Acclaimed poet Joshua Mehigan gives reading on campus Oct. 28
Asked what drives his poetry, Joshua Mehigan hesitates to give an answer. So many factors play into what his work is “about” and why he got into writing. But eventually he settles on one word – articulation.
“I literally spent 15 hours or so the last three days just trying to come up with one line,” says Mehigan, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is giving a reading and craft talk at the University of Missouri–St. Louis this week. “I guess you could say it is simple articulation. I’m trying to articulate something…in a very specific, exact way.”
With two highly praised books behind him along with a pair of major fellowships, Mehigan is an established writer whose success offers both inspiration and lessons for less-established writers – including students in UMSL’s MFA in Creative Writing program, which is the sponsor of Mehigan’s Oct. 28 reading at UMSL.
“I love to talk to young writers, and I also think of myself as young still, even though I’m not,” Mehigan says. “I really am looking forward to it.”
His visit is part of a series planned by a group of MFA faculty members and graduate students, including Christopher Alex Chablé, whose concentration is poetry.
“One thing we really love about Josh’s work is that his voice sounds very natural,” Chablé said. “We admire the craft of his poetry and formal structure – how he manages iambic meter in a way that you wouldn’t really notice it.”
Mehigan, who was the Alan Collins Fellow at the 2015 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, is lauded for his work’s attention to sound and rhythm as well as its carefully observed imagery. His poems have appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Smithsonian, The Village Voice, The New Republic and Poetry.
“I’ve written some poems about factories and work, so a few reviewers have associated me with labor issues,” Mehigan says. “That association troubles me a little. My poems aren’t autobiography, exactly – I worked in a factory for two months, 28 years ago. On the other hand, I grew up around it, and so that, and other kinds of social engagement, are definitely very important to me in poetry.”
His most recent book, “Accepting the Disaster,” includes everything from a six-line composition to much longer poems, capturing “the sinister quiet of a deserted Main Street, the tragic grandiosity of Michael Jackson, the loneliness of a self-loathing professor, the din of a cement factory, and the saving grandeur of the natural world,” according to the publisher.
“It’s kind of about the end of the world,” Mehigan says of the volume’s title poem, emphasizing “kind of.”
In addition to the public reading and discussion at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in Gallery 210, Mehigan will visit a writing class at UMSL, record a podcast at KDHX (88.1 FM) and interact with MFA students during his short stay in St. Louis.
“We have arranged a dinner and light social events leading up to the reading,” Chablé says, “which to me are great opportunities to really get to know a little bit about who our visiting writers are and get a little insight into what they’re about as writers and as people.”
In February 2016, the Natural Bridge Debut Writers Series will welcome novelist Chinelo Okparanta. Both Okparanta and Mehigan were selected as established writers to whom MFA students can relate. In Mehigan’s own experience, it wasn’t until graduate school that he really began to engage deeply with poetry.
“When I was about 20 or something, I had no actual acquaintance with literature,” Mehigan says. “I basically wanted to be a writer, not a reader, and I had no idea what’s been done … Then I started to get more serious about it, just as I was finishing grad school.”
Between his writing and teaching in New York, he says, trips like the one to UMSL are few and far between – but very welcome.
“There’s really nothing I’d rather do than talk about writing and poetry,” Mehigan says. “It’s a real pleasure for me to meet new people who are also obsessed with it. And it helps me change and revivify my own perspective by engaging with them.”
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