Mention Upper Peninsula poet/photographer t. kilgore splake [lower case by choice] and a lot of words come to mind: talented, innovative, disciplined. But perhaps, beyond those obvious truths, the word “dedicated” best describes the Ren Dancing Graybeard Bard of the UP.
splake is a man who lives his art 24 hours a day with an early-to-bed, early-to-rise regimen that would befit a man given to the military lifestyle. In two decades since he left his professorship at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek for the wilds of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the uncertain life of a full-time writer, splake has developed a rigid writing discipline almost unmatched.
A graduate of Michigan State University (BA, 1959–MA, 1963) splake’s major post of several was a 25-year stint at KCC, ending in 1989 with early retirement and the idea of cultivating his career as a poet/photographer in a setting more conducive to it. He left Battle Creek and moved to Munising, a small town in an area where he had traveled frequently over the years on camping and fishing expeditions. There, on the southern shore of Lake Superior, he battled the Muse in predawn word-wars that saw him victorious more often than not. In the solitude of small town America, he honed and developed his considerable skills into formidable literary tools, becoming something of a legend in small press circles and a celebrity sought after by local media. – Jim Chandler
What projects are you currently working on?
i have a winter novel project that i am presently waiting for the free time to sequester myself and start writing on. the michigan upper peninsula “season of long white” winters is conducive to serious creative pursuits once this author takes care of some accumulated personal obligations.
i might note that i am not extremely interested in describing a writing project that is waiting, because i know of many others writers who “talk” their books to death, without ever finishing the work.
my book title is “lost whispers” and has a central character who is researching his past italian family history. he has documented his relatives moving from italy to iron mountain, michigan, where the men are iron miners and the women are housewives. while he is investigating their move from iron mountain to calumet, michigan, he discovers an old homemade book of poems in a “thrift shop” located in germfast, michigan. after reading the poetry and liking the poet’s voice and visions, my major book character starts a search of “who is this man.”
i have already shot the pictures for the book cover (front and back) photographs for “lost whispers.” also, i have done considerable preliminary research of the historical details for my writing. i have discovered most helpful the book born from iron: iron mountain, michigan 1879-1979, by mary dulan, as well as calumet copper and people 1864-1970, by author w. thurner.
i have splake writings recently finished, and, i assume right now in the mail to calumet, michigan. my poetry is in a recent “poet plant press” anthology employees only, and the michigan technological university literary magazine pank. mark sonnenfeld, editor of “mary mark press” recently wrote me and said that our chapbook collaboration is due out in the middle of december. my poems in the “mary mark press” work are all poems devoted to the writer richard brautigan.
“the moon press,” in fort wayne, indiana, has completed two splake chapbooks, splakeus and lilies, and backwater bard loft musings. editor ali vyain says a december, 2009 or january 2010 publishing date is planned.
in addition, i have a chapbook promise from henry denander, editor of “kamini press,” in stockholm, sweden, and right now i am waiting his call to submit some splake poetry for this edition. also, recently, i posted the manuscript conglomerate café to “alternative currents”, editor leah angstman replied that a 2010 publication date is planned.
after reading some short prose pieces written like letters by alan catlin, while he was on a summer vacation at block island, new york, i thought of a possible splake book of some dimension containing letters to dave church. dave church was a close friend of mine, and, i still have difficulty handling his heart attack death on thanksgiving morning in providence, rhode island. i am collecting materials in a “church” folder for this possible future writing.
When and why did you begin writing?
during my college teaching years at kellogg community college in battle creek, michigan, i experienced some serious professional “burnout” characteristics. i would spend my summers alone camping and fishing in michigan’s upper peninsula to renew my energies for the new fall semester of classes and students back in battle creek.
early one morning about twenty years ago, while nursing a modest hangover and drinking a cup of coffee brewed from the coals of the previous night’s campfire, i felt compelled to write down my thoughts about living in the “pictured rocks national lakeshore” area outback.
all of that summer i continued writing my wilderness feelings in a green “4×6” memo notebook that i took back home with me when i returned to battle creek, and kellogg community college in the fall.
of course, the morning campfire scene was the moment of my first poem and serious attempt at writing. this event was indeed a life-changing change for me, as i had suddenly realized that writing was what i had wanted to do all of my life.
also, in 1989, i retired from kellogg community college, and lived a reclusive life in munising, in michigan’s upper peninsula. for ten years i spent each day in munising reading, writing, and thinking, feeling this was my own real life creative writing class. after five years of living in munising, i felt that i had finally found an authentic creative voice, and had achieved the honest status of “being a poet.” at this time i celebrated my bardic achievement by purchasing a french black beret to advertise my status as “a poet.”
