Monday, April 26, 2021

TBR: All These Hungers by Rick Mulkey

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!  


We don’t expect an elevator pitch from a poet, but can you tell us about your work in 2-3 sentences?


I’ve often thought of a passage by George Eliot: “It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger after them. How can we ever be satisfied without them until our feelings are deadened?” In many ways, All These Hungers explores this same paradox of desire as a hunger for its own continuation, and how the role of hunger and consumption in its many forms shapes our personal stories and our relationships with family, friends, the natural world, and even our approach to politics and religion.


Which poem/s did you most enjoy writing? Why?


The poem I most enjoyed writing was “Cured.” First, I don’t know that I’d ever written a poem addressed to a specific person. I’ve written poems about individuals, and poems in which the “you” existed and was addressed, but that “you” was often a mixture of several people or an imagined individual or audience more than a single person directly addressed. Plus, “Cured” was the poem that brought together several of my interests in this collection: the region of the country, Southwest Virginia, where I was born and raised, the role of religion and the spiritual in our lives, the ways in which we are all connected by our hunger for food and drink, for acceptance and friendship, for love. It is a political poem, but, I hope, not too overtly political. Plus, it is a poem about bacon.


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


I write very slowly. I’m not someone who can complete a poem in a couple of hours. It can take me days, even weeks. In some cases, I may come back and work on a poem over months or even years before I’m done with it. So, the lows for me almost always have something to do with whether or not I’ll finish a collection. It is always a multi-year process for me. As for the book’s road to publication, I find the submission process the most stressful. Each of my previous books was published by a different press, so once I finish a manuscript, I have this sense of dread about the submission process and having to start that all over again. When I first began sending this manuscript out, I sent it mostly to contests, and almost immediately it was selected as a finalist at a couple of those contests, so I thought acceptance and publication might happen quickly. But it didn’t. Before I knew it, I was nearing the date that would start the second year of submission, and I was feeling pretty low about the situation. Then, fortunately, three different publishers showed interest, and now the book is out in the world. Of course, now that this book is published, I can start worrying about whether or not I’ll write another one.


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


Since I’ve made a living as a writing teacher, I’ve given lots of writing advice over the years. But the one piece I always come back to is to read as much and as widely as you can. I can’t stress how important this is. I read poetry, fiction, especially short fiction, nonfiction, science, history, and biography. All of it informs me, and I hope it makes me a better writer. No one can be a successful writer without reading actively and obsessively. In this age of technology and social media, it is too easy to overlook the importance of informed, careful reading. I think it is valuable to know the best contemporary writers, but also know that body of literature that precedes us. The best writers I’ve known have always been some of the best and most avid readers, too. Beyond that, however, the greatest obstacle is lack of perseverance. Desire and energy make up for many shortcomings in terms of natural ability. It helps to have talent, but willpower and drive can carry us through lots of inevitable disappointments and rejections.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


What surprised me most in the writing of this book is how often I went to closed forms to find my way into a poem. While the end product isn’t always a sonnet, villanelle, or pantoum, several of these poems are in those forms, and other poems are influenced in some way by various forms. “Velveeta” uses a variation on rhyming quatrains, for instance. I was reading lots of Metaphysical and Romantic poets during the years I worked on this collection, and perhaps that had some impact on the way I thought of form, too.


How do you approach revision?


For me the most enjoyable aspect of writing is revision. I’m generally horrified by having to start a new poem. I envy novelists who have a general idea of where they are going with their writing each day they go to work on the book. With each poem, I’m starting all over again with all the fear and self-doubt that a new start brings with it. Plus, I rarely have a clear vision of the poem when I begin a new one. I mostly start by obsessing over a sound or image, or there is a sentence or phrase I have stuck in my head, but I don’t know where this might lead me. This is why I love the revision process. Once the first draft is completed, I can go back and work on a poem without that fear of the blank page, and with the solace of knowing I have a place to start the day’s work and a direction to explore.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


As you might guess, a book titled All These Hungers has lots of food references and associations. While the book deals with plenty of subjects that aren’t food related (dung beetles, for instance), you’ll find poems about bacon, whisky, peaches, pickles, and one of my favorite dishes, haggis, in a poem titled “In Defense of Haggis.”  People who’ve never tried it are horrified by the idea of haggis, but I’ve been eating it since my trip to Scotland many years ago for a writing residency at Hawthornden Castle. Because of certain U.S. regulations, it isn’t possible to have real Scottish haggis shipped to the U.S., so I’ve discovered a couple of recipes that I can make at home. I’ll share one for a very simplified version of haggis that is quite different from real haggis but is remarkably close to the texture and taste of the real thing. I hope you’ll give it a try with some mashed potatoes and mashed rutabaga, and a glass of your favorite single malt scotch.


*Simple Haggis


·      1/2 tbsp butter 

·      1 large onion

·      1 tsp ground black pepper (I add a little more because I like mine very peppery)

·      3/4 tsp ground coriander

·      1 tsp nutmeg

·      1 tsp allspice

·      3/4 tsp dried thyme or fresh, slightly chopped if fresh

·      1/2 tsp cinnamon

·      1 lb ground lamb 

·      ½ lb chicken livers (ground or chopped)

·      1 cup stock (I use chicken, but I think vegetable would work, too)

·      4 oz pinhead oatmeal (I sometimes toast this but it is ok if you don’t)


1.          Preheat the oven to 350F.

2.          Warm the butter in a pan. Finely dice the onion and cook over a medium heat in the butter until softened, about 5-7 minutes.

3.          Meanwhile chop the chicken livers. Sometimes I will mince them in a food processor.

4.          Add the spices and thyme to the onion and cook a minute then add the ground lamb and chicken livers.

5.          Brown the meat. Once it cooked through, add the stock and cover. Simmer for around 20-25 minutes.

6.          Next, add the oatmeal, mix well and transfer to an oven dish (I use a cast iron Dutch Oven so I don’t have to worry about this step, but any oven proof dish will work.)

7.          Cover the dish and put in the oven for 30 minutess.

8.          Remove the lid and cook another 10 minutes.

9.          Serve with mashed potatoes and mashed rutabaga.

10.        *This is adapted from a recipe from Caroline’s Cooking. There are also plenty of good vegetarian recipes available online, too.







DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.