We’re thrilled to introduce the 2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 400+ applications we received, and selected eighteen writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. The 2019 OLF applications will be posted at the end of April, and the deadline to apply will be Monday, July 9, 2018.

2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Milo Muise

Category
Poetry

Bio

Milo R. Muise is a Portland-based writer who grew up in New England. They graduated from Hampshire College where they concentrated in creative writing, queer studies, and psychoanalysis. Their poems have appeared in FreezeRayNoble/Gas QtrlyPreludeTinderbox, and elsewhere. 

Q&A with Literary Arts

What are your sources of inspiration?

I’m inspired by questions—the act of inquiry, introspection, investigation. Most of my projects start from some gap in (self-) knowledge that my life is asking me to engage with, and I write my way into (and hopefully through) that gap. As a result, I spend a lot of time with the work of critical theorists and other writers who are wrestling with their own questions (thinking here of Maggie Nelson, Claudia Rankine, Olivia Laing, Hilton Als…).

I’m also invested in the properties of language itself (what are its possibilities and limits? How does language act on or shape the body? Where does meaning reside?) and my writing plays with and works through those questions.

How would you describe your creative process?

I usually work on large projects/sequences rather than one-off poems or pieces. As I said above, I’ll start with a question. The question is usually too big or overwhelming to address directly, so I spend a while circling it, trying not to look at it head-on, while I give myself the freedom to write whatever I feel compelled to write. I usually end up finding through-lines back to the original question, and they tend to feel more surprising and genuine than if I had been writing more consciously. I use those surprises to guide me forward.

I use organization as a procrastination strategy, but it can also be useful! I’ll make huge amounts of notes, listing out everything I want to say on each theme/topic/whatever in the manuscript. I don’t write from that, but it’s helpful for me to feel like I’ve said everything somewhere so that I can be free to omit whatever needs to be omitted in the manuscript itself. Once I’ve amassed a decent amount of writing, I’ll start looking at different sequences, tracking the arcs of various themes, where they’re intersecting, how they’re moving, how the transitions are reading, what associative strategies are moving one thing to the next, etc. 

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?

The freedom and possibility. How it changes the question from “What can I afford to give to this project?” to “What does this project want?” I’m excited for how that kind of expansiveness will shape and influence my work. Plus, how it urges me to (continue to) take my work seriously.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve been working on a couple of different projects. I’m completing a book-length long poem called “garden party” which tracks (among other themes) gender, how self-knowledge we might not be aware of can act through us, and the mythologies/meanings I constructed around self-harm in my adolescence. 

The other is a very early stages (!) long form essay currently centering around my suspicion of the virtues of self-reliance based on its limiting and ruling presence in my own life. Right now I’m looking in a lot of directions: inward, to my/my family’s past, to the social/US-ian culture, how this plays out across identity…

What advice do you have for future applicants?

If you feel called to submit, then submit! If nothing else, the tasks that the application process requires (inventorying and describing your work) can be clarifying and illuminating in their own right.

Judge’s comments:

At once vulnerable and wise, Milo R. Muise’s beautiful poems explore rituals of feeling and embodiment, queerness and awakenings: “i stood/under the water/until the burn/moved past my skin/and into my blood/my pulse/another being/ready to rise/out of me/like a hot knife/through butter”. The poems offer the possibility of a tenderness and love that can be invoked even in rituals of self-harm and in a family setting where religion becomes a form of pathologized shame and anxiety. The speaker spent their adolescence the way most of us do—“searching for a way/to talk without risk/of misunderstanding”, of “letting you in/to my true self.” A heraldic new voice, these are poems of a hard-won resilience. -Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, poetry judge

excerpts from “garden party” (a previous version of after in the steam appeared in Prelude)

 

after in the steam

my body a white 

blur still damp grass

in the morning

before the sun i drag

the blade light

over my shoulder

feeling the marks

i haven’t made

yet a moment of ritual

and then i begin

 

///

 

the acronym 

for the eating disorder 

program spells out 

n e e d

the sign outside 

the door locked 

with a buzzer

on the sixth floor 

of the hospital

that acts like a church

statues and busts 

of saints tucked 

into archways

in the walls as i walk

to the elevator

not allowed

to take the stairs

until i have been re fed

and my body slides back

into some common rhythm

i am not convinced exists 

in the main room

everything is purple

couches and rugs and walls

painted with diagrams

delineating emotion

and reminding us how

shame is useless

which i find

offensive since

it is the one piece

of my emotional landscape

i can identify

and like naming

a wild animal

i’ve grown attached

outside the glass winter

stretches patient 

on the sides of the road

inside hair comes out 

in my hands loose 

strands a golden river 

at my feet i have

been eating for two weeks

but i haven’t stopped

dying yet curl 

my head to my chest

curve a seed 

from my dense body

under snow dead 

grass topsoil ice

into wet dirt i resist 

the cliché but 

i begin to grow

and keep going

back to the hospital

for a month

and then three

everyone but me

taking up knitting

during group therapy

misshapen scarves

wrapped around 

the necks i don’t want

to describe to you

i don’t want to believe

in the proportions

of sickness

as if internal suffering

exists in direct correlation

to physical symptoms

i don’t want to talk

about bodies

why am i lying

still get that

bit of glow

when i lean closer

to my lowest number

i got rid

of the old photos

years ago

so i now

have the freedom

to reimagine them

with whatever body

fits my narrative

was i really

that bad

i circle

the past like a hole

aching to lower

myself back down

seduced by the blunt

metaphor of starvation

its simple process

of elimination

doesn’t it feel good

to say no is how 

i spin it when i’m 

feeling corrupt

no need for blood

or body or mind

no reasons no 

long theoretical exercises

on healing and

its subsequent rituals

i could go on forever

about cutting

which is why

it was a form of staying 

alive and starving 

was a form of death 

something my father

understood when i refused

breakfast crossing a line 

that had been untouched

yelling he could deal

with the razors but this

he shook the empty

plate would kill me

and i thought

yes and even then

pitied him

and his attempts

at forcing me

into life when

he had no idea

why i was trying

to leave

 

to be fair neither 

did i

excerpt from current work

on walls: i construct a room to experience my pain. i step into the bathroom and close the door and a wall is built inside myself. it goes up as if it was already built, waiting. i wear long sleeves for three years. that feels like a wall. so does my silence, thick in the air, like a sphere around me. what does the wall keep out? what does the room keep in? who does it protect—me, or my pain? where is the line between us?

 

2018 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient  Milo Muise