What inspired you to write your first book?
following the summer i wrote my first poem while vacationing in michigan’s
upper peninsula “pictured rocks lakeshore” area, i discovered a simple chapbook of poetry written by a detroit, michigan author in the kellogg community college bookstore. i can remember how surprised i was with the simple ease at putting together a small collection of one’s writings. all you needed was a title, pages of poetry and then staple the pages together. with my new bookmaking information, that fall i chose several of my summer upper peninsula poems and created the modest chapbook pictured rocks memories. i printed the chapbook at the insta-print company in battle creek.
richard brautigan’s presence strongly influenced my poetic feelings and style of writing poetry. after reading his books, trout fishing in america, and, the pill and the springhill mine disaster, i can still remember whispering, “jesus, if i could only write half as good as that.”
also, the literary giants of my 1950’s college student and reading years were ernest hemingway, f. scott fitzgerald, and william faulkner. ienjoyed reading both hemingway and fitzgerald. my favorite “papa” novel was the sun also rises, and f. scott’s the great gatsby, i felt was the best of his writings. for some unexplained reason, faulkner never captured my creative imagination.
How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?
my parents, emery and margaret smith raised me in a solid middle-class family setting during my growing up years in three rivers, michigan. thus, basically i had a good life and never thought or worried about where the money or things came from. this social-economic circumstance “could” bias my views of the very poor, or those with a lifestyle of extreme wealth.
also, since my early writings are associated with the wilderness and out-of-doors people, places and things, I suppose that to a degree I am an upper peninsula writer, or have a northern Midwestern regional attachment.
Do you have a specific writing style?
what initially attracted me to poetry and later my ‘stream of consciousness’ prose writing style was the absence of any necessary formal writing rules. whenever I engaged in a contest with my elusive damn-dame-lady muse, if I felt the passion, I seized it and redlined it to the finish. in short, I like the freedom to choose how a specific subject matter should be presented in the creative writing process.
Is there a message in your work that you want readers to grasp?
during my last year, 2008, I wrote two volumes of personal memoirs, the winter diary, and, the winter diary notebook. I have discovered in my recent thinking and writing I am more concerned with how other people, events, and just plain things related to my own personal life time. thus, I feel I have become more “selfish” in my actual vision and writing activity, and, I stress with less time left in my life, the necessity to find out “who I am and why.”
What book are you reading now?
recently I discovered Stephen Elliott, a serious and solid author writing about his book selling tour of the united states in the computer web-site rumpus.com. in a recent interview, Elliott said “every writer I know reads at least a book a week.” it is often that I read two or three books in a week’s passing, depending on if I have a new Netflix film waiting in my calumet, michigan post office box.
right now I am turning pages in the new mary karr book, lit. during the recent november thanksgiving day holidays I read and enjoyed paul auster’s invisible, and phillip roth’s the humbling. in addition, I like the quick reads of books with an upper peninsula or northern midwest characters and dramas. I have recently read books by William kent kruger and nancy barr.
the amazon “single-click” ease at getting new book titles to my calumet – le metrops – post office box is almost disastrous for my checking account. this morning I received the new stieg larsson book the girl who kicked the hornet’s nest in the calumet postal incoming. after finishing the mary karr lit, I am looking forward to checking out the pages in the john Crowley work, little, big.
every morning after I do my treadmill minutes and miles, finished my rice madness crockpot stew breakfast, I check my computer for new reviews of new books. after a week of perusing the new york times, los angeles times, boston globe, usa today, san francisco chronicle, and milwaukee sentinel-journal, I usually find two or three new book titles for my reading library.