“Let the Book Teach”: An Interview With CMarie Fuhrman

MFA student CMarie Fuhrman is co-editing an anthology of Native American poetry and craft essays, alongside poet Dean Rader, titled Native Voices, with Tupelo Press. The following is a short interview with her about the anthology, editing, and craft.

Q: You have said that this anthology will be the first of its kind. How can readers and writers help ensure it’s the first of many more to come?

A: The first time that I realized that an anthology like Native Voices was necessary was teaching a Native Literature class.  I had one Native student in the classroom.  Though all of the stories and poems that we read that semester were by Native authors, none of the critical theory or companion textbook was.  I knew then that a text that addresses Native and non-Native students from a Native point-of-view was necessary. I went searching, but came up with no text that address Native students first.  Also, when I looked for a text, even interviews about the craft of poetry, nothing was available—people wrote and asked about content.  I wanted a platform that raised up Native voices on all levels.

Thought became action.  I saw a need.

If we are to ensure that a number of similar such projects are undertaken we have to empower minority voices to feel like they are able to build that platform.  Major publishers have to open the door of their presses to those voices in the margins, to projects that have not been done before, to ideas that may somehow seem improbable, but are oh so necessary.  And we have to realize that those voices are part of the great American choir that is our canon of literature.  They are important and need to be heard.

Q: I’m curious about the process of co-editing an anthology. Could you describe the work that goes into such a process?

A: One becomes very comfortable with Google docs, Skype, and long email threads.  Our publisher, Tupelo, is on the east coast, I am here in Idaho, and Dean is on the west coast.  I was fortunate enough to spend some time with Jeffrey Levine early last year to talk about the possibilities of the anthology.  He put Dean and me together and fortunately, as writers, Dean and I were able to do much of the leg work through emails.

It has actually been a lot easier than it sounds.  And perhaps it is because I am fortunate to work with Dean who, as a veteran of these kind of projects, picks up where I left off and vice versa.  We have actually never met in real life, but I feel like our rare phone calls, our frequent emails and the one Skype call we have done so far have really built a good relationship. We try somewhat to divvy up the work, but it’s never 50/50 and I don’t expect it to be.  We both lead pretty busy lives, so when I have a gap of time I try to fill it with what needs to be done and Dean does the same.  I actually couldn’t ask for a better co-editor and am not sure it would be any smoother were he living next door.

Q: This anthology can be a useful for writing and literature classrooms, both in college and secondary education. Do you have any advice for teachers interested in assigning this anthology?

A: Absolutely.  In the beginning days of picturing this project, I thought about how it might be used in the classroom.  Our early discussions were about it creating bridges, a place where poet and student/ poet and teacher could meet in the middle.  Now I see it as roads coming together and intersecting, just as our lives as Native people do with white people, or with white culture. Just as I hope Native culture intersects with non-Native people. I like to think of it as a journey.

My hope is that when it reaches the hands of teachers who present it to their class that they are open-minded to the road ahead, to think of it as a journey, a new road they have not traveled, one that they are willing to travel with the poet and their class.  So much of the poetry taught in today’s classrooms by non-Native and even Native scholars is the same poetry taught a generation ago.  The text recognizes this with the influencing poem, or ancestor text that is included, but also asks the reader/teacher to consider the new work that has been inspired by those poems. I would also hope that the anthology is used in workshops, that its words about craft and art of writing are absorbed, and that a deeper understanding of Native poetics, from their inception to their roots, is achieved. I would also recommend that teachers uncomfortable or new to Native poetry let the book teach.

Q: What is the role of craft in this anthology?

A: As I mentioned earlier, most of the “talk” about Native poetry has been about content.  Native poets are asked questions about the places and situations and stories within the poem.  It is almost as if the people, the poets themselves, and their process is disregarded.

Native Voices is the platform for poets to speak about the craft and/or the art of poetry.  Of the twenty or more craft essays that I have read thus far I am delighted at the difference of each of them. They are as unique as each of the poets themselves, as each of the poems. I think that does so much to destroy long-held stereotypes, but I also think that they read like letters to young writers, like advice. They give a way in to a young poet, or even a seasoned one, that might need those one or two words or ideas about writing that finally give them permission or unlock the door to their own creativity.

And it goes without saying that combining poems with words about craft deepens the meaning and the understanding of the poems read.

Q: Your dedication to this book seems like an example of Toni Morrison’s statement that “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” or in this case you must curate it. How can readers help make this happen if they are not associated with literary presses or programs?

A: Be dogged with your desires.  I promise you that if you are working from the right heart, if you are trying to bring to life a project that is needed and necessary, then you will find the publisher, the money, the people to help you bring it to life.  It may not be with the first phone call, but there will be someone.

 Q: How will you celebrate the anthology’s debut?

A: Right now we have a scheduled release date of January 1, 2019, and that will be my 47th birthday. I cannot think of a greater gift. I think that my private celebration will happen in the land of my ancestors, reading poems aloud to the red rock and wind, to the art that is painted and chipped into the stone.

A more formal celebration will be held in Moscow, where I will hope my cohort and colleagues, the faculty and staff, will join me for a reading and release. I can think of no one else but those who have supported me through this adventure to read aloud and be among the first to share these words with the world.

And on a larger scale? AWP is in Portland in 2019. I would hope Dean, the folks from Tupelo, and a great handful of the poets included in the anthology will come together for a reading and a panel about the work. My heart gets so big when I think about that day, when the book is in hand and the dream becomes real, that I can hardly contain it. It will feel something like presenting a handmade gift to someone you love, but it will be more like a gift made of all the voices that I have come to honor together as a gift being presented.

Cindy Fuhrman

An Indigenous daughter of the West, CMarie Fuhrman was born in Colorado and has lived in various rural towns all along the Rocky Mountains.  She has earned degrees in Exercise Physiology, English, and American Indian Studies and is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Idaho where she is Program Coordinator for IKEEP (Indigenous Knowledge for Effective Education Program) and the associate poetry editor for Fugue.  CMarie’s writing, both poetry and nonfiction, can be found in Broadsided Press’s NoDapl compilation, two anthologies, and several literary journals including Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, and Whitefish Review, Yellow Medicine Review and Sustainable Play, among others. She is recipient of the Burns Award for poetry and multiple fellowships and scholarships including Centrum at Port Townsend and Fishtrap at Lake Wallowa.  Cindy is co-editor of a forthcoming anthology of Indigenous poetics for Tupelo Press. She divides her time between Moscow and McCall, Idaho.



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