Words flow in simple, neat little packages on the pages of local poet Michael McLaughlin’s new book. The stanzas appear simple, but each line’s place is carefully poised in each verse.
- PHOTO COURTESY OF GRACIE MALLEY
- EXPLORING STANZAS : Michael McLaughlin is the artist-in-residence at the Atascadero State Hospital and works as a contract artist with the California Department of Corrections. He also leads the Live from the Core poetry series that happens monthly at Core Winery in Orcutt.
The opening piece in Countless Cinemas is mysteriously devoid of capitalization. Lines tumble into one another, with no clear endings. This is a specific device called enjambment, McLaughlin told New Times after reading the piece aloud (listen to his reading and full interview at newtimesslo.com).
“Enjambment is when you have a line carry over into the next line, and it’s really a way of merging images,” McLaughlin said. “You could chisel out the lines and put them on the page, but the idea is you want one image to be bleeding into the other, as the French poet Valery would say.”
The technique creates a rhythm, he explained, which relates a flurry of images and feelings, whether the words are read or heard.
McLaughlin is a poet by practice and trade. He has been the artist-in-residence at the Atascadero State Hospital for 25 years and does extensive work throughout the state with the California Department of Corrections.
He also leads Live from the Core, a poetry series featuring local and nationally known poets monthly at the Core Winery in Orcutt. The series is also a chance for locals to hear McLaughlin read a poem or two from his book and buy a copy.
- IMAGE COURTESY OF HELL PRESS
- CINEMA OF MIND: Local poet Michael McLaughlin’s new book of poetry, 'Countless Cinemas,' from Hell Press is a brazenly introspective and emotive collection of short and long works.
“I think I’m both a page and performance poet, and the trick is you want to be able to capture the nuances of poetry while you’re reading them,” he said. “If you take in a lot of slam poetry, the poetry is geared to more of a purely emotional response from the audience, and the nuances are more difficult for the audience to cheer about and scream about.”
Much of the work in Countless Cinemas is steeped in nuance. It’s often unclear whom the poet is addressing. Some are friends—others are treated more like enemies. There are intensely personal moments in McLaughlin’s book, like the poem he dared to share at his mother’s memorial service. But really, it’s the feelings that matter, he explained, and the details aren’t always strictly autobiographical.
“Creative writing is always a fiction. I mean, there are personal details, but even when you recall memories you have, your recollection is never going to be true to the memory,” he said. “And I think when you’re working in fiction and poetry, part of the creative process naturally involves embellishment because you are trying to get to deeper truths.”
The task of the poet or any artist, McLaughlin said, is to plumb the depths of truth, no matter where it’s found.
Sharing that mission is a large part of McLaughlin’s artistic life. He helps people in recovery, incarceration, and education build their poetic skills and learn to listen to and read great poetry. He works with the California Youth Authority and as the San Luis Obispo County Area Coordinator for California Poets in the Schools.
Part of the inspiration to begin Live from the Core was to provide locals a chance to hear world-class poets while giving them a chance to read as well.
“There’s a lot of talent here, but it’s really unfocused,” he said. “Part of what I’m trying to do is find people, find the poets and writers here, and create a venue for them.”
Sun Arts Editor Joe Payne from New Times’ sister paper tries to stay focused. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PODCAST: Arts Editor Joe Payne—of New Times' sister publication the Sun—interviewed Michael McLaughlin for the May 19, 2016 edition. Listen to more podcasts by Joe at santamariasun.com.