White Fur

Sincerely Ironic

The Academy of American Poets

Why Do I Write

My Book House

I learned to read when I was four and soon discovered the set of books on a small shelf in my room; I would spend much time reading and re-reading these books over the next dozen years. The set had once belonged to my father and had been published in the 1930’s. There were 14 in total—My Book House—edited by Olive Beaupré Miller. Beaupré. Beaupré! This name confounded me, irritated like a pebble in my shoe. That choking gobbet of vowels! That accent like a bee’s stinger! How was I to know how to say this name? No one I knew could tell me, and so it remained a mystery, foreign and untranslatable, as far away as France. Someone was able to tell me this name was probably French, and so I came to think of France as the place books came from.

At some point, I was given or I found a Canadian nickel. Here too was writing in French! I began sorting through my parents’ change purses, looking for Canadian money. The quarters and nickels were uncommonly beautiful; what kind of a genius puts a beaver or a caribou on one side, and the profile of a queen on the other? More importantly, this money, like the books, suggested a world to me that lay beyond the rural corner of Wisconsin hemmed by bluffs on either side; you could see up the river to the first bend, and down the river to the wooded slough, but no further. This money which was familiar and yet altogether different, had made its way to my small town; it was useless there, but it had arrived nonetheless. The fables, poems and stories in My Book House were equally out of place with their allusions to Greek mythology and Shakespeare, though both the books and the money were useful, somewhere, to someone.

Emerging Poets Panel

The Academy of American Poets

Mark Wunderlich in Conversation

The Academy of American Poets

First Book Interviews

with Keith Montesano

How often had you sent out The Anchorage before it was chosen for publication by The University of Massachusetts Press?

The manuscript was in circulation for about three years. I was very eager to have it published—no surprise there—but that eagerness blinded me to some of the manuscript’s flaws. I had an early version of the book which I had worked on as my MFA thesis at Columbia, and I promptly got that into the mail. The first year out, that manuscript became a finalist for the NPS. There is something particularly cruel about that contest in that finalists are notified of their status months in advance.

The next many weeks morph into a looming preoccupation with the tedious business of poetry contests. I remember it as a time of wild fantasy and hope—all of it built on an incredibly teetery foundation. I didn’t win, though I learned one of the judges had chosen it as a runner up, and had gone with the more mature writer, thinking (and this may be apocryphal—I was told this all second-hand) that I would have my chance eventually, and the older writer should have her due. I found bitter comfort in that news, and in the next couple years my manuscript got knocked out of that competition early on, which was discouraging.

Ultimately it was for the best. That same year I received a fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and I moved to Cape Cod to spend three seasons writing new poems and making the manuscript sharper, smarter and more substantial. The place and those months changed my work and my life and helped me make The Anchorage a better book..