I am a poet and a scholar of American poetry, particularly focusing on a neglected group of early- to mid- twentieth century women poets who created an outpost of modernist poetic practices and followed innovative strategies for their poetry after modernism’s force had shifted. They are less-known now often because of circumstances (poverty, trauma, and/or illness) that prevented them from fully participating in the critical marketplace during developmental stages of their careers; nevertheless, the communities they created among themselves were sustaining. I am also an educator, teaching classes in women’s literature, American literature, and most often now in creative writing at Wayne State University, where I have served as coordinator for the creative writing program and am now Director of Graduate Studies for the M.A. and Ph.D. programs in English. In my creative writing classes, I focus on small group workshops, critical engagement with contemporary poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, and motivating and guiding students in longer, book-length writing projects through our undergraduate and Master’s degrees. In my own poetic practice, I focus on writing as a way of mediating and mastering traumatic experience. In book-length works of poetry, I frame individual, observational lyrics in larger narrative arcs that are grounded in my working-class roots and my survival of abuse and violence.
I write in part because I was raised in an alcoholic household, and separately, I am a survivor of a home invasion and rape that occurred when I was a teenager. I have always written poetry as a means of bearing witness, albeit with the protection of poetry’s various veils, and as a method of leveraging my testimony against a reality that remained for a long time necessarily unsaid and unsayable. So, for me, poems about morning glories or hostas are also always about forces I learned about from these original turmoils. Perhaps because from my earliest memory I had to read subtle shifts of mood and motive in our household, I also became a good observer. The same skills of observation that would let me know where in the trajectory of illness my mother and father were became the instruments with which I observe natural phenomena now. Poetry has been an excellent outlet and a way to carve out a domain in which I make meanings out of experiences that at least sometimes I’ve had no choice about. My most recent poetry collection, What Remains, memorialized my mother, who came to live with me during the last five years of her life and with whom I developed an extraordinary friendship at this later stage of our lives. While the book doesn’t explicitly deal with redemption (hers or mine), the emotional energy of this repairing of our relationship was what motivated the book, deepened my grief at her loss, and informed every line.
In a life that is busy with many duties that seem to draw on and squander the same bandwidth with which I create poetry, I have to schedule writing time and reaffirm my commitment to make poems from my experience. Often, this involves seeking out experiences that will be fertile to the imagination — and for me this is as simple as taking walks outdoors at a nearby park or reading and teaching the work of other writers I admire. Unless I make a conscious effort to catch the seeds of poems as they fly by, they will escape me, and if that happens for long stretches it’s depressing. I keep a notebook handy, use the camera and note feature of my phone to capture ideas, take frequent workshops through Springfed Arts in Metro Detroit in order to maintain good connections to our writing community, and try to go to the Bear River Writers’ Conference when I can schedule it. Like the writers I’ve studied in the work I do as a literary scholar, I find it sustaining to work within supportive networks of writers.
Caroline Maun is an associate professor of English at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She teaches creative writing and American literature and is the Director of Graduate Studies. She is the editor of The Collected Poetry of Evelyn Scott, and author of Mosaic of Fire: The Work of Lola Ridge, Evelyn Scott, Charlotte Wilder, and Kay Boyle. Her poetry publications include the volumes The Sleeping (Marick Press) and What Remains (Main Street Rag), and two chapbooks, Cures and Poisons and Caroline Maun: Greatest Hits. Her books may be found on Amazon.