Historical figures influence a student’s poetry collection

What do Amelia Earhart, Robert Stroud – who is better known as the Birdman of Alcatraz – and Fletcher Christian all have in common?
For many, it might not seem like a lot.

But for Micah Ling, associate instructor of English, the three historical figures offer not just a world of connectivity and mysterious similarities, but also inspiration for poetry.
Ling’s first full-length collection of original poetry, “Three Islands,” was published Thursday by sunnyoutside press.

The collection imagines the voices of Earhart, Stroud and Christian speaking from aftermath of their own unique fates, which Ling said are surprisingly similar on many levels.

“We all deal with times of loneliness, times when we wish we could escape, times of isolation – and that’s just an utterly human thing to deal with,” Ling said. “And these are maybe the three most extreme situations.”

But even beside the themes of each story, the similarities go even further for Ling, who chose to do some of her own investigating after having nearly lifelong interest in the mysterious fates of each character.

Ling said she was always fascinated as a kid by the story of Amelia Earhart, the pilot who disappeared on a flight over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.

But after visiting a collection of Earhart’s archives at Purdue University one year, Ling said she became even more fascinated by the mystery of her fate and started writing a few poems in the voice of the pilot.

“I just sort of got obsessed with Amelia Earhart and what really happened,” she said. “It’s just so weird that still nobody knows.”

Ling said she had also been interested in the stories of Birdman of Alcatraz, the prisoner who raised and sold birds from his cell, and Fletcher Christian, the shipmate who deliberately steered a ship to crash into an island in the Pacific Ocean in the 1700s.

And after doing research, Ling discovered some similarities that inspired her to create the central idea for “Three Islands.”

“I started thinking about each of the three characters together, and I actually got a huge map of the Pacific Ocean and mapped out each of their supposed locations, and it made a perfect triangle,” she said. “And then I was seeing all these kinds of overlap, so then I started thinking of it all as a collection of poetry.”

After working on the poetry collection, which Ling said ultimately became her thesis for IU’s master of fine arts program in creative writing, she met representatives from the sunnyoutside press company at an annual creative writer’s conference and ended up getting a publishing deal.

Maura Stanton, a professor in the creative writing program who also works with Ling, said in an e-mail that “Three Islands” displays many of Ling’s unique talents as a creative writer.

“Ling has a gift for making you feel as if you were the one dreaming of birds outside your cell, flailing through the surf to Pitcairn Island  or toasting your broken airplane with coconut milk,” she said. “Ling’s three unique but harmonious voices brilliantly portray human longing under the pressure of isolation.”

Ling, who was born in Columbus, Ohio, and attended DePauw University as an undergraduate, said she has been interested in writing poetry for almost all of her life.
“I think to be able to observe the world and put all of the sensory details into something concise is sort of a puzzle or a challenge,” she said. “To capture something and put it not necessarily in the smallest amount of words, but in a pretty concise package, it’s just fun.”

Besides unsolved mysteries of historical figures, Ling said she gains much of her inspiration for her poetry through reading other writers’ work.

She also said she writes a blog in which she reviews books in 200 words or less, and she said she doesn’t exclude any style of writing, either.

“I try and read everything, not just poetry,” she said. “There are so many creative pieces of work out there, and that really inspires me. I’m always thinking about what other people are doing.”

Ling said she has also just finished writing her second collection of poetry, which she hopes to publish sometime in the future.

In the meantime, Bloomington residents will be able to purchase “Three Islands” at Boxcar Books & Community Center, which the store’s buyer, Abbey Friedman, said tends to carry books from local authors.

“Micah Ling has done lots of events here in the past and has been a local Boxcar supporter almost since we’ve been open,” Friedman said. “I was very excited to be able to carry it in the store when (Ling) told me about the collection.”

And now that “Three Islands” is available to the public, Ling said she hopes her readers are able to find the same connections and recurring themes of escape and isolation that she found in the stories of Earhart, Stroud and Christian.

“You can sort of imagine wanting that escape,” she said. “But obviously, we are all glad that we don’t live in such isolation.”

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