BOOKWORM: An interview with author and Burke’s Books owner Corey Mesler
By Diana Owen
Cooper-Young’s very own Corey Mesler was kind enough to let me pick his brain after I was bowled over by his poetry. I am about to head to Burke’s Books to pick up his latest book, Gardner Remembers, and per Corey, it’s “a novel told in the form of an interview with (fictional) Memphis musician, Buddy Gardner. It’s small enough to carry in your back pocket or to fit into your Christmas stocking.” Sounds perfect. Now, onto the metaphysical meanderings and questions that surfaced after soaking up some of his poetry.
Q: Your poems radiate from your quest for enlightenment and speak to the intangible. Have there been any local places that have spoken to you and given you verse? If so, which places inspired what poems and how/why?
A: I don’t know if specific places in my hometown have spoken to the poet in me. Certainly the river runs like background soundtrack music to whatever happens in the city. And music runs like a backbeat to the river behind us, too. There really does seem to be something ultra-mundane about the music in this city. You can feel it if you spend any time here at all. You can feel it just walking our city streets. I think, for me, it’s more the whole ambiance of Memphis that fuels my writing. We live in a city of deep soul, a city that embraces funky as if it were a religion, and a city that not only tolerates but celebrates eccentricity. I feel free in Memphis, if that’s not an oxymoron coming from an agoraphobic writer who spends many hours of each day all by himself in front of a glowing screen trying to wring the ineffable out of the effable.
Q: Memphis is enmeshed in the matrix of your writing. How has its presence affected you as a writer? If you are a life-long Memphian, is this something that has been more noticeable as you have gotten older? Or, if you moved here at some point, did Memphis call out to you or have you had a slow and deliberate attachment to our city?
A: I was born in Niagara Falls, NY, but I moved to Memphis when I was 5, if you call suburban Raleigh “Memphis.” At that time, 1960, you did not. Probably the Memphis that is in my head is different from the Memphis that most of us walk around in. It’s a Memphis of myth, of a personal myth that is germane to me alone, that is part of the cloud cuckooland in my sconce. I think it would be impossible to live here and do something creative—write, paint, sing, dance, make pottery, design litter boxes—and not feel like the city has seeped into you, even like the city was part of your process. And living in Midtown, which is the heart of the city, and Cooper-Young, which is the heart of Midtown, I take great pleasure from my bohemian surroundings, with its unconventional denizens, quirky shops, and eateries. I love all my hip neighbors. Many of them actually read books.
Q: Having been a writer for quite some time, do you find yourself more of a poet or a novelist? Do you go through phases of each? When did you know that this was your form of connecting with other souls on this planet? If you would like to describe how your agoraphobia relates to this connection, I am very interested.
A: Some days I feel more like a poet than a novelist or short story writer. Some days I feel more like a bookseller than either. And some days I feel like I couldn’t get elected dog catcher. But, overall, I am most happy with my prose. Poems have become what I write when I can’t get my novel moving. When I was younger all I wrote was poetry…well, bad poetry. I came to prose later. But I am most happy when I am working on a novel, a writing project that takes a couple years. Then I am engaged for the duration of my entire waking existence with this other life, this imaginary one.
As far as connecting to other humans through my writing I suppose that would be the reason to keep doing it, wouldn’t it? Of course, we must keep in mind that my audience is only a dozen or so family members and friends. And only fairly recently did I realize that some people occasionally like something I’ve written. I am not being flippant here. I really didn’t understand that there were a few resilient souls who actually empathized, communed, connected with my writing.
As far as the agoraphobia is concerned, writing is my lifeline. As I’ve said elsewhere, my writing walks around in the world for me.