If you’re afraid of outer space, then today’s contributor interview with Rachel Morgan is for you.
Rachel Morgan lives, teaches, and writes in Iowa. She is co-editor of Fire Under the Moon: An Anthology of Contemporary Slovene Poetry (Black Dirt Press). Her work recently appears or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Fence, Denver Quarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, DIAGRAM, Barrow Street, and Poet Lore. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Currently she teaches at the University of Northern Iowa and is the Poetry Editor for the North American Review.
Rachel’s poem, “Fever of Unknown Origin,” appears in MAR 35.1. She joins us on the blog today to discuss making family members cry, listening to Sigur Rós on repeat, the terrors of outer space, and, of course, poetry.
Quick! Summarize your poem in 10 words or fewer.
Childhood, motherhood, widowhood, but not in that order.
What can you share about this piece prior to its MAR publication?
This poem emerged from a writing exercise I often use in creative writing classes. The exercise asks students to consider an artifact they encountered as a child that they later come to understand. In parts of Appalachia, a tight nest of feathers recovered from the feather pillows of the deceased is knows as a “death crown” or “angel crown.” A death crown is considered a good omen—a sign the deceased is in heaven. When I was a young girl, my grandmother showed me two death crowns recovered from her seven year old brother’s pillow. The initial poem emerged quickly, but I tinkered with it for about a year and a half before submitting it.
What was your reaction upon receiving your MAR acceptance?
“Fever of Unknown Origin” is part of my manuscript Coal, which includes found text narratives against the landscape of the southeastern Appalachian mountains, and I was visiting family at Grandfather Mountain when I read the kind acceptance email. MAR is a journal I’ve long admired, so I was happy.
What was the worst/best feedback you received on this piece?
A family member (besides my mother) said, “Why does what you write always make me cry?”
What do you consider your biggest writing-related success?
It sounds saccharine, but honestly each time I write a poem feels like success. I think writing a poem is like spell-making, and I love the brief moment of being enchanted by the process of linking word to word.
Your biggest writing-related regret?
For a few years after getting my MFA I become unmoored from the writing practice. With the expectation to produce work for workshop and the critiques from my peers gone, my concerns turned toward earning a living and writing when I could. I wrote very little and sent out even less, and then I let the inevitable rejections take care of my remaining motivation. I wish I’d taken time to think of myself as a poet and writer in these years.
Tell us one strange thing about yourself that does not involve writing.
I’m terrified of outer space.
Tell us one strange thing about yourself that does involve writing.
I listen to songs on repeat when I write. Right now I’m listening to a lot of Sigur Rós.
Do you have another favorite piece of writing in this MAR issue? If so, name it and tell us why.
I enjoyed Ryan Teitman’s piece from the Special Section, “One Hundred Names for the Moon” for the way it plays with what cannot be translated across language and age. I read Teitman’s book Litany for the City three years ago, and it took my breath away with its still moments in strange cities. Reading this collection as I moved from Los Angeles to the Midwest was both a type of litany and elegy.
Thanks for the interview, Rachel!
Laura Maylene Walter, Fiction Editor