Interview with William Trowbridge, Author of Put This On, Please

October 25, 2014
Photo: William Trowbridge

Photo: William Trowbridge

Brief Biography:

William Trowbridge’s latest collection, Put This On, Please: New and Selected Poems, was published in March by Red Hen Press. His other collections are Ship of Fool, The Complete Book of Kong, Flickers, O Paradise, Enter Dark Stranger, and the chapbooks The Packing House Cantata, The Four Seasons, and The Book of Kong. His poems have appeared in more than 35 anthologies and textbooks, as well as on The Writer’s Almanac and in such periodicals as Poetry, The Gettysburg Review, The Georgia Review, Boulevard, The Southern Review, Plume, Columbia, Rattle, The Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Epoch, and New Letters. Trowbridge lives in the Kansas City area and teaches in the University of Nebraska low-residency MFA in writing program. He is currently Poet Laureate of Missouri. His website is williamtrowbridge.net.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you do to relax besides writing and teaching?

William Trowbridge: I like to watch film classics, which I’ve always drawn from in my poems. I especially like the silent comedies and especially the ones of Buster Keaton. I’m also a big fan of the Laurel and Hardy talkies. And I’ve written whole collection of poems narrated from the point of view of King Kong. I also like to ride my Triumph Sprint ST motorcycle, travel, dine out with friends, and tend to the landscaping in our yard. And, of course, I enjoy giving poetry readings around the country.

Geosi Gyasi: Teaching and writing – which of them do you enjoy doing most?

William Trowbridge: That’s a tough one: each activity offers its own rich rewards. I’m having an especially fulfilling experience in my present teaching post in the University of Nebraska Low-Residency MFA in Writing Program — wonderful students of all ages and a first-rate group of colleagues. But I must say that I enjoy writing even more — though not by much.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever encountered any student who is frustrated about writing?

William Trowbridge: I think everyone gets frustrated about his or her writing once in a while. Sometimes a poem just won’t come out the way you’d hoped. William Stafford had some refreshing advice about one kind of frustration: “There is no such thing as writers block for writers whose standards are low enough. ” I don’t think he meant to just start writing bad poetry. Rather, he was suggesting a strategy for avoiding the feeling of anxiety people suffer from having overly-high hopes for an early draft and giving up on it too soon. As Stafford said, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” When one of my students gets frustrated, I try listen to what the worries are and try to address them. I find that sometimes assigning a poetry exercise helps get things going again. One of the best exercises I’ve ever run across is “20 Little Poetry Projects,” by Jim Simmerman. It asks you to do the twenty projects the exercise calls for in the order in which they’re listed. They are very little projects. For example, one of them asks you to “use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities.” You can start this exercise without having any idea what the poem is going to be about or where it will go, and you almost always wind up with a poem worth keeping. I’ve found that it works for students from junior high to graduate school, as well as for established poets. There’s an anthology consisting entirely of poems written from this exercise. It ranges from works by kids to ones by poets like Robin Becker, Allison Joseph, and Michael Waters. It’s called Mischief, Caprice, & Other Poetic Strategies, ed. Terry Wolverton (Red Hen Press).

Geosi Gyasi: For how long have you been writing?

William Trowbridge: If you mean writing poetry, I started later than most. I was going to be a scholar, specializing in the American novel. My doctoral dissertation was on the novels of William Faulkner. But while I was studying modern poetry to prepare for my Ph.D. comprehensive exam, I came across some poems by Howard Nemerov that seemed to cast a spell on me. So I decided to write a poem, imitating his style. Then I wrote another and another, and finally I had enough to take to a trusted professor to find out if they were any good. He liked them enough to recommend I enter the Academy of American Poets competition at Vanderbilt, which I wound up winning. I think from then on, that encouragement and, even more, the lift I got from writing poems carried me into a new vocation, though it took me a number of years to shift from Faulkner scholar to poet.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember your first piece of writing?

William Trowbridge: No, thank goodness.

Geosi Gyasi: What interests you about the writing process?

William Trowbridge: I think the most interesting part is the series of discoveries you usually make while writing a poem. I tell my students to “listen” to what the poem says to them about where it wants to go. When a poem begins to steer you away from your original conception, it’s time to follow it instead of enforcing that old rule about “sticking to the subject” we’re given in early prose-writing classes. In most cases, following where the poem takes you will yield delightful and necessary surprises — necessary because, as Frost famously said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” I love those surprises.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you remember most about your days as a student at Vanderbilt University?

William Trowbridge: I have good memories of many of my professors and fellow students. My dissertation director, Thomas Daniel Young, was one of the best teachers and best people I’ve ever encountered. I wasn’t alone in that opinion: a fellow grad student named his first child after Dr. Young. I’m still in contact with some of my grad student pals. And I also recall the lingering aura of the Fugitive Poets, a Vanderbilt group that included the poets John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, and Allen Tate. The English department was then located in Old Central Hall, which was the original farmhouse on the property purchased with money Cornelius Vanderbilt gave in 1873 for the founding of the university. In the entryway was a plaque that read, “Through these doors passed the Fugitives daily.”

Geosi Gyasi: Is poetry hard to write?

William Trowbridge: I guess my answer would echo Woody Allen’s reply to the question “Do you think sex is dirty?” He answered, “Only if it’s done right.”

Put This On, Please

Put This On, Please

Geosi Gyasi: So what makes a poem “right”?

My answer was “only if it’s done right.” Whether a poem is “right” or is “done right” are two different issues. What I meant by “done right” has to do with devoting maximum and sustained attention to the elements of craft, including form, word choice, line breaks, accentual stresses, sound, sentence structure, use of tropes, and use of detail. All should work together toward the final version of the poem. Of course craft isn’t the only element at work in composing a poem. There are also those less definable ones some call “inspiration,” “insight,” and “emotional truth.” At any rate, writing a good poem almost always takes a lot of hard work, a lot of drafts before the poem is finished. Though once in a great while a poem will develop very quickly, with little revision, I’m not a believer in “first draft, best draft.” As to a poem being “right.” The finished poem may end up “right” to varying degrees, from generally right to exactly right. Which degree applies must be decided ultimately by the reader, whose decision I don’t think is entirely subjective.

Geosi Gyasi: You’ve won a host of awards including Academy of American Poets Prize, a Pushcart Prize, a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference scholarship, a Camber Press Poetry Chapbook Award, among others. Which one of them are you most proud of?

William Trowbridge: The Academy of American Poets prize was my first award, one that contributed to my decision to become a poet. The Bread Loaf scholarship and the Yaddo fellowship were other early contributors. And the Pushcart is certainly a source of pride: there were over 8000 nominations the year I won one and only 67 winners. I’m also proud of being appointed Poet Laureate of Missouri.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you get along when a poem isn’t going well?

William Trowbridge: Like most writers, I usually put it aside for a while in order to later look at it without the tunnel vision that sometimes happens when you’re working and and working and the poem still won’t come to life. When I put it away for a couple of weeks and then come come back to it, I usually discover a strategy for making it work — though in a few cases I’ve just had to send it to an early grave.

Geosi Gyasi: You were once an editor of The Laurel Review/GreenTower Press from 1986 to 2004. What’s your observation about editing and writing?

William Trowbridge: Two colleagues and I took over The Laurel Review in 1986 and edited it till 1998. None of us had any idea how much work must go into editing a good literary magazine.

I was a smoker most of those years, and I hate to think about how many cartons I went through per issue. But the rewards are also great. A great feeling of pride comes from holding a new issue you know contains some first-rate writing. I also enjoyed the contact the magazine gave me with other writers, some of whom are now old friends. And, of course, it was always a thrill to discover a writer who hadn’t yet been published. Though publishing established writers is important to the life of a literary magazine, perhaps its main function is to discover and encourage new talent,

Geosi Gyasi: You have about five poetry publications. Do you fill fulfilled as a writer? Does the number of books one writes matter at all?

William Trowbridge: Actually, I’ve published six full collections and three chapbooks. However, I find the writing of poems, rather than their publication, to be the most fulfilling. As long as I’m writing new poems, I feel fulfilled. Certainly publication is an important element of being a poet, but I think that, if it’s the main motivation, the actual writing is likely to become just a task. When that happens, you should find a different task, one that pays better.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us about the writing of “Ship of Fool”?

