Mark Drew: A Well Told Story
Interviewed By: Mirabelle Cohen
Mark Drew is the editor of the Gettysburg Review and a supervisor of WZBT. He has had his poems appear in several publications and has published a chapbook titled Uncertainties. Mark was my internship advisor at the Gettysburg Review. In this interview, we discuss literary aesthetic, shoplifting, and college radio.
How would you describe your literary aesthetic?
My bread and butter is just a really well-told story. Generally speaking, in terms of fiction, my sense is that there has to be an element of realism in just about any story that I would find interesting, both as a reader and as an editor. I think the same is probably true for poetry. I’m a traditionalist who is very open to pushing some expectations, whether those bounds are structural or theoretical or linguistic. If there’s good writing, I’m going to take it seriously.
Does your professional aesthetic differ from your personal aesthetic?
Not much. I don’t publish anything I don’t want to read.
How long have you been at the Gettysburg Review?
Ah, over twenty years now. So I started in the fall of 1998 as the assistant editor.
How has the Gettysburg Review been impacted by the pandemic?
Well there have been subtle changes that are both easy and difficult to explain. The environment affects my approach to things so much. When I’m in the space at The Review that’s my professional space. It fills me with a sense of my own legitimacy in a way that being home doesn't. Home is where I come to shed that stuff a little bit. I have my books and my records here, it’s my space. Now things are interwoven in a way that I don’t particularly care for...
It’s made simple things a bit more complicated. The biggest thing is that it’s slowed us down and we are behind at The Review. As for a change in the submissions, I haven’t noticed yet. Some of the pieces we are publishing probably speak to this moment in interesting ways. Actually, Fleda Brown has two wonderful poems in our latest edition that definitely come from the quarantine age. Her writing really blends the quotidian with the sophisticated imagination of a poet.
Did you dream of being an astronaut when you were younger or did you always want to be an editor?
I don’t know that I necessarily had a dream job. I come from a very blue collar background and I was a first generation college student so there were some things I wanted to do but they all seemed impossible on some level. Really, I wanted to be a musician… I wanted to be a rockstar and have those abilities but I didn’t pick up an instrument early enough and all that. In college I was a guitarist in a band but of course that didn’t hold.
At some point I knew that I always had a fondness for reading and for literature and thought that maybe I could write. I had some teachers that suggested maybe I had the ability, if not the temperament, to write. I met the right people along the way which I think is key.
Now I have to ask… what was the name of your band in college?
I think there were several names for our lousy little band. A friend of mine named Jonathan Joe made a movie in our senior year...he was constantly doing creative projects that I would get involved with...and he wanted me to play a musician in a country rock band so that’s where it started. One name was something like Rubber Johnny and we played at the frats and small gigs. We were okay… we weren’t very good.
Do you have any heroes?
Stanley Plumly was one of the first poets I read. Growing up in St. Charles there was a little bookstore called Townhouse Books … and I stole many books which I still regret to this day. I should really go back sometime and just give them some money… But I would also just go in and spend a lot of time there. It was this lovely little house with all kinds of nooks and a great poetry section. There weren’t a ton of books at home so I would just go to Townhouse. I would take books off the shelf and start reading till I hit something that connected with me. That’s where I found one of Stanley Plumly’s first books and that’s where I first got interested in poetry. They would have readings and events there too. I wasn’t really sure if it would be possible for me to enter that world, but that bookstore was important.
Actually, I should look them up after this. It’s possible they’re still surviving but I don’t know how they’ve been impacted by COVID. I would rather buy books from an independent bookstore than amazon at this point. I usually buy from places that I know have a good stock and are independently owned. It’s the same thing with record shops. I’ve been collecting records since I was about ten years old.
Do you remember your first records?
I still have them in my collection. There’s Steve Miller Band’s Book of Dreams and the first Boston album. My mom had a great collection so I might have a few of hers too. She was a huge Elvis fan and she had all the first releases of the Beatles. She was kind of an obsessive collector, she would hear something and want it, so she had a pretty decent collection. Unfortunately it got stolen. She was a bit of a partier back in the 70’s after my father died. There would be parties at the house and I guess someone coveted her records. He came back late one night and stole most of it.
Do you find that your music taste is similar to your traditional literary aesthetic?
No, I find I’m more catholic in terms of music. By that I mean I’m more open to dissonance and completely violating song structure. For me, music is a better form for experimentation. Sometimes experimentation is a neat thing to try but it doesn’t last. I guess I want things to last. I want to hold onto things that are meaningful to me. You can see the lasting power of lyrics in a well-constructed song. Music was very important to me because it taught me the power of language.