Writer Revealed - Mark Thalman

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Welcome to the second installment of Writer Revealed, an occasional series featuring interviews with writers who intrigue and inspire.

An English teacher for 26 years, Mark Thalman has an impressive body of work as a Poet-in-the-Schools, an assistant poetry editor for Northwest Review, and a board member of the Portland Poetry Festival. His book of poems was published this summer. (Win a free copy! See details below). He was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon and now lives in Forest Grove, Oregon.

Congratulations on the publication of Catching the Limit! You have been widely published in journals and anthologies. Is this your first book?

Yes. It’s been a long journey getting this manuscript published. Holding the book in my hands almost doesn’t seem real. Like so many writers, it’s difficult finding a publisher or winning a contest. This manuscript has been a semi-finalist for the Walt Whitman Award and a few other contests. Four years ago, it was selected to be part of Bedbug Press – Fairweather Books, Northwest Poetry Series.

Why is Catching the Limit dedicated to your parents and grandparents?

My parents were always very supportive and positive about getting a good education. When I was growing up, they gave me a lot of opportunities: snow skiing, playing golf, fishing, guitar lessons, taking us on trips around Oregon. My mom read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn to me when I was about five. She loved taking my sister and me to the public library to check out books. My grandparents, who were great story tellers, used to own the Willamette Pass Ski Area and had a cabin at Odell Lake. That’s where many of the poems in the second section of the book take place.

Please tell us about your writing process.

I write like an artist paints. (If you visit my website, you can also see some of my paintings.) Some poems may take a few months to finish, others have taken 16 years. A lot of times, a poem will be almost finished, but I am waiting to learn or discover what it needs to give it that finishing touch. Some poems go through a lot of revisions, others don’t. If I can write a few good lines each time I sit down, I’m satisfied.

What is your writing style?

I write lyrical poetry. Each word has its own music, and a poem has to sound right and have a presence on the page. I like to have internal rhymes, but not hard rhymes at the end a line. I love good similes and metaphors. It’s probably just easier to read you a few lines from “North Umpqua, Summer Run” so you get the idea.

In a smooth flash of motion,
deft as a blade, the fish strikes
and the surface explodes.

Trembling violently in air,
amid spray and foam,
the steelhead blazes like a mirror catching sun,
falls back, extinguishing the fire,
only to lift again,
a flame out of water.

Your poems have such a rich sense of landscape and place – specifically Oregon. Do you consider yourself a regional poet, a nature poet?

Someone said that all writing in some sense is regional, but when I sit down to write, I don’t think of myself as a regional or nature poet. Catching the Limit is about the Oregon Coast, the Willamette Valley, and the Cascades. Sure, I am interested in how a whole forest continually renews itself as in my poem, “In the Silence of a Pine Cone Falling”, or how different trees decompose in “Blowdown." There is a lot of nature in the book, but hopefully the themes and the “human condition” will transcend any regional boundaries.

Your work wonderfully combines your specific experiences/observations with universal understanding. How do you do this, and is it intentional?

(Laughs briefly and good naturedly.) Sometimes “art” happens! I can only think of a couple of poems where it is intentional. Such as the last line in “On the Dock at Evening” where the narrator says, “I have lived my life for just this moment.” That line is a response to James Wright’s well known poem “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm . . .” where his narrator claims, “I have wasted my life.”

One of my favorite poems is one I read several years ago in Ingrid Wendt’s, Starting With Little Things: A Guide to Writing Poetry in the Classroom. I’ve used your poem, “Born in Oregon” in numerous writing workshops with youth, and it was such a treat last spring to meet you and hear the poem in person.

Born in Oregon

Some days I am a fir. Squirrels eat from my limbs.
Other days I am a rhododendron. My genes are coded
as cuneiform. Toadstools and moss grow in the caverns
of my lungs. I am accustomed to the sky,
gray as wax paper.

What is your favorite poem in Catching the Limit and why?

I don’t have a favorite. It depends on my mood. My poems are like children, and I try to treat them equally. I like it when people tell me what their favorite is. Everyone has their own experiences and perceptions they bring to a poem.

Do you have a tight group of poet friends? And how would you suggest others cultivate a writing network?

Yes, I have a group of poet friends, most who I’ve known for a long time. However, people have become so spread out, its really the Internet that makes staying in touch possible. Over the years, my wife, Carole, has become one of my best editors, because she’s seen so much of my work and understands what I am trying to do. As far as cultivating a writing network, if a person attends writing workshops, they might find some like minded poets who want to start their own poetry group.

Where can we get your book?

Presently, Catching the Limit, can be ordered from my website, markthalman.com. Unfortunately, Tony Gorsline, my publisher, passed away this summer from cancer. With Tony’s passing, Bedbug Press – Fairweather Books did not survive, so I don’t have any small press distribution at this time. However, I will be giving some readings at bookstores, and I’ll be signing books after my reading at Wordstock (in Portland). In a few months, you should be able to find it on Amazon.com. However, if you purchase it from my site, you will always get an autographed copy, and I’ll ship it to you right away.

See Mark Thalman this fall!
Looking Glass Bookstore
Portland, Oregon
Beyond Forgetting - Poetry Reading
Saturday, September 19, 2009, at 3pm
A reading featuring: Tess Gallagher, Holly Hughes, Alice Derry, Joseph Green, Kake Huck, Judith Montgomery, Drew Myron, Paulann Peterson, and Mark Thalman.

Portland, Oregon
Oregon Convention Center
Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 3pm

* WIN a copy of Catching the Limit!
It's easy. To enter, simply write a comment below, or send an email to dcm@drewmyron.com. Provide your name and contact information. A winner will be selected at random from the entries. But hurry! All entries must be received by September 12, 2009. The lucky-ducky-limitless winner will be announced here.