Coronado, country music, cows and coffins floating through the streets. Local prose poet David Shumate floods his work with these images and logic-bending ideas. But we don't drown as we read. We grow gills and swim with Shumate in his mind's clean, clear stream.
Garrison Keillor featured four poems from Shumate's prize-winning book, High Water Mark, on the Writer's Almanac radio program. Keillor also selected two of those poems for his Good Poems anthology due out this summer. Poet in residence at Marion College and a Zionsville resident, Shumate will read as part of Butler University's Visiting Writers Series with Frank Steele Thursday, March 3 at 7:30 p.m. at Robertson Hall Johnson Room.
NUVO: Why prose poetry?
David Shumate: I've found a liberating genre right there at the cusp of both poetry and prose - the confluence where the two streams meet. And I found it interesting to sample from both of those streams and see what came of it. One aspect of finding your writing self, your voice as a writer, is finding the genre that really clicks for you. Until you do, you struggle a bit. For me, this has provided the vehicle that I need. It fits in many, many ways.
NUVO: A lot of your poems are complete narratives in very condensed packages.
Shumate: The prose poem allows you to borrow more from the prose side, the narrative side, and incorporate that. Some of the poems tend to shrink a novel down into a paragraph. It becomes almost a haiku novel. That whole experience that could be unraveled in 300 pages is dealt with in this seed form. I find that satisfying. And it also takes the burden off having to write those 300 pages, doesn't it?
NUVO: How important is living in the Midwest to your poetry?
Shumate: A lot of the places in the poems are ephemeral cities of the imagination, perhaps. And some of them are more concrete. There's a whole section in the collection where poems deal with Midwestern-type images. I've had people come up to me, "Oh I know exactly where that is. That's in Lafayette." And I say, "I've never been there." But, hopefully, that setting is, at once, particular and universal.
NUVO: Have you found Indianapolis a good town for writers?
Shumate: Yes, I have. And Fran Quinn played a large role in that. He served as the center of the literary community here for 15 years - and still does in an informal way. But it was a huge loss for the literary community when that changed. But some writers are more gregarious than others. I have a tendency to write and then conduct my life. I'm rather shy. I'm the one you see in the back row in the corner instead of up front. I had a reading at Marian College recently and the first thing I told the audience was that somebody screwed up the seating chart and I found myself in the front row.
NUVO: No matter where you live, it's not easy being a prose poet, is it?
Shumate: The legitimacy of the genre is constantly being called into question. Where does it fall? I like that ambiguity. I can wade in either stream and just feel fine. I just hope that there's room in the cellar of poetry for this kind of violation of poetic tradition - and that we can inhabit that little corner of the cellar. I would suggest that the rest of the poetic tradition be careful because you might hear our feet on the stairs as we start coming up. You might hear us scratching on the door.