An Interview with Megan Wheeler, "The Imperishable Life of Poems"


Can you discuss the meaning of the title "The Imperishable Life of Poems"?

The title was meant to convey the staying power of poems  (likened to the endurance of unconditional love).  

You're on a deserted island with only one poem.  Which one is it and why?

 Probably The Waste Land because then I might actually read the entire poem.

Who has been influential in your development as a poet?

When I was 17 years old, I came out of the mountains, after growing up off the grid on the Salish Kootenai Indian reservation, to attend the University of Montana, where Naomi Lazar was a creative writing professor.  Naomi saw a glimmer of talent in my embarrassingly bad poetry and provided a deeply insecure and unworldly version of myself the encouragement I have never forgotten. I recall Naomi becoming very frustrated with me at one point and telling me to go home and come back to the next class with a poem (I had written) without adjectives.  I nodded my head in agreement and then quickly went out into the hall and wrote down the word “adjective’ so that I could look it up in the dictionary.  When I learned the meaning of the word I was stunned. I said “how can she expect me to write a poem if I can’t use adjectives?”  

Where do you find your inspiration?

 I would have to say my strongest inspiration comes from reading other authors, other poets. I get the sound and rhythm in my head, like music.  I have always had a strong sensory memory and intensely strong dream life so things come to me in less of a cognitive than a sensory way. I often get up and write in the middle of the night or I’ll regret losing entire poems to sleep.

What have you learned about the craft of writing poetry?

When I was at UO I was blessed to have taken classes from Dr. Stanley Maveety.  I remember how much he worked with me to support me in understanding iambic pentameter and meter in poetry, which I am afraid was a bit like trying to teach someone who is atonal the notes of a scale. What I did learn from him was a deep appreciation for Milton and Dante and Shakespeare (the sonnets) and most importantly to overcome my fear of reading the masters.  

Would you rather have the power of invisibility or the power of flight. Why?

Invisibility for sure. I would love to be free to walk through abandoned houses and not be seen.