MFA Student Nick Gardner Releases First Volume of Poetry
Last fall first-year MFA fiction writer Nick Gardner released his first full-length collection of poetry, So Marvelously Far (Main Street Books, 2019). Nick graciously agreed to an interview about his book, sharing his ideas and insights about his writing process, addiction recovery, and his future creative goals.
Could you tell us a bit about the collection itself. How did it come into existence? What themes does it touch upon?
This collection of poems started as a challenge back in undergrad. I decided I would take one full year (Fall 2016-2017) and write 1-2 sonnets per week. I picked the sonnet form because it is short, but also constrictive. The form challenges how I express myself and I liked the idea of kind of a battle between what I want to say and how I can say it. Of course, I broke the form quite a bit, especially in revision. Sometimes there were things that needed to be said that broke down the walls of the form completely.
I call them sonnets, but I think only a few in this final collection are technically sonnets. I saw Maggie Smith last year at Brews and Prose in Cleveland and she read some of her “Nonnets” (because they are almost, but not quite, sonnets). I think I might steal that name.
When I started writing these sonnets (or nonnets) I was in my 3rd and 4th years of recovery from opioid addiction. I was living back in Mansfield, Ohio, a postindustrial Rust Belt town that was and is beginning to be revitalized. So the poems became a way for me to consider my place in this world. Basically, I was trying to discover who I really was and find my place in the world.
I wound up with about 70 poems which I pared down over the next couple years to the 49 poems in the book. There are four sections in the book: 1) deals with addiction and loss; 2) a series of my “urban exploration” poems which are basically a deep look at the importance of place and the connections I feel with my hometown; 3) a series of “crises and resolutions” which discusses the rollercoaster of living a new life in recovery; and 4) a sort of synthesis of all of these ideas and also a coming to terms with myself.
In what ways might readers be challenged by your collection?
I think this collection can be difficult for those who have been touched by addiction. When I give readings, I often leave out some of the more ‘depressing’ poems, such as “Withdrawal”. Addiction is desperate and generally just horrible and hard to read about, I think, so those themes may be challenging.
I was also reading a lot of theory at the time of writing these poems. Though I don’t think anything I say is over anyone’s head, I do pack in a lot into 14 lines. I like that aspect of the sonnet. I feel like these aren’t the kinds of poems where you can just read through and understand the whole thing. At the same time, I feel a bit arrogant saying that. Maybe they aren’t as complex as I think they are. But I think I do bring up some complex and challenging ideas about addiction and recovery.
One of my biggest realizations when writing these poems was the nostalgia I had for my life as an addict. This is something that I don’t think is brought up enough, but when I was an addict, I had some really wonderful addict and dope boy friends and once I got clean I had to disconnect from them. But I still care about them and miss them. I think one of the biggest challenges this book offers is that the reader is asked to really get in the mind of an addict or person in recovery, and that is a tough place to be. Of course, I think that is balanced out a bit by the fact that so much of this book is a celebration of recovery as well.
What is your favorite poem in the collection and why?
I don’t know that there’s just one poem that is my favorite, but I am quite fond of the first poem “Looking for Veins in Mr. Powell’s Cornfield”. As a kid I used to look for arrowheads in that cornfield, but as time went on, cornfields like that became party spots for myself and other high schoolers. I feel like this juxtaposition of innocence and depravity is at work here and throughout the book. I also am kind of obsessed with how the glaciers moved through Ohio and sculpted the landscape. I love talking about ancient history and seeing parallels in our current landscape. It was fun to try to discuss this in a single poem.
As an MFA student concentrating on fiction, how do you see your poetry and prose intersecting (or not)? Does your identity as a creative writer shift as you explore different genres?
I have always loved writing narrative fiction, but at times in my life, poetry has just seemed a better fit. I do feel that my prose often tends towards the poetic. I love the rhythm and flow of a good sentence or a beautiful description. I would say the biggest difference for me is that my poetry does tend to be more personal, expressing myself and my story. Whereas my fiction, though still an expression of who I am, allows me to speak about the world through different characters. I would say that I still stay focused on themes of recovery and mental health in both poetry and fiction, but I approach them in different ways.
Another big difference for me is that I do present my poetry at a lot of readings around the state. So, when I write poetry, I am usually aware of how I will perform it. Maybe this plays a bit into why it is so personal. With fiction, I don’t think as much about reading it aloud. I am allowed to tell someone else’s story and kind of disappear behind the scenes.
I love poetry because I can usually write a draft in a day or even a single sitting. I can have the idea and get it out, then spend months revising. But right now I’m very invested in working on a novel. I like approaching this larger project and sort of being consumed with it over a year (or more). It’s sort of like poetry is a way to let myself out and fiction is more of a way to put myself inside a new world. Both are important and very different.
What are some current projects and/or themes you are working with right now?
Right now I’m working on a series of short stories and a novel. The short stories deal with addiction, recovery, poverty, the Rust Belt, and mental health. My novel is about a man who is admitted to a cult-like drug rehab to recover from heroin addiction and finds himself struggling with who he is and what he believes as he goes back out into the world.
Where can those interested buy your book? (you can also include any upcoming readings or events here).
So Marvelously Far can be purchased at Main Street Books (Mansfield, Ohio), as well as from the publisher: http://ccpress.blogspot.com/2019/11/gardner110.html (Crisis Chronicles Press), and on Amazon.
I will be reading from my book at:
Gramercy Books, Bexley, Ohio Thursday 2/6/19 @ 7:00 PM with Nik Macioci
Uncloistered Poetry Reading at Calvinos in Toledo on 2/9/19 @6:00 PM and will have books available there.
Other upcoming readings are in the works and will be posted on my blog: https://nickgardnerpoetry.wordpress.com/