A Virtual Interview with David Meischen

Poet and fiction writer David Meischen will be the featured reader on Thursday, November 13 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for November’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.


David Meischen has been writing poetry and teaching the writing of poetry
for thirty years. He has had poems in The Southern Review, Southern Poetry
Review, Borderlands, Cider Press Review, and other journals, as well as Two
Southwests (Virtual Artists Collective, 2008), which features poets from the
Southwest of China and the United States. Meischen has participated in four
collaborative poetry and art shows, most recently Ekphrasis: Sacred Stories
of the Southwest (Phoenix, AZ, Obliq Art, 2014).

Also a fiction writer, Meischen has recent stories in The Gettysburg Review, Bellingham Review, The Evansville Review, and elsewhere. Winner of the Writers’ League of Texas
Manuscript Contest in Mainstream Fiction, 2011, and the Talking Writing
Fiction Contest, 2012, and he has finished a novel in stories. Meischen is a co-founder and Managing Editor of Dos Gatos Press; he lives in Austin, TX, with his husband—also his co-publisher and co-editor—Scott Wiggerman.

The Interview

CH: You and I first met in the workshop for publishing Layers (Plain View Press, 1994). How would you describe the evolution of your poetry since the publication of Layers?

DM: Layers was early in my development as a poet. At that stage, my poems were almost exclusively narrative. Many of them were confessional. They helped me to look at myself, to come to terms with myself, as a gay man.

At some point, I grew tired of traditional narrative approaches, of poems that moved chronologically down the page without the variations, the surprises I expect when I read poetry. I discovered several poetry exercises designed to break out of strict narrative, strict chronology, strict logical sense-making.

I’m still a story teller at heart, but these days my poems find their way into narrative in a variety of ways. Recently, I’ve taken several failed poems and recast them in paragraph format, experimenting with prose poems, flash fiction, flash nonfiction. I want to remain open to the many ways words can lead us into poems.

CH: You’ve been writing and teaching the writing of poetry for many years, but your MFA is in fiction writing. What motivated you to go back to school for your MFA?  What made you choose fiction as your concentration area?

DM: I enrolled in an MFA program because I wanted structured experience as a writer and because I respond well to deadlines set in a school environment. I actually applied in poetry because I was sure I’d have a stronger application packet, but that was a mistake. It’s not that I had nothing to learn about writing poetry but that what I really wanted from an MFA program was to learn how to write short stories.

As I’ve already said, I’m a story teller. I wanted to spend time with expert fiction writers, with others learning the craft, and with deadlines. The MFA program worked for me. I was a neophyte short story writer when I went in. I came out with enough practice, enough instruction, that I have been able to develop my strengths as a fiction writer on my own.

CH: How has your work in fiction informed your writing of poetry? How would you identify yourself as a writer?

DM: For me it’s the other way around. I find that poetry informs my fiction writing. Writing poetry taught me the art of close attention to language, concentrated attention on line, on image, on figurative language, on the music of words as we read poems aloud. I’m convinced that my stories profit from this kind of attention to language at the sentence level. As to how I identify, I think of myself as a short story writer with leanings toward a novel. But these days, I’m writing and submitting poems again.

CH: I understand you have a short story collection that is now in circulation. If you would, please tell us about it.

DM: I have a novel in stories, tentatively titled A Certain Slant of Light—after a line from an Emily Dickinson poem. I have an agent to represent this manuscript. I’ve revised two of the stories. We’re still negotiating about possible titles. I’m  really excited about this! I’d love to have a full-length work of fiction in print!

CH:  If I were a new writer, and I was looking to publish my first poem or short story, what advice would you give me?

DM: My advice would be to do some research on the journals, both print and online, that are publishing what you write, then to start submitting the best of what you have. Keep meticulous records of what you send and where you send it. And be prepared for many publications to say no before anyone says yes.

CH: What’s next for you as a writer?

DM: I’ve written a chapter toward a memoir about growing up gay on a farm in the fifties. I intend to finish a manuscript in the next year or so. I have an overlong short story that will not work as a story. I want to see if I can do the work of turning it into a novel. I’ve submitted a chapbook of gay-themed poems to a chapbook contest. I want to pursue other possibilities for publishing it as well. I have enough poems about my rural upbringing that I think I could assemble a chapbook from those. And I love writing short stories. I have notes for a dozen or more new stories. I want to work on some of those too.

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