Michalle Gould’s first full-length collection of poetry, Resurrection Party, was published by Silver Birch Press. Her work has appeared in Poetry, Slate, New England Review, American Literary Review, and been adapted into a short film by the Detachment East collective, as well as set to music by the founder of the Washington Women in Jazz Festival. She currently lives in Hollywood, where she works as a librarian and is writing a novel.
Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin this way: could you tell me about your past work while you were living in Central Texas?
Michalle Gould: I moved to Austin in 1998 to enter the MFA program in Creative Writing at the University of Texas-Austin. When I graduated, in May 2001, I actually moved to Manhattan, but after a fairly unhappy year there, I went to California for the summer to stay with my parents and contemplate where I wanted my life to go next. My sister had decided to attend a Ph.D program in Austin in the fall and she encouraged me to move back there with her and so ultimately I did, although I think she went out first and then I joined her a week or two later if I remember correctly. I ended up teaching and tutoring writing for the next decade or so while also working on a novel and a short story collection, neither of which were ever published. In my first two years back in Austin, I had a lot of success publishing my poetry and I felt pretty sure that my book was about to get published, but then I had some kind of loss of momentum that I still don’t totally understand. I think writing fiction can be so all-consuming that somehow it really drew me away from poetry, I was writing less and submitting less and having less luck getting published. Nonetheless, even though I have always had much more success publishing my poetry, there is something about fiction that continues to draw me to write it, and so I don’t regret working on those projects, and I am glad in a way that my poetry book was not published then either, that it had more time to develop and gain (hopefully) maturity as I grew older and had more experiences.
Geosi Gyasi: Why did you decide to move to Hollywood to work as a librarian?
Michalle Gould: I had been in Austin for a long time and teaching for a long time and I think I was just ready for a change. My family is in California and I wanted to be closer to them and I was also just interested in living in a new environment. I spent the summer of 2013 in the Bay Area just applying to jobs mostly in California and I was fortunate enough to get this one. I also used that time to work a lot on the manuscript that became Resurrection Party, taking old old poems and weaving in new ones, so even though it was a stressful period, of change and the unknown, it turned out to be a good one.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you believe that the best place for the writer to work is the library?
Michalle Gould: I never really write at a library! I am too busy being a librarian. I think every writer has their own best place to write. I prefer to write at home, although I know other people find that distracting. I live alone and I like to be able to control the noise level and temperature, in a way that I couldn’t if I was at a cafe or any other public place.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any formal education in librarianship?
Michalle Gould: Yes, I have a Masters of Science in Information Science from the University of Texas. I had some interest when I started that program in working in archives because of my interest in rare books and history, but ultimately, because of my experience as a teacher, it made sense for me to work in an academic library.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any formal education in writing?
Michalle Gould: As mentioned above, I have an MFA in writing. I know that MFAs are controversial, but they are pretty much what you make of them. If you go in with a strong vision of who you are as a writer and what you want to accomplish and you choose a program that will be compatible with that mission, I think an MFA program will be beneficial, so long as you aren’t going into debt to pay for it.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you regard yourself as a writer?
Michalle Gould: I have been interested in writing for a long time; I used to write poems in sixth grade and then again in high school. I actually dropped out of law school in order to pursue my MFA, so it was something I really felt driven to do. But as far as regarding myself as a writer, I am not really sure when I felt quite ready to do that. I probably did all along and it was just a question of when I would feel that I had accomplished enough to demand that the outside world felt the same way!
Geosi Gyasi: How would you like to be called – Writer or Poet?
Michalle Gould: Probably as a writer, if I called myself a poet I would be more likely to mean it a bit ironically. I love writing poetry obviously, but the word poet sounds a little more pretentious than the word writer to me somehow.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell me a brief synopsis about your book, “Resurrection Party?
