An interview with poet Michael Joseph Winslow
I expected Michael Joseph Winslow would
be the type of person you might engage in lively conversation
at a bar or a party. But, according to Winslow, that is not
the case. He said he often goes to social get-togethers, but
that he sometimes ends up sitting alone at the bar or off
somewhere writing quietly in one of his Moleskine notebooks.
He goes through the notebooks voraciously. In them he writes
random, disjointed thoughts that oftentimes he will piece
together to form completed poems at a later time.
A recent graduate of Metropolitan State’s
Creative Writing Program, Winslow’s main genre is poetry,
though he writes some short stories as well. Most of his work
focuses on relationships, love and the state of the world
today. And, regardless of his extensive interest and experience
in traveling, all of his writing remains introspective.
Regarding the theme of love, he said he is especially interested
in makeups and breakups because of the heightened sense of
emotion present at those moments.
Excerpt from Suitable Conclusion:
“--all I wished for was your
scent in my nostrils
(& maybe your movie-star glamorous face in my sight).
I might have lied
once or twice but I’d like to mention again
how so, so
sorry I am.”
Winslow describes himself as moody and
confident, but alternately depressed. When asked how others
would describe him, he jokes, “It depends who you ask.”
He is also very much a morning person. He loves mornings because
“it’s like a second chance, a new beginning—it’s
And this inspiration is crucial to his
genre. Too often he feels like he’s in a rut. So he
seeks out anything that will stir him and feed that inspiration.
He gets this from people as much as anything.
In this excerpt from his poem War Weather,
Winslow expresses his feelings on the leadership in America
just before last November’s Presidential election:
“Fast-forward past four unnecessary
years of sedation,
salivating from the mouth at the thought of change.
Fast forward past four unscrupulous
years of smirks
supposed to zonk and placate a populous of coy children,
proactive now, at the exact moment
when motion maters.”
He expanded on his thoughts about
politics today. “People feel powerless—swept up
in the stream of how things are.” He encouraged others,
and said, “make your voice be heard and have conviction
to stand up for your beliefs.” He said people should
feel safe to do this even if it goes against the grain because
“Americans are big fans of the underdog.”
He went on to say we seem to be missing something today--there
are no great orators. The voices of JFK, RFK, MLK and others
are missed. He said we need more role models. “People
need to stand up more and be counted. Society seems to be
in a haze—too often all so Goddamn phony.” But
the problem with fighting for convictions, he said, is that
“the people who are the strongest and most convicted
in their beliefs come across as being crazy.”
For Winslow, the most important thing
about writing is “sharing innermost thoughts—things
people wouldn’t normally share.” He values this
honesty in his writing and in other people’s writing
above anything else.
One of the reasons Winslow got into
writing in the first place was because he read Jim Carroll’s
acclaimed book The Basketball Diaries, written when the author
was in his early teens. Winslow was impressed that someone
could achieve so much in writing at such a young age. He also
said he loves reading anything thought provoking, but jokes
he sometimes reads the dictionary for fun.
One of Winslow’s favorite authors
is Walt Whitman for Song of Myself, a 40-page poem in the
collection, Leaves of Grass. He said Whitman was all about
getting out in his surroundings and taking it all in. “And
he’s from Brooklyn, which is cool,” he adds.
This summer, he will spend three
months teaching English at a total immersion camp in Southern
France, one of his favorite destinations. To prepare, he earned
his ESL certificate from Hamline University. Winslow is not
allowed to speak French to the students at the camp; quite
a change from the usual image of French regard for their own
language. So he fears he won’t get to practice his language
skills as much as he had hoped. Winslow said that in America
people are too focused on “living to work,” whereas,
overseas—France especially—“people work
so they can live.”
Winslow was born in Minneapolis and still lives there, though
he doesn’t see himself staying there long-term. Currently,
he tutors in the Writing Center at Metropolitan State.
In August, he will teach a course
for young writers at the Loft. He plans to use notebooks,
similar to the ones he uses to record his own thoughts and
writing, as a learning tool in the class. Homework assignments
will include taking notes outside of class. The work will
then be used for in-class writing exercises.
Winslow hopes someday to have a volume
of his work published. Five of his poems appeared in the premier
issue of Haute Dish, published Spring 2005. To read his work,
go to hautedish.metrostate.edu and click on the Poetry section
of the Archive.