Josh Medsker Interview on MEDSKERPEDIA
Interviewed by Matt Staley
Photo: Josh Medsker
Josh Medsker’s work has been featured in many publications, including: Penmen Review, The Brooklyn Rail, Boston Literary Magazine, Red Savina Review, The Anchorage Press, and Haiku Journal. You can reach him at email@example.com
We understand that you have taken on a massive project involving the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Can you tell us about the project and how it came about?
I spent many years finding my own voice through trial and error, reading works of my favorite poets, and about their personal and creative lives, using them as my teachers.
It worked well for a long time, but then I got to feeling like I was coming up short, often writing on similar topics again and again: identity and self-creation, alienation… I also leaned on free verse and appropriated texts too much for my liking.
I really craved nuts and bolts knowledge of poetry craft, as well as an all-around knowledge of poetry history. So I saw the encyclopedia at Barnes and Noble one day, and recognized it from my professor friends’ offices… and I thought I would read it cover to cover, an entry a day.
I was talking to a poet friend of mine, Eryk Wenziak, about all of this, and said offhand “wouldn’t it be awesome if I not only read an entry a day, but wrote a poem based on it too?” I was just talking, thinking “oh that would be rad” and he got really excited and convinced me to do it for real. So I did. That was in July of 2015. I am behind a little, but I’m up to almost 120 days. It’s intense.
Do you choose entries from the Princeton Encyclopedia at random, and what do you go through mentally to turn one of the encyclopedia entries into a poem?
Not at random, no. I started at the very beginning and won’t stop until I reach the end of the “z”s. How I write the poems is tricky. First, I read that day’s entry and step back into my thinking space for a while. A while meaning 10 minutes or so. Haha! Then I’ll look up the entry online, Wikipedia is a great place… I’ll start formulating lines in my head as I read. The most difficult part, I think, is just coming up with that first line. But I usually let inspiration take care of that.
Here’s an example. The entry for today was Assyro-Babylonian Poetry. There was way too much information about this topic and in order to even start the poem, I had to consciously say “ok, I have to focus this thing. I can’t include everything and the kitchen sink in here. There’s going to be a lot left out, unless I want a sprawling mess.”
So, I saw something about how Assyria was on the Nineveh Plains, and how the ruins of this ancient empire are in present day Iraq. And I just researched the ancient and and modern area, based on what interested me about it. The idea popped into my head that the narrator of the poem was going to be the past and present Assyrian people, and it would be about trials they’ve faced throughout history. Then the poem just flowed out from there.
Have you been surprised at the growth in MEDSKERPEDIA, and what do you have in mind as a final goal for the project? What do you hope to achieve with MEDSKERPEDIA?
I have been surprised, yes! And very excited! There are almost 100 people in the group now! Within that, there is a solid group of us now, 10 or so, that always comment on each others’ work and post our own. I’m constantly jealous of the great work these guys write. As far as a final goal, I think just getting the poems in front of people’s eyes is my aim.
Now that I have dozens of poems done, I feel satisfied that some of them are ready to be sent out for possible publication. If there are enough worthy poems to make a book, I would love to see that happen. I was going to put out a Medskerpedia Jr. chapbook myself, with some of my work and some from the other writers, but I had to scrap that because of time and money constraints. I’d still like to at some point, if I can find a small press to take us on.
When do you anticipate finishing your project, and when can our readers have a look at all of your amazing work?
I hope to finish the last poem in the summer of 2019. And if anyone is interested in reading the poems as they go up on the Medskerpedia Facebook page, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to join! We have to be friends on Facebook first though, since the group is secret.