New Poetry from the Midwest 2014 released on June 2, and I sincerely hope no booksellers are nervous to handsell it because they’re not big poetry readers. To my mind, poetry anthologies like this one are the perfect way to introduce yourself, or your customers, to non-prose writing. Not only are these all newer poems that serious poetry readers are unlikely to have at home, but no one style or subject is represented here, so the new or casual poetry reader will almost certainly find something to like. The contents are diverse, exciting, and (if you ask me) frequently delightful. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing one of the editors of the anthology, Okla Elliott, to learn more about it.
Betty Scott: What drew you to co-edit this series? Was there something in particular that excited you about this project?
Okla Elliott: I have often felt that most attention, culturally speaking, goes to NYC and Los Angeles, with a few nods toward places like Chicago and Seattle. The Midwest, the South, and the Southwest are largely overlooked, which is incredibly sad, given how rich these regions are in terms of literature specifically. The Midwest boasts over half of the top-ranked creative writing MFA and PhD programs in the country, and there are dozens of major presses and magazines in the region. And there are tons of great presses and book fairs or conferences in the Midwest. New American Press, for example, which I cofounded and help run still is located in the Midwest, so we decided to acquire New Stories from the Midwest, which had previously been published by Ohio University Press and then Indiana University Press, and we added a sibling anthology, New Poetry from the Midwest. The two will come out in alternating years and hopefully represent the vitality of the region’s literary talent.
BS: Do you think Midwestern poetry has a distinctive regional flavor? If so, what differentiates it from other American writing, say, Pacific Northwest poetry or Mid-Atlantic poetry?
OE: Part of my personal goal here was to show the wild diversity of work coming out of the Midwest, to prove that it’s not all cornfields and picket fences. The Polish neighborhood in Chicago is the Midwest. Amish country is the Midwest. University towns with international students from around the world are the Midwest. There are certainly some Midwest themes that we all know about, and those pop up in the anthology, but what interests me most is exploding and expanding people’s notions of the region and its writers.
BS: This collection features a number of poems dealing with reflecting on the past in general and childhood in particular. Do you think this is a trend in poetry that says something about our collective subconscious?