William Trowbridge: The book consists mainly of poems about a character named Fool. At first I wasn’t clear on exactly who Fool was — other than an interesting figure to write about, one who seemed connected to the fool figure in silent and standup comedy (e.g. Keaton, Pryor, Woody Allen). But now I’ve gotten to know him better, I see him as connected to the fool archetype that appears not only in silent and stand-ups but also in tales running back to the beginning of storytelling. To borrow from Yiddish comedy, he is a combination of schlemiel and schlimazel. The difference, as you may know, is that the schlemiel is a bungler who’s always accidentally breaking things and spilling stuff on people and the schlimazel is a sad sack who’s always getting his things broken and getting stuff spilled on him. My Fool is both. He is often treated harshly, which seems to come simply from his being a fool. Most fool figures, though “comic,” are subjected to a great deal of violence. The very term “slapstick” derives from this. In her book The Fool: His Social and Literary History, Enid Welsford concludes that the Fool’s essence is expressed in St. Chrysostom’s phrase “he who gets slapped.” The fool’s vulnerability and “foolishness” are seen by the non-fool population and perhaps by the fates as an invitation to take a shot — or at least be amused by watching someone or something else do so. The fool becomes a kind of scapegoat. Nathanael West, in Day of the Locust, discourses briefly but memorably on the clown’s tendency to create a thirst for violence — usually mirthful but sometimes not — in an audience. People laugh when he gets slapped or slips on metaphorical or literal bananas. Keaton discovered this as a child when he was in his parents’ vaudeville act. When the acrobatics began to feature little Buster taking what looked like and often were hard falls, the audience roared. The Keatons became a hit. I touch on the violence motivation fairly directly in several of the Fool poems.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your book, “Enter Dark Stranger”?

William Trowbridge: Well, of course, my interest in the dark strangers in film, fiction, and poetry. The book contains poems about dark strangers like King Kong, Karloff’s Frankenstein monster, and Jack Palance’s hired killer character in the movie Shane.The ones most effectively portrayed in literature and film elicit at least some empathy, however uncomfortable, as well as disapproval. And quite often they’re more interesting than whatever hero they’re in conflict with. Milton was accused by some of being a Satanist because of his riveting portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost.

Geosi Gyasi: Which of your books stands out best for you?

William Trowbridge: Just as my latest poem is always my favorite, so is my latest book.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you feel poetry has a place in modern world?

William Trowbridge: It certainly does. The problem is getting people in America to realize that. Right now, there’s considerable effort being put into making that happen, but many other countries seem to have much larger audiences. But when poetry no longer has a place in the world, we will have lost our collective soul.

Geosi Gyasi: What’s the most difficult part of writing?

William Trowbridge: The most difficult for me, due to it’s tedium, is the clerical part: keeping book and individual poetry manuscripts circulating to magazine editors, book publishers, and contests, though I don’t spend much time on the latter. It involves a lot of record keeping, as well as envelope stuffing and stamp licking. Ugh. On-line submission, when a magazine will allow it, has made things a little easier, but I still to do a lot of the work the old fashioned way. Habit, I guess, and fear of pushing a button that will send my submission into a web black hole.

END.


Interview with Jeannine Hall Gailey, Author of Unexplained Fevers

October 24, 2014
Photo: Jeannine Hall Gailey

Photo: Jeannine Hall Gailey

Brief Biography:

Jeannine Hall Gailey recently served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of four books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, and, upcoming in spring 2015, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, and The Iowa Review, and have been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac and in The Year’s Best Horror. Her web site is http://www.webbish6.com.

Geosi Gyasi: You did a Bachelors of Science in Biology at the University of Cincinnati, a Masters of Arts in English at the same university and then an MFA in Creative Writing, Poetry, at the Pacific University? What accounted for the change of route from biology to creative writing?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: When I was about to do my MCAT, I started having some strange medical symptoms. I went to an immunologist in Cincinnati who was one of the top in his field, and he told me that medical school, with its stresses, schedule, and exposure to sick people, was probably not a good idea for me with my autoimmune problems. At the time I had planned to go to medical school, I had taken all the required classes, I had been volunteering for years at hospitals, working and volunteering and studying my heart out for that “medical school” goal. When I thought I had to give that up, I was pretty heartbroken. My mom introduced me to technical writing (she was then, I think, the acting president of the local branch of the Society for Technical Communication) and so I did that immediately after graduation to earn money.

I didn’t go back to graduate school right away. I spent a couple of years working as a tech writer until I became a technical writing manager at AT&T. While I was working there full-time, I was accepted into the University of Cincinnati’s graduate program in English, where I studied both creative and professional writing. (Not ideal: working a full-time job and going to grad school, FYI.) I couldn’t, at that time, see pursuing poetry as a practical way to earn a living, so after I graduated, I continued working as a technical manager and ended up at Microsoft in the Seattle area. My health problems cropped up again, this time in a more serious, life-endangering way. When I had to quit my stressful, 90-hour-a-week job, my husband suggested I give poetry another try. “If you don’t have a book in three years, you can always go back to tech writing,” he said. I started the MFA program at Pacific University and had a book out in two years.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you remember about studying in Pacific University?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: I really enjoyed the laid-back, casual environment of low-residency – so different from a more stringently-academic, literary-minded MA program at University of Cincinnati – and there was really a sense of family there with the faculty and students. This is when it had just started up, and it got listed in the Atlantic as one of the top five low-res program, heady times. My mentors were all fantastic, and more than that, even the faculty that didn’t get “assigned” me as a student, including some of the fiction and non-fiction faculty, really reached out and helped me and went above and beyond. I will say that it was a bit of a party atmosphere at the residencies in the years I went there, and since I can’t drink (genetic alcohol intolerance) and have been happily married a long time, sometimes I heard the strains of that old Adam Ant song, “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do? Goody goody two-shoes…” in the back of my head. Although I do have fond memories of two of the students playing guitar one night with a big group of people, super late, and everyone was drunk except me, and we were singing Tom Petty’s “Yer So Bad.” (I’ve been back to residencies since as a guest alumni and it’s a little less rowdy now, maybe because the size has increased or it’s gotten to be a more established program.)

Geosi Gyasi: When did you fall in love with poetry?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: Probably pretty early. I remember writing poems at 5, and 7, and memorizing my first poems at 10. “anyone lived in a pretty how town” by e.e. cummings, and part of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and Louis Simpson’s “My Father in the Night Commanding No.” I can still remember most of all three poems! My mother was getting her B.A. and taking a poetry class at that time, and she brought me home her textbook, Introduction to Poetry by XJ Kennedy, and we would read through it together.

Geosi Gyasi: Does writing come easy for you?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: Hmmm – I don’t know if writing is ever easy, but I’ve never really been a “writer’s block” type. One of the professors at Pacific, Marvin Bell, used to tell students, “Writers write” and I believe it, that we have to keep acting like writers, consciously, all the time, to continue to be writers. As in, put in some time reading and writing every week. Even if it’s just blog posts and freelance queries.

Geosi Gyasi: Does it pay to enroll in an MFA writing programme?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: No. I mean, if you mean money-wise, it does not pay. It’s a shame, but I think in America right now the MFA is sort of a privileged program, one only people who can afford not to make a living doing something else for a couple of years can do. I like low-residency programs because they allow, for instance, people to keep their jobs and their family obligations, but they are typically very expensive, and there are so few teaching jobs out there for MFA grads (and even for my PhD grad friends) that it would be very foolish for me to tell prospective students, yes, it’s totally worth the gamble!

However, if you’re looking for something to help reinforce your commitment to being a writer, and you can afford it, it’s a wonderful way to practice. A friend of mine put it this way: an MFA costs about as much as a Toyota Camry, except you don’t have a car at the end of two years, you have a degree. It’s literally buying yourself time, energy, and focus to write. I come from a working class type of family on both sides, so I believe in being honest about the class and cost issues in graduate studies. This is probably true in America of every kind of graduate study – it’s expensive, and there’s no guarantee there’s a job at the end. Look at law school graduates – super expensive degree, and afterwards, I’ve heard about 50 percent do not end up working as lawyers. Many MFA grads do not get jobs in the writing/publishing fields afterwards. But they can get jobs as English teachers, grant writers, tech writers, etc. I don’t want any MFA grads to wind up homeless because they think they have no marketable skills!

