Emily Van Kley is the author of the new poetry collection The Cold and the Rust. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including Prairie Schooner and Narrative Magazine. She was raised in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and she lives in Olympia, Washington.
Q: The Magazine’s review of your new poetry collection called it a “queer lovesong to the Midwest.” What do you think of that characterization?
A: I think it’s an apt description, so long as love is understood to encompass confusion, bleakness, estrangement, and other complex emotional states alongside the ease and delight we usually think of.
Also, Upper Michigan, where most of the poems are set, is definitely a unique and isolated place within the Midwest; the book dwells pretty strongly in its specifics, so those hoping for an ode to Indiana or Kansas are likely to be disappointed.
That said, I’m aware it’s easy to make a fuss over relatively small distinctions when it comes to places one is especially familiar with—I frequently try to draw distinctions between U.P. and Minnesota accents when talking with folks in the Pacific Northwest where I now live, and I’m not sure any of them buy it.
Q: Over how long a period did you write the poems in your collection?
A: I’ve been working on some of these poems for nearly 10 years, though several are more recent, of course. I am a pretty slow writer; it nearly always takes months or years for me to be satisfied with a poem.
Q: How did you decide on the order in which the poems would be arranged?
A: Honestly, this was the hardest part of writing the book for me. I changed the order and sectioning of this book at least a dozen times over the years, and the final form owes a great debt to a friend of mine who read the manuscript and made recommendations I mostly followed when I was ready to throw up my hands.
Q: Which poets do you especially admire?
A: I admire so many poets! One of the wonderful things about being published by Persea Books has been getting to know many of the other folks whose work the press puts out.
Of my pressmates, I have most recently been reading Randall Mann, Molly McCully Brown, Mitchell L. H. Douglas, Patrick Rosal, Alexandra Teague, and Kimberly Grey, and have loved their work wholeheartedly.
I also adore the work of Brenda Shaunessy, Danez Smith, Eduardo Corral, Solmaz Sharif, Mary Jo Bang, Natalie Diaz, and so very many more.
I am currently reading my former professor Christopher Howell’s Love’s Last Number, which is characteristically gorgeous and sad. My friend Kat Smith recently put out this strange and wonderful little book The Book of Exodus, which I admire for its economy and insight, and another former professor and friend, Jonathan Johnson, is one of the most generous and encouraging poet-mentors I know.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a poetry manuscript that explores technology, death, and gender/sexuality issues. Its tentative title is In the Event All Instructions Have Been Lost.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The Cold and the Rust is my first book, and I’m hugely grateful to all the folks who have been reading and reviewing it, sharing it with their friends, teaching it in their classes, and otherwise helping it have a life out there in the world. Thanks to you, Deborah, for your interest in my work.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb