Last Thursday’s Good Thunder gathering was hosted by two authors close to “home,” one could say, as both are Minnesota State University, Mankato faculty.
The first speaker of the night was Michael Torres, who was introduced to the literature program by Professor and Director of Good Thunder, Candace Black.
Torres has won multiple literary awards and grants and his debut poetry collection, “An Incomplete List of Names,” was selected for the National Poetry Series. He earned his MFA from MNSU and is currently teaching in the university’s creative writing program.
Torres’ energy and excitement were palpable.
“I had come to all the Good Thunder events,” he said of his time at MNSU, “and now I am hosting one of them. I am really happy to be here.”
When talking about when he first got into poetry, he brought up poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
“‘Coney Island of the Minds’ was the first poetry book I read when I was 16 or 17. My sister let me borrow it, and I loved it so much I had to buy my own copy, which has become extremely worn throughout the years.”
Much of what Torres read to the group came “An Incomplete List of Names,” including a section of one of his longest poems, “Down.”
This poem addresses the struggles of being a young man entering adulthood, finishing college, and jumping from job to job.
Torres also recited one of his newer poems titled “Caves,” mentioning that he wanted to test it out.
“I wanted to read this poem to see how it feels, like how comedians test out new materials on small audiences,” Torres said.
The poem addresses feelings of being lost, and includes the line, “I ride away with him/there is a breeze then/the breeze carries.”
He took a break from reading to talk more about his poems and about how they focus on adolescence and the boys he grew up with.
“I was resistant, feeling like I was writing the same poems over and over, until I realized that my subjects were worth writing about,” Torres explained.
The next poem read aloud was titled “Eulogy with Puppet Strings,” and this piece focused on his friend Dire, who was the best graffiti artist he knew.
“I could see even then his name at the front of an art gallery,” Torres read.
The poem spoke of “swapping textbooks for paint,” and how “that was the year [he] was no one/and realized it.”
The final poem Torres read was again from the poem “All-American Mexican,” which was written after he initially thought the book was completed.
This reading was filled with powerful statements, including, “I am mostly filled with fantasies where I’m the hero”, ”I became a cathedral at noon, not the bell itself but the rope pulling sound from absence”, and “Nothing dissolves like I do”, leaving the audience in awe.
Torres gracefully handed the spotlight off, excited to hear the next voice.
Chris McCormick, author of “The Gimmicks and Desert Boys,” was the night’s second speaker. McCormick is well known for the essays and stories that appear in The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, Tin House, and Ploughshares.
He taught at the University of Michigan, earning his MFA and two Hopwood Awards, before coming to Minnesota and taking up a position as an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at MNSU.
McCormick read new material that he was eager to show to the audience, which included a short story set in the fictional town of Okalia, Minnesota.
This story follows Marylander Eileen, who moved to this fictional college town as an Administrative Assistant.
She quite literally runs into Thom, a very Minnesotan man, in front of a frozen waterfall. After an awkward introduction, the pair heads over to a crowded and chilly coffee shop.
McCormick quite elegantly describes the scene by painting a picture of this cozy shop, the snow and slush, and the way Minnesotans interact, all from the point of view of an outsider.
This allowed the audience to feel as if they were also in the story and watching it all unfold.
Eileen and Thom discuss life, movement and people. There is a tense moment where Thom begins singing aloud, and when Eileen protests, he tells her of his opinions about social norms and how one shouldn’t pay them much attention.
Eileen relents, and pulls up the song lyrics to sing along. The pair talk until the sun sets, and they part ways with each other’s phone numbers in hand.
McCormick’s reading ended with Eileen sending Thom a text, after days of being separated by a cold front and Eileen mulling over her feelings, wishing he were nearby. She falls asleep with the message unanswered, “You’re not in love, you’re in Minnesota.”
Turkish American author Ayse Papatya Bucak is the next author lined up for the Good Thunder Reading program, hosting on Thursday, March 25. All times and Zoom links are accessible on the Good Thunder website.