The Communicator

The Communicator

The Communicator

Writer Profile: Scott Beal

Scott Beal

Scott Beal
Scott Beal

What projects are you currently working on?

Oh, who knows. Last summer I started a weekly-ish blog on parenting for The whole blog genre never really cried out to me, but I got invited to do it, and I find it hard to turn down an invitation. It’s been a fun challenge, mostly, and I like the pieces I’ve produced. It’s like writing poetry in that I don’t get paid, but it’s different in that people in the community may read it.

Meanwhile there are always new poems to work on, but the pace slows when other things get busy, as they have this fall. I wrote a ditty the other day riffing off the phrase “Too legit to quit,” of all things. I’ve got others in mind, half-jotted down, waiting to take shape. Actually, I’ve got a whole roster of unfinished things to get to: a story, a couple of children’s books, one sprawling poem I started 5 years ago based on a heavy metal song. And I promised myself that I’d revamp my book manuscript in September. I still haven’t. Now I’m aiming for January.

This week I’ll participate in a write-a-thon for Dzanc Books, the nonprofit publisher who sponsors my residency at Ann Arbor Open School, among other things. So I’ll come up with something for that.

Why do you write? Why poetry?

This question has many answers:

I was driving in a car once with Patrick Rosal, and in the course of conversation he said, sorta off-handedly, “You have to honor your talents.” The elegance and directness of that struck me right away, and has stuck with me since. I believe I have a talent for this, for writing poems. To not write would be to squander that talent, and thus to squander a sizable chunk of my life’s potential. Writing is a way I try to make the most of life. I am not one of those writers who is driven by an irresistible desire to scrawl copiously each day. But if I go a long stretch without writing much, it makes me miserable. I feel like a failure.

Another explanation is that when I was a kid, and first processed the concept of death, it occurred to me that everyone vanishes. You die, and after a couple of generations no one remembers your name. For all the world cares, you may as well have never lived. That thought horrified me. The only fix I could think of was to become a writer. People don’t forget Edgar Allan Poe. Of course I see now that’s not realistic; writers vanish as completely as everyone else, with only the rarest exceptions. But then, our drives are not often rational or realistic.

Here is my third, and favorite, explanation. The world is full of dehumanizing forces. Corporations and governments alike prefer their masses complacent and compliant. And one of the tools they use most regularly to achieve that result is language. Language is bent every day to pitch useless or destructive products, to mask harmful ideas as helpful, and to deaden our thoughts and perceptions. For me, poetry is a way of scrapping with those forces, of re-tuning language to freshen rather than deaden, and of making space for imagination and human feeling to flourish. It is, to borrow a phrase from Boots Riley, “my favorite mutiny.”

How are you involved in the writing community?

Which writing community? As you know, there’s a rich youth writing culture here in Ann Arbor, fed by incredible teachers and organizations. I try to be involved with that as much as I can. I lead the Short Story Workshop for teens at the Neutral Zone, and also stay involved as much as I can with the Volume Poetry Project — attending events and running workshops, teaching at the Volume Summer Institute, and working with the youth poetry slam team. Also, I’m working this year, for the second time, as Dzanc Writer-in-Residence at Ann Arbor Open School, where I run weekly poetry workshops for a class of 52 fifth- and sixth-graders. And I do workshops for 826michigan, the nonprofit writing and tutoring center disguised as a Robot Supply and Repair Shop.

As for the adult writing community… I do a lot less. I maintain contact with certain individual writers. I’m in a monthly writing group. I go to readings and open mics in town when I can. I try to line up a feature reading or two each year. I send poems to journals. Nothing extraordinary.

Do you have any upcoming events?

I’m reading at an event called “Jack and Jill” on Jan. 14 at the Michigan League, hosted by a feminist group at U of M called The F-Word. The time is 8-10pm.

I’m hoping to have some new poetry and music tracks to unveil soon at It’s a website created by Sourcebooks (publishers of Spoken Word Revolution Redux and Poetry Speaks) to raise poetry’s profile and offer a high-quality multi-media poetry experience. Three or four dozen “spoken word” poets were included in the original rollout, including local favorites like Kevin Coval, Roger Bonair-Agard, and Patricia Smith. And me…. A friend of mine in Chicago, Eric Brown, is working on setting a handful of my poems to music. He’s got about 5 rough mixes done so far, and they’re really strange and cool. As soon as he gets through the rest and polishes them up, I’ll add them to the site for people to check out. Should happen this winter.

I have a poem appearing in the new issue of Indiana Review, due out this month. I’m excited about that.

I hope to hit Chicago with a couple of readings and workshops in late winter or spring — but plans for that are still gestational.

Oh, and the Short Story Workshop will have a reading at Sweetwaters on January 15. It’s our first reading of the year, so the crew has lots of cool new work to share.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m a stay-at-home dad with two daughters, ages 8 and 5…I read a lot of Cam Jansen and Nancy Drew books, and play classic kids’ games like Old Days Laundry Farm and Kung Fu Panda Pen, and fold clothes and buy groceries and wash dishes. I hang out with my brilliant wife. I watch Project Runway and Dollhouse. I do all those workshops I mentioned for Dzanc, the Neutral Zone, and 826michigan. I play indoor soccer a couple nights a week, and coach my daughters’ soccer teams. I read as much of the New York Times as I can get through on Sunday, which usually isn’t very much.

More to Discover
Activate Search
Writer Profile: Scott Beal