I was probably influenced by the fact that my parents both have PHD’s, and so I’ve always thought of graduate school as something I could and would do, despite not being particularly wealthy. When I got my MA, I had some generous financing from the University of Cincinnati, and I was working full time as a technical writing manager at AT&T. When I got my MFA, I was working part-time the whole time as a contract technical writer. So, you can work to pay for your school as you go, and financial aid from the programs can help a lot. I have taught as an adjunct, since graduation, at an online MFA program, and the pay was pretty low for the hours I put in. It’s not necessarily financially rewarding. I really liked the teaching part, though, and the fact that I got to teach poetry, which is my passion. There are so few tenure track jobs these days…I think my ideal life/work/writing balance would be teaching part-time at a low-residency program, teaching at writer’s conferences a couple of times a year, then spending the rest of my time writing. A girl can dream!

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever regret being a writer?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: Not at all. I think if I had run into the kinds of limitations that I have had in my life – being in the hospital and in doctor’s offices a ton, being in a wheelchair for a couple of years, being too sick to get up and walk around for months at a time – without the idea that I could write and be somehow productive, I think I probably would have gone crazy, or at least found another art form to practice. Also, I think it’s important that people remember you can make a living as a writer, maybe not as a poet, but definitely as an advertising copywriter or technical writer or grant writer. Same skill sets!

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you get ideas to write?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: All over the place, but a lot of them from pop culture, from books, especially speculative fiction by the likes of Kelly Link, Margaret Atwood, and Haruki Murakami. I’m also heavily influenced by visual art, and have struck up some collaborations – and later friendships – with visual artists that I’m very happy to have in my life. Movies like Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and television like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Alias have also made their way into poems.

Geosi Gyasi: At what stage of writing does a poem take shape?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: Right away! I mean, it might turn into a different shape, but I believe poems are born into some kind of form. Kind of like bread. If you mess around with it while it’s in process, you can make it into a lot of different shape, but every bunch of dough has its own organic shape when it turns into a loaf of bread, right?

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write with a dictionary besides you?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: No. I grew up using computers and use the online dictionaries, thesaurus, etc.

Geosi Gyasi: What memories do you have of your first piece of writing?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: I remember writing an atomic protest poem about “a boy in a green raincoat jumping in a puddle of mud.” Um, the green raincoat was supposed to represent the military and the puddle of mud was supposed to represent nuclear pollution, I think. I was about seven and I thought it was brilliant. Ha ha ha.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us how you got your book, “Unexplained Fevers” published?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: Unexplained Fevers had a bit of a sad journey. My second book’s publisher, Kitsune Books, was set up to publish it, and we had signed the contracts, but shortly after my second book came out with them, the publisher developed terminal cancer. She closed the press and then passed away very quickly. It was tragic because she was an amazing force, a smart, fierce woman, and a terrific editor and publisher. I loved working with her and I still feel her loss. After that happened, I wrote to a few presses explaining the situation, and one of them was New Binary Press in Cork, Ireland. They were the fastest to respond and very easy to work with, despite the fact that we were on different continents! James O’Sullivan, the editor and publisher, is bright, ambitious, and cares about books. I felt lucky to work with them.

Geosi Gyasi: Beth Ann Fennelly, author of Unmentionables have said of your book as “…Read Unexplained Fevers, and be transformed.” What sort of transformation do you think she is talking about?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: The book itself is all about transformations, especially of the body, especially those transformations found in fairy tales. Often in life, women experience what seems like alien takeovers of their bodies – puberty, pregnancy, autoimmune illnesses (which we have, for whatever reason, much more often than men), menopause – and I believe the fairy tales are coded to tell us how to survive these changes and thrive. “Unexplained Fevers” is really reading Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Rapunzel as myths that explain to do when we are trapped, frozen, or unconscious. For instance, in the book, I give Sleeping Beauty various reasons for being asleep – in one poem, she’s in a coma, getting an MRI, in another, she’s a heroin addict giving up the love of the needle. How do we free ourselves from our metaphorical towers and glass coffins? Often by changing.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you start writing “She Returns to the Floating World”?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: That book was really born out of my love for Hayao Miyazaki’s work, and a wonderful book I encountered in a used bookstore by Hayao Kawai called The Japanese Psyche: Major Motifs in the Fairy Tales of Japan. That book was a wonderful introduction to the folk tales of Japan and how things like Shinto and Buddhism have influenced Japanese culture over the years. I was fascinated by the existence in the fairy tales of a recurring “older sister/savior” character who repeatedly comes to the rescue of her younger brother, a trope not often found in Western fairy tales, and of the disappearing wife, a character who may or may not be fully human, who leaves the marriage to transform into a totally different life form – peony flowers, butterflies, white birds, foxes. I recommend the book and then a lot of reading of collections of Japanese folk tales, my favorite collection being by Osamu Dazai.

Geosi Gyasi: What was your first book published and how well was it received?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: My first book, published in 2006, was called Becoming the Villainess. It’s still probably my bestselling book. It is all about female characters from comic books, fairy tales, and Greek mythology, and how the dichotomy between disempowered women – victims – and empowered women – typically portrayed as villainesses – impacts our own modern culture’s attitudes towards women. The publisher (Steel Toe Books) at that time was still fairly new, and I didn’t know much about promoting books back then, so I think we were very lucky in its reception. We had mostly very nice reviews. It’s still taught in colleges and high schools, and was even made into a play by a group in Florida. I think what really helped us was that Garrison Keillor read two poems, “Female Comic Book Superheroes” and “Spy Girls,” from the book on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac show, and the poem “Wonder Woman Dreams of the Amazon” was featured on Verse Daily. Those things can really help a book’s sales. I still see people posting the poems from the book on places like Tumblr.

Geosi Gyasi: You recently served as the second Poet laureate of Redmond, Washington. That must be humbling?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: It was an honor and a good lesson in civics for me. My favorite parts were working with local artists, high school kids, and our wonderful Redmond library. And it was fun to get to talk to the mayor about poetry!

Geosi Gyasi: Your poem, “Introduction to the Body in Fairy Tales” was included in volumes 6 (2014) of The Year’s Best Horror. How much horror feature in your poems?

Jeannine Hall Gailey: There is a sense of horror in a lot of the source material I write about – old sci-fi movies, comic books, science (especially biology and nuclear science), fairy tales, anime – so I think that comes into play in the poems I write. I was honored to be included, and though I don’t consider myself strictly a horror writer, or strictly a fantasy writer, elements of both appear fairly frequently in my work.

END.


Interview with American Writer, John Philip Johnson

October 23, 2014
Photo: John Philip Johnson

Photo: John Philip Johnson

Brief Biography:

John Philip Johnson lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife and some of his five children. He has recently started a new career, teaching English at a local college. He publishes literary and genre poetry, and is at work on a book of graphic poetry with Bob Hall, a Marvel Comics illustrator, and other artists. He is running a Kickstarter campaign for his graphic poetry book, running from October 24 through November 23 at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1528463848/stairs-appear-in-a-hole-outside-of-town. His poetry can be found at the Poetry Foundation http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/246744, and on his own website http://www.johnphilipjohnson.com/Publications.html.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any personal story that led you to write?

John Philip Johnson: A really good high school teacher, Kerstin Vandervoort, showed me how enjoyable poetry could be. I read it on my own after that, and one day in college I was reading Byron’s “Don Juan,” and he had rhymed ‘gunnery’ with ‘nunnery.’ I was shocked he would do something that corny, and then I realized, Anybody can write poetry. That’s when I started.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any formal training in writing?

John Philip Johnson: I was mostly self-taught, but recently went back to school and got a master’s degree in English, at age fifty-four, with an emphasis on poetry writing. I think years of working out my own weird ideas helped me stay unique, but without the help I got at school, I would have no polish. The faculty and fellow graduate students at UNL were hugely helpful to me.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you keep a strict work schedule?

John Philip Johnson: I wish. I used to. I hope to get back to that soon.

Geosi Gyasi: Your poem, “Bones and Shadows” had me thinking after reading. Is there any relationship between the two?

