“You should know a little Dickens, Swift, Poe”: An Interview with Corey Mesler

We recently had the privilege of publishing Corey Mesler‘s poem, “Letter from my Mother.” Corey is the author of eight novels, three books of short stories, three full-length collections of poetry, as well as numerous chapbooks of poetry and prose. He has two children who shine brighter than gold lamps in the green night.  With his lovely and more centered wife, he owns Burke’s Book Store in Memphis TN, one of the oldest independent bookstores (1875) in the known universe. We sent him some questions. Here are his answers.

If a ten-year-old kid came up to you and told you she wanted to be a writer, what would you say to her?

I’d say don’t quit your day job. But write as if it is everything to you. Write as if you see the world clearly (though, of course, you don’t) and write as if you want to write better, because the only way to learn how to write is to do it, over and over, accepting your own imperfections, but realizing also that only you can write what you write. Oh, but before you write, read and read and read some more. Only great readers become good writers.

When you write, do you consider your audience? If so, how?

If I had an audience I might consider them. But, no, really, when I sit at the keyboard, it’s just about the only time in my phobic existence when I am ruthless, brave and conscience-less. I write the sort of thing I’d like to read.

How does your poem, “Letter from my Mother,” represent the type of artist you are?

It is of me, from me, by me. Though it is jocular it is meant seriously. And that describes 90% of what I write. It also describes 90% of what I say, including answers to questionnaires.

Who do you think we should be reading right now, and why?

I could make a book list as long as a Thanksgiving sermon. If you’re a poet read the great poets, with special emphasis on the 20th century poets. This would include Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, T. S. Eliot, John Berryman, Yeats, Frank O’Hara, etc. Then read your contemporaries, the poets of your own time.

Same rule for fiction writers. You should know a little Dickens, Swift, Poe. But you should steep yourself in James Joyce, Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch, Kafka, Faulkner, Nabokov, etc. Then contemporaries like Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, etc. The modernists and postmodernists were my teachers, so this is where my heart lies.

Oh, wait, maybe you meant what writers am I reading and recommending right now. A short list: Anthony Powell, David Markson, Edward St Aubyn, Charles McCarry, Kay Ryan, Hans Fallada, Elizabeth Taylor.

Tell us something about you we might be surprised to hear.

I once dated Vanity’s sister.

More seriously (though I really did date Vanity’s sister), I go to bed at nine and rise at five or so, every night and day. I think in fourth grade I read that recommendation by Ben Franklin. It must have lain dormant in me, just waiting silently like the black slab on the moon in 2001, only to bear fruit in my more disciplined adult years. This is why I’ve written so much in the last 20 years. Also, I have agoraphobia, which keeps me at home a lot. I don’t recommend agoraphobia as a writing system but, thrown back upon myself, what can I do but try to describe the world as I see it, in my limited way?

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