by Zoë Roos Scheuerman ’24
For many English Department students, studying at Mac is only one stage in their bookworm-y journey. Graduation, while potentially intimidating, can also be the start of a new stage in that journey. For Miriam Moore-Keish ‘19, post-graduation plans have included publishing her poetry! To celebrate the publication of her newest chapbook, Clearance Philosophy, the staff of The Words interviewed Miriam about her experience with her most recent work!
Was there a particular theme, idea, or source of inspiration behind Clearance Philosophy? If so, what was it?
This is a good question with a possibly-not-as-good answer. If I had to say there was a particular theme, it would be the unspectacular. Most of these poems were written in early quarantine when I didn’t get out much and my dog was the only thing I thought about. He still takes up a lot of my brain space, actually, so I don’t think that’s an excuse. But I think I got out what I had to say in Cherokee Rose and all I was left with were these everyday observations about my label maker and a pasta dish I was making. There is a certain pressure on poets and writers to say something weighty about the state of the world and identity and culture—and there’s absolutely an important place for that—but I wanted to write something weighty about the state of my dog’s digestive system and granola and a dead mouse in my alley. Of course, there are still some themes similar to those in Cherokee Rose—themes of religion, memory, and Southern identity, but most of it is “important nonsense.” That was me quoting my poem “Label Maker,” can you believe I just did that? Ridiculous.
What was the writing process like?
Writing for a poetry collection is possibly the most low-key of the writing processes. Or maybe I’m doing it wrong. I don’t claim to be any expert on the ease or difficulty of writing books. But in my experience with this one, at least, the writing was easy. The assembly was the trickier part. Most of these poems came out of my little brain sporadically over the past few years but didn’t fit into Cherokee Rose. I started calling them my “nothing poems” and would leave them out of submissions. It wasn’t until recently that I realized their nothingness held them together and that all I could really do was faff around writing these nothing poems. I wasn’t writing for a collection, I just kind of wrote myself into one by accident. I remember compiling all of these pieces into one document, writing their titles on little pieces of paper, and arranging the pieces on my floor to figure out the order for the collection. That part was hard, because there is variation in the tone of the poems and I didn’t want any pairing of poems on a spread to be insensitive. I put my two poems about worms next to each other so they would have company. I hope people notice that.
Is there something that you especially hope readers take away from Clearance Philosophy?
I had a friend over the other night and they flipped through the book and cried at the second poem. Then another friend sent me a text a few nights later saying that that same poem had her in stitches from laughing. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on the key takeaways! If I had to say there’s something I want readers to take from this collection, it’s the kind of cop-out answer that I just want it to have some sort of effect. I want people to have experienced some sort of emotional response (or cognitive or physical or all of the above). I want what any writer wants, which is for our readers to leave the book somehow different from how they were when they picked it up. Even if I’ve just left you craving carrots, it’s a success.
How did your time at Mac prepare you for professional writing (if you think it did prepare you in some way)?
Am I a professional writer? Gross. I’ve never really thought of that. Naturally, the class Literary Publishing with Anitra Budd was very formative in navigating the publishing process. Even though I work in publishing now, I still have my notes on copy editing marks from that class saved on my desktop.
For Clearance Philosophy specifically, though: I do think of something from day one of Creative Writing with Peter Bognanni. We read a quote from someone—maybe it was even Pete—no I think it was someone else, that all poetry is familiarization and defamiliarization. This book is probably an entire collection of defamiliarization. Somehow the most mundane objects become the platforms for conversations about Big Things.
But the most important Mac treasure in Clearance Philosophy is in one particular poem about the class Contemporary Concepts in Physics with Sung Kyu Kim. I loved that class. Is Sung Kyu still teaching it? Either way, he prepared me for professionally (or unprofessionally) writing a poem about relativity.
How did the writing and publishing processes of Clearance Philosophy compare to those of Cherokee Rose? Are there things you learned from Cherokee Rose that helped you with Clearance Philosophy?
Oh, wow, they were such different processes. Recently I said to someone that Clearance Philosophy, as my third book, is a lot like a third child—it falls out when you sneeze. I know this is not how birth happens, but it’s something they say, right? Am I making that up? It feels like each book comes out faster than the last. In this case it actually was a much faster turnaround. With Cherokee Rose last year, I had a year between the book deal and the release, but Bottlecap Press—my publisher this time—operates so much faster. I had to wrap my head around that. I’m still wrapping my head around it, really.
After publicizing Cherokee Rose during COVID, I definitely had some practice spreading the news virtually. I don’t know if that practice did any good for my publicity this time, but at least I wasn’t as intimidated.
Some people might disagree, but I think I also had more faith in the process this go around. I was more hands-off with the book design and all the bells and whistles, instead of being a helicopter writer. Not that I was ever a helicopter writer, but I’ve become more relaxed with each consecutive publication, kind of like what you hear about parenting a third child.