John Philip Johnson: I wanted a spooky title for the poem and one that pointed to the theme. Bones and shadows are two pretty spooky things. Also, the poem is about the two lives, here and hereafter. Since I’m a Catholic, I believe in body and soul; bones are like the body, shadows are like the soul.

Geosi Gyasi: You were the first editor of Laurus, the UNL undergraduate literary magazine. Could you share some of the work you did there?

John Philip Johnson: If I remembered that far back! Actually, one thing stands out; we didn’t want it to be a club that published our friends, we wanted it legitimate. So we did all the editorial decisions blind, without knowing the authors, and the whole editorial staff, about ten people, voted on each submission. The quality we ended up with was really high, and it was a good start for the magazine.

Geosi Gyasi: How often do you revise?

John Philip Johnson: Until it sounds right. I’ve got a poem I was working on the other day I started fifteen years ago, but that is an extreme example. Most poems probably get revised five to ten times, usually within a month or two of the first draft. Often I revise from start to finish, to make it seem like a moment’s thought.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me about the literary landscape in Lincoln, Nebraska, where you live?

John Philip Johnson: It is great! From London or wherever, you might think of Lincoln as a simple farmer’s town, but it has a big university and lots of smart people in it! The local poets, both in and out of university, are very talented! I’m lucky to be in such a lively place! It’s a peaceful city, too, prosperous and clean. And we have farmers who write incredible poems. One of my all-time favorite poetry books is called Alvin Turner as Farmer, by a guy who was raised rural named William Kloefkorn. Your readers should go buy it.

Geosi Gyasi: Did any of your children take after you – writing, I mean?

John Philip Johnson: Three of my five little darlings write poetry, but I never, ever pushed it on them. But they’re painters, too—my wife makes her living as an artist—so eventually they took up Daddy’s art. And they’re not so little anymore; they are all in their late teens and early twenties. They’re good poets, and good artists, too. As for lessons, I’m constantly talking to them about composition and artistic effect. I’m surprised how much I have to say and how interested they remain. It’s really a beautiful atmosphere to be in, all these artists. Paintings leaning against the walls, poems on the dining room table. I’m very blessed.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you make of the current explosion of technology? Do you use a kindle or Ipad or nook, or some other electronic gadget for reading?

John Philip Johnson: I love technology. I do read on my Kindle and on a tablet, and, yes, I prefer a paper book, but technology has some advantages, and it is just going to speed up. You’ll be able to read on a Google Glass, and then with light sprayed directly on your retina, and then they’ll hook it up even deeper than that. I even have some doubts about the future of language as we know it, although I’m sure it has thousands of years left.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever had hard time writing about sex?

John Philip Johnson: No, no hard times, but the only time my writing on sex has been any good is when it is indirect and psychological.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific reader for your work?

John Philip Johnson: No, but I try to write them so anybody who can read English might be able to enjoy them. This is not the way most poets are trained. Lately I’ve been trying to make them like little Twilight Zone episodes, but I also do stuff with no weirdness in it. Ted Kooser told me that, ideally, you should be able to take a poem to the guy working at the convenience store, and he would give you a pack of gum for your poem. That’s the ideal. Of course, a pack of gum is a buck, so good luck.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever bother about literary critics?

John Philip Johnson: About as much as they bother about me. Since I’ve started writing again, I’m getting a little attention, and so far it’s favorable, but I suppose a real thumping is coming at some point.

Geosi Gyasi: The imagery in “Stairs Appear in a Hole Outside of Town” is quite superb. How do you start a poem?

John Philip Johnson: Thank you. I’m glad you like it. A graphic version is coming out soon by Julian Peters, and I’m really excited by it. On how I start a poem, I usually have some inspiration, some idea or image that seems to weigh with some portent in me. I can just tell there is some richness in it, some depth. I mull it around for a while, and then a first line comes to me. Sheila Finch told me the same thing, that the writing starts when that first sentence occurs to her. Often I drop the first sentence later on, but it is the launch pad for the rest.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write lots of long poems?

John Philip Johnson: No, very few. Rarely over 30 lines. Long poems bore me.

Geosi Gyasi: My very last question. Is your poem, “There Have Come Soft Rains” written from a personal experience?

John Philip Johnson: Yes! Annette, the girl in the poem, was a friend of mine in grade school. I really did have a crush on her in kindergarten. And happily we found each other on facebook, after not seeing each other for forty years. We’re friends again! So, yes, that is an autobiographical poem, whereas poems about, say, giant ants, are mostly in my imagination. Thanks for interviewing me! Blessings on you and your readers!

Web page: http://www.johnphilipjohnson.com/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JohnPhilipJohnson

Artists working on the book of graphic poems:

Bob Hall: http://www.bobhall.com/

Julian Peters: http://julianpeterscomics.com/

Mike Lawlor: http://mclawlor.weebly.com/

Nate Hamel: http://natehamel.com/

Angie Pik; Margo Johnson, yes, my daughter!

END.


Interview with American Poet & Playwright, Arthur W. McMaster, III

October 22, 2014
Photo Credit:  Kellie McMaster

Photo Credit: Kellie McMaster

Biography:

Arthur McMaster teaches creative writing and American Literature at Converse College. He holds academic degrees from Indiana University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Florida, where he earned an MFA in Creative Writing. His previous teaching experience was with the University of South Carolina, Spartanburg, where he taught creative writing and American Literature. He also teaches in the continuing education department at Furman University. His previous career with America’s national intelligence agencies informs and influences his writing. McMaster’s poetry has been nominated for several national prizes, including the James A. Hearst Prize, in 2005 and 2011, and the Pushcart Prize, in 2008. He is the author of three books of non-fiction and has two chapbooks: Awkwardness was selected by the South Carolina Arts Commission, Poetry Initiative, in 2009. The Spy Who Came Down with a Cold was published in 2011. His short fiction has appeared in such national journals and magazines as Zodiac Review, Main Street Rag, and the Wisconsin Review. His stage plays have been produced in Spartanburg, SC; in Tampa, FL; and in Williamsburg,VA. He is a contributing editor for Poets’ Quarterly. He and his wife Suzanne live in Greer, SC.

Geosi Gyasi: When did it all begin – your writing career?

Arthur McMaster: First of all, I want to thank you for asking me to do this interview. I think writers are nearly always keen to reach out to other writer and readers, and your blog work is a solid part of that vital connection to and with like-minded others. To your question: I began writing in middle-school, or junior high as we called it then ― back in the Dark Ages. During classes, I would now and again write down an idea that appealed to me and to which I thought maybe I would come back. I started writing poems after Army Language School, while I was overseas, in Germany ― 1964-65. They were no good, truly, but I didn’t really know anything about the craft. I only felt the need. After college, I published a few poems. That would be in the early 70s. My first short story was published in 1978, with a little magazine located out in Los Angeles. They have since gone out of business, but that small success got me into the game, I suppose.

Geosi Gyasi: I am not sure if William Carlos Williams counts as one of the poets you admire. If not so, which writers have had great influence on your writing?

Arthur McMaster: Yes, Dr. Williams was important to me for what he did to combine direct, narrative poetry with some connection to meter, and more specifically with the “sprung metric foot.” I don’t want to get, here, too much into what he took from the prior work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, but he was interested in the rhythm or pace of a line of poetry and I am too. Frost was important to me when I was in college. I still love his work ― America’s quintessential nature poet, and I enjoy teaching his poetry. That said, it was James Wright who was the catalyst for me. When I read his work, taught by my friend and erstwhile teacher Philip Appleman, at IU, I was determined to write poems. I simply had to. My world was transformed by way of Wright’s work in Deep Imagery, and most especially so his poem “A Blessing.” WCW wants to be read aloud. Needs to be. His poems demand an aural expression. With James Wright, I get everything I need and arguably what the poet wants me to get from his work on the printed page. Other poets who have influenced my writing would be Donald Justice, Ted Roethke, W.S. Merwin, Stephen Dunn, my MFA teachers William Logan and Sidney Wade; also I have to thank Stuart Dischell, Thomas Lux, Greg Orr, Jane Hirschfield, and such so-called New Formalists as Dana Gioia, Molly Peacock, and Rachel Hadas. For non-American poets I would first come to the late, brilliant Wisalwa Szymborska and to Derek Walcott. Sorry, I know I am leaving out a few more whom I should recall. I think that Paul Simon is one of America’s best poets, to give that song writer his due.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you suppose as the best training for a writer?

