I would like to think that many things inspire me. I have a very active imagination with an artistic background (painter, musician, paper cutout artist, and storyteller). I work in many libraries as a Children’s Librarian, Adult Librarian, Reference Librarian, Law Librarian, Library Director, winning many awards in libraries--- and my experiences in libraries brings me in contact with so many people with so many interests, that I tend to pick up so many ideas. I am not associated with a workshop, college program, or other places, so I do not have a lot of poetry contacts and I do not get too many opportunities to talk to other writers.
Can you tell us a little about Van Gogh's Sunflowers For Cezanne? What do you offer your readers with this collection?
The chapbook is from a large collection of poems about art and the lives of artists. I once interviewed for study at the Chicago Institute of Art! These poems appeared in a full length book “Hummingbird” (March Street Press, 2009), and more are forthcoming in “True Simplicity” (Poets Wear Prada Press, 2010), “Van Gogh’s Sunflowers for Cezanne” (Finishing Line Press, 2010), and “Art Is Always an Impression of What an Artist Sees” (Muse Café, 2010). These poems combine erkphrasis poetry with persona poems.
In the case of “Van Gogh’s Sunflowers for Cezanne” they are poems that use his art, life, and letters as springboards into the imagery of depression, isolation, insanity, religious fever, and other things Van Gogh experienced. He waited for Cezanne to arrive, and their relationship was volatile and ended tragically. These were not easy poems to write. I had to stop writing them after awhile. During these poems my own health was at a low point (COPD and a minor heart attack).
How has your writing changed from when you began publishing poetry? What do you think happens to our writing during our journey in both writing and life?
In 1972, I started off influenced by Confessional poets and the writings of Carl Jung. I wrote about my “father” in a way that was really not about my real father but about a large concept of the spiritual father and how he was not listening to us and why. At the same time I wrote a lot of humorous poems about Jesse James the outlaw as if he was still alive but had aliases like Ed Sullivan, Richard Nixon, a person in the welfare line, an old woman stealing shopping carts, etc. I wrote other poems during this time, but through my life I have written many poems around a theme.
I stopped writing from 1984-2001. When I was contacted by an editor in 2001 to write about 9/11, they asked me if I was still alive. I thought it was a strange question since they were talking to me when they asked it. I still think it was a funny, ironic question.
In 2007, my first wife died of cancer and I wrote a lot about death and cancer which became “Lowering Nets of Light” (Pudding House Publications, 2007). This made me think of my own mortality. I started writing faster and more. When I had my own minor heart attack last year, I became even more obsessed about writing and publishing. I felt I had something to say before I died; I just do not know what it is. Now I am trying to do as much as I can, as if every day might be my last day. I think this is what happens to our writing over time--- we have some experiences and we try to share them with other people in a way they say to themselves “they could have been writing about me.”
As a poet who has seen life change through the decades, what do you think about modern poetry? What do you think about poetic trends or "schools" over the years?
I have read poems from many countries and many time periods. I like the poets from Frost to contemporary the most. I was thrilled when I had a poem put side-by-side with a Wallace Stevens poem http://www.nycbigcitylit.com/apr2003/contents/twelve12.html. I met Charles Olsen and Ezra Pound which represent two different poetry “schools” and I was able to hire Alan Ginsberg for a poetry reading. I love Robert Bly’s ideas or Pablo Neruda’s poems. I was lucky to have met briefly some writers along the way. What I like best is all the different voices out there. I read so much from both print and internet that it amazes me that so many different styles exist and not one dominates the other.
According to an interview you've done, you've had several jobs: an oral storyteller, jazz mandolin musician, puppeteer, and “Science Magician." Not many writers can make writing a full-time job easily. How do you balance life and writing - and more so, how do you think the sometimes ordinary lives we lead can be conducive to inspired poetry?
I have not made much money from poetry. I could not do this for a living and support a family. I do not teach poetry at a college and it is not easy to teach poetry at a college if you do not have a MFA. I am not writing for the money. I am writing because I stopped once and now I can’t stop.
I sometimes wake up and write, or I have to stop driving so I can write, or rush out of the shower to write still dripping wet onto the paper, or I am making supper and the freshly-made soup remains me of a poem. How can I stop? I can write 15-20 poems all at once, and then fall back into silence for a period.
