- What’s on
Melanie Ehler Collopy received her B.A. at Ohio State University and her M.A. at Bowling Green State University, for English literature and language, respectively. Additionally, she was awarded a scholarship to the Prague Summer Program (WMU in conjunction with Karlovy University) for Creative Writing, where she studied poetry under the guidance of Richard Jackson and Michael Collier, and for which she received post-graduate credit. Ehler Collopy’s work has been published in several anthologies: Female Nomad and Friends, Bead Journey, and Resilience (2021 ACU Prize for Poetry).
After completing her education and working at a variety of jobs, Melanie set off backpacking alone around the world, where among many other adventures, she met a handsome Australian who happened to be traveling in the same direction. “Reader, I married him.” They currently live in Roxby Downs, Australia with their two sweet children and one villainous cat.
Melanie is the winner of the 2022 mindshare Published Poetry award for ‘Dear Mind’.
What does this win for your writing mean to you?
For the better part of the last 3 years, I have focused on my craft with little to no concern about publication or prizes. My aspiration was solely to increase the quality of my poetry and to refine my poetic voice. I have now accumulated a body of work that’s of good quality, and I hope winning this prize will eventually lead to the connections needed for me to publish my book.
What inspired your winning work?
Feeling particularly stressed and anxious one day, the thought that I need a holiday popped into my head. But just as quickly, I dismissed the notion because it’s not a place I desperately need to escape, but rather, my own hyper-vigilant mind. In the poem “Dear Mind,” this thought takes a fanciful turn, with my mind and body parting ways, one of them going on holiday while the other stays behind in my everyday life. If you read the poem carefully, you will also see mention of how anxiety (and what I’m pretty sure is undiagnosed C-PTSD) came into my life. Like a number of people suffering poor mental health, my anxiety is a fallout from trauma.
What drives you to write?
My childhood home was unpredictable, and occasionally violent. As a child, I was warned to never speak about what happened at home. I was even prohibited from keeping a diary. But as an adult, I finally found my voice, and I can use it to bear witness on an important subject that’s largely been ignored and treated as taboo. I am the end of a line of generational trauma. My story aches to be told.
How do you incorporate writing into the rest of your life?
Being a stay-at-home mum ~sounds~ like a great gig for a writing life, but anyone who’s been primary caregiver to very young children will quickly disabuse you of that notion. The only time I can focus on writing without interruption are the few hours (4-8 hours a week) that the local creche is open. That’s part of the reason why I have been focusing on poetry rather than novels or long fiction. If I write the rough draft and maybe even a 2nd draft during my free hour in the morning, I can spend the rest of the day mulling over the ideas, line arrangement, etc. while also addressing the mundanity of household chores.
Which other writers have inspired or influenced your work?
Louise Gluck’s Wild Iris is the most exquisite book of poetry I’ve read. Stephen Dunn and Naomi Shihab Nye are also poets whose works I read with absolute delight.
My first love, though, was Lord Alfred Tennyson. I was maybe 14 or 15 years old and just becoming interested in verse. Tennyson was, if I remember correctly, the only book of poetry available in my hometown library (in rural Ohio). It was an absolute TOME. Bound in mustard-coloured covers and with pages edged in scarlet. 843 pages. Printed in 1882. Too big to fit inside my schoolbag, I would balance the book on the front handlebars of my bicycle and pedal back and forth from library to home, and then back to library again to in an endless cycle of renewal. When the library finally considered it outdated enough to discard, I purchased it in their book sale. It’s now a treasured part of my book collection.
Have you faced any barriers establishing yourself as a writer, and if yes, how have you overcome them?
My biggest obstacle is myself.
What are you hoping to achieve with your writing?
When I was a young adult, I trawled library shelves searching for anything that might reflect life as I knew it, the life of someone being raised by a mentally ill mother. While there are occasional texts on the psychological aspects of maternal abuse stemming from mental illness, I couldn’t find any books written from the viewpoint of the children, which was what I craved. Now, I can BE that author, write that book, give my testimony to the next person who seeks it. My poems themselves are sometimes oblique regarding their purpose, but this is the emotional truth and driving force behind them.
What advice would you give other writers who are just starting out?
There’s no better way to learn than by studying the masters, whether in an academic setting or by yourself, so read as much good poetry as possible.
Read our interview with another mindshare Creative Writing 2022 award winner, Lúcia, here.