getting to know michael west and his new books The Mango, 52 Haiku, and Natural Selection

Now available from Amazon.com: The Mango, 52 Haiku, and Natural Selection

Michael G. West, a graduate of Williams College and the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, has published poems in chapbooks, little magazines and online journals. He has worked as a dishwasher, short-order cook, housepainter, shingler, sheetrock taper, private tutor, taxi driver, college professor, freelance book editor, computer programmer, industry analyst and strategy consultant in several countries and on both coasts, north and south, in the U.S. He currently lives year round on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Michael G. West, a graduate of Williams College and the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, has published poems in chapbooks, little magazines and online journals. He has worked as a dishwasher, short-order cook, housepainter, shingler, sheetrock taper, private tutor, taxi driver, college professor, freelance book editor, computer programmer, industry analyst and strategy consultant in several countries and on both coasts, north and south, in the U.S. He currently lives year round on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
I was very young. My maternal grandfather Baba had a love of poetry, especially Robert Burns, and I heard it first from him. By the time I was seven or eight I was writing poems. If someone had a birthday, I would write a poem. When guests came to the house for dinner, I’d write a few lines for each of them. I had an English teacher in 4th grade who encouraged poetry. By the time I was in high school, I’d go to the library at night to read and borrow books, e.e.cummings and Ezra Pound among my early favorites. I wanted that life, that kind of interaction with others who understood literary things and ideas. In college at Williams, I wrote constantly, was named class poet, and there was no looking back.

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I get up early so I can have several hours to work before I start my straight job at 9. I take my dog out, make some coffee and then after we play tug-of-war with a piece of rope, I meditate. Sometimes I come out of my quiet place to jot something down on my iPhone and then return to meditate. After sitting for about 20 minutes or so, I sit down to work at my MacBook. I am at my dining room table for two or three hours working until I have to switch gears and think about the technology market research I do during the day. Like most poets, I write down a line that comes to me whenever it comes, no matter where. I wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and write something down and then go back to sleep. Poems grow out of many kinds of seeds. You have to plant them all.

Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
They come from anywhere and everywhere, as you have suggested. I live on Martha’s Vineyard, an environment somewhat apart from the mainstream world and am deeply influenced by the natural beauty of its surroundings. When I was younger, my work came out of the nexus of language and personal experience, with more influence from language and image and sound play. As I have written through the years, and evolved my poetry in doing that, I find I am now more often creating something clear and immediate, with less artifice and more personal insight. It’s gotten to be less about me and more about what I have to share of value for others, perhaps.

Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
Lots have at various stages in my development. Chaucer, Sidney, Shakespeare, Keats, Hardy, Whitman, Yeats, Elliot, Pound, Williams, Stevens, Frost among the historical figures. Several schools or movements: The Beats, The Black Mountain Poets, The poets of the Boom in Latin America, The Confessional Poets, especially Robert Lowell, and the L*A*N*G*U*A*G*E poets. Vallejo, Neruda. Robert Bly, Donald Hall. Ashbery. Gary Snyder. Now I read mostly Chinese and Japanese poems, LaoTsu, HanShan, Ikkyu and Basho. But probably the poets who influence me most today are poets I know on the Vineyard, Fanny Howe, John Maloney, Donald Nitchie, Lee Mccormack, Clark Myers, Justen Ahren, Jill Jupen and Fan Ogilvie among them. They are all so diverse, so it really is their authenticity and commitment to craft that influences me most.

Three Poetry Books.jpg

Tell us a little bit about your new collections: what's the significance of the titles? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was is a project book? etc.
I’ve recently published these three books: The Mango, 52 Haiku and Natural Selection. The 32 poems in The Mango follow the arc of the seasons and chart themes that have been important in my inner life. I am at this stage a regular meditator, which provides me a kind of nourishment by subtraction. Meditation helps me to remove from my attention things that would jeopardize my spiritual health and to expand my frame of reference to encompass more than narrow self-interest. When a mango falls into the pool of my consciousness, as it certainly will, I would rather experience ripples than big waves.52 Haiku arrived more or less intact over the course last year of the late fall, winter and early spring months, as the island where I live transformed, and I observed how life’s changes affected me. Many of these tiny, seventeen syllable poems went through dozens of iterations, while others changed not at all from their first incarnation. Each one of them is like a single breath cast against a cold windowpane. As you read them, I invite you to write your initials on the ones that speak to you and watch them fade away.The two dozen poems in Natural Selection are the ones that seemed to fit together best. I did not deliberately construct a sequence or an arc or an overall theme. These poems just seemed to call out to me for inclusion. Some were written twenty or thirty years ago, some a decade back, some in the past few months. All of them still sing to me, and I hope they will to you.

Read and watch live readings of sample poems from Michael West's new books:

I Am Tiny in the Scheme of Things

from The Mango

I am tiny
in the scheme of things
but also infinite
in possibility
in my imagination
in the depth of my love

Knowing this
is my source of joy

I am the oceans
in a teardrop
the howling of a hurricane
in the breath
that blows out candles

I am the jungles of Brasil
in a marigold
plant on my windowsill

I am the thousands 
of stingrays gathering
off the coast of Mexico
in a single leaf
floating in a puddle

I am the multitudes
in a stadium roaring
when the two of us
meet for coffee

I am the endless
landscape of dreaming
in that brief moment

When we kiss goodbye

I am the fire 
of a billion suns
in the spark
of recognition
as our eyes meet

Yes, I am tiny
in the scheme of things
but also infinite

 

#2, #8, and #18

from 52 Haiku

2.

The praying mantis
copulates, then eats her mate
nothing personal

8.

No sign of sun in days
cold rain drips all morning
on garden Buddha

18.

After two months home
younger son packed up to go
neither there nor here

 

Breaking In

from Natural Selection

Breaking into print is that? 
like breaking into song 
Or more like breaking into 
a mansion late at night and 
no ones there
They’ve moved away and as
you walk from room to room
the drawers all need soaping
doors bang shut behind you
and the echo
of how it might sound in your bio
rattles through the house
like bones in a coffee can, spooky 
juju, and suppose you did break in?
(to print I mean)
and got stuck there like someone
in a book, falsely imprisoned, no big
death penalty, nothing too grammatic,
just
dangling there at the end of a life sentence