Melissa and I planned this interview for some time, but occasionally life gets in the way. I am honored to present my friend poet and professor Melissa Studdard.
Questions: First of all, Melissa, thank you for your kindness in doing this.
Thank YOU, Michael
- You grew up in the South. How much does the South affect your writing?
So, you did notice the dark, zany humor threaded with lyricism? Place is important to me, and the South has had a huge impact on my writing—both its rich storytelling tradition and the inherited cultural attitudes. The South has its own rhythms too, as if the land itself had a drawl. And the things I see, almost daily—they feed a writer’s muse. I mean, I saw a guy at the pet store the other day who’d brought his dog in for grooming. The guy looked like something out of ZZ Top—scraggly beard, straw hat, work boots, big belly, and he was huge—like 6’6’’. Anyway, he had this adorable, perfectly groomed poodle with painted pink toenails and a pink bow. You don’t really even need to make stuff up when you live here. All you have to do is look around. But—just to clarify, I do love to make stuff up too!
- You do many different things; poet, reviewer, professor, what do you enjoy the most?
That’s easy: poetry. I have a mad, passionate lust for poetry. I’m nuts over it, and when I’m cut off from it or too busy to write it, I feel like I’ve been jilted and will never be able to mend my heart again. Luckily, I have control over that and can just make the time to write when I start feeling that way.
I also love teaching, but I have a love/hate relationship with writing reviews. Every time I write a review I agonize over it and procrastinate and say I will never write another one again in my life. It feels like such a responsibility—to honor and interpret someone else’s work properly. But when I actually sit down and write the reviews they flow well, and I become exhilarated, and in that high, I say, “That was great. Send me another book!” And then it starts all over again.
- Is there something you haven’t done you would like to accomplish?
I want to have an incredible garden. Someday, in fact, I hope to have a mostly edible yard—fruit and nut trees, vegetables, herbs, huge watermelons, rosemary bushes. First, though, I have to settle down and stay in one place long enough to spread some roots in the soil.
- What do you enjoy most outside writing?
Parenting and spending time with the people I love—just talking to them and being together. I don’t really even care what we’re doing as long as we’re together. This is the greatest thing in life.
- What prompted you to become a writer?
I’ve always been an avid reader. As a kid, I read massive tomes like War and Peace instead of watching television. Back then it never occurred to me that I could write books too, but over time I started to realize that there were real, living people writing books. Once I grasped that writing wasn’t just some archaic ritual performed by people who have been dead for centuries, I grabbed a pen and jumped in. That was quite late for me though—in my twenties—and then I took years off—a decade—when I was childrearing. I’ve only been writing consistently for about eight years now, but I can’t imagine ever giving it up again. It’s such a large part of who I am now.
- Did your family and friends support you in your work?
Fortunately, my family is supportive, and most of my friends are writers too, so they are also very supportive. I’m lucky in this.
- Is there a particular place you would like to travel to and write about?
Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. I’ve been all over the United States and Europe, and I’ve spent time in Mexico and Canada. When I was a child, my parents used to joke that I had wanderlust because I would often ask for a trip instead of a gift for my birthday or Christmas. So—yes to travelling and writing about places, but no to somewhere specific. There are many, many places I’d like to go still—the Galápagos Islands, Alaska, India, New Zealand—and I’d like to write about them all.
- When you teach, do you look for particular students you can mentor, based on talent?
The students who really want mentoring make it known, and those are the ones I end up working with closely. Interestingly enough, they are also usually the ones with the most talent. But I do not choose them. I allow them to choose me.
- You just released a poetry collection, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, would you like to tell us a bit about that collection and maybe even share a poem?
Sure! The collection is about an appetite for life and love and food and poetry and beauty and all that the cosmos contains. It’s been called voracious and huge, and obviously there’s a food motif that runs all through the pages. It may even be a little cheeky and audacious in places, but there are quieter, gentler poems too. Here’s the title poem from the collection:
I ATE THE COSMOS FOR BREAKFAST
—after Thich Nhat Hanh
It looked like a pancake,
but it was creation flattened out—
the fist of God on a head of wheat,
milk, the unborn child of an unsuspecting
chicken—all beaten to batter
and drizzled into a pan.
I brewed some tea and closed my eyes
while I ate the sun, the air, the rain,
photosynthesis on a plate.
I ate the time it took that chicken
to bear and lay her egg
and the energy a cow takes
to lactate a cup of milk.
I thought of the farmers, the truck drivers,
the grocers, the people
who made the bag that stored the wheat,
and my labor over the stove seemed short,
and the pancake tasted good,
and I was thankful.
Thank you, Melissa for your kindness.
Click on the following for some more links:
Rate My Professors Take an opportunity to learn from Melissa.