Arthur McMaster: Get thee to a Writers’ Group! Share and critique with other dedicated writers: both fiction and poetry. Write first for the joy of that first creation. Then get to work on revision. Revise, revise, revise. I learned from several of the best that the poem is seldom finished with its first making. I go back then and take out any clutter. Compress. The best advise I ever got as a novice poet was “Say Less, Suggest More.” I often re-lineate a poem. I fiddle with the white space. Some poems are not content to be laid out syntactically. But only enjamb wisely and where you have to. Consider long and short lines. I have been writing in received form quite a lot lately. Villanelles, rhyming couplets, the tricky pantoum, etc. So, in that case, the structure of the poem is known. I got a lot of help from William Logan and Sidney Wade, at Florida, on rethinking ―on re-imagining the lines. But, as a practical guide, the best training is to work on discipline and to work with good poets. To paraphrase John Donne, no poet is an island.

Geosi Gyasi: You’re a poet, playwright as well as an educator. How do you manage your time doing all three works?

Arthur McMaster: Funny, I asked Mark Jarman that very question about two years ago. Most writers are also educators, because few people writing literary fiction or poetry today make a living at doing only that. Anyway, two answers occur to me just now: sometimes a writer gets energy from teaching a class of particularly strong students― energy that can be stored or used in the short term on something creative. I had an excellent group of 19th Century American Lit students in one semester last year. They pushed me. That experience could, for some, be enervating. Or it might actually be a catalyst for advancing something one is working on. I am more often than not energized by the enthusiasm of bright young people. That’s why I teach. The other truth for me is: Write in one genre at a time. I cannot write decent fiction OR poetry when I am trying to do both. One for me is high Colorado; the other is the Maryland shore. I have not written a new play in years, though I will again. My focus is on poetry for now. When the muse visits, lock her in the house. When she is hiding, find a good book or two.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you prescribe as the best time to write?

Arthur McMaster: People have very different comfort zones during a 24-hour day. Nipper and Turkey, to riff on Herman Melville’s story, “Bartleby the Scrivener.” I like mornings. I do my best “new stuff” early in the day. Well, not too early. I can revise at almost any time, frankly, but so often an inspiration comes to me as I awaken. In that fugue state of mind so much is possible. I scribble things down at night too, when I might otherwise be sleeping. Drives my wife nuts,

Geosi Gyasi: Growing up, were there any relatives who were writers?

Arthur McMaster: If you mean my forebears, no. There were none that I am aware of. Both my children were writers. Scott wrote for TV news for a few years and my daughter Kellie was a reporter, a journalist, after she graduated college. My dad could spin some yarns, I can tell you that!

Geosi Gyasi: How did the idea for “Need to Know” occur to you?

Arthur McMaster: I tell all about that spark in the preface to the book. One of the fellows I work with at Converse College, a European History prof, in fact, suggested that I do so. He said I should get in touch with my past as a foreign intelligence officer and special ops guy, now recreating myself as teacher and poet. That appealed to me. Truly, it was something done for family, for colleagues, and close friends, but the book has actually done pretty well in general distribution. I got a check in the mail from Amazon just the other day for royalties paid on the sales of “downloaded” books. And that was a nice surprise. My publisher did a terrific job to get the book out there. But marketing is tough.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever struggled completing a poem?

Arthur McMaster: Oh, absolutely. I struggle with every poem. As I said, the birth of a poem is a true joy, but the poem is incomplete, just as an human infant is incomplete upon arrival. The real work comes in “raising that child.” Jane Hirschfield told me that she has revised some poems as often as one hundred times, and I believe it. Maybe all that is needed are just small corrections, but the poem demands our complete attention and continues to need, shall we say, a measure of discipline. I actually like to revise.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it difficult to write plays?

Arthur McMaster: I have written five plays, I think. Six or seven if we count little 10-minute things. My very first was an homage to Sylvia Plath. I entered the script into a contest and it won first place in a Florida-wide competition, in 2000. That play (Prisms) was performed as a stage reading in Tampa and has not seen daylight or Klieg lights since. More recently, my play “The Guile of Lucy Strada, a fun take off on Aristophanes’ Lysistrada, was performed a couple of years ago in Williamsburg, VA, where I used to do a good bit of acting. I have a new play scheduled for production here in Greenville, actually in Taylors, SC, in April, 2015. Playwright work is very hard sledding, but there is such satisfaction in the completed job.

Geosi Gyasi: As a teacher of creative writing, what makes a good piece of writing?

Arthur McMaster: Let me answer that in terms of poetry only. I want to see something on the page that makes fresh use of language, something that shows me a truth I already knew, but had not seen in just that light. I love the work of George Bilgere, in Cleveland, for his ability to do just that. Trying to get student poets to take a chance can be difficult. A good poem must risk something. Forget love poems. No maudlin sentiment, please; show me passion cloaked in something wholly unexpected.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think American literature has come of age?

Arthur McMaster: Emerson set us on that path in 1837, didn’t he? We have had over one-hundred and seventy-some years to make it so. I think so, yes. Maybe we should have a poetry Ryder Cup: Amis versus Euros. I like our chances. As for fiction: we may now be experiencing in this new century another golden age — Ron Rash, Andre Dubus, T.C. Boyle, Kevin Wilson, Jill McCorkle, Charles Baxter, and Ellen Gilchrist, just for openers.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think of yourself as a writer in competition with other writers?

Arthur McMaster: I do not. We work together. We need to support and encourage, to applaud one another. Being a poet and or literary fiction writer today is to partake in, to celebrate, abundance. Leave competition to men and women in sports, or in business.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you writing now?

Arthur McMaster: I am trying to complete another poetry volume.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever share work-in-progress with other writers or friends?

Arthur McMaster: Again, I most certainly do. I am involved with one active poetry group here in Greenville and with two others, by e-mail, or social media.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think of literary critics when writing?

Arthur McMaster: No. They have a job to do and so do I. I respect the critics, but I also know that to a great extent they are not unlike editors. People like what they like because of what they themselves write. You will never get me to say anything one way of another about the merits of highly abstract poetry. I would never accept it for publication if I were an editor (again) because I do not understand it and don’t much care for it. We tend to reward what reaffirms our sense of “good.”

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever received a bad review for one of your books?

Arthur McMaster: Not that I recall. Most of such work people do goes largely unnoticed. I actually like to review a few books a year. I am drawn to the work of those poets who write pretty much in a voice like my own, or in a voice I would aspire to. Again, George Bilgere comes to mind, as does Laura Kasischke. I have recently found Brenda Shaughnessy. She is very good.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me about your book, “Musical Muse, Wives and Lover of the Great Composers”?

Arthur McMaster: That was my first important work of what is now called creative non-fiction. Published in 2005, I think. As a start, I wanted to understand how Mozart came to write such beautiful and romantic pieces such as his Piano Concerto #21. He must have had some inspiration, said I. Something, likely some woman, who sparked his genius. Much of Mozart’s work was indeed “muse-driven.” In my research I found over 200 examples of where a lover, or more often an ill-fated love, came to influence the work of thirty of the best known classical composers ― Bach to Wagner. I think the Beethoven chapter is my own favorite. He had eight women in his life, including the eponymous

Immortal Beloved, who was probably Antonie Brentano. I still pick up that book, now and again, to refresh my memory as to who seems to have been the spark for something by Berlioz, or Strauss. The book is out of print, but there seem to be plenty of them available on the second hand markets. Thank you for asking.

END.


