Profile: Michael Kleber-Diggs

Michael+Kleber-Diggs+%28MKD%29%2C+a+poet%2C+essayist+and+literary+critic+from+Minneapolis%2C+visited+Winona+State+University+for+a+series+of+talks+and+poetry+readings+Tuesday%2C+Oct.+19+as+part+of+The+John+S.+Lucas+Great+River+Reading+Series

Michael Kleber-Diggs (MKD), a poet, essayist and literary critic from Minneapolis, visited Winona State University for a series of talks and poetry readings Tuesday, Oct. 19 as part of The John S. Lucas Great River Reading Series

Gabriel Hathaway, copy editor

Michael Kleber-Diggs (MKD), a poet, essayist and literary critic from Minneapolis, visited Winona State University for a series of talks and poetry readings last week, Oct. 19 as part of
The John S. Lucas Great River Reading Series. In 2021 MKD won the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize and his debut collection of poems, “Worldly Things,” was published by Milkweed Editions, much to the astonishment of MKD and his wife.

“I thought this first book would be with a smaller press or with a university press and I was super excited about that idea. The thing I wanted most was a physical artifact…,” MKD said. “To me that was going to be enough, who published it, I was less interested in that, until Milkweed called.”

MKD, 53, debuted his first poetry collection, “Worldly Things,” earlier this year. MKD’s age played a role in informing his perspective. The book has an air of wisdom and worldly knowledge about it, something that other poets took note of. Tracy K. Smith, who won a Pulitzer for her writing and was the 22nd Poet Laureate of the United States, wrote, “Worldly Things is so full of an age-old knowing I’m shocked it is Kleber-Diggs’s debut.”

Some of the themes from “Worldly Things” are that of race, family, community, empathy
and resiliency. MKD found himself writing about his family, primarily the death of his father, America in this moment regarding race and polarization (“Worldly Things” was written primarily before the COVID-19 pandemic) and imagining a better world. According to MKD, when writing the book he wasn’t thinking of a book so much as writing poems and thinking of how they fit together to create a book.

Photo contributed from the Oct. 19 event. Michael Kleber-Diggs (MKD), a poet, essayist and literary critic from Minneapolis, visited Winona State University for a series of talks and poetry readings Tuesday, Oct. 19 as part of The John S. Lucas Great River Reading Series. MKD spoke in Science Laboratory Center Lecture Hall in the Science Laboratory Center on campus.

MKD commented that his next book of poetry will be about men, and masculinity, fathers and their children and trying to imagine new models for how people do those things. MKD commented that he is truly fascinated by that and really wants to have a conversation about it. MKD has about 20 poems done for his next poetry collection.
MKD commented that his next book of poetry will be about men, and masculinity, fathers and their children and trying to imagine new models for how people do those things. MKD commented that he is truly fascinated by that and really wants to have a conversation about it. MKD has about 20 poems done for his next poetry collection. (Contributed photo)

MKD commented that poetry is “a young person’s game.” According to him, younger writers generate a lot of the energy around poetry and work effectively in it while also encouraging people to think about poetry in different ways. MKD commented on what he brings to poetry.

“Part of the message [I bring] may be, go on loving the thing you love and doing that and learning about it, and if you turn 50 and find you want to be doing something else with your life go ahead and do that. It might not be easy but why not?” MDK said.

MKD was born and raised in Kansas; he attended Kansas University for political science before moving to Minneapolis, in 1990 to attend University of Minnesota Law School. MKD originally planned to return to Kansas, but he fell in love with Minnesota.

MKD worked as a lawyer for sometime before realizing he “wasn’t suited for it” and transitioned to working in corporate America.

“For many years when I was working in corporate jobs, I would put tiny little poetry
things in emails I wrote. So, if I could choose a word pattern that amplified similar sounds I would do that, or if I could write an email response in meter I would do that,” MKD said. “No one ever noticed.”

According to MKD, writing, primarily short stories, has always been a part of his life ever since fourth grade. It wasn’t until a breakup at the age of 30 that MKD started really writing poetry.

“At that time I started writing poetry, it’s kind of a cliché but after a breakup, I was working full time and also teaching a little bit and I was very very busy and I felt I could manage the poem in the space of a day,” MKD said. “At the same time I was reigniting a fascination with poetry that traces back to college but that I had kind of gotten away from.”

MKD outlined the different ways for a writer to make a living. These things come down
to teaching, freelance writing, personal projects and grants. MKD described how writers are always looking for ways to “buy time” to work on their personal projects. These different revenue avenues are integral to that.

“The whole challenge is figuring out how you get enough income to meet your expenses without spending so much time that you can’t be home to work on anything else,” MKD said. “A practical way to do that, at least as I see it, is to just really look at what you need and put your foot on the path that will take you to that outcome.”

MKD commented that he is currently planning for next year and what he can do to buy time to work on personal writing projects. The revenue to buy time will primarily come from teaching, freelance work and grant money to minimize the need for those first two things as much as possible.

When MKD quit his day job to focus on writing, his wife was extremely supportive. MKD expressed his appreciation for that and commented how happy he was that her name was on “Worldly Things” as well.

“I will say this: I am so so happy that both of my last names are on the book. It’s a way for
my wife to be present there too and it sounds like the puffy thing you say for ‘Kudos, you’re such a good husband’ but none of it’s possible without her support and her encouragement,” MKD said. “I just remember when I saw it for the first time that it just meant a lot more to me that her name is on there too.”

MKD commented, what he considers, the most important advice for writers. MKD urged writers to love themselves, embrace their identity as a writer and not to seek validation from others.

“It’s helpful to have other people to look at [your writing], but you’re looking to them for ideas not validation. The validation should come from you and you should be jealous about it, guard it, so that someone else doesn’t try to undermine it or change it,” MKD said. “So love yourself, love what you are writing and trust that good things will follow.”

MKD commented that his next book of poetry will be about men and masculinity, fathers and their children and trying to imagine new models for how people do those things. MKD commented that he is truly fascinated by that and really wants to have a conversation about it.

“Coniferous Fathers,” from MKD’s poetry book “Worldly Things” has a similar theme
of fatherhood and wanting to create better, more loving and gentle fathers. MKD commented how this poem was a hit among men and how he has had many conversations about it.

“I think of all the poems in the book, that one [“Coniferous Fathers”] probably ends up meaning the most to me, not because of the poem itself, which I love, but because of the conversations I’ve had about it, mostly with men my age, many of whom had complicated relationships with their fathers as I had,” MKD said. “They get a chance to say ‘I just really felt that poem’ and I get the chance to say ‘Me too.’”

MKD has about 20 poems done for his next poetry collection. Given the popularity of “Coniferous Fathers” and how it resonated among men, his new poetry book will likely be a hit similar to his first one. For more information on MKD readers can visit his website, https://michaelkleberdiggs.com/aboutmkd/.