She grew up in Ashland, graduated from Ashland High School and drew on this town as the inspiration for her poetry, which engages the question of violence in modern society — and has helped net her a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, money she will apply to her next book of poetry and to winning her doctoral degree in literature as she works toward a professorial career, hopefully at Southern Oregon University.
Corey Van Landingham, 30, the daughter of the late local photographer and car salesman David Van Landingham, was recently notified she would receive a creative writing fellowship. She was one of just 37 nationwide selected from among 1,800 applicants.
Van Landingham wrote her first poem at age 4 — or, rather, dictated it to her mother, Christine Schumacher, a former lab manager of Rogue Valley Medical Center, who wrote it down and, she says, encouraged her to keep writing poetry all her life.
She graduated from Ashland High School in 2004, got her degree from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, a master of fine arts degree from Purdue University, a Wallace Stegner poetry fellowship at Stanford and is now completing her Ph.D. in English literature and creative writing at University of Cincinnati. She’ll be looking for a professorship and SOU, she notes, would be ideal and make her mom very happy.
“Ashland means the world to me,” she says. “It’s a small town with big values around literature. The community has been incredibly supportive of me. It’s the landscape I’m thinking of when I’m writing. It’s always home for me.”
One of the poems she submitted for the grant, “Bad Intelligence,” addresses the militarization of drones, as well as texts and Facetime, which “mediate the body and distance the effects of technology ... making people a kind of proxy for something real, stripping humanity from acts of war, so they begin to look like video games.”
Pixilated, on a clear day, a shovel may resemble
a rifle. A woman is always a civilian, by definition,
and data (416–957 civilians dead by drones
in Pakistan) will not be updated. The ability
to loiter for longer along the largely erased border
between Iraq and Syria will pursue American
interests. They named a drone Hermes, after Herma,
Greek for: prop, heap of stones, boundary marker.
Oh mighty messenger of the gods (—Aeschylus),
bringer of good luck, guide and guardian (—Homer),
thief at the gates, watcher by night (—anon),
give us the full leaked report without seeking
permission for entry. Hermes, you who protect
trade and travelers, god of transition, and poets.
Van Landingham’s creative process is not one that waits for inspiration, but rather flows from the fact that “I’m a work horse. I get the idea of something and I research and see what language comes to me after that. I try to make it beautiful and meaningful ... I write about political issues in ways that can teach and draw empathy.”
Getting an NEA grant was hard and it took her three tries but, she says, it gives her a lot of freedom to create and lessens the demand to work summers. She was inspired by her fiance, Christopher Kempf, a poet who won such a grant years ago. They will marry in the summer.
Her 2009 poetry book, “Antidote,” is surreally blurbed on Amazon as a work where “love equates with disease, valediction is a contact sport, the moon is a lunatic, and someone is always watching. Here the uncanny coexists with the personal, so that each poem undergoes making and unmaking, is birthed and bound in an acute strangeness. Elegy is made new by a speaker both heartbreaking and transgressive. Van Landingham reveals the instability of self and perception in states of grief; she is not afraid to tip the world upside down and shake it out, gather the lint and change from its pockets and say, 'I can make something with this.'
“Wild and surreal, driven by loss, 'Antidote' invites both the beautiful and the brutal into its arms, allowing for shocking declarations about love: that it is like hibernation, a car crash, or a parasite. Time, geography, and landscape are called into question as backdrops for various forms of valediction. It soon becomes clear that there is no antidote one can take for grief or heartbreak; that love can, at times, feel like violence; and that one may never get better at saying goodbye.”
If there’s a “message” to her verse, she says it’s about addressing violence in our world, from “the violence of killing a fish, all the way up to killing each other — also up to love, the difficulty and joys of love and what it looks like in our modern world.”
Van Landingham likes to write “epistolary” poems, which means they look like a letter to the lover or other being, including, she says, “a love letter to who owns the heavens ... a dramatic stage for the speaker to perform.”
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.