Why are we so fascinated by shipwrecks? Poet Cindy Hunter Morgan's fascination with them led to a new poetry collection called Harborless (Wayne State University Press, March 2017). With each poem, she deep dives into another Great Lakes shipwreck. Most are real, a few imaginary, but each is seen from a unique perspective.
“In some ways, we have always been fascinated by tragedy,” Morgan says. “And I think there’s something even more mysterious about tragedy in the Lakes, tragedy in deep water, because what sinks, what settles, what drowns, almost rests in another realm.”
Morgan says shipwrecks differ from car accidents that are quickly get cleaned up and erased from view. Shipwrecks often survive through the ages, almost as if suspended in time.
The shipwreck of the steamship Pewabic, which sank in Lake Huron's Thunder Bay in 1865, haunts Morgan the most.
“I think about the catalog of items, the things that were found,” she says. “They couldn’t find it for a long time. But when they did, divers swam from room to room. There had been many passengers on that ship when it went down. Divers found whole preserved scenes. In one space, there was a table. There were people still sitting around the table. Playing cards were still spread out, distributed on the table. These people were in the middle of playing a card game when the ship went down.”
Morgan says her interest in shipwrecks began early. She grew up in Northern Michigan, camping and swimming in Lake Michigan. She remembers seeing pieces of a shipwreck in the water and how it would change as sand shifted to show different parts of the ship.
Many have written poetry and prose about shipwrecks. But Morgan says she has never come across an entire collection of poetry about them. Harborless became that, each poem carefully researched. But Morgan says she has taken creative license and let her imagination fill in the historical blanks.
Cindy Hunter Morgan teaches creative writing and book arts at Michigan State University. She is also the author of two chapbooks: The Sultan, The Skater, The Bicycle Maker, which won The Ledge Press 2011 Poetry Chapbook Competition, and Apple Season, which won the Midwest Writing Center’s 2012 Chapbook Contest.
Morgan will read from Harborless during an appearance with fellow poets Kathleen McGookey and Nancy Nott, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 11, at Bookbug in Kalamazoo. The event is free and open to the public.
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