Michael Kocinski

Michael Kocinski

Poet at Large

June 19, 2013


Toledo Poetry Museum, Almeda Street Poets, The Watchword (extra-curricular creative writing enrichment, for hire)


Creative Native Michael Kocinski has a number of reasons to celebrate. This recently married poet works on his own prose, collaborates with other local writers on the annual Jack Kerouac memorial reading, and tutors students of all ages in creative writing. While he currently resides in Ida, Michigan with his family, Michael is an influential member of the literary arts scene. Read more about this writer's life and aspirations.





What current projects are you working on? 
The biggest project I work on every year is the Jack Kerouac memorial reading called Back to Jack. Nick Muska started Back to Jack in the early 80s, it's a scripted reader's theater composed of selections from Kerouac's bibliography and performed by a small cast or poets and Kerouac lovers. Nick passed the scripts on to me, and John Swaile, a few years ago, and a rotating cast of readers performs the show at an area bar.

Lately we've made the Attic our poetry home, but we've also performed at Wesley's, Mickey Finn's, and The Original Sub Shop and Deli. Every year we modify the script by adding new selections, taking old ones out or changing the order of the reading.

I'm always working on my own poems, too, and organizing irregular readings with a group of poets I've been friends with for years. There's a manuscript in disguise as a pile of folders on my desk right now, I'd love to get that finished and organized and sent out to a contest or something. I'm working on a couple of novel ideas, very slowly, and I don't know what else, we'll have to see.

I want to write a lot of poems and start sending them to magazines and small presses and go from there. I'm also in the process of developing an after school writing enrichment tutoring program called the Watchword. I've been tutoring for a long time, teaching creative writing and critical reading of poems to students of all ages, but I'd really like to start doing it seriously, and regularly. I can be contacted at my email, michael.kocinski@gmail.com, if anyone is interested in tutoring.  

Tell us about one of your greatest successes. 
My first official publication was in a little magazine you might have heard of, the Mid American Review? It's a really well respected magazine and I was blown away that they took one of my poems. I haven't published a ton, but then again I'm a slow writer and I don't send out many submissions. But, wow, it was so overwhelming to get the letter in the mail that told me my poem had been accepted. Awesome.  

Tell us who or what gives you inspiration? 
Here's a list, in no particular order, of the things that inspire me, and I give you a list because I could bore you to tears with prose. But here, I'll start with Toledo itself. It gave me the community that gave me my voice. My son and is a constant source of both motivation and inspiration. Insects. They TRANSFORM! Isn't that what art is about, transformation? Outside in general is a big inspiration. I have some great, creative friends whose ideas and work ethic inspire me, people like Ryan Warner, Jonie McIntire, Rachel Richardson, I could go on and on. I'm inspired by other good writing, good jazz, and thoughtful dialogue on NPR programs like Radiolab and Fresh Air. Good food inspires me. Any hard work inspires me, too. I find I have a lot of my best ideas when I'm doing labor, real, physical work. I think 'work' is an underrated aspect of our creative lives. There are many Eureka moments to be had behind a push mower.  

Tell us about your background. 
I started writing poems in church, at church. All of my earliest writing was very religious. I wanted to write comic books and songs. I met the Almeda Street Poets when I was, oh, 19 or 20. I didn't know anything about poetry really but I was reading an anthology by Oscar Williams and doing my own versions of poems I liked from that collection. Eventually I was invited to take over hosting duties at an open-mic and learned a lot more about poetry by listening to just every single possible style of writing once a week for three years. I learned a lot, a lot. And I read a lot of poetry, too. I went to UT, took classes with Sara Lundquist, Tim Geiger, Jane Bradley, Rane Arroyo. Met many more good poets in those classes. I read everything and I read wherever I was invited, First Night, area high schools, etc. My answer is getting kind of boring. I just wanted to write poems and for a long time I did whatever I thought would help me do that. I've been a teaching artist for Arts Unlimited and the Glasshouse Writing Project, I've been a tutor, a Scholastic Writing Program mentor and judge, and I was a co-founder and editor of a small magazine called the Cornfed Angel. So that's a brief summation of my background, I guess. There's more to tell. It's all in the poems.  

Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by?
Saywhat you mean, mean what you say. And I say a version of this a lot: Don't kill bugs. So they aren't exactly words of wisdom, but I'm very serious about not killing bugs.

Favorite place for local culture? 
If by 'culture' you mean 'people watching', then any place on Adams St. If you mean something else, I don't know. I don't really get out very much, but Mud Hens games are fun for local culture. It's fun to watch families play and have fun. A bar is the easy answer because that's where people my age go. But the library is full of people being totally themselves, private in a way but revealing so much, too, about what they love by what kind of book and music choices they're making. 

Toledo’s “best kept secret” is…
I have a couple for you. First of all, Ohio's only Feminist bookstore is in Toledo. People Called Women is a fantastic resource for good books and culture, and a great example of a local business supporting the community. I'd like to petition the community to support it in return. If turn-out is an indicator, Toledo's thriving literary scene is a pretty well kept secret, too. Why is that, poets?

Is QQ Kitchen on Secor Rd still a secret? It shouldn't be a secret to anyone who likes real food. Trust me, put up with the UNGODLY traffic on Secor Rd. and eat some QQ!

On a similar note, go get yourself some Original Sub Shop and Deli out there on Broadway. It's worth your time. If you go on the third Saturday of the month you can enjoy another Toledo secret while you eat--The Broadway Bards host a feature poetry reading followed by an open mic. Good times!

My favorite place to chill locally is…
I'm a creature of convenience, so I go to places that are close by, or on my way home, so I spend a bit of time at Fusion at Westgate. It's a nice bar, there's always a delicious craft beer on tap and it's quiet and conveniently located for my needs, which is right behind where I work. I like to write at the Starbucks on Talmadge. There's a lot of foot traffic there but not a lot of sit down business so it's quiet enough and busy enough to get some good work done there. Sanger Library is another one of my favorite places to go. I do love the Attic and Wesley's, but these days I don't have the free time to make it out as often as I'd like, which is why I like to hold readings in those bars. That way I at least get to visit a few times a year.  

My favorite natural space in the Toledo area is…
Well, there's a pond in the backyard at my parents' house that's as much a part of my spiritual landscape as my physical one. My grandpa, dad, and uncles dug it themselves, to level the property. When I was a boy I grew very close to it and the wild creatures who lived there. I love Wildwood park. It's a fan favorite, I know, and I usually defy popular opinion, but Wildwood has so much going for it. And then I really like overgrown yards, and unmowed drainage ditches along the highway. I love undeveloped lots in the middle of town, in little neighborhoods I like to see the birds there, and the wildflowers, too. I imagine there must be a lot of biomass in those ditches, I often daydream about doing insect or reptile surveys in them. 

When I’m not working hard, I can always be found…
Find me at the Game Room, a comic shop on Sylvania Ave., every Wednesday for new comic book releases, or Wildwood with my son, or Starbucks at Westgate early, in the morning before work, usually.  

If you could change anything about the current landscape for creative, progressive people, what would you do?
So here's the thing about this question. I've been living a few miles north, in Ida, MI, for a few years now and in many ways I'm out of the loop on 'local' things. But there's music at all the bars again, and a freaking coffee shop on Collingwood! Which is so awesome, and Michael Grover's hosting a good poetry reading there on Monday nights. Check out all the cool stuff Rachel Richardson's doing with the mural projects and you'll get an idea how the landscape in Toledo, specifically, is changing.

On the other hand, I hear a lot of really bummer stuff on the news about school budgets and education just going down the tubes, so in Toledo and everywhere else I'd like to see a real push for some more comprehensive, interdisciplinary, critical thinking approaches to education or else there won't be creative and progressive people around in a few years. I'd even go so far as to suggest Creative Writing programming in every school. It's a drag to hear about Art and Music classes closing up shop, and I hate it, but at least with Creative Writing kids can work those critical thinking muscles only Art can build while they're still addressing and improving core areas related to Standardized Tests, which I also hate.  

Name one person (living or deceased) who you would love to collaborate with.
I'll tell you what, I have a friend who writes comics, Dirk Manning, and I think it would be fun to tell a story with that guy. He's a Toledo guy, by the way.

My friend Nick Adamski is the co-founder of the Poetry Brothel in New York. He's a Toledo guy, too. I'd love to get out there and read with him, or organize a Toledo Brothel, or both...actually, both would be better.

Collaboration is a weird thing for poets because no matter how you shake it out, even if you're a super social writer, or you thrive in a workshop setting, or you and your peers do lots of hard edits on each other's work, making a poem is still a pretty solitary thing. That being said, there should be a community and that community should be supportive. There should be readings and workshops and sleep-overs and cook-outs.

The fact is I've already had some really amazing collaborations over the years, as a song co-writer for fun bands like Science of Big Machines, and while organizing the Jack Kerouac memorial reading with the former Jacks, as the readers are called, and the current Jacks, including Adrian Lime, Jonie McIntire, Caroline Gauger, Ryan Warner, Andrew Field, Jake Hammond, and Ashley Eichner. So I guess for me, collaborating with another poet would be like organizing a reading, or a workshop.

Wouldn't it be cool to organize a reading between the writing programs at regional Universities? Something like a Poet Share program, where students from all the schools read and workshop together. I don't know, something like that, but better. Who else? You got my mind racing...I'd like to do a broadside with Tim Geiger's book making class at UT. Maybe organize a reading with Justin Longacre and his students at the TSA, it would be really cool to organize a multigenerational poetry reading. I'd like to collaborate with the whole poetry community on a Toledo poetry anthology and a Toledo poetry history. I'm writing all this down so I can get started on a few of these ideas!

Name a CD, book or website you can’t live without.
I'll give you one of each. The CD is Kind of Blue, the book is Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, and the website I visit the most, besides tumblr, is probably comicbookresources.com.

3 words that best describe me or my work.
Heavily researched, disorganized, earnest. 

Give us 5 Desert Island Album picks.
This is hard...
Under the Pink, Tori Amos
Let it Die, Feist
Kind of Blue, Miles Davis
Lost Channels, Great Lake Swimmers
Apollo 18, They Might Be Giants
Do I get an Honorable Mention? Because if I do, that goes to White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean, Jimmy Buffet. 

My biggest vice is…
Comic book web sites. I'll spend hours browsing reviews and preview pages. It's really a terrible waste of time. I ought to be writing them myself. Tumblr, too, it's such a time sink. 

I’d like to see __________ in Toledo.
A Thackeray's style bookstore or Sufficient Grounds style coffee shop back.

The last lyric that moved me was…
I just got married and my bride and I danced to "I Go to the Barn Because I Like..." by Band of Horses. The whole damn song is a beauty and it was perfect for our wedding, which happened in our front yard followed by a barn reception. The song has always been one of my favorites but now it kills me. 

My most inspiring moment was/is…
Listen, I watched my son enter the world. I watched it at my wife's side, I saw his head come out, and I watched the doctor sort of shuck him like a pea from a pod, and then I cut the umbilical cord, and I watched in wonder as they wrapped him and handed him over to his mother to meet her and nurse for the first time. Any man who has experienced this moment, whether his first child is a son or a daughter is irrelevant, by way, and doesn't say it's the most inspiring moment of his life, well, I don't want to judge that man, but it was mine. Nothing will compare to that moment. His birth, his life, continues to energize me. 

I want my last meal to be…
Several amazing courses long, served on ceramic plates made by Jules Webster or Tom Marino, accompanied by wine and other spirits selected to heighten the food's flavor and the moment, served on a huge front porch, under maple tree shade, tables laden with peony blossoms in mason jars, and underneath it all a brown wrapping paper table cloth everyone can write or draw on while we're eating and talking. What are we eating? I don't care as long as I live long enough to savor every moment and morsel. 



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