by Zoe Roos Scheuerman ’24
On Thursday, November 18th, Miriam Moore-Keish ‘19 and Bethany Catlin ‘19 returned to Macalester to read from and discuss their recently published poetry collections, Cherokee Rose and Theme & Variations: Poems in Four Movements. The poems were beautiful, balancing humor with difficult themes that were communicated with simple language. The works were both thought-provoking and easy to read for pleasure. The poets’ obvious friendship also made the event memorable, punctuating readings and the discussion with easy camaraderie and light banter.
Many of the poems reflected on the authors’ roots and youth. Miriam shared writing about her Oma, a German word for grandmother, and wrestling with racism in her hometown, while Bethany read about her home state, Indiana, and memories such as the death of her dog. What struck me about Bethany’s poems was their atmosphere. She concretely describes a setting and weaves it into her meditations. Miriam was able to turn small anecdotes into profound stories, and she painted very striking portraits of her family members.
After their reading, the two discussed their divergent experiences in publishing. Bethany explained that she had gone to a small press and pitched her poetry collection, Theme & Variations, before she started writing. Miriam described how she had written a manuscript before searching for a publisher, but also that she had edited and added to the manuscript as she submitted it to various publishers, giving each one a slightly different version. She started with 135 pages, and the final version of Cherokee Rose is about 30 pages. One of the major takeaways from this discussion about the publishing process is that it can be much slower-paced and less structured than people might think. Popular notions about publishing present it as full of rigid deadlines and sometimes unforgiving editors, but Bethany and Miriam’s experiences show that this is not always the case. A flexible, more organic process makes sense, since that is also the nature of the artistic process itself.
When asked what advice they had for aspiring writers at Macalester, the poets emphasized the importance of taking advantage of Macalester’s resources. Bethany recounted how tentative she used to be about reaching out to professors, and she advised other students not to be as shy. Professors do genuinely care about their students and want to support them with the resources they have. The writers also discussed how valuable it is to get feedback on your writing, encouraged student writers to submit their work whenever they get the chance, and recommended taking feedback on their work seriously. Miriam mentioned how important the creative writing community at Macalester was to her because of this feedback, and how having a space to practice her craft allowed her to grow significantly as a writer.