An Interview with July Poetry Curator CM Burroughs

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CM Burroughs is associate professor of creative writing at Columbia College Chicago and author of The Vital System and Master Suffering, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and a finalist for the Lambda Book Award and L.A. Times Book Award. Burroughs has been awarded fellowships and grants from Yaddo, MacDowell, Djerassi Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Cave Canem Foundation. Zócalo’s poetry curator for July, Burroughs chatted with us in the green room about horror movies, Greece, and what song would bring her onto the dance floor.

How has the pandemic changed the way you write or think about poetry?

It’s made me pay more attention to our mortality and the sort of the easiness of being lost to the world. I was just thinking about the pandemic this morning, because a student came to mind. I think two years after the pandemic, the student maybe said, “Oh, I’m so over pandemic poems. I’m so over it.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” When I was teaching early on, I had kids who weren’t even born during September 11th, who were writing about September 11th. The pandemic was a worldwide crisis—don’t be over it. Poets are record keepers. So, we’ve got to keep addressing the severe records we come across.

Is there a song that would get you on the dance floor?

You’d have to go back to the 2010s and earlier for me to get on the dance floor. Let’s go with Tony! Toni! Toné!’s “Feels Good.”

I’ve got four black and white sketches of Chicago on one wall. Picture of Cloud Gate, a picture of the “L” underground, the Chicago Theatre, and Millennium Park. A photo of me and my first mentor, Toi Derricotte. My parents and my family when we were younger. And in 2015 or so, I did this thing for Poetry Magazine where poets were featured on “L” stations around Chicago. So, I have a picture of me at one of the stations.

In an alternate universe, what would you be doing right now?

I would certainly be independently wealthy, living off of ancestral wealth, because communities of color would be situated in such a way in that universe.

If you didn’t live in the United States, what country would you want to live in?

The most relaxing place I’ve been so far is Greece, so that would have to be first on my list. I took work with me, and I planned to write while I was there, but the cafes there are different from America, where we usually squat and work in our cafes with our laptops. The culture is very social. There was nothing reinforcing my desire to work. So I just did what everyone else did and people-watched and relaxed.…Read more by

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