Interview with American Poet, Philip St. Clair

October 21, 2014
Photo Credit: Christina St. Clair

Photo Credit: Christina St. Clair

Biography:

Philip St. Clair is the author of four books of poetry: Acid Creek (Bottom Dog, 1997), Little-Dog-Of-Iron (Ahsahta, 1985), At the Tent of Heaven (Ahsahta, 1984), and In the Thirty-Nine Steps (Shelley’s, 1980). His two chapbooks are Divided House (Finishing Line, 2005) and number 176 in Pudding Press’s Greatest Hits series (2003). Awards include grants and prizes from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Arts Council, and the Bullis Prize from Poetry Northwest; he was a finalist in the National Poetry Series in 2001 and 2013. His poems have been published in Beloit Poetry Journal, Black Warrior Review, Gettysburg Review, Harper’s, Main Street Rag, Oyez Review, Paper Street, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Poetry Review, Rattle, Shenandoah, and elsewhere. His work has appeared in anthologies from the University of Akron Press, Bottom Dog Press, and Southern Illinois University Press, and in 2009 he was included in the University Press of Kentucky’s What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets. After his honorable discharge from the United States Air Force in 1965, he attended Kent State University from 1966 to 1974, receiving B.A., M.A., and M.L.S. degrees; in 1985 he earned an M.F.A. from Bowling Green State University. In addition to work as a librarian, a bartender, and a writer/indexer/editor (both in-house and freelance), he has taught at Kent State University, Bowling Green State University, and Southern Illinois University. In 1991 he came to Appalachian Kentucky to teach at Ashland Community College (now Ashland Community and Technical College), where he directed the Jesse Stuart Writers’ Conference and chaired the Humanities Division. He retired from ACTC in 2010 and resides with his wife Christina in Ashland, Kentucky.

Geosi Gyasi: I understand that after your graduation from high school in 1961, you enlisted in the United States Air Force and was assigned to the Military Air Transport Service? Tell us about that experience?

Philip St. Clair:  I came from a working-class background, so college wasn’t an option.  In addition, I was a disaffected, overweight rebel in high school and my grades wouldn’t merit a scholarship.  My choices were either working in one of the local steel mills or joining the military, so I decided to enlist in the Air Force.  In those days there was a draft, so every able-bodied male knew that he would have to somehow fulfill a six-year obligation.  After basic training, I was assigned to Dover AFB in Delaware, where they moved a great deal of cargo around the States and to and from Europe.  I worked on the flight line, loading and off-loading Korean-War-era transport planes as well as more recent aircraft such as the C-130 Hercules.  As a consequence I have great affection for cargo planes, especially the C-124 Globemaster (affectionately dubbed “Old Shakey”) and the classic DC-3 (C-47 in military terms).  During the Cuban Missile Crisis I was twice sent to Tyndall AFB, a SAC base on the Florida panhandle, as part of the support for the invasion of Cuba, which of course never happened.  In June of 1963 I was transferred to Prestwick Air Base, a tiny outfit appended to the large international airport near Glasgow, Scotland.  Our main task there was to support the passenger flights of military aircraft to and from the States; we also moved cargo to and from the U.S. Navy’s atomic submarine base at Holy Loch.  In September of 1965 I was sent back to the States for discharge from active duty and spent two additional years in the inactive reserves, a don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you situation.  In 1966 Prestwick AB was deactivated, and the Military Air Transport Service was renamed Military Air Command.  And in that year it was very apparent that our role in Viet Nam was beginning its tragic escalation.

Joining the Air Force was the best single decision I ever made: it got me out of my home town and put me in the (vastly) larger world.  The experience gave me much-needed discipline, carved away excess flesh, and introduced me to G.I.s from all races and nationalities and all walks of life.  I was also eligible for the extended G.I. Bill, which helped finance my undergraduate degree at Kent State.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you often write from the experiences you had with the Military Air Transport Service?

Philip St. Clair:  No — not that much.  At present I’m between projects, and I just might begin writing about some Air Force experiences.

Geosi Gyasi: What does it take to be enlisted in the United States Air Force?

Philip St. Clair:  That question I can’t answer — it’s been over fifty years since I joined up.  Back then, the Air Force and the Navy were regarded as “more intelligent” that the others — they weren’t in the business of creating combat soldiers.  I’m sure Air Force basic training, while difficult, was much easier than basic training in the Marine Corps.  There was also a draft at that time, which drove many young men into the Navy and Air Force who wanted to avoid being drafted into the Army. (I probably would have joined up anyway.)  Today I think the “no-draft” military is smaller, leaner, and more selective.

Geosi Gyasi: So how did you settle down to writing?

Philip St. Clair: I began writing poetry during my senior year in high school.  I began reading the Beat poets and found kindred spirits there — it was a short step from admiration to emulation.  I also became interested in my high school literature classes: Chaucer, Pope, Addison and Steele, and Dr. Johnson were my favorite Brits; among the Americans I liked Edgar Lee Masters (Spoon River Anthology) and Carl Sandburg.  Outside school  my favorite poets were Don Marquis (Archy and Mehitabel) and the Beats — especially Ginsberg’s Howl and Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind.  That was the beginning.

Geosi Gyasi: You earned an MFA (Poetry) from Bowling Green State University. What influenced your choice to study at Bowling Green State University?

Philip St. Clair: After Ahsahta Press published At the Tent of Heaven, I began to consider MFA programs that might possibly lead to a teaching gig in higher education.  The Iowa workshop came to mind, of course, but I had a somewhat opinionated poetry workshop instructor who was rabidly against what he called the “Iowa School”: that stuck with me.  In addition, I had the idea that I wanted to be an “Ohio Poet,” and never applied to Iowa: BGSU in Ohio was one of the older MFA programs, so I applied there.

Geosi Gyasi: In your opinion, what makes a good writer?

Philip St. Clair:  The best single work I’ve ever read about the artistic process is Ben Shahn’s The Shape of Content.  He believed there were three things necessary to form an artist: Education (a “formal” education that exposes the acolyte to those artists who have gone before — their work, their importance, their traditions), Culture (immersion in the total world spectrum of creative endeavor — literature, music, painting, sculpture), and Integration (a healthy, interactive relationship with the everyday world).  To these I would add the virtue of persistence and the importance of a spirituality not born of dogma and ideology.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us a little bit about “Acid Creek”?

Philip St. Clair: Acid Creek is a collection of poems based on family history and personal experience — a shift from the two earlier books At the Tent of Heaven and Little-Dog-Of-Iron, which were based on the Native American experience.  The title is taken from a stream of industrial waste that ran behind the house in Warren, Ohio where I grew up.  There was a steel mill close by: it rolled red-hot ingots of steel into thinner sheets and coils, and the liquid waste used to treat the product during its manufacture was diluted with water and then pumped into a ditch that eventually fed into the Mahoning River.  During the 1950s it was enclosed in concrete pipes, and some of it was dumped into large pits on the mill’s property called “waste lagoons”.  I remember that the liquid was a dull orange in color and marbled with blue swirls of oil.

Geosi Gyasi: Was it difficult finishing “Little-Dog-Of-Iron”?

Philip St. Clair: No.  And when I had written the final poem, I had the definite sense that the spirit of Coyote had left the building.

Geosi Gyasi: The title of your book “ At the Tent of Heaven” seems fascinating? Could you explain the title?

Philip St. Clair:  At the Tent of Heaven is a series of poems based on the experiences of Native Americans who lived in the 1830s — just as the white power structure was preparing a concerted effort to take their land and to drive them across the Mississippi.  I needed a title, and came across a passage in the fortieth chapter of the book of Isaiah: “Have ye not known?  Have ye not heard?  Hath it not been told you from the beginning?  Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?  It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers: that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.”

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired “In the Thirty-Nine Steps”?

Philip St. Clair: I had no real plan or theme in mind — the book was just a collection of unrelated poems.  I used the title simply because there were 39 poems in the book: no ties to the Hitchcock movie.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you gain anything at all from writing?

Philip St. Clair: Yes — the virtues of engaging in a sometimes-difficult process; a sense of completion when it’s done.  And always a bit of a thrill if and when the poem is published.  Some sort of spirituality at work here . . .

Geosi Gyasi: What time of the day do you like to write?

Philip St. Clair: Late mornings and early afternoons.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that without passion, you can’t write?

Philip St. Clair: No.  A great deal of terrible work has been done in the heat of passion, but without passion the task of writing becomes a chore and a burden — and often an embarrassment.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any writers you look up to?

Philip St. Clair: Some months ago I decided to closely read and study six male writers who are more or less my contemporaries: Gerald Stern, Philip Levine, William Matthews, Jack Gilbert, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes.  The list could just as well include Sharon Olds, Carol Ann Duffy, Deborah Digges, Mary Oliver.  Also Charles Simic.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you get time to read?

Philip St. Clair: Yes — these days I make time to read; I seem to be between projects.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for a piece of writing?

