An Interview with Michael Mirolla

The author of a clutch of novels, plays, film scripts and short story and poetry collections, MICHAEL MIROLLA’s publications include a novella, The Last News Vendor, winner of the 2020 Hamilton Literary Award for fiction, as well as three Bressani Prize winners: the novel Berlin (2010); the poetry collection The House on 14th Avenue (2014); and the short story collection Lessons in Relationship Dyads (2016). Two short stories – “The Sand Flea” and “Casebook: In The Matter of Father Dante Lazaro” – are Pushcart Prize nominees while a poetry collection, At the End of the World, was short-listed for the 2022 Hamilton Literary Award for poetry. In the fall of 2019, Michael served a three-month writer’s residency at the Historic Joy Kogawa House, during which time he finished the first draft of a novel, The Second Law of Thermodynamics. A symposium on his writing is scheduled to take place in Toronto in May of 2023. Born in Italy and raised in Montreal, Michael now lives in Hamilton, Ontario. 
You can read his poem, This Far Country Road, in Pinhole Poetry's April 2023 issue.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context?

This Far Country Road was conceived literally while I was on a mid-winter walk along a country road near my daughter’s farm. I walked the road as part of my exercises (accumulating steps on my FitBit!) while I spent time dog-sitting three pit bulls. When I had walked it the previous summer, I had come across a beautifully-patterned snake curled up and soaking in the sun. On my mid-winter walk, well …

Why was the poetic form the best fit for this particular piece of work?

All my poetry is free verse (although I sometimes employ the 10-syllable line as a way of reining myself in). And I allow the poem to find its own organic form rather than trying to “fit” it into a pre-conceived one.

Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone?

Not quite sure I understand this question. But perhaps my collection The House on 14th Avenue is a good example of what I try to do in my poetry: create a line of questioning that can tend towards the metaphysical while maintaining what needs to be at the “heart” of any poem or poetry collection – and that’s the human.

If you didn’t write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life?

I write in all sorts of genres – poetry, novels, short stories, plays, film scripts. Each provides its own “fulfillment”. To me, there is nothing that allows me to access what I get out of writing poetry – and that’s the feeling of cleanliness from trying to achieve the purest form of the language possible (all the while asking why that achievement isn’t really achievable).

How do you revise your work?

I tend to put it aside for a while and then try to look at it with fresh eyes. However, with poetry, what I first write is usually both skeleton and flesh. If anything, I might do a couple of word touch-ups but that’s it.

What are you working on now?

I am working on revising a 200,000-word novel The Second Law of Thermodynamics. In an effort to fight off entropy, I had my sister-in-law pick out pieces of paper on which the various chapter numbers had been written – and the novel is in the order in which she picked those pieces of paper. I also have about 20 poems towards my next collection.

How or where or with what does a poem begin?

A poem always starts with an image for me. Then I try to make that image as concrete as possible.

Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry?

Not really. More like ordinary objects.

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine?

Poetry creates its own space. When it demands it, all else must be dropped!

What are you reading or watching or listening to lately that intrigues or inspires you?

Unfortunately, as the editor-in-chief of a publishing house, I spend most of my reading time evaluating manuscripts. But I did spend the summer listening to YouTube readings by Sylvia Plath of her own poetry. Daddy and The Applicant are to die for. Oops! Did I just say that?

Have you ever received advice (or has there been something you’ve learned on your own) about writing or revising poems that has made you a better poet? What was it?

When I was doing my MFA at the University of British Columbia (one of the first in the country), I was “taught” that the fewer abstract words in a poem the better the poem. The best poem would be one that has no abstract words in it but not sure if that’s really possible.

Do you belong to a writer’s group? If not, where do you find poetry community and feedback?

No, not a member of a writer’s group at this stage. Poetry community comes from being a member of the League of Canadian Poets and feedback comes from editors when they read my poetry collections for possible publication.

In terms of poetic style or craft, is there a big question you are trying to find an answer for?

From one of my poems:

To touch the thing-in-itself –
nothing more; nothing less.”
That’s what you’ve written over and over,
in one form or another, like a thick student
who just doesn’t get it.

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