Say What | Interview with Josh Medsker

Hey everybody! Today’s ‘Say What’ features Josh Medsker, a writer and educator who almost always has a project up his sleeve. I had the opportunity to interview him recently and got to ask him a few questions about one of his most ambitious projects yet! Read on!

Buffalo Elliot: You’ve been writing (and teaching) for several years. Tell us a little bit about how you started out in creative writing.

Josh: Well I have loved writing since I was a kid but I started writing in earnest in my late teens. Doing a pretty okay music zine, writing bad love poetry, bad lyrics. I was so embarrassed by that poetry that I literally burned it on my parents backyard. Haha! I regretted that for a long time. I got a little bit of work published in my late 20s and then had a decade-long dry spell. That really sucked. I almost quit, but I just couldn’t. The ideas kept piling up in my head, and my quitting turned into a weekend hiatus. Heh.

B.E: Poetry seems to be your chosen form. How has your approach to poetry changed over the years? What remains a constant?

J: Hmm, I think the biggest change I made was opening my “camera lens” a little bit, so to speak. I stopped writing directly about myself and my experiences. I just ran out of things to say! I think that comes with age too, though. I do enjoy a lot of confessional poetry, but for me, that approach was too limiting. The thing that remains a constant, I think, is that musicality is always in the front of my mind when I write poems. Still trying to be a songwriter I guess. Whenever I’m driving I can’t help singing along to my playlists, focusing on the flow of the lyrics.

B.E: Tell us about your most recent poetry project, Medskerpedia. It’s quite ambitious!princeton

J: Thank you! I am reading an entry a day from the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, and then I write a poem based on it. Either directly or indirectly. I did the math and it’s going to take me until the spring of 2019. There’s a great book by AJ Jacobs called The Know It All, where he reads every entry in the Encyclopedia Brittanica and then writes about the experience. I thought that was such a bizarre idea and then I thought “I could do a similar thing but with poetry”. It was a joke at first, like oh ha ha that would be fantastic but I could never do it. My friend Eryk, an experimental poet from Connecticut talked me into it. I mentioned it offhand to him and he was so excited about it, insisted I do it. So I thought I should give it a try. I have always been a little self-conscious about my creative writing, because I have sort of taught myself. I got a degree in journalism, and have always felt pretty comfortable with that type of writing, but poetry, fiction, drama… That was much scarier, riskier. It took me many years, about a decade, to really gain any confidence about my stuff. As I said earlier, I had a couple of solid years in the early 00s, but then there was a major dry spell until a few years ago. It really made me doubt myself. Writing for ten years, sending work out, getting rejected, I suppose anyone would doubt themselves. The last couple years have been wonderful in terms getting work published. I’m incredibly grateful. So this Medskerpedia project is me trying to get better, to hone my craft. If some of the poems get published, that’s a bonus.

B.E: Medskerpedia is a group as well as a project. What are your hopes for the community of writers that are part of the Medskerpedia facebook group?

J: I hope that we can experiment with words together and learn from each other. It does feel like you are alone with your mind sometimes. It’s great to have kindred souls to bounce ideas off of.

B.E.: Why a secret group?

J: I had to make the group secret so that my poems (and whoever wants to add their own) could be considered unpublished. A lot of literary magazines consider work published on personal blogs and social media sites as previously published. So I thought that if some of these poems turn out to be worth anything, I didn’t want to shoot myself in the foot.

B.E: Are members free to invite others?

J: Oh absolutely! The one caveat is that they have to be friends with me on Facebook in order for me to add them. Not trying to get more friends, that’s the way Facebook has the secret groups set up.

B.E: You’re a couple solid months in. Anything you didn’t anticipate? Surprises along the way?

J: I didn’t anticipate how much dedication it takes to do this every day. Intellectually I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t expect this. I’m actually a month behind and I’m pissed at myself. But my teaching job keeps me plenty busy, so what can you do? The greatest part about this project is that these daily deadlines don’t give me time to over-think the work. I love that. I think that’s the key to real progress in drafting work.

B.E: What entry/prompt have you found most challenging so far?

J: They have all been challenging. But I think the most difficult part of it is that the entries are often very similar. I don’t want to repeat myself. For example, one entry was “alliteration”, and the next entry was “alliterative verse”. The good thing is that that forces me to think on my feet, so I don’t sink into samey-same poetry.

B.E: At the end of this journey, you’re going to have quite the compilation! Any plans for that body of work?

J: Well, out of the dozens I’ve written so far, I’d say about 10 are worthwhile. So hopefully I can write a lot of great stuff by the end. I think it would be a bad idea to include them all, if there does end up being a Medskerpedia book. I haven’t really thought about how I’ll work that out. I guess I’ll burn that bridge when I come to it. Heh.

B.E: Besides the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, what are you reading currently?

J: Oh man… A bunch of stuff. Carl Sandburg’s book The American Songbag which is an anthology of American folk and blues songs… A great anthology of American farmer poetry called From Seedbed to Harvest… Lots of stuff.

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Sweet! Thank you Josh! If you guys have any questions for Josh, fire away in the comments! Or go check out Josh on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joshuamedsker

Josh Medsker is a writer and educator from New Jersey. His work has appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies, including Laura Page’s former blog Literary Legs. (joshmedsker@gmail.com)

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