Apr 112018
 

…I realize that even children are mortal, and by the time they’re in school, they’re wondering about death. And that’s when we start telling them fairy tales…”

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

As I get older, I become more and more aware of my body, and mortality and spirituality (I don’t mean “religion”). And with that, in these poems I realize that even children are mortal, and by the time they’re in school, they’re wondering about death. And that’s when we start telling them fairy tales (religious or otherwise). But we all, ultimately ask, Why? The other thing I’m concerned with (also often in the same poem) is our relationship to the physical world, and time, and how they play into our lives.

What are you working on now?

I’m not working on any particular project now, except to become a better writer, and broaden my outlook. As I say that, though, I also have to say I have a little germ in the back of my head, because since my last book, I’ve been finding, feeling that these new poems are related in some way. So I’ll just say that the germ in my head also has a working title: TIMES THAT BIND, TIES THAT REND. But it’ll be a while before anything comes of that because I’m also just concentrating on learning more things. In any case, book or no book, I’m having a good time.

What was the last great thing you read by another author?

I have to expand this to two, one a short novel, the other a collection of poems. First, the novel: A LESSON BEFORE DYING, by Ernest J. Gaines. It’s a powerful, angry and compassionate book about race, (in)justice, relationships between others, and with ourselves. It just blew me away. And the writing is beautiful. The other book is a collection of poems that won the 2014 Walt Whitman Award: THE SAME-DIFFERENT, by Hannah Sanghee Park. Talk about playing with language in all kinds of ways that I’ve never seen before. It’s absolutely fascinating. I keep it next to me, dipping into it again and again. Find a copy, read it, and be prepared to fall over with the power and depth and tragedy and playing that this book provides.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which writer, dead or alive, do you invite?

Flannery O’Connor. A short fiction writer and novelist, her language, imagery and spirit have, in their own way, shaped me. Although her work is fiction, she still deals, with power and twisted wit (I don’t seem to have that in my work), many of the issues that drive me.

May 182017
 

… a high school English teacher turned me to poetry, and I took off. And those were also the days of Simon and Garfunkel, and Leonard Cohen, and others, writing real poetry set to music, and that really helped me take off.”

How did you discover that you were a writer?

I’ve always known I was a writer. I started with the obligatory third-grade haiku, started writing little adventure stories in junior high, and then in high school, had an ongoing epic, “Joe Cowboy,” which depictedthe daily silliness, adventures and imaginary activities like smoking blueberry cigars and drinking Genesee Cream Ale in frosted mugs which the bartender slid down the bar to us. (Actually, the soda fountain clerk, a relative of mine, used to slide down “buckeyes,” which were root beer floats; it was almost as good.) But then, a high school English teacher turned me to poetry, and I took off. And those were also the days of Simon and Garfunkel, and Leonard Cohen, and others, writing real poetry set to music, and that really helped me take off. My high school English classes were the last English and literature classes I ever had, but I never quit writing. I just read a lot and wrote a lot, and now, here I am.

Describe your writing process.

My writing process is kind of quirky. I keep a notebook, in which I enter lines or words or images that occur to me. Then, twice a week or so, I go to the Limestone Coffee and Tea here in Batavia, early in the morning, look at my notebook, and start drafting. I don’t always know where I’m going or what I’m writing; I just write until I finally know, “oh, this is what I’m talking about!” And then the revision starts. I don’t know about other writers, but for me the revision, the shaping is the most fun, finding the music of the poem. The hardest thing is that as I revise, I get a better, sharper sense of what I’m doing, and then I sometimes have to take lines, or chunks out that I really like. But they just don’t belong in that poem. That’s where the notebook comes in, and the various drafts: I always still have the stuff I had to take out for one poem still available for another poem some other time. Finally, I do some writing every day, and I write with pen and paper, not the computer, until the poem is done. Then I enter it into my computer, making a few last-minute adjustments as I see how it looks in print. I’m sort of a neo-Luddite.

What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?

The pieces I’ll be reading at the Waterline are a mix of serious and humorous poems. They’ve some–a few–of the many poems I’ve written in the last six months, since a visit to my small home town in northern New York for an Italian family reunion, and a March working vacation in Tennessee, where I stayed with some friends. It was ideal: Jim went to work, Hannah went to work, I stayed at home, and wrote about the area, and stuff that had nothing to do with where I was; it was a chance to get to some work done that I hadn’t had time to do. These are some poems that I have a serious fondness for.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m putting together a book of poems called “Night Travels.” It’s pretty dark, but I like it, and it does have its lighter moments. I’m still playing with what gets included and in what order. There are a lot of kinds of dark; this book explores some. I’ve also started reading at more open mics around the Fox Valley area. I’ve also started exploring short fiction (I’ve published all three of the short stories I’ve written so far, one of which won an Editor’s Choice 2016 in the journal, “Inscape”), and mixed genre. I’m curious to see where that all goes. God knows I’m never bored! Thank you for choosing my work. In these days, especially, shalom.