Philip St. Clair: No — but I’ve been ridiculed for being a poet . . .

Geosi Gyasi: What do you find as the most difficult part of writing?

Philip St. Clair: That first draft — going from Point A to Point B the first time.  I know that the revision process is much longer, and in some ways more frustrating, but the first stab at a poem is, for me, the most difficult part.

I also have problems sometimes with closure — the “getting out” of a poem.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you consider style when you write?

Philip St. Clair: Style, for me, is good sound.  Whether one calls it “musicality” or “a good ear”, it’s something that very much concerns me.

Geosi Gyasi: When not writing, what are you likely to be caught doing?

Philip St. Clair: Watching PBS, streaming movies and television shows, going for walks in the park or the neighborhood, baking bread, reading.

Geosi Gyasi: Who reads your work?

Philip St. Clair: I really don’t know.  Five years ago, some of my poems were published in the University Press of Kentucky’s 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets, and the anthology was picked up by some of the Commonwealth’s public schools.

Geosi Gyasi: What’s the most important mail or letter you’ve ever gotten from a fan of your books?

Philip St. Clair: I don’t get much feedback on my work, but what’s been given has been positive. For that I am humbled and thankful.

END.


Interview with American Poet, Greg Kosmicki

October 20, 2014
Photo: Greg Kosmicki

Photo: Greg Kosmicki

Brief Biography:

GREG KOSMICKI is a poet and social worker living in Omaha, Nebraska. He founded The Backwaters Press in 1997 and is currently in the process of passing the operation of the press along to others.

Greg’s own poetry has been published in numerous magazines since 1975, both print and online, including Briarcliff Review, Chiron Review, Cimarron Review, Connecticut Review, Cortland Review, New Letters, Nimrod, Paddlefish, Paris Review, Poetry East, Rattle, Sojourners, and Solstice. He received artist’s fellowships for his poetry from the Nebraska Arts Council in 2000 and 2006. He is the author of three books and 9 chapbooks of poems. Two of the poems from his book from Word Press, Some Hero of the Past, and one poem from his newest chapbook from Pudding House Publications in 2011, New Route in the Dream, have been selected by Garrison Keillor and read by him on “The Writer’s Almanac.” His newest collection, Sheep can Recognize Individual Human Faces was published by Stephen F. Austin University Press in 2014.

He and his wife Debbie, who is also in the social work field, are the parents of 3 children and grandparents of one.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind telling us anything about Omaha, Nebraska?

Greg Kosmicki: Omaha is a great place. It’s a city of a little over 600,000 people, right on the Missouri River, with great restaurants, great art scene, great poetry scene, with lots of parks, and beautiful old and new buildings and lots of jobs. It’s one of the few places in the United States that didn’t get hit by the recession. You all should move to Omaha, and bring your wonderful cultures with you.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you combine your work as a poet and social worker?

Greg Kosmicki: I write about the things that happen to me in my life, but I don’t write about the people with whom I come into contact in my job because that would be a violation of their trust. When I retire, I will be able to loosely base stories on my work that I do now, but to write about it now would not be possible. As far at the time that it takes to write versus having a full-time job, I work my job in the day, and in the evenings after work, after supper and the dishes, and errands, and taking care of stuff for the press, I spend some time writing at the tail end of the day if I have any energy left. As I get older, I can’t do that as much because I need more rest.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us what you do as a social worker?

Greg Kosmicki: I work for a part of the State Health and Human Services agency, and my job is to go out and visit with adults over age 18 who can’t take care of themselves very well, and about whom we received reports from the public, to see if they are being abused or neglected, and if so, to try to take measures to alleviate their situations.

Geosi Gyasi: Being an editor and publisher of The Backwaters Press, where does your writing fit in?

Greg Kosmicki: As noted above, it fits in less and less, since I am getting less energetic in my 60’s. In light of that, I approached the board that oversees the press and asked that we find a new editor to take over my duties so that I can retire from the press and devote my free time to writing. We are in the process of slowly turning that over to the new editor, James Cihlar, and it is working out very well. He is phenomenally gifted.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you think of young poets coming out of America?

Greg Kosmicki: It’s really not possible to say—you would need a huge anthology—and there are lots of different kinds of poetry going on now. Contrary to the rumor that poetry and poets are dying breeds, there is an explosion of it all over the US, and in the world. I was in awe when I looked at your blog-site and saw all the brilliant poets coming from your continent. So if I were to say one statement about young poets in America I guess that it would be that there are very many young poets and that they are very good poets.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about The Backwaters Press?

Greg Kosmicki: My friend and mentor, Greg Kuzma, from whom I took poetry writing classes at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska, back in the early ‘70’s, used to run a little press for which he hand-set the type and hand-printed on a monstrous old platen press he had in his basement. His wife, Barb, suggested the name, “Best Cellar Press” for it, since the press was in the cellar. Seeing him do that got me excited about making books, and I carried the idea with me for years. He also had a little literary magazine called Pebble that he printed the same way. It was very demanding work. Eventually, late in the ‘90s I decided to try it myself, and started The Backwaters Press. I wanted a press that would make books that were more utilitarian though, rather than hand-made, so I have printed only perfect-bound paperback books. Since beginning, the press has published about 100 titles. Many of the books that we published in the last few years were selected by Rich (David) Wyatt, the co-editor, when we had an open submissions policy. He is a very astute reader. The press has an annual contest for a collection of poems by a single author. Our website is www.thebackwaterspress.org

Geosi Gyasi: Is it more difficult to edit than to write?

Greg Kosmicki: Do you mean edit other people’s work or my own?

Geosi Gyasi: Yes, your own work?

Greg Kosmicki: I don’t edit mine a lot—I’m pretty much one of those “First thought best thought” types. As far as editing other’s work goes, I don’t spend a lot of time going over people’s manuscripts, telling the poets what to cut, etc., because I think that if someone has gotten to the point that they have put their poems into book form, they think that the poems are finished. I will read the manuscript and if I don’t like the poems, then I don’t publish it. That doesn’t mean that the poems aren’t any good, it just means that I don’t like them for some reason and I don’t want to publish them. The only time that I will do line-by-line edits is when a poet I know asks me to do so, but they’ve got to know me pretty well, because that’s asking a lot. That’s difficult work! If someone I don’t know insists that I read something and edit, I charge for it, but I don’t like to do that. Too much other stuff to do in my life, and it’s time-consuming.

Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to complete “How Things Happen”?

Greg Kosmicki: I’m not really sure. The poems in that collection were part of a longer manuscript that I had submitted to Harry Duncan, who used to run Abbatoir Press, a fine letter press at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. He said that he would like to publish it, but that he had so many projects to do he was afraid that he wouldn’t get them all completed—by that time he was in his 70’s. So he passed the manuscript on to a former book-making student of his, Denise Brady, who runs bradypress in Omaha, another fine letter press. She selected about 15 poems out of the longer manuscript that she really liked and published those as “How Things Happen.” I’m surprised you know about it—it was a very limited, hand-made edition of about 150 copies. But the poems weren’t written as a book, but rather, like all of my books, the poems from many years were collected together into a loosely arranged book manuscript. The poems in “How Things Happen” which was published in 1999, I think, were written in the time period from about 1977 through about 1987 or so. Another book, which contains many of the poems that are in “How Things Happen,” but that is about 120 pages long, titled “nobody lives here who saw this sky” came out less than a year later from Missing Spoke Press in Seattle. Those books are very rare too, because the press only published about 250 copies and then went out of business about 2 years later.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about “How Things Happen”?

Greg Kosmicki: The book itself if a work of the book-makers art, being printed on fine papers, and with covers made of handmade paper that has cornstalks and coffee grounds in it. Denise Brady is a meticulous craftsperson and the book is beautiful, with each book hand-sewn by Denise, as well as all the typesetting and printing done by her by hand on a Van de Graf proof press. It’s gorgeous! The poems are all based on the poet-as-storyteller, talking about what’s happening in his life. I have always thought that because we are all human beings, that we will relate to each other’s lives if the writers talk about what is going on in them, and that will form a bond somehow between you and me when you read my poems, and with that bond comes understanding of each other, and when we understand each other, then we are less likely to follow the idiots who run countries and go out and kill other people, because we understand each other. That’s always been my justification for all the time that I spend with writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Where and when did you write “We Have Always Been Coming to This Morning”?

Greg Kosmicki: The poems in this book were written over many years. The first section reprints some poems, up through “History,” from a little chapbook I self-published in 1988, called “When There Wasn’t Any War.” Those poems were all written from the time when I was a student at the University of Nebraska circa 1974 (Eating Supper, Watching the News) to some that were written when we lived in Alliance, Nebraska, and I was working for United Parcel Service, from 1981 through 1988. The remainder of that section are poems that were written between 1988 and 1991 when my wife and I were living in and working in a group home in Omaha, with six developmentally delayed young men. Section 2 is comprised of poems written after we moved out of the group home and into a tough part of town, while I worked for an agency as a case manager that provided services for homeless mentally ill people, and my wife was in administration at the company where we both worked before. That neighborhood is reflected especially in the poems “4-17-94,” “7-8-94” and “Packing.” We moved to a quieter neighborhood in 1995 when I got my job with the state, and the poems in section three are from that time period, from about 1995 through about 1998 or so, though some of them are reminiscences, rather than being based on events of the current day that the poem was written. Several of the poems from the 3rd section about our youngest daughter Briana were collected together with other poems about her and published as a chapbook by Black Star Press in Lincoln, Nebraska, under the title Marigolds.

Geosi Gyasi: You are a 2000 and 2006 recipient of the Nebraska Arts Council’s Merit Award. Why do you think you were given this award?

Greg Kosmicki: The award is given to people who live in Nebraska who submit poems to the Nebraska Arts Council to be judged by an independent panel of judges. The Arts Council awards are cyclical: one year is for plastic arts, one year for performing arts, and one year for writing arts, in rotation. The Arts Council sends the submissions to the judges, who are recognized poets from another state, and they judge the writing without knowing the identity of the poet who submitted it. Each poet can submit up to 5 poems, and the Arts Council has the latitude to give out the awards however they deem fit, based upon the statements of the judges. For instance, if the judges think that all the award money should go to only two poets, then they will each get a fairly large sum, around $7,000 apiece. Usually though, they choose several poets to get smaller awards, such as $1,000 to $2,000, and one poet to receive the highest recognition with a $5,000 award. The money comes from state tax funds, so the Arts Council is extremely scrupulous about ensuring the integrity of the process.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Do we have a defined way of life for writers?

Greg Kosmicki: Starting in the late ‘50’s in the US, poets and fiction writers began to get hired by English departments at major universities to teach “creative writing” as a sort-of “side salad” to a serious English Literature degree. Then a few universities realized the potential for these programs and started offering creative writing degrees. The first in the US was the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, I think, followed closely by Stanford University’s program. The concept grew slowly, but steadily, until today there are creative writing majors and minors at practically every college and university in the country, and now it appears that we have a glut of “certified” poets and writers in the country—so I’m guessing that many of them, most, probably, can’t find full-time employment teaching writing in creative writing programs, and are forced back into the workaday world doing other jobs, while writing furiously away on their novels and poems before and after work. There have also developed a huge system of prize-giving and awards and grants, so that if you’re lucky to have entered one contest or another and won it, you can win a fair amount of money and recognition through those. I’m not in that field—teaching—only because I couldn’t find work in it back in 1978 and gave up on it since I had to feed my family, so I really can’t say that I know if for a fact, but if you do the math, you come up with a lot more Master of Fine Arts graduates than there are teaching positions in the country. So I suspect that I was just ahead of the curve at least in that respect. (Not finding work with my English degree with a creative thesis.)

Geosi Gyasi: Your poem, “April 2, 2013” sounds like one written out of an event. Was it written from a personal experience?

Greg Kosmicki: Yes it was. Most of my poems are based on my personal experience in one way or another.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you do many drafts?

Greg Kosmicki: I don’t really do much re-writing at all. I got in the habit when I was younger of writing at breakneck speed, trying to hang on to get where the poem was taking me. Some nights 40 years ago I would stay up for hours and write numerous poems—sometimes as many as ten. Most of them didn’t turn out well, so I’d write some more the next time. Once in a while, years ago, I would spend a lot of time, reading and re-reading a poem to try to get it to say what I thought I wanted it to say, especially when I first started writing. But later, I got in the habit of not going back much—now maybe I re-read, change a word here or there, and abandon it, because I figured out (after 20 years or so) that I should let the poem figure out what it wanted to do, not me with my big dumb ideas. Months later I will find them in my notebooks and see that some of them turned out OK if I just clip off, say, the last stanza or two, or the last line or two. Usually I try to let the poem take over so that I’m not in charge of it, and when I get back in charge, then it usually goes sour, so I stop there. Those are the lines/stanzas that get clipped off. Then, it might not be finished, but I rarely go back and work on something, because if I don’t finish it in the first sitting, I’ve lost the thread and I usually can’t get it back, so I don’t try. I just write another poem. I do go back through poems sometimes and cut out words that aren’t necessary to the poem, to tighten them up a bit—I look for “the,” “and,” “and then,” “that,” “then,” and other words like those that don’t contribute much and make the poem flabbier. Sometimes you need them, but often not. I try to keep those words off the ends of lines, unless they are pivoting the poem in a pretty important way somehow at the end of a line.

Geosi Gyasi: What’s the most difficult part of writing?

Greg Kosmicki: Waiting. Getting started. Writing when you think “I don’t have anything to say.” Writing when you don’t feel “inspired.” Just writing at all—it’s a discipline, and there are about sixty-eight million trillion distractions out there, waiting to jump all over you and keep you away from the page where you belong if you are a writer. Nowadays, with cell phones, I-pads, music everywhere, TVs everywhere, computers everywhere, the distractions are as ubiquitous as mushrooms on the forest floor after a month of rain. Those distractions will kill you as a writer if you don’t abandon them because they are sucking away the two elements you need to write: time, and quiet time in your mind.

Geosi Gyasi: When you write, do you care about style?

Greg Kosmicki: I wanted to be a smart-ass and reply “Do you mean that it’s not obvious from reading my poems that I don’t care about style?” but I guess that I do care enough about it that I write in the manner that I do— that’s my style, I guess—rather than in some other manner. I don’t sit around and think about it though, I just write and try to get from the first line that appeared on the page that night to the one that feels like the last one, based upon what the first one was. I guess that my style is to more or less meander around on the page until the place where I’ve meandered to feels like the place that I was going to when I started out not knowing where it was I was going to. I guess that if I have a style, it could be called “conversational.”

Geosi Gyasi: Does writing come easy for you?

Greg Kosmicki: Yes, it does in some respects. At least, I feel like it does once I get something finished, but when I was a young writer, I was furious, I was mad to write, I had to write, and I wrote all the time. Now I don’t agonize over it, but I don’t feel good generally when I don’t write. I don’t feel good because if I’m not writing, I’m not connecting with the world. The most difficult part for me is having the discipline to sit down and do it, and the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to get back into it, and the easier to let distractions take over. When I do write, I just spew and whatever comes out builds a little step-stool for me to climb onto to see where I’m going next. Then I go there and see where I can go to next. It’s not something that I think about consciously. If I think about it a lot, I get self-conscious and then my brain intrudes and tells me what I’m writing is dumb and I should stop. So I try to ignore that and keep going. Sometimes when I go back and read the poems a few weeks later, it appears that my brain was right sometimes, but sometimes not. Sometimes the words have a spark that seems right. But I have a hard time telling with my own poems because I’m too close to them, which is why I like going to the writing group I go to—The Poetry Warriors—they can tell me where it looks like a poem went off track, or if it stayed on.

Geosi Gyasi: What’s the most interesting aspect of writing?

Greg Kosmicki: I think that it’s the little surprise that comes at the end of a poem sometimes, (all the time in successful poems) that lots of times I don’t even recognize, I just feel like I’m giving up on this poem, I quit, it’s not going anywhere, and then later when I come back to it, I see that the poem ends right here or right there, and its done something that I didn’t realize it was doing. Then I feel really smart for a minute! But I know that it’s the poem, it’s not me, I’m just taking it down and it’s writing itself out, and I’m the lucky one who gets the credit for it.

Geosi Gyasi: What’s your plan for