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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.

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Monica Wendel


In Lithuania

my roommate made art

about hating Jews—

I escaped to a field

where I watched boys play soccer,

some universal sport

even in dream.

But things were dangerous.

I rode the elevator back up to the apartment

pushed her against the wall

shouting about soldiers

looking for people like me.

She looked surprised

that ideas could have consequences.

I didn’t destroy her art.

I woke up instead

and turned off the air conditioner

and took the dog out.

Grey clouds marbled over red brick buildings,

over the old factory we live in.

You were still sleeping.

In darkness, at night, your paintings

become the flags ships use

to signal each other

across wide empty spaces—

this one for civic pride,

this one for genocide.

English Kills

I’ve been singing

in a dead language

about the sun.

The children know

it can come back to life;

just ask the Israelis

who made up words

they couldn’t find in the Torah—

T-shirt, rainbow.

But rainbow must have been there.

Maybe I’m remembering this wrong.

In my dream, I was on a farm,

presenting a PowerPoint.

One slide was a picture of a mother

kneeling by her child,

the other was a backyard

abutting the Newton Creek,

and then the computer

stopped working. In real life

the creek branches

into English Kills and Maspeth Creek.

Don’t be alarmed:

Kills was only Dutch for something.

Was it stream. Was it water.

They’re all dead now,

those first discoverers.

My mother is scared

of the tunnels the Gazans

are building

but I am scared of any prison

no matter how large

and must always take the side

against the guards.

Call it my stubborn calling.

She told me once

that language is a river,

not a fish tank.

You can never capture

all the words.

Bushwick, Brooklyn

Admit it: you lose more keys

than all the travelers in the hostel combined.

And a summer storm is riding from the sidewalk

when the downstairs neighbor says,

“Did you know, there are apartments

above the coffee shop?” You say, yes,

because, look, this whole street

is buildings with three floors,

what did she think was there?

And she, coke hungover, says, “But where

is the door? How do they get upstairs?”

then huffs off. At least the front door

is open now. In your dream last night

you were in a red-lit basement

flooding with water. Sometimes the delivery

dealer rings your doorbell by accident.

The coffee shop has a lost-key app

on an iPad by the register.

Go there. They’ll let you in, next time.

They always do.

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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