Voices of Bettering American Poetry Volume 2 – Michael Wasson

What have you been reading, watching, or listening to lately? What new or emerging writer do you want the world to know about?

Cover for Michael Wasson's book This American Ghost, a black and white photograph of a bright sky with a few clouds, a barren tree in the middle an to the right, and a large, black circle in the foreground to the left of the tree.There were so many great books in 2017, weren’t there? Whereas by Layli Long Soldier is the book that crushes me over & over; Javier Zamora’s Unaccompanied is poignantly necessary & timely; I just yesterday read Landscape with Sex and Violence by Lynn Melnick & Kissing Caskets by Mahogany L. Browne, &, gosh, these two YesYes titles are stunning; Alex Dimitrov’s Together and by Ourselves has been my go-to book to be in several spaces at once; & I also read Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, which is joyful & honest & profoundly weighted with grief & loss. The other book that totally transformed me was Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens. Get it! It’s so good. Also, I’m waiting for my copies of Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf  & Ghassan Zaqtan’s The Silence That Remains. Eep!

Oh, music is such a warm hand to hold. So much great music this year & so many new discoveries: Angus & Julia Stone’s Snow, Perfume Genuis’ No Shape, Mew’s Visuals, Alabama Shakes in general (I can’t stop. “Sound and Color” just isn’t long enough), Animals as Leaders, Deafheaven’s Sunbather, Circa Survive’s The Amulet, Iron & Wine’s Beast Epic, The XX, Ásgeir, Slowdive, LITE (Japanese math rock), & I learned about Year of Hibernation by Youth Lagoon (who’s from Idaho!). & so much more.

New/Emerging Poets: Roy G. Guzmán & Leila Chatti. You absolutely must read their work. Roy’s book Catracho just got picked up by Graywolf Press. & Leila Chatti has two forthcoming titles: Ebb and Tunsiya/Amrikiya.

What advice do you have for young and emerging writers, particularly of marginalized identities? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

For marginalized identities, discover the deep complexities in who you are & what spaces you & your body occupy. I hope you stay true to your path, your course, your momentum—because too often we are told to simplify & make the work accessible to the reader (i.e. white, hetero, male). This ends up watering down the nuance of the histories that you’ve been trusted to carry through each day.

Also, something I picked up from my undergrad professor, Kevin Goodan. Not word-for-word advice, but just something I learned from his process. Remember the importance of silence, the textures of the quiet, & how that affects & gives body to the steadiness in your breath & work.

Has 2017 been different for you than other years?

I believe it has, yes. Our American moment is one of flagrant, dangerous rhetoric. I find myself trying to keep up with the news of each day (in my case, the news of yesterday because I’m about a day ahead). I’m disheartened often, & that makes it harder for me to enter a space in which I can write effectively (whatever effective even means). But also, I’ve opened up more, connected with people from other countries, back in the states, & around the corner from my little house. For how hard the news cycle has been, I have these books & beautiful work of these contemporaries who are offering a warm hand in the dark—& so I can close my eyes at night & fall asleep, knowing there are these gorgeous, lovely people out there in the world.

P.S. How are you?

I’m fine—thank you. It’s snowing today on the island, which is quite rare. & I’m about to finish Mónica Gomery’s Of Darknes and Tumbling today. It’s gorgeous & full of hurt & healing: “The whole world is collision.” Swoon.


Author photo for Michael Wasson, a man with short, black hair, mustache and chin patch, his head tlited slightly downward looking at an unclear object in his hands, wearing black-framed glasses, and a dark ribbed sweater, standing in front of a white wall divided by thin wooden beams.Michael Wasson is the author of This American Ghost (YesYes Books, 2017). His poems appear in American Poets, Beloit Poetry Journal, Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review, Narrative, Poetry Northwest, and Best New Poets 2017. He co-edited Bettering American Poetry Vol. II and is nimíipuu from the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho.


This interview series is conducted with authors from the anthology, Bettering American Poetry Volume 2. As Bettering’s editors wrote in their call for nominations, “Our efforts will intentionally shift favor so that the literary landscape within this anthology reflects a ranging plurality of voices in American poetry and illuminates the possibilities of sharing space … This anthology represents just one concerted effort to better American poetry, but it is one that we hope will resonate.”

Bettering has sought to delve deeper with the poets selected for these anthologies. These questions are composed collectively by the editors, with the belief that the literary community needs a polyphony not only of poems but of poets’ voices.