A Response from Jared Leising

A few months ago I wrote a short review of Jared Leising’s chapbook, The Widows and Orphans of Winesburg, Ohio.

At the time I wrote:

“Is he actually a regional poet? He grew up in the Midwest, and this is a chapbook of poetry rooted in the dirt of the Midwest, and really very few things could be as locally specific as dirt. In ” Loess” Leising writes ” But, this dirt made me, I can’t help it.” The poems are Midwestern poems. It seems odd to me that Leising would place himself so firmly in the Midwest. Doesn’t he risk seeming, well, provincial?”

Leising recently sent me this response:

I like how you’re able to call the concept of regionalism (or why anyone would want to be identified with a region) into question at a time when we can be as connected to people across the street as we are with people on another continent via the Internet. I also like the larger question of writer-identity (“who is anyone”) that you raise. I think that question is one I’ve been avoiding because it’s been easy for me to identify with the Midwest in terms of what I write about and how I write, plus as you indicated, there is a tradition of it; however my feelings about being a Midwest writer have changed the longer I live in Seattle.

When you say — “This is a sentence that is not one likely to occur in Seattle, for instance, although it did because a Midwestern wrote it while in Seattle, and correspondingly I’ve written it down here wherever here is.” — it reminded me that I actually did not write this sentence in Seattle. It was originally conceived in the Midwest, whereas some poems in the book are in fact Seattle sentences and I would say today, I’m less likely to identify with the Midwesterness of the book than when I wrote a lot of it.

This seems like an issue of publishing and migration . . . I’m slow to publish (or to try to), but I’ve got a back log of work written during times I felt like the Midwest was where I’m from. I wrote a lot about the Midwest in college and graduate school, and I think I did so because being so far from it allowed me to write about it in a way I’d never been able to.

I’ve lived in Seattle for ten years now, and when I go back to the Midwest, I feel less and less “from” there (and as a result not exactly from anywhere anymore). The title poem is a good example of how the book is both about the Midwest (in terms of much of the content) but also influenced in terms of form by Seattle (and working with poets like Ron Starr or Peter Periera whose interest in word play and Oulipian poetic approaches influenced the title-poem). So I see the book as a hybrid of place-based influence, which will be different from my next chapbook which is often more interested in form than the content of a particular place.

— Check out Pudding House Press.


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