Michalle Gould: Resurrection Party is a poetry collection that concerns itself, almost to the point of obsession, with the question of how the imagination grapples with the fear of death. The collection intertwines religious and mythical subjects and themes with more fleshly concerns about the body and decay, presence and absence. It explores death as a metaphor for change and transformation, as something we fear but also can not avoid.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you arrive at the title of the book?
Michalle Gould: It has been around for a long time! The earliest versions of the book date back to 2002 or so and I think it was called Resurrection Party even then. The cover uses an image called “Dance of Death” from the 1493 medieval book, the Nuremberg Chronicle. I was exposed to this image in a class in graduate school and I knew right away that if I ever had a book of poetry published, that I wanted that to be on the cover. It shows skeletons dancing above a grave from which another skeleton seems to be emerging. I think that the caption may have referred to this as “a resurrection party” or perhaps that is just what it looked like to me, but I liked the juxtaposition between death and joy and it remained a touch-point for the book ever since.
Geosi Gyasi: Was it difficult getting “Resurrection Party” published?
Michalle Gould: Yes. It took over ten years and the entry into a lot of contests and ultimately happened in the last way I would have expected, after the publisher contacted me to ask if she could use its opening poem on the press’s blog as their poem of the day for Easter. I then asked if she was accepting submissions of book manuscripts and she said that she was. I sent her the manuscript and four days later, she said that she would like to publish it.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a favourite poem from your book, “Resurrection Party”?
Michalle Gould: The opening poem is probably my most successful poem – it was published in Poetry and chosen to be featured on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily and adapted into a short film. However, my own favorite poem is the last poem in the book, which is sort of like its overshadowed younger sister. I love how it deals with feelings of exclusion, very topical in our time where people are always talking about how social media creates a constant “fear of missing out,” and I like how it ends on the imagery of a phantom kiss, albeit not a kiss that would have been a good thing even if it had happened!
Geosi Gyasi: How do you feel when your poem is developed into a short film?
Michalle Gould: I loved it, I wish all my poems could be made into short films.
Geosi Gyasi: Who are your biggest influences as a writer?
Michalle Gould: My influences are always changing! My first favorite poet was T.S. Eliot, then my first favorite more contemporary poets were Zbigniew Herbert and Lucille Clifton. Right now, I am very drawn to a lesser-known American poet Thomas James. As far as fiction goes, I love British writers of the 1914-1945 era or so, especially Denton Welch, Henry Green, Virginia Woolf, and others.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific style in which you write?
Michalle Gould: I like to explore a lot of different styles, but I definitely write in a lyrical way and I like to employ unexpected/striking metaphors wherever I can.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever receive rejections of your works from publishers?
Michalle Gould: Yes, all the time.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the most difficult aspect of writing?
Michalle Gould: I find it hard to balance fiction and poetry, which is my own fault, but I just can’t quite stop trying to write both.
Geosi Gyasi: Whom did you intend to write, “Dirge for a Dinosaur by Its Bones” for?
Michalle Gould: I did write this poem not so much for as about a specific person, but for some reason it surprised me upon seeing this question that that was evident to the reader. I even went back and looked at the poem and other than the use of the word “longing” at the very beginning I wouldn’t have thought it seemed like the kind of poem that was written for anyone, but the idea came to me when I was on a treadmill and thinking about how if a person that I wanted to see at the time came into the room I would see their shadow on the wall before I actually saw the person themselves! Some of my poetry has always been fueled probably a bit over-much by romantic fantasy and the sort of exhilaration that a melodramatic sense of supposed unrequited feeling can bring and so when I look at this poem it is part of a little series in my book that would be invisible to anyone but me of three poems, each about a different person, and each representing a different stage of my life.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you gain anything from writing?
Michalle Gould: I love writing and I feel that I have gained everything from it. I am a private person and I like to listen to my friends’ problems, but rarely to talk about my own, and so writing has always been the stage on which I worked out my own little temporary dramas and I am sure that it has saved my life here and there, knowing that possibility was available to me.