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Inside IR: Meet Poetry Editor Michael Mlekoday

Indiana Review poetry editor Michael Mlekoday believes poetry is “a register of our values and fears. It’s dynamic and purgative. It’s church and sex and  everything in between.” If you ask him about his favorite kind of casserole, he’ll point out that “in Minnesota, we don’t say casserole, we say ‘hotdish,'” and go on to describe his favorite ‘hotdish’ in mouthwatering (?) detail: “I like tater tot hotdish—tater tots, cream of celery soup, frozen veggies, ground beef if you’re into that, and more tater tots.” When asked to predict the future of literary journals—both print and online—he says, “I think we’ll keep making and sharing poems and stories and essays until we’re all dead, one way or another.”

Continue reading to learn more about the poetry-loving, tater-tot eating man behind Indiana Review.

JL: How did you come to love poetry?

MM: Before their great friendship, the poets James Dickey and James Wright exchanged a series of relatively brutal letters attacking each other for things the other had written and published—there was name calling, squabbling, probably quatrains about each other’s moms, etc.

Had my high school English teachers taught that stuff instead of, oh, I don’t even remember, Shakespeare’s sonnets maybe, I might’ve become interested in poetry much earlier. Instead, I wanted to be a rapper.  I memorized and analyzed every single line of my favorite albums—and only later realized that was poetry.

JL: What is the last piece of writing that knocked the wind out of you?

MM: I’m reading Frank X. Gaspar’s beautiful book, A Field Guide to the Heavens, presently, and it’s incredible. Here’s a poet with such a talent for building emotionally stunning poems out of images, he more than earns it when he throws down an abstraction or two: “You have to be / crazy not to be so afraid of God you are crazy. When / I am happiest, I am most afraid, but being happy I do not / pay attention to the fear.”

JL: Who are some of your favorite established writers?

MM: Matthea Harvey and Bob Hass are probably my favorites. Amy Newman. Quan Barry. Dorianne Laux. Brenda Shaughnessy. Ross Gay.

JL: Who are your favorite up-and-coming writers?

MM: Jamaal May, whose first book is coming out from Alice James Books next year, has been one of my favorites for years. Francine Harris is great. A couple of my favorites who are mid- or late-career but don’t really get mentioned as much as I’d expect are Steve Healey (who has poems forthcoming in issue 34.2 of Indiana Review!) and Jim Moore (author of Invisible Strings).

JL: What are some of your favorite literary journals (besides IR, of course)?

MM: Anti-, Sixth Finch, Muzzle Magazine, Devil’s Lake. Tin House, Gulf Coast, Ninth Letter, Rattle. I like journals that publish important work, urgent work, work that enters into cultural dialogues and discourses and attempts to do something.

JL: What is your favorite thing about being an editor (so far)?

MM: Reading through the unsolicited submissions, for sure. It’s fascinating to see the wide range of work being written right now, and humbling to see how much of it is great.

JL: What is the most challenging thing about being an editor (so far)?

MM: Rejections. There are some submissions that are easy enough to reject, but there’s so much fantastic work being sent to us, I’m forced to reject lots of deserving poems.

JL: Do you prefer print journals, or online journals? Both? Neither?

MM: I think both are important. I love being able to hold a publication in my hands, being able to physically give it to somebody else and say Hey, read this. But I also value the accessibility of online journals.

JL: Is there anything else we should know?

MM: I’d like to publicly and formally apologize for not listening to Frank Ocean until recently. 

This is the latest installment of Inside IR, a series of interviews with the good people here at Indiana Review. Visit us next time to learn a little more about what our Nonfiction Editor, Justin Wolfe, has to say about successful portrayals of sex in literature, the state of the soul, and how much $$$$$$$ he’s willing to offer Kim Kardashian and Kanye West to feature photos of their unborn baby in a forthcoming issue of IR.