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Poet Micki Myers blurs line between fact and fiction

| Sunday, March 23, 2003

There are poets who often speak of the truth that is allowed to them via poetry.

Micki Myers is not one of them. Instead, she uses the form to blur the line between fact and fiction, to present situations that dissemble reality.

"I mix the truth -- events that really happened -- with fabrications," she says. "I think it's really important in poetry that you're able to do that, because people expect poetry to be true. When they read it, they think it's really you, that the speaker in the book is really you and that it's a sacred place to say things that really happened. I don't think that has to be the case."

Myers' poetry collection, "Trigger Finger," is the winner of the annual Pearl Poetry Prize for a full-length book, sponsored by Pearl Magazine. Past winners include Denise Duhamel and Rick Noguchi.

"One of the things I like about Micki's collection is that she kept surprising me with the poems," says Jim Daniels, a poet and Carnegie Mellon University professor who selected Myers' work for the prize. "The poems shifted gears in a lot of different ways throughout the collection. The poems kept pulling at me throughout the book."

Myers was born in 1967 in England and first came to the United States in 1989 to work as a summer camp counselor in Ohio. When she returned, her homeland was mired in an economic depression, so she "turned around with my backpack and came back."

Myers earned a bachelor of arts degree in English at Carnegie Mellon University and a master of fine arts degree at the University of Pittsburgh, where she currently teaches. It was while she was earning her master's degree that Myers learned it was possible to write about more than just the personal details of her life.

"In the book, I play around," she says. "Some of the events and things that happened in my real life are in there exactly as they happen in the poem, and other things are made up."

One true thing is "The Last Great Event," a poem about the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, which is notable for being the site of Jimi Hendrix's last concert appearance. Although Myers was just a toddler then, her father was there as a cameraman filming the concert when he saw Hendrix taking drugs:

... my father decides
whether to commit this
to memory or film,
saves it for anecdote instead.

"It's exactly as it happened," she says.

Other poems combine Myers' love of music -- she references artists ranging from Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Neil Young to R.E.M and Nirvana -- with her penchant for using unlikely source material. In "It's the End of the World and We Know It," she combines the R.E.M. song title with an accident report from the summer camp where she worked.

"My experience of what happened is nothing like the dreams they are selling to parents," she says, noting she originally thought it to be the archetypical summer camp she had always seen in American movies. "But there's a lot going on under the surface, and that's what I'm always looking for, the less pretty things. I'm interested in stuff that gets in the dirt. I don't want to read about the pretty and comfortable."

That ethos is apparent in "Kelli Suite," 11 related poems inspired by a Rolling Stone article about crack use in a small town. She thought Kelli, who was the focus of the story, was a character who could be developed and used as a foil for things Myers wanted to talk about.

Three of the poems in this section -- "Some People Call Me the Space Cowboy," "This is the Story 'Bout Billy Jo and Bobby Sue" and "Big Old Jet Airliner" -- use Steve Miller song titles. But the poems themselves are simultaneously explicit and experimental. In "An Unexpected Thing," Myers admits she had no idea her character was going to steal an apricot, then rub it against her forehead at poem's end.

"Something I try to do in my writing is to never know where the poem is going," she says. "I don't like to know where it ends before I begin, because it's dead otherwise. I like poems that surprise me, and lots of poems in this book do that. They come up with an ending you don't expect, but when you look back at it, you say, 'Oh, of course.'"

'Sunken Road, Antietam Creek'


Two union men stand
above a ditch
filled with human debris.
A shoulder in the foreground, a leg.
A boot. No trees.
The dead are in such sharp focus
it's as if their souls need a moment to
identify themselves
and grieve.
The living have no heads
but blurs
where heads should be.
One is trying to remember the punchline
to a joke he heard three days ago
because it's the joke you always tell
at times like these.
The other's murmuring a prayer
that could be a reminder:
breathe, breath, breathe

-- After a photograph by Matthew Brady

Writer's read: Micki Myers


She's reading ... "Everyone, Exquisite," a poetry chapbook by Bob Pajich. "A lot of Pittsburgh poems by a down-to-earth Pittsburgh guy, the kind of guy you would never think would be a poet."

She's listening to ... "The Carpenters' Greatest Hits." "It's associated with the next thing I'm writing. Something came up suddenly in the course of writing poems, and it unexpectedly turned out to be the Carpenters."

She just saw ... "Training Day." "I loved it, thought it was fantastic. I loved how bad Denzel Washington was in the movie."

Additional Information:

The book

'Trigger Finger'
  • By Micki Myers
  • Pearl Editions, $11.95

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