Inside the mind of a poet

tporter@lsjournal.comMay 15, 2013 

Lindsey Martin-Bowen, a poet, fiction writer and English teacher at both the University of Missouri Kansas City and Metropolitan Community College-Longview, generally has a full slate on a day-to-day basis. Just this past February Chatter House Press of Indianapolis, Ind., released Martin-Bowen’s second full-length poetry collection, “Inside Virgil’s Garage.” In 2008, Woodley Press of Washburn University released Martin-Bowen’s first collection, “Standing on the Edge of the World.” Martin-Bowen, who has resided in Lee’s Summit since May of 2004, answered five quick questions from the Journal about the writing process, her latest work, how she finds time to teach as well as write and the arduous task of finding a publisher.

1. What is the meaning behind the title of your latest collection “Inside Virgil’s Garage?”

Virgil’s Garage is the name of an auto repair garage in Lee’s Summit. When I saw the name, I thought about the ancient Roman poet Virgil, who wrote the Aneid because I had recently taught “Dante’s The Divine Comedy.” In his masterpiece, Dante used Virgil as the narrator’s guide through Purgatory and Hell. The result of my ruminations over this was the poem, “In Front of Virgil’s Garage,” which opens the book. I realized, too, that the garage could represent the mind – or, at least, a poet’s mind, which contains all the allusions and symbols from ancient poetry to the present.

2. What is the overarching theme of the book?

The theme connects with the allusion to Virgil, especially with the titles of its subdivisions, “Absurdia,” “Frenzies,” and “Other Insanities,” because a poet – or writer – must often walk along the edge of society as an observer rather than a participant. This allows the writer to see society’s foibles more clearly. Humans are not naturally rational creatures; thus, the subdivisions imply we’re all a tad insane.

3. The book is a full-length collection of poetry. How difficult was it for you to pen the book?

I started arranging this book shortly after Woodley Press (Washburn University) released my first poetry collection, “Standing on the Edge of the World” in 2008. I wrote a number of the poems for “Inside Virgil’s Garage” while “Standing” was coming together, and I wanted to put together another collection because I feared becoming lazy and “resting on my laurels.” About 30 of the poems in each of the collections were published in literary magazines before I submitted the manuscripts for publication.

4. You are a professor at both UMKC and MCC-Longview. Where do you find the time to write, let alone pen a collection of poetry?

At the time I wrote most of the poems in this collection, I taught exclusively at UMKC. I admit my schedule has been insane while teaching at both UMKC and Longview these past two years. So my writing time has been more scarce than then. Nevertheless, I jot down notes for poems whenever they come. (I keep a notebook by my bed.) But I’m in transition. Within the next year, I will teach at Longview exclusively and will likely find more time to write.

5. This is not your first published book. Tell readers about your previous work and how does one find a publisher of poetry – in your case, how did you find Chatter House Press?

I had heard that Woodley Press was looking for manuscripts back in 2006, when I submitted “Standing on the Edge of the World.” A couple of years before then, I had submitted that collection to the Kenyon Review poetry contest. Although it didn’t win, the Review informed me that my collection had been in the top 15 percent of all the submissions. That gave me confidence to submit the manuscript to Woodley.

I learned about Chatter House because that press sent a request for poetry submissions to UMKC’s English Department. I have also searched for contests and publishers in the magazine Poets & Writers. The Writers Market and Poets Market also list publishers looking for submissions. Again, many of the poems in each collection had been published. Often, publishers look for that when they review collections for possible publication.

Martin-Bowen is scheduled to read at 7 p.m. July 16 at the Johnson County Central Resource Library in Shawnee Mission, Kan., and next fall will once again participate in the MCC-Longview Literary Festival.

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