I do not always write about the ordinary life, but I have written about the extraordinary lives or the simple lives of people you do not always see. You nominated my poem “The Peddler” for a Best of the Net Award. This poem is the type of person I saw when I was younger, and he was the kind of person who had an ordinary job which made him almost invisible. They would say things, outrageous things, to get your attention. We had people with carts that would sell fresh vegetables, or bakery, or sharpen knives, or sold milk. You do not see this in my area anymore.
I love the confident braggart, like the one you had in your anthology about Haiti, “Haitian Luck,” in which he was convinced that the earthquake was caused by him and his wife making love.
I had fun as a Science Magician, dressing up like a wizard and doing silly Science projects. I took ordinary physics and made it into humor, then de-bunked the “magic” by telling everyone how it worked. I take an ordinary watermelon and an ordinary deck of cards. I hypnotize the watermelon until it snores, I then toss playing cards at it until one sticks into the watermelon. It is always funny to see the cards bounce harmlessly off while the “magic” does not work, until one finally enters the watermelon, then everyone’s mouth opens with surprise that the “magic” works. I also bounce regular eggs. I turn an ordinary wall into a “giant magnet” (or glue) that if you stand against the wall, you cannot bend over to touch your toes. I had found a way to teach science in a way that children actually learn.
What do you think of the current state of literary journals and magazines? How do you select to which journals you send your work?
Literary magazines and journals are always changing. Some tend to focus in a certain direction, while others tend to more open to all types of material. It is hard to keep track of all of them. I read Poets & Writers and Creative Writers Opportunities List firstname.lastname@example.org, and then I look at the magazines. If I find a magazine I like a lot, like Caper, I tend to send to them a lot. Not everything I write gets published. I consider rejection a part of the writing experience. When I am accepted by a magazine, I am always humbled, surprised, pleased, and amazed that anyone would like what I write.
What is your chapbook for Poets Wear Prada and how would you describe it?
The chapbook is called “True Simplicity” and it is poems about art and artists in different time periods, including minority artists. The artists include Archibald J. Motley, Winslow Homer, Frida Kahlo, Berthe Morisot, Carl Rakeman, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edward Hooper, Jean Baptiste Greuze, Jean Baptiste Camile Corot, Johannes Vermeer, Edmund Dulac, William Blake, Girgio de Chirico, Georgia O’Keeffe, Saikh-zada of Khurasan, Hans Baldung Grien, and Soraida Martinez. Most of the poems take place in an older time period of broom-making, egg gathering, harvesting, knitting socks, riding horseback. This is why I call it “True Simplicity” and it also refers to my Quaker beliefs of simplicity. During answering these questions, I found out that this chapbook will be released soon.
The Peddler, nominated by Caper for Sundress' Best Of The Net, is a poem with immense, soft beauty yet conciseness. How do you view your writing style and who are your influences?
I love writing long poems in order to explore imagery and images within images, so I do not write too many very short poems. I like the tight lines and I do not think I waste a word. I was thinking of the Spanish poets Lorca, Neruda, and Vallejo when I wrote this poem. The poem is flirting with a crowd of women, both individually and collectively. The speaker is trying to sell more than his peddler items. I am trying to find a publisher for a collection of poems in this style.
What would be your advice for a budding writer or poet and who wants to have a prolific life with their craft?
The simplest thing is the write. The second simplest is to read what is being published. I am not all that sure that performance poetry is the same thing, because I like to look at the poem on the page. I hear a good performer and I look at the poem, and quite often the poem is not as good as the performance. I have heard good writers who are terrible at reading their poems.
The third thing I would recommend is to find your own way of writing. Some writers call this their “voice”. I never understood this concept in undergraduate school. I was writing in different voices because I wanted to be a Playwright. As I get older, I realize there is sort-of a Martin Willitts Jr poem. I do not always see it or recognize it, because I write from so many viewpoints and other people’s voices. The better way I can understand a poem that is my voice is my unusual way of seeing things, writing from images and improvising off of those images. An example of strange imagery is from “The Peddler”: “It is a sponge from an ocean of laughter.” I continue with the image of soaping her breasts and finding her husband’s fingerprints.
The fourth thing I would suggest is to continue writing and sending poems, be willing to accept rejection and consider editing or dropping the poem. It is a part of being a writer and growing as both a person and as a writer.