Portage Magazine: How long have you been writing? And do you only write poetry or other genres as well?
Alicia Zuberbier: I’ve been writing since I was in 8th grade. It all started with journal time after recess. While poetry is my go-to, I like to occasionally write flash fiction stories. I also write small articles about beauty and fashion.
PM: What is your connection to the Upper Midwest?
AZ: I was born and raised in Wisconsin. I grew up in a little town in the Fox Valley and then moved to Waukesha for college. Almost all the people I know and love are in the Upper Midwest.
PM: Your poems are filled with evocative Midwestern, and especially Wisconsin imagery, are you drawing on real places and experiences?
AZ: Yes. My recent poetry is inspired from my time growing up in Hortonville. While they aren’t 100% autobiographical, these poems, along with the rest of my poetry, are based on moments from my past. For example, “Clearing Wood With My Father” was based on a day when my dad and I tore down trees along my grandmother’s fence line. For a long time, I distanced my writing from my rural Wisconsin memories because I didn’t think others would be interested in hearing them, but lately I’ve been trying to focus my poems on moments from my hometown. The more time I spend away from that tiny town, the more I realize how it shaped me.
PM: Among other things, your poem “Clearing Wood With My Father” juxtaposes machinery with nature; how do these elements work together in your poem and in life?
AZ: In the poem, I wanted a very clear line between the trees and the tractor, which is why the nature and mechanical language is so strong. The poem feels like a battle between two unfairly matched opponents. In life, I feel this is often the case. I’m not a huge environmental activist or anything, but I think it’s clear that machines are definitely winning over nature. I grew up in an area that had more fields than people, and now my hometown offers a nice escape from Milwaukee. While machinery and nature are often at odds, it’s important to have a balance of both. The trees in my poem, though beautiful, were dying or already dead and needed to be cleared away. Without my father’s tractor, this would have been extremely difficult.
PM: What is it about poetry that allows it to be especially adept at describing the Midwest?
AZ: The beauty of the Midwest can really be found in small moments – the way snow in a cornfield catches light, a call from a loon, finding a killdeer nest. Poetry allows us to explore these tiny but significant experiences with imagery, metaphors and language that’s just as beautiful.
PM: Who are three writers that have helped inspire and shape you and your writing?
AZ: My favorite writer is Richard Brautigan. His poems and short stories are honest, creative, and a little crazy at times, but they challenge me to think outside of the box. I also admire and find inspiration in the writing of Karla Huston and Bruce Dethlefsen. Both are Midwest writers. Karla Huston writes with a strong female voice, which I love, and Bruce Dethlefsen can compact so much emotion into just a few words.
PM: How is poetry especially important to people within the Upper Midwest? What do you see as the future for literary art within the Upper Midwest?
AZ: I think poetry is important to those in the Midwest because everyone here has stories, too. I think the Midwest is often overlooked as a hub for culture because we don’t have a lot of glitz or glamour, but the people here have stories and troubles they want to pour into poetry, too. The Upper Midwest also has a sense of community, and when poets find other poets, these communities become even tighter. I’m not sure that the future of literary art in the Midwest will be all that different from anywhere else. I think more and more literature magazines will start focusing on digital publications. Poetry will be less focused on the pen and paper and more focused on the keyboard. I think that readings and writer events will still be key, though. Even with the rise of technology, writers are going to want to meet other writers in person.