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Mark Cugini, Interview & Writing Sample

In Capital Letters (ICL): What do you want remember about the program in 10 years? 

Well, I hope all the things about exposition, rate of revelation, varying sentence structure, English usage, shared social constructs, narrative development and so on and so on are tucked into some part of my mind; but what I assume I'll think about most are all the beautiful, touching moments I've had with the people I spent time with. All of that literary criticism and theory is good, but this was such an exciting, traumatizing part of my development and I mostly want to remember the way certain people looked when sunlight hit their face and they smiled, or the way others looked the day we were hired for jobs we were convinced we weren't going to get, or the way some others felt when they cried on my shoulder or hugged me tightly after a long day. Right now, I am thinking nothing but lovely things about all the lovely people I've met, and I'm hoping that those thoughts are as fresh and vivid as they are right now.

ICL: From being part of the program and participating in workshops and the Visiting Writers series, what do you think are the most important things you have learned about your own writing?  How has your writing changed?  

The month before I started at AU, I remember having read an interview in Poets and Writers where this agent said the only reason a writer should go get an MFA is to figure out whether or not they have what it takes to be a writer; I think what he meant was that it's not as easy as rolling out of bed and throwing together narrative. I think that what I learned here was that a writer has to be thoughtful and careful about everything they do (to quote Gary Lutz, "The sentence is a lonely place"). Writing no longer feels like a linear process but a cyclical one, and I feel very prepared to keep thinking long and hard about my work (and of course, the revision process).

ICL: What is your favorite quote or line from a book?

"You take what you can get these days and if everything's getting ugly the only thing you can do is try to teach yourself it's beautiful, it's beautiful." From Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo.

ICL: What have you read most recently that inspired you?

"Us," by Michael Kimball. What was so inspiring about it was that it reminded me of my mortality and left me feeling very disturbed and distressed. I envy the emotive response I always have to Michael's work, and strive to be as successful as he is at moving his readers. 

ICL: Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.  

I have absolutely terrible balance. I probably fall over at least 4 times a day, sometimes when I'm not even exerting myself. Which is weird, since I used to breakdance and am incredibly good at finishing through contact.

ICL: If your life had a theme song right now, what would it be? 

"All My Friends" by LCD Soundsystem. Or everything that Ke$ha person has ever done. I like her ideology.


Writing Sample

"Ask Anonymously"

Amid the photos and animated .gifs you reblog—of the tattooed boys with their intentionally mussed hair that you wish were inside you and of the inch-thick blunts you wish you could roll and of the girls in the tattered clothes at the parties you wish you were invited to—I wait to see you again, either kneeling on the floor of your unkempt room or laying on the untucked bedspread with its floral pattern that you might or might not have grown out of.

There is room for me between your shoulder and your chin. I swear it. I could lay there and and pet your auburn hair and we can talk about the people we can only dream of being: rock stars, rappers, bisexuals who equally love the taste of both beautiful sexes. I want you to be anything but honest with me, to embed yourself into my thoughts, into my dreams, into my skin.

There is a certain beauty in only knowing a person through a series of two-dimensional images that say little-to-nothing about your depth, about your fullness. I often wish I could be a part of your more private moments, the ones where your camera isn't present but it is just you and your thoughts and your words and your cats.  When I see his thumbnail, I think about what I can do to be more appealing to you—maybe by growing my beard out so you can run your fingers through it while we lie on the link-pink linen you're constantly covering your breasts with. I wonder: if we were to substitute his receding hairline for my own, would you notice any differences (besides, of course, the texture of mine, which happens to be a bit curlier, slightly fuller)?

It doesn't matter that you stopped responding to my messages with those emoticons, or that greater-than symbol next to numeric three. I do not hold this against you, because deep down, I know that it is me you're thinking of when both you and your MacBook are hibernating.

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Mark Cugini