Catching Fire with Local Poet: Steve Morrow

     At a small poetry reading in a cozy little bar in Grandview, I’m approached by a bearded man. He’s not one of those scary bearded men that may or may not approach you in a bar; he’s rather approachable and already smiling like we are friends, so I decide not to make a run for it. He thanks me for coming. To a bar? Anytime. But then he asks if I write. Oh, I get it. You’re some kind of organizer for this thing. I recite my insignificant little tale, trying to keep it short so that we both don’t completely lose interest. But instead of finding his eyes wandering somewhere behind my head, he’s still paying attention and he even has a reply.

“Wow, you must be like the most dedicated student I’ve ever heard of.” He’s simply referring to the fact that I’m taking classes right now that I don’t have to, really that won’t even show up on my transcripts, really just to take away any money I may have saved up; but still, I take the compliment. When I realize I should return the favor and ask about his writing, he’s already two tables over. Yet, it doesn’t take me long to figure this guy out because he’s running the show, and pretty soon he’s rounding us all up for the featured poets of the night.

He isn’t one of the readers, but he introduces himself as a poet of Columbus and I’m intrigued. Meet Steve Morrow, a graduate from the MFA program at Ohio University and currently working on a PhD right here at Ohio State. The poetry reading I met him at is called With Poetry Reading Series and is ran by Steve and a fellow Columbus poet who “believe poetry should be a social event and that poets should be celebrated in a comfortable atmosphere that is, at times, fun.” Fun poetry. I can dig that. So, does Steve write this fun poetry I’m hearing all about? You bet.

Steve says he has always written, but has been officially calling himself a poet for about a year now. Did you always want to be a poet? “Six year old Steve would have said: ‘What’s a poem?’ then, ‘Pass the ball.’ He may have said ‘please’ but no guarantees.” But a lot has changed, because writing is all Steve does now.

“Mostly at coffee shops. Mostly at home,” he says. Watch out for the friendly, bearded man living in the coffee shops. If I had to guess, he will be in his pajamas and writing, maybe even perspiring slightly because writing isn’t something that just comes to Steve.

“I wish I had been a genius, a prodigy, but unfortunately I’m on the end of the spectrum. To get anywhere, I have to work.” Well, that’s a relief. There’s nothing that frightens me more than those natural-born geniuses that don’t have to try. There was this one guy in High School…

But Steve’s hard work has paid off; more important than talent is his passion. Steve didn’t know he was a poet until after his undergraduate, where a “mentor” found him and dragged him up off the cynical sidewalk into the coffee shops of artistic inspiration, “So when I met this guy at age 23, he encouraged me to keep writing because even though my ‘poems’ were terrible, he saw that I had an unusual amount of drive. Or obsession. Maybe for people who write, those are the same thing.” And his obsession isn’t unanswered, his first publication was in The Kenyon Review – talk about a good place to start! “Just a lot of history at that place, that journal,” he says. And I say hooray for Steve, that’s big time stuff.

I’m not sure if I buy this no natural talent though. During our interview, Steve wrote down a few lines that occurred to him and handed them over to me, casually thinking that maybe they’ll end up in a poem someday: “Some of the most hurtful people I know / have a heart smack-dab in the middle of their chest, / so I don’t know what the fuss is all about.”

If you want to read more of Steve’s work, his most recent publication can be found on Hobart. On the list of inspiration, Steve offers his favorite poet, Dean Young and anything by David Shields, “who has pretty much cornered the market on collage.” If you’re interested, try The Art of Recklessness or Reality Hunger, both books that made it to Steve’s shelf, or should I say corner table of the coffee shop, where all the magic happens. And magic does happen. Steve remarks that his most common themes emerge as death, fire, and God, even when he isn’t trying to write about those things in particular.

“I’m trying to seek out and discover something, but I could never know what that is until I start writing. Poems catch fire and that, I suppose, is the point.”

When he isn’t writing, Steve makes films and web series with his brother. I haven’t looked into these yet, but he directs me to thespirtshow.tv. When asked about his biggest life accomplishment, Steve casually replies, “My kids. I don’t have kids. But if I did, they would be a big deal, I think.” Perhaps, he’s waiting for the coffee shops with ball pits; toddlers aren’t nearly as content with coffee and scones as one would hope. On the list with children are Steve’s other long term goals: “Write. And teach. At a college.” Bam. That’s how you set goals.

At Shameless Pen, we are thankful for local artists like Steve Morrow, who are not only writing but engaging other people in the literary scene, stimulating our artistic economy right here in Columbus.

Our advice to Steve: keep doing what you’re doing, and maybe send us a picture after No Shave November (we prefer it to be one of you in a coffee shop starting fires).

His advice to us, student writers: “Read and write. I think often about this idea of intellectual curiosity. Without it, one cannot, I think, be a writer of any kind. You are either obsessed with looking for answers everywhere or you aren’t.”

My take: if you’re going to do something, don’t tip toe around the edge of the water… Jump right in, maybe even belly flop, who cares!

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