Between the Lines: Phillip Sterling's Island

Jun 17, 2016

Phillip Sterling
Credit Cassie Kotlarcyzk

Phillip Sterling likes his writing short. In his poetry, he captures the passing image. In his prose, he writes a quick vignette, enjoying the word play. But he passes on the novel; it's just not his thing. Instead, Sterling has gained acclaim for his collection of flash fiction, In Which Brief Stories are Told, and even shorter "micro-fiction," Animal Husbandry. He wrote his newest poetry collection, And for All This (Ridgeway Press, 2015) while he was artist-in- residence on Isle Royale in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

(UPDATE: The workshop at Kazoo Books mentioned in this program has been canceled.) On Saturday, June 25, from noon to 4 p.m., Sterling will lead a workshop called "Flash Fiction Writing" at Kazoo Books on Parkview Avenue in Kalamazoo. The event is for youth in grades 7 through 12 and costs $35.

“Gloria Tiller, the owner at Kazoo Books, wanted to aim the workshop toward youth,” Sterling says. “It’s really fun. We do a number of exercises that focus on the basic structure of a very short story, which is very similar to a paragraph. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end, even though it is very short.”

Sterling says flash fiction tends to be around 500 to 800 words long, although magazines that publish the genre set their own rules for length. Some pieces have as many as a thousand words.

Sterling writes both poetry and prose, but when it comes to choosing between them, he jokes: “It depends on the day of the week! I’ve been doing more fiction in the past few years, since I retired from teaching at Ferris State University in 2013. That’s given me more time to explore fiction.”

Credit Ridgeway Press

When Sterling heard about an artist-in-residence opening on Isle Royale in 2014 offered by the National Park Service, he jumped at the opportunity. Several of his favorite writers and artists had stayed at the cabin on the island to focus on their work. Sterling spent his time on Isle Royale writing poems that went into his newest collection, And for All This. He also made prints, including the one on the chapbook’s cover.

“I chose to write poetry because I thought poetry would be more amenable to the residency. We didn’t have computer access or typewriters. Just paper and me,” Sterling says. “Isle Royale is a very special place. I didn’t want to write another poem about how beautiful it was. I wanted to personalize it in a way that both brought the images out and made it my special place.”

Sterling was the founding coordinator of the Literature in Person (LIP) Reading Series at Ferris State University in Big Rapids.

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