I tell people that my book, Arranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic, (Rabbit House Press, 2020) is political poetry for a post-truth world. The title comes from lines in my poem “Pulling the Cat’s Tail”: I can’t stream the news today/ all the screens scream howling cats/ Republicans dance like bank robbers/ Democrats arrange deck chairs on the Titanic. I wrote the poems in this book to bring into focus for myself potentially apocalyptic developments that were happening in America even before Donald Trump’s election. The subjects of my collection include Trump (“America’s Head Spins Like the Girl in the Exorcist”), Fox (“Breaking News”), right-wing evangelicals (“Conversion Therapy Song”) and the forces and feelings behind all of it. Some of the poems are humorous (“God the Day Drinker”) but the tone generally is apocalyptic.
I wrote most of the poems (some published in magazines such as Cagibi Literary Journal, London Review, and Ocotillo Review) before conceiving the idea of a book. Now that it’s out, suppose my target audience is anyone who enjoys poetry and sees what Trump is, sees what Fox is about, and fears for America’s future. Arranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic will remain timely because, though Trump didn’t get re-elected, what put him there is even more virulent. If that weren’t enough, now we have a pandemic! (“Drinking Bleach” was added to the book just before publication). And the issues raised by Black Lives Matter aren’t going away. Who knows – I may have a sequel soon.
The book has been well-received. Many people tell me the poems in Arranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic express what they’ve been thinking about what’s happening in politics and culture. Kentucky’s Poet Laureate, Jeff Worley, calls Arranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic “a book for our times” and other poets have praised it. I’ve had some readings and some interviews and continue to promote the book on Twitter (@mikewilsonauthor1), Facebook, and https://mikewilsonwriter.com/ as well as other venues like Authors’ Lounge. The book is available for purchase on:
Although Arranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic is political, much of my work isn’t. During the last half of 2020 I’ve been transcribing poems from dreams. I’m interested in dreams and have developed techniques to remember dreams and “return” to the dream to observe it. Whether or not this results in a book, I feel that I learn from it. I also write humorous poems and poems with a spiritual bent. I post a lot of haiku with pictures on my Instagram.
I also write short stories of all types. I expect to publish a collection of about twenty (mostly previously-published) short stories during 2021, tentatively titled Sam at the Bar & Grill, that I think most readers would characterize as heart-warming or poignant. Sometimes politics sneaks into the background or plot, but only as context.
I write every morning before I begin my day job, rising at 4 or 5 in the morning sometimes, and try to write during larger blocks of time on weekends. It’s validating to have work published now and then, but I believe it is suicide to write just for an audience. In revising work, I may consider how an audience will react and provide help to the reader (we writers sometimes have a tendency to assume the reader sees details and connections we take for granted), but long term, writers need to live off satisfaction from the writing process itself. I’m a firm believer that the more one writes, the better one gets. You can’t help but learn by trying. I’m also a proponent of writing groups, working with forms (I write a lot of sonnets), and a support network of other writers to encourage and provide feedback.
I enjoy writing long-form prose, too. I’ve written several unpublished novels that are legal thrillers with political and topical angles. An attraction of that form for me is plotting. A well-designed plot provides structure and if you know where you’re going, it’s just a matter of getting there. (I think John Grisham said something like that). Another fun thing I find in long-form is minor characters I introduce often end up being major characters, which requires plot adjustments. A longer form allows a writer to develop characters, to discover who they really are, sort of the way writing helps writers discover who he/she/they really are.