Foster Neill, Editor/Founder of The Michigan Poet
Q: Please describe your work with The Michigan Poet.
A: For the last three years, starting with solicitation and slowly graduating to open submissions, I've selected a single poem to feature for a month, each month for 11 months a year. To date, we've published 36 poems, each from a poet living at least half the year in Michigan. I chose to publish on 11'x17' card-stock as broadsides instead of other, more traditional means because I am interested in bringing local poetry to people who are not already aware of poetry in the contemporary and local sense. The broadside format readily applies itself to public arenas, something a magazine, booklet, zine, or even website can't accomplish.
Essentially, I do much of the grunt work, from selection of the poem to purchasing materials, paying for printing, local distribution, shipping, email correspondence, maintaining a Facebook fanpage, writing book reviews, and compiling/writing a monthly email newsletter. That said, much credit must be given to my co-founder and brother, Jon Bergmann. Jon does all our graphic work including layout, creation and maintenance of our website, limited edition special items, and expansion of our media offerings.
In addition to the monthly print releases, I've organized free poetry readings from major Michigan-based poets within my community, run a weekly workshop, and occasionally manage to produce tiny “micro-booklets.” Of all the work I've done with The Michigan Poet, my proudest (and most frantic) moments have come from events I've organized in local schools; for the last 3 years, to celebrate National Poetry Month (April), Phillip Sterling and I have brought poets including Mary Jo Firth Gillette, Patricia Clark, Glenn Shaheen, Jamie Thomas, Jon Taylor, Jack Ridl, and Chris Dombrowski into area schools for readings, lessons, and engagement. There is no greater pleasure than seeing a child's eye rapt with the words of a skilled, local poet.
Q: Tell us how The Michigan Poet came about.
A: Having failed to find a sense of support for poetry in my community, I needed to find a way to keep myself immersed in poetry. I meet with Phillip Sterling, who became a mentor and supporter of my work. As an accomplished writer and educator, Phillip has authored full length poetry and short fiction books and a slew of chapbooks as well as numerous awards including a Fullbright. After meeting with Phillip, I partnered with Jon Bergmann, a close friend and graphic designer who would become my brother-in-law. With Jon's help, we figured out a rudimentary plan and got to work implementing our ideas. After three months of set up, we printed our first issue.
Since our onset, we've had as many struggles as successes. Over time, we've switched printing services four times. After much effort, I successfully partnered The Michigan Poet with the local arts non-profit ArtWorks (of Big Rapids.) Under their auspices, The Michigan Poet enjoys non-profit status. We also thoroughly enjoy the use of their printer, which comes to us through a special line in the their budget, a line The Michigan Poet is responsible for filling.
Q: What writers have influenced you the most?
A: This is a tricky question. Phillip Sterling is a writer and he's influenced me greatly, though not specifically through his writing. Similarly, Benjamin Grossberg, my advisor and professor during my undergrad years had a profound influence on me – he taught me how to read poems, exposed me to countless poets, poems, ideas, and histories, and among many other things, most importantly, humbled me. For the last two years, I've been workshopping with Jon Taylor and Jamie Thomas who have both influenced my writing and also helped me think about what I'm doing with The Michigan Poet.
Q: How does a geographical area relate to a poet?
A: Culture is a regional thing–it's using what's around us to elaborate on our existence and enrich our lives. So I would say geographical area is more than a lens–it's the wellspring of a poet's work.
Q: What classes have you taken that have helped you the most?
A: All of the classes I took as an undergrad have helped me develop as a poet, editor, and activist, from Political Science to Painting to 19th Century British Fiction. That said, the idea of “Community,” one of the three pillars of an Antioch College education–has guided my actions more than any class. It convinced me of the deepest importance of those around us and our responsibility to them and those who will come after us and rely on our actions.
Q: What advice would you give other poets?
A: Be humble and ambitious. Be active in your community and pair the core of your emotion to those around you. Read and re-read and think about what you've read. Engage yourself with poetry beyond reading and writing.