Name: Michael Delp
Vocation: River Rat, Fly Fisherman, Apprentice River Shaman, Sometimes Writer, Editor, Confidant
Hometown: Greenville, Michigan
When you grow up in a remote Midwestern town, it’s almost impossible to escape the people that come with it. The High School chums you would sneak off to some backroad camp, with the hope of washing down a few watery PBR’s. A grandparent who would rattle off war stories and the weekly weather forecast in what might sound like a foreign tongue (“oh, ya, she’s at least a 50’s to 60’s week ahead — tomorrow, possible snow doe, eh?”)
The truth is, people of our past stick with us in what becomes an unforgettable “memory rolodex.” A rolodex that compels you to choose wisely how to live out the little time we have here on Earth. But, that’s what small town living teaches us isn’t it? We’re all cut from the same cloth… we all can learn from each other.
That’s where our newest MWG, Mike Delp, comes in to play. He is a notorious Michigan writer known for being brutally honesty about the true experiences of growing up in a Midwest small town. His recipe? A hit of simplicity, wildly diverse yet relatable characters with a side of comedy.
We met Mike a month or so ago knowing only that he loved whiskey and that he was slowly disappearing off the grid after years of intense writing, living out in a cabin trying his best to become one with the river and fly rod — destination unknown. Some may know him simply as the Mad Angler, for if he’s on a river, be cautious, that stream is his sanctuary. You will most likely find him on the Boardman River of Northern Michigan, a place where much of his literary inspiration took place.
His style of writings read like a suspenseful movie trailer, that’s the easiest way to put it. There’s no cliff hangers but you feel his conviction and his fiery persona. No story is too lengthy, so for me, it was a match made in heaven. Every character from his collection of short stories you could pin point to someone in your life. Growing up in the Upper Peninsula, I saw each person in a day. For some of you, wherever you grew up, you’ll learn that each town has a similar genetic makeup. Because let’s be honest, it takes hard skin to endure four seasons in the north country and keep your sanity.
Delp is a Michigan based writer and poet. Recently, he’s also become a scout in search of some of Michigan’s untapped storytellers. Writers who are becoming known through the WSU Press Made in Michigan book series. We took some time to learn more about Mr. Delp, his connection with the Midwest and his writings.
MWG:How do you respond when people ask, “what do you do?”
MD: I tell them I seek to grow smaller, and less visible in the hope I might cross the threshold into the world of animals. Oh, and I tell people reluctantly, I am a writer, and then I don’t necessarily like what happens in the conversation after that. Too many foolish questions. Sometimes I say, “I fish.” Or ” I just try to be.” I also love projects at the cabin: decks, huts, survival shelters, repairing almost everything that breaks. I teach sometimes, advise sometimes, and spend way too much time living in my head.
What about the Midwest helped define you?
The Midwest is about water, the Great Lakes, rivers lakes, streams and feeder creeks. That shaped me more than anything…raised on a lake every summer until I was 16. I had a row boat almost as soon as I could manage to pull it up on shore. I fished every day I was at the lake. And the influence of the glacier which carved out the lakes is always looming in my head. I love the idea I live in a state that looks like a hand raised either in peace or as a means to have something stop doing what it’s doing. The Upper Peninsula is a ghost place to me to…filled with memories of wet canvas tents, fires, wandering along Superior although I did not do it enough as a kid. The Midwest is also about living close to the land, knowing farmers from the small town where I grew up. I wasn’t a farm kid but knew they worked hard and knew how to take care of themselves…and there is always that basic honesty of the Midwest, a life lived practically and with intent.
How would ‘you’ define a Midwestern Gentleman?
A Midwestern Gentleman knows how to eat in a chi-chi restaurant but can walk out and change a fan belt on his car if necessary. A Midwestern Gentleman should be able to fish and hunt if necessary, love bad weather and own the gear it takes to survive it with a certain joy. He should know where his food comes from and should seek his sense of the world by looking up past the roads and traffic and into the deeper parts of the landscape which, hopefully, sustains him. A Midwestern Gentleman has a suit, knows how to wear it well, but usually chooses otherwise. And this:
A Midwestern Gentleman is not swayed by passing fads, nonsense and anything akin to snobbery or false pride.
Let’s get this out of the way in the up front — I’ve read somewhere that you were called the ‘The Mad Angler.’ How does one earn that nickname?
I pretty much gave myself that persona, which I borrowed from Wendell Berry’s Mad Farmer character. This guy, the Mad Angler, is genuine pissmad at what is being done in the name of profit to our natural resources, especially our water. He is also just plain mad, someone who has run amuck, escaped the bin, resists all authority and always moves against any grain. My nickname, given by close friends is Mad Dog…for several valid reasons.
As both a writer, poet and sportsman, at what moment did you know you were meant to be a writer? In the same breadth, at what point did you begin to hang up the pen, and start grabbing the fishing tackle instead?
Never thought I was meant to be a writer but the inclination came early in grade school. I read poetry, listened to the lyrics of songs I loved and carried those things into my adult life. I will hang up the pen any time I ask myself, would you rather write or fish? Dumb question. These last 10 years I have tried to fish more, write more intensely when I binge write which is how I write, and just be more attentive, more awake. Read Harrison or Matthiessen or Snyder or Mary Oliver and you see you have not looked very closely at the whole world.
The art of fishing can bring a sense of existentialism, a zen or therapy if you will. But for you, what does fishing teach or offer?
Fly fishing is THE best way to vomit up the world as the Native Americans say. The old saying about Zen goes this way when applied to fishing and to everything else: the only Zen on the mountaintop is the Zen you bring with you. I don’t seek peace when I fish because it IS peace. I seek to enter the river and disappear, vanish in the current and the reflection of the sky. I have never written a poem on the river but have been gifted by the influence of those which are often incoming, at least I their initial impulse. The impulse comes first and then the storm starts. If I am patient and bounce it back to my subconscious until it festers, it usually comes out whole. It is just like watching a baby being born. All of a sudden it is there in front of you. You don’t get an ear and then wait a month for the other one.
We live in a place of many seasons. If you had your pick though, what is your favorite place to explore around the Great Lakes, and what would we find you doing?
Although I enjoy, to some degree, new fly water, I much prefer the bends and environs in front of my cabin. I have fished the Boardman for over 30 some years and I KNOW my spots. I make a practice of building an internal river out of those places on other rivers I have come to fish and love. I enter this river anytime I need to distance myself from the world…you know, during meetings which are essentially boring and dangerous to your health as well as those moments when you are accosted at a cocktail party or just about any public place and have to suffer a fool in conversation. Lately, it seems that everyone is a monologist, a Polonius who has somehow locked you into his radar. I used to think you could just be totally disengaging when necessary by the time you reach 80, but have revised that downward to my current age, 67.
You are a writer in the WSU Press Series. For those who have yet to read your work — Many of your stories struck a certain chord to the human struggle we have as men growing up in the Midwest. Simple to digest. Everything from self deprecating men trying to understand life, the charismatic NY Time’s readin’ scholar making money on the street corner to relatable (Michigan) childhood memories. Do you draw these short stories from your own life experience? How do you begin that process…
My short stories come directly out of my life in Northern Michigan, a lovely place filled with many desperate people who work and drink and who do the dirty work for the Maserati drivers who infect the place most of the year these days. I like grit and I like people who know stuff and how to get dirty. I like people who can fix things and know what hand tools are for. These types find their way into my stories. The poems come from an entirely different source: river maidens and Selkies who pour my Yukon Jack and light my cigars, wrap their entire beings around my tiny head and pump images into the bloodstream. A poem is a gift. Be there when it arrives. And this too: my stories are image driven from the beginning. They are basically quite simple, true to the classic arc of the short story and hopefully offer up some truth about what my dear, poet friend, Nick Bozanic calls the heart…”a hive of hungers.” The first story in my collection, As If We Were Prey, literally fell out of spotting an overstuffed chair inside a wire cage on the back of a stripped-down Dodge pickup just outside of Bendon, just down the road from me. That image attracted the electrons of the main character and his bottomless trivia knowledge.
As the Editor, I’m sure it’s allowed you to discover many new Michigan writers. Set the narrative and tone. For folks all around the Midwest, what is sure to be a good takeaway from the ‘Made in Michigan Series’ collection?
The “Made in Michigan” series is my chance to help bring great, solid writing to a larger audience. I absolutely treasure the opportunity to spot someone who gets it right on the page and who needs a chance to try to get a book in print. The takeaway: great writing from people who live just down the block, road or up the stairs from you.
If you had two weeks to teach someone to become a better writer — what’s the first thing you’d teach them?
In that two weeks to “teach” a writer: they do boring, hard, manual labor 10 hours per day so they might come to think “the long thought”…that other life always hovering at the end of the row being hoed. In their spare time these neophytes would make their own pen, make their own paper and then go sit somewhere and be quiet. In the writing workshop world which has been taken over by the prompt to get one writing, I offer that the world is a prompt. Wake up. Pay attention. Let it sift and fester. Writing comes last in the process.
Lastly — if you were forced to wrestle either Sasquatch or Paul Bunyan… Who would you choose?
Sasquatch is a myth to me, but Paul Bunyan is just as real as I am. I grew up on those stories and they ring true to me. So, I’d take him on but would wilt in the process. He is almost a patron saint to me and I would gladly yield.
Thank you to Michael for sitting down with us for a chat. To learn more about Michael or to get your hands on his writings visit the WSU Press Made in Michigan Series page or Amazon.com. If you want to fish like a Mad Angler visit his pal Bob Summers at R.W. Summers in Traverse City, MI.