Michael Whelan–Interview

Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

My prime space is a sitting area in my bedroom, where I have a great rocking chair, which is where I do my writing on NOTES in my mini-pad.  I also like to write in the Starbucks right down the street from my condo.  In spaces like that I get a sense of creative energy from the people around me.

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What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

I write almost exclusively on my mini-pad, using the Apple NOTES app.  I revise constantly as I write and go back many times during the day to look and re-write again when I am onto creating a new poem that has promise.

What is your routine for writing?

Often, I write first thing in the morning — before breakfast and before looking at any emails or other business.  I find that time of day my mind is most open to exploring creatively and going in new directions.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

Have been writing poetry as my main focus for about 10 years.  Have written all my life — professionally as a business journalist, corporate marketer, creator of a series of writing seminars that I taught to international financial executives (World Bank) in 30 countries.  In between I wrote creatively in both prose and poetry on occasion, including magazine and newspaper feature pieces.

Have mentors played a role in your writing?

Very much so — particularly in writing “After God,” my first published collections of poems, which took me four years to write.  It’s a memoir in verse, tracking my experience with the enigma of God from age four to the present.  At two points in the writing, I turned to different outstanding writers  mentors — both had been friends with me for many years before I asked their input as a mentor.  The first was Dermot Healy, one of Ireland’s leading poets, novelists and dramatists, and the second was Terence Winch, who is both poet and musician highly regarded in the Washington DC and US poetry world. I turned to them after I had written most of the text and their editing suggestions and other guidance were invaluable in boosting the quality of my final product.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

I don’t have a specific audience, but I do write for people who are reflective and who enjoy play of language.  My style is deliberately accessible.  It seems to work because many people who like my writing tell me that they usually don’t usually read poetry but they like reading mine.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

I am currently working on a new collection of poems on the philosophical — including awe and mystery — of quantum physics and relativity.  These will be poems designed specifically for people who give me a funny look when I tell them what I am doing.  There will be a lot of humor in the poems, and lots of play on metaphors springing out of science — by which I hope to make the poems accessible to non-science readers.

If I’m blocked I either write on free form without worry about wording or content — or I let the idea of the poem sit (for a few days or a few months) until it takes more shape in my mind.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Looking at the empty screen or the empty page — just at the moment when writing begins.  And not knowing where or how my piece will end.  And the creative discoveries I will find along the way.  And the ways I can and will play with sound, rhythm and all the fascinations of language.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Attend good-quality writing workshops to start. Early on, I attended an excellent  Getterysburg Review workshop and an Aspen workshop taught by former poet laureate Robert Pinsky. One-week workshops are ideal for in-depth learning and getting feedback from both peers and the expert writers who teach the courses.  Also, look for a good mentor to work with.  You need other eyes looking at your product, especially after you have done early drafts.

Check out Michael’s work in Volume 4, Issue 2.

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