Words Work Blog

Posted on October 25th, 2021 by Carrie Lynn Sickmann

The Rufus & Louise Reiberg Reading Series at IUPUI returns to in-person readings Thursday, October 28, at 7:30 p.m. in the IUPUI University Library Lilly Auditorium with a reading featuring poet Mary Biddinger. Ms. Biddinger’s newest poetry collection, Department of Elegy, will be published by Black Lawrence Press in early 2022. Her poems and flash fiction have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Bennington Review, Crazyhorse, DIAGRAM, and Thrush, among others. She is editor of the Akron Series in Poetry at the University of Akron Press, and recipient of awards and fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, and Cleveland Arts Prize. She serves as professor and assistant chair of English at the University of Akron, and teaches in the NEOMFA program. Recently, Ms. Biddinger took some time to answer a few questions about her writing.

Did you read and write growing up?
My first love was visual art, and I also loved to dance, but eventually I found poetry and remained there. I feel a lot of overlap between art forms, and often I write about art and dancing. I have always been a reader. My parents even took a photo of me at six months old propped up on the couch with a hardcover of Moby Dick.

What was your first publication? Are you as proud of it as the day it was first published?
One of my earliest publications was in a Detroit alt weekly, the Metro Times. They had a random call for creative writing submissions, and published my poem “We Took That Train Farther Than it Wanted to Go.” I sent work in, but had no idea that the poem was accepted until I happened to see it in print. I’m still pretty proud of that.

Who are you reading now? What writers would you recommend?
I am currently reading the poetry collection Catrachos by Roy G. Guzmán, and completely in love with it. I also recommend anything by Victoria Chang, everything by Natalie Diaz.

In your book The Czar, every entry matches the title of the book. How did that impact the writing process for the poems in the collection? 
I wrote The Czar with my collaborator, Jay Robinson. We composed the entire collection in a shared Google doc! The idea was to invent, and then mock, a hypothetical power figure. It was a complete blast. Every poem is called “The Czar,” except for the interlude piece in the middle, which is titled “The Revolution.” The consistent titling forced us to lean on the actual content of the poem, including the opening line, without the pyrotechnics of a snazzy title.

You reference a roommate or at least something about a roommate in several of your pieces. Are these based on real-life experiences with past roommates?
I’m currently finishing a flash fiction novella about the adventures of grad school roommates in late 1990s Chicago. They enjoy clubbing, gossip, snack foods, gigantic adhesive eyelashes, sequins, and talking smack about canonical authors. Some of this may be based on my own authentic research, but the roommates themselves are fictional.

Your most recent book, Partial Genius, consisted entirely of prose poems. What do you like about experimenting with prose forms?
For me, prose poems and flashes come from a different place, versus my lineated poems. I find prose much easier to write, and sometimes more rewarding. Prose poems have a bigger engine, and maybe a roomier back seat, too.