The Modern Midwest Gothic: catching up with poet Amie Whittemore
The author of, Glass Harvest, Star-Tent: A Triptych, and Nest of Matches, Amie Whittemore's poems have been published in Cold Mountain Review, Blackbird, The Missouri Review Poem of the Week, The Gettysburg Review Poem Of The Week, and more. She is the director of a creative writing program MTSU Write, as well as a professor in the English Department at Middle Tennessee State University. She is also the Poet Laureate of Murfreesboro, Tennessee and through her laureateship she has partnered with Southern Word to create Write with Pride, a collection of open mics and different workshops for LGBTQ+ teenagers in connecting counties. Whittemore came to Cumberland University on April 14th to gather with creative writers and the student body alike to celebrate National Poetry Month.
Her reading began with a poem from her latest book, Glass Harvest, called “The Animals Eyes Grow Dark." “I have my reading list with some poems that were requested and then some ones that you haven’t read, because those are the same ingredients to a good playlist. Some things that you do know as well as some things that you don’t.” She entranced the audience for an hour with her words and followed up with a Q&A.
She started writing as a freshman in high school. As it turns out, a simple homework assignment changed her worldview, and opened up a door to which she did not know had a key.
“We had to find ten poems and write ten poems," Whittemore says. "I wrote ten and realized, ‘Oh! I like this..'”
Growing up in a rural area, Whittemore says she was the first writer in her family. “I didn’t know you could study creative writing until I got to college and saw that this was a thing that you could do!"
She started with sharing the book that changed her perspective on writing, Catcher in the Rye. “I never realized that someone could write a book that way and it opened me up to what writing could do.” She continued on finding her love for literature with a similar experience with the book Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson, of which she says “This is a poet's novel.”
She expressed how her spark for writing poetry and especially prose was derived from those two books.
To the question “What could writing do?” Whittemore says “Anything at once. Poets are continuously pushing the boundaries of what language can do. How we can create hyperlinked poets or space things in ways that weren’t possible before.”
Of her Poet Laureate status, Whittemore says, “Any laureateship gives you the chance to pull together the love of your craft with your love of a community and to create opportunities for others to enjoy; in my case it is poetry.”
She continued, “I gave readings, but I also led workshops.” She started ‘Write with Pride’ which is a series of LGBT+ open mics and workshops for teenagers.
At the beginning she was reluctant to apply to become the Poet Laureate, as she was lost in what she could do and how she would go about doing it. That is how ‘Write with Pride’ was born. “I wanted to serve Queer youth through writing," she says. “As a queer person I came to understand myself through what I read in college and what I wrote and I wanted to create a safe place for those folks to share their stories.”
Even through coordination change and a "Zoom year" during the pandemic, the project is still growing, Whittemore says
After one of the first workshops, “One of the youths said, ‘I knew there were other queer people in Tennessee, but I didn’t know any of them.’ Just to have that youth feel affirmed by the presence of others and to have them surrounded by others, especially adults -- that was the whole goal, everything after this is icing. To have someone feel seen and connected, that is all I wanted.”