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Artist Interview with poet Michelle Menting

Artist profile article by Julia Clapp for Belfast Creative Coalition.

Photo courtesy of Michelle Menting

Michelle Menting is the author of Leaves Surface Like Skin, her first full-length collection of poetry, from which she will be reading at the Belfast Free Library on February 1st. I recently had the opportunity to talk with her about her new book. In so doing, I asked her how she got started writing poetry, and she tells me that as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, she fell into creative writing. “I had a misconception about what poetry was,” she says. But after exposure to it through her undergraduate writing classes, she came to love it. That being said, she does not consider herself strictly a poet, but rather a ‘multi-genre writer’. She also writes nonfiction.

“I might have an idea for an essay that then becomes a poem,” she says, “and then that might become fiction.” Throughout her education, many of her teachers were multi-genre writers too (Michelle holds an MFA and MA from Northern Michigan University, and a PhD from the University of Nebraska), and she does not limit herself to one area. Her website states that she is also ‘interested in the history of the essay, as well as in hybrid forms of literature and writing.’

But Leaves Surface Like Skin is all poetry, a collection of works that Michelle has been creating and refining for years. She wrote some of the poems that were ultimately included in the book while she was in her MFA and PhD programs. When I ask what inspires her work, she explains that nature is a major influence. “I like to take long walks and runs,” she says. “Be out in the quiet…both help me with my writing.” She is interested in landscapes and “different scapes” and bringing “a sense of confusion into clarity, or vice-versa; of being on the precipice.” She is also interested in the way humans and nature interact, including the ways in which they conflict. “I would write about roadkill,” she says, “and deer hunting.”

Another major influence on her work is family – Michelle is the youngest of several siblings. Some of her poems were created around, if not specific family members, still “the idea of siblinghood.”

Michelle is not originally from Maine – she grew up in the Great Lakes region – but she says that now “Maine feels like home.” Yet at the same time, there is still “newness about it.” She notes that there is much about the landscape of her childhood and the landscape of Maine that are similar, and that in both environments that natural world has inspired her writing. In living here, she has come to appreciate the Belfast area for its strong arts community, the artists as well as the many people who appreciate the arts and attend local events.

The cover of Leaves Surface Like Skin, with artwork by Christine J. Higgins.

“I feel very at home,” she tells me, “and I’m glad…that (the book) came together in Maine.” The completion of Leaves Surface Like Skin was indeed a local venture. Design work for the book was done locally by Doug Johnson, and it will launch at the Belfast Free Library, where Michelle also works. A paper panel work by Maine artist Christine J. Higgins was used on the cover. Michelle was drawn to the piece that ultimately became the book’s cover because it is “a lovely piece of artwork,” and suits the mood of the poetry well.

As for the title of the book, Michelle says that it “can be interpreted a couple of ways”. The phrase Leaves Surface Like Skin can, she notes, be considered “ethereal and creepy.” Then she adds, “And maybe that describes the poems, too.”


The public is invited to attend the launch of Leaves Surface Like Skin by Michelle Menting at the Belfast Free Library, on February 1st at 6:30pm.

To learn more about Michelle’s work, visit www.michellementing.com. To purchase Leaves Surface Like Skin, visit Terrapin Books online at www.terrapinbooks.com/store/p15/Leaves_Surface_Like_Skin.html

Read more of Michelle’s work here: https://www.michellementing.com/writing-online/