike: It refers to the number of sonnets Shakespeare wrote (154) to the number I have written (0). I think sonnets, though I enjoy them for what they are, don’t really mesh well with the style of poetry I write. I often write in short spurts of stream of consciousness and gather instant inspiration, after quick brainstorming sessions. The end result is often, at least in my opinion, a somewhat choppy, high energy ride. I like to say my poems give the reader a feeling of falling down the stairs. As you might imagine, this style doesn’t necessarily mesh well with the careful rhyming schemes of sonnets. This is the poem I wrote soon after realizing the 154-0 score between Shakespeare and myself:
Little Sounds Americana
Shakespeare has me beat 154 to 0
and neither number is likely to change.
I’ve forgotten so much, even the parts I don’t remember.
I know when the squirrel is dangling
from the bird feeder because the chain clinks,
when it leaves because of the thud it makes jumping down to the deck,
but who am I to decide the feeder is for birds only,
no squirrels allowed?
Some neighborhoods make you
put up Christmas decorations.
Singers are given some artistic freedom
when reciting the national anthem
but it better end the same way
and be less than two minutes flat,
otherwise you get the hose.
It all seems so distinctive when it’s taken apart
the carbon footprints of city squirrels,
the 1,100 solar company employees laid off in one day,
the graffiti disguised as artwork on the steel indie film door
or is it art disguised as graffiti?
The forecast calls for rain
but rain doesn’t answer,
doesn’t even get out of bed that morning,
not wanting to be called or told what to do and when to do it.
It’s about time we started inventing new shapes,
almost isosceles trapezoid-rhombusgrams,
the mike Maher.-agon which has no ends
and is always on fire,
© mike Maher.
Marie Elena: If I’ve ever seen that poem, I don’t recall it. But it is typical of your style, which is vastly different from how my brain works, yet completely draws me in and enthralls me.
mike, you have referred to 2011 as a year of “deep valleys and high peaks.” What can you tell us about that?
mike: When it’s all over, 2011 may very well be the year I (or maybe others) look back on and identify as the turning point in my life. I hit a rock bottom that I didn’t know existed, but, much to my surprise and amazement, the people in my life picked me up and didn’t allow me to stay so low. While I dealt with some incredible adversity – the least of which not being an accident which would normally be reserved for a Die Hard movie – I also found out a ton about myself and the people in my life. There is the cliché about having to go where you went to get to where you are now, and 2011 is that place for me. It was an important year for me, but I was happy to say goodbye to it this past January.
Marie Elena: You mention what sounds like it must have been a horrific accident, and hitting a rock bottom you didn’t even know exists. I don’t want you to share details you’d rather not, but you sure do leave me wanting to know more.
mike: The accident was one that, if I hadn’t been there to witness it, I wouldn’t believe it happened. While driving home one night in January with a friend, I slid through an intersection while trying to stop at a stop sign, continued to slide up the driveway to a house across the street, and bumped into the garage. At first, there wasn’t a lot of damage (no damage to my car and only a dent in the garage panel). We got out of the car and spoke to a few people whose car had just slid into the curb while driving on the same icy street. As I turned to walk back to my car and knock on the person’s door, the house exploded. Literally. Luckily (and amazingly), no one was hurt, but it is not an experience I would wish on anyone.
That incident was certainly part of the rock bottom I experienced, but it wasn’t all of it. I struggled with depression, went through stretches when I would drink pretty much every day, and just became a person that I didn’t recognize anymore. I was at a personal, emotional, and spiritual low, and that accident was the grand finale of all of that.
Marie Elena: I’m so glad all of this became a sort of catalyst to channel you in a healthier direction. It is also wonderful that you found you could count on the people in your life. Along those lines, you write of loneliness rather often. Do you consider yourself a lonely person?
mike: You know, I don’t think I am really a lonely person, but I think sometimes I think I’m a lonely person (I promise if you read that sentence back it almost makes sense). However, I do go through periods where I experience deep feelings of loneliness. My mind tricks itself into thinking I am lonely, when in actuality I have some pretty incredible people in my life.
I also think loneliness is something which has been coming up in the works I have been reading lately, so that, combined with the natural seclusion process which usually occurs while writing, is leading to the appearance of loneliness in my recent work.
Marie Elena: Speaking of those in your life, tell me about Young Money. Feel free to provide a picture or two, hint-hint!
mike: Young Money is my little firecracker of a puggle. He’s two years old and recently made the move with me to Philadelphia. His hobbies include sleeping under blankets, going to the park, sunning, and eating peanut butter. I couldn’t have asked for a better personality in a dog, and he’s very photogenic. The name is something that always raises people’s eyebrows. I call him ‘Money’ for short, and the name pretty much just came from me wanting to come up with something different. I wrote down about fifty names and slowly began crossing names off, before it came down to Young Money or The Great Gazoo. Young Money obviously made the final cut.
Marie Elena: I am most definitely a dog person, and can relate to your love for Young Money. Give him a pat on the head for me, will ya? Tell him I’d much rather do it myself, but …
Now, you know what is coming … if we could know only one thing about you, what would you want it to be?
mike: That I am not a typo, of course. Just kidding, but I stared at this question for a while without coming up with an answer I immediately felt comfortable with. Then, I came up with this: One of my favorite things about writing poetry is having people read your poetry and form their own opinions about it. With that said, here is a poem I wrote somewhat about myself using a fictional third person narrator:
mike Maher. is Not a Typo.
The modifier is dangling
from the last whisker of Keats
before his name was writ in water,
but what does mike Maher. need a modifier for, anyway?
mike Maher. is a modifier!
Hold him at an angle to authenticate the watermark.
Hold him to the light.
No, he is not a typo
but the unstoppable paroompahbah melody in his chest
is always out of tune with the irremovable crow squawks coming from his head
and so he is prone to dizziness, headaches.
See Joe Hallenbeck.
See Billy Bob Thornton in that movie where he’s bad at giving presents.
Refresh the page, please.
Just across the street, the latest matrix
for determining the human idea of happiness
has been sprayed on the side of the library.
but we were all fine until you came long
and started talking about the parts of life
which are metaphors for other parts of life,
how every elevator represents trusting other humans,
every horse the crackpot half of Zeus,
the definition of things which are not.
the unstoppable force is within your own Pandoran ribs
and you had best keep it there!
© mike Maher.
Marie Elena: “mike Maher. is a modifier!” Indeed! Thanks again for letting me pry into the life and times, mike! It has been great getting to know the man behind the words. And in case we have never said it before, thanks also for gracing our site with your presence. You bring a young, fresh, and (forgive me, but) hip voice that keeps me on my toes, and makes me smile.