Mount St. Joseph University

A Writer, in All Places: The Mount’s Writing Center

Dateline: student newspaper

By: Danielle Watkins

Many students at the Mount rely heavily on The Writing Center and The Math & Science Center for everything from homework help to test preparation, and for students that use these resources often, Dr. Karl Zuelke, director of the centers, is likely a very familiar face. Zuelke is not, however, just a valued Mount employee, but also a published writer and aspiring novelist.

Recently, Zuelke has published two pieces of poetry in the notable journal Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment (often called ISLE) and he agreed to sit down with Dateline to discuss his experience with publishing and to describe his personal writing process.

In recounting his most recent adventure in publishing, Zuelke said, “It’s funny, [ISLE] actually accepted [the poems] for publication about a year and a half ago and it was available online… but they didn’t assign it a place in their journal until just recently.”

This is, however, only Zuelke’s most recent foray into publishing, as his writing has been published before.

He notes, though, that most of his past publications were not poems. “I’ve published about six or seven short stories,” he said, and then compared the two processes, “My experience with poetry is that it’s a lot easier to get poetry published. There are more places that publish poetry, and the places that do will publish 15 or 20 poems, whereas they’ll publish maybe three or four stories. There’s more space to get poetry out there.”

Of the poems he has published most recently, Zuelke revealed that they were both inspired by unique situations.

“One is called ‘To a Blind House Finch Perched on My Finger’ and came from a situation when a little bird in our backyard was blind, and once I put my finger out to it, it stepped on my finger, so that started the poem. There are other things going on in that poem too, my dad had just died so all the emotional energy from that came out in the poem and it just turned out really, really well.”

“The other poem is about a woman I knew. Her daughter was doing service work in Thailand, and the mother went to visit the daughter and the daughter took her to see an elephant rehabilitation camp or something like that. And she got to ride the elephant and the elephant went swimming with her on its back, but it did this thing where before it went in the water, where the elephant like grabbed her legs with its ears to sort of hold her safe. That was such an amazing moment to me that I just wrote a whole poem about that.”

As much as these two poems were written inspired by experiences, Zuelke, who began writing at age 24, also notes that his inspiration for writing is always changing.

“Sometimes it’ll be an image that I’ll have that will trigger a poem or story. Sometimes it's a line, or sometimes it's just a situation.”

Zuelke also gains inspiration from other poets, such as Ted Hughes, William Wordsworth, William Butler Yeats, Percy Shelley and John Keats. In particular, one poet, John Berryman’s work, became a great inspiration to Zuelke in 2015 when Zuelke made a point of responding to one of his poems each day in a sort of blog-project.

“I actually didn’t like John Berryman once I got into him,” Zuelke commented, laughing, “But he brought me a lot anyways.”

Up until recently, Zuelke had written poetry only when he felt especially inspired, but after having written a response (sometimes in poetry, sometime not) to poetry every day, Zuelke found he had discovered much.

“I learned a lot about the creative process doing that, like how discipline is more important than inspiration. I wrote a lot more poetry out of discipline than I did out of inspiration.”

Zuelke, who also revealed he has hopes to someday soon write and publish a novel, had this advice to offer those aspiring writers out there:

“Write a lot. Write yourself out. Don’t keep stuff in reserve for later. Write it out… there’s always more coming. Write to the very limit of your energy and abilities so that you push and get better. You can deal with publishing later, now it's just important to hone your skills.”