An Interview with Monica Wendel

Posted by Amy Elizabeth Bishop, GD Managing Editor for 3.2

Post Script began in the fall of 2013, as a way to connect writing alumni back into current student work. Our first Post Script contributor was  a creative nonfiction piece by Rachel Svenson, SUNY Geneseo, class of 2010. Since then, poetry by Emily Webb (SUNY Geneseo, class of 2013) and Nate Pritts (SUNY Brockport) have been featured in Gandy Dancer. This semester, we’re proud to feature three of Monica Wendel’s poems in the Post Script section. Monica is a SUNY Geneseo alum, class of 2005. One of our Managing Editors for Issue 3.2, Amy Elizabeth Bishop, sat down with her for an interview about writing advice, creating a literary life after college, and her own writing success.

Amy Elizabeth Bishop (AEB): What started you on the poetry path and how did you maintain your literary life after leaving Geneseo and your MFA program at NYU? You’ve published two chapbooks, one collection, and numerous poems online and in print.

Monica Wendel

Monica Wendel

Monica Wendel (MW): The good part about staying in the city where I did my MFA—well, there were a lot of good parts—but pertinent to that question, I made a lot of really good friends at NYU and we stayed friends. My social life includes going to poetry readings, having dinner and workshopping, and other things that sound pretentious when I write them like this. Hmm. The best way of explaining it is that there’s no distinction between my life-life and my literary-life. I don’t ever feel like I’m taking off one hat and putting on another; writing is simply part of how I function in the world.

To go back to what started me on the poetry path, there are a few answers. The idealistic answer is that poetry is fulfilling, connects me with others, is beautiful and meaningful, etc. And that idealistic answer is true! My best times at Geneseo were spent in creative writing classes. But there’s another, less tactful answer that’s also true, which is that I like being good at things, and even better is to be the best at something. I like winning contests. I like seeing my name in print. Those things happened the more I devoted myself to poetry.

AEB: I know rekover projects is sadly closing, but can you talk a little about that project and the reading series you hosted there? What inspired you start a reading series there?

MW: I hope this answer isn’t boring. I was at a party at Katie and Tristan’s place, and Katie told me that they were starting this place, rekover, for art and design and merchandise, and would I want to do a reading there sometime? I said that I’d be more interested in starting a reading series (see above question—I tend to be over ambitious). I realized that it would be too much to run on my own, so I asked my friend Emily Hockaday, who I went to graduate school with, if she would be interested in co-hosting.

I was inspired by a number of things: that the opportunity was right there; that I had never hosted a reading series before; and, most importantly, that I wanted an excuse to meet writers who I admired.

AEB: Many of your poems are place-oriented, like Bushwick, Brooklyn or Vilnius. What kind of places do you write best in? What sort of places inspire you?

MW: I write best on the subway, and I’m inspired by anywhere new. Cities are especially inspiring; New Orleans, Berlin, and New York are the cities my poems keep returning to. I’m also inspired by the places visited in dreams.

AEB: What kind of advice do you have for young/aspiring poets or for someone who wants to continue to actively write after college?

MW: For young poets, I would say: don’t burn yourself out. Writing is a practiced way of engaging with the world, not an identity.

For anyone who wants to continue writing actively after college, combine social things with writing things. I hate being by myself, so if I’m forced to choose between going out and staying home to write I almost always go out. Writing shouldn’t be a chore. Meet a friend for coffee and writing time, or dinner and writing time, or doing-laundry-at-the-laundromat and writing time. Go to readings with your friends. Go to bookstores with your friends. And make friends at the bookstore, and at poetry readings. The tortured writer is romantic in theory, but it’s a schtick that gets old quickly.

Along those lines, it’s easy to get into a discouraged loop of believing that no one really cares about writing. If you volunteer with underserved populations, you see how that’s not true. It’s not about publications; it’s really about the difference writing expressively can make in someone’s life. If you’re graduating from college, you’re coming from a place of great wealth (metaphorically speaking). You have knowledge and training that could serve so many others. So use it!

Monica Wendel is the author of the collection No Apocalypse (Georgetown Review Press, 2013) and the chapbooks Call it a Window (Midwest Writing Center, 2012) and Pioneer (Thrush Press, 2014). She would be best friends with the pioneer Ántonia from Willa Cather’s My Ántonia. In 2013, she was the writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac Project of Orlando, Florida. She holds a B.A. from SUNY Geneseo and a M.F.A. from NYU.

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