Pondering the unglamorous, everyday existence of life in Western Michigan, Dr. John Cullen’s ‘Town Crazy’ has turned a few heads with its not-so-tall tales.
The chapbook won Slipstream Magazine’s 2013 poetry contest, which resulted in the book being published. The slim manuscript is the outgrowth of decades spent in a once entirely new place.
It was thirty years ago that Cullen left a much different life in New York for a career in Western Michigan. Even after all this time, though, he still remarks on the differences.
“For me, coming to West Michigan, that was a new experience,” Cullen said. “The sort of hunting-fishing culture, the gun culture, that whole culture of West Michigan was foreign to my experiences.”
Cullen teaches composition and literature at Ferris. He also makes time to write for himself. This book was a natural outcome.
“You’ve gotta write what you know, where you are, what you’re experiences are, what you feel comfortable with,” Cullen explained. “It would be much better to sit down and write a poem about Little Red Riding Hood, or a Beatles song, or ‘Ode To My Broken Les Paul Guitar.’ It would be way better to do something like that than to try to recreate the past.
This was Cullen’s first time entering Slipstream’s competition. The long-running magazine is one of a number of DIY poetry publications, a subject Cullen eagerly delved into. Per Cullen, many of these publications run similar contests.
Cullen explained, “It’s kind of what magazines are having to do to survive, because money is so limited.”
The victory, while sweet, was rather understated.
“You just get an e-mail and it says, ‘Hey guess what- you’re the winner. Let us know if your manuscript is still available,’” Cullen said.
Cullen’s work was appreciated by other publishers, as well.
“‘Town Crazy’ makes intimate of the seemingly ordinary, giving face to the ‘pay-no-minds’ the little pockets of Michigan that poet John Cullen has refused to ignore. I love this collection of meticulous mediations,” reads the review of Blast Furnace’s Rebecca Clever.
Full of poems titled “Michigan Signs,” “Drinking Specials,” and “Pine River Fishing,” the modest chapbook is now available at slipstreampress.org, with a design Cullen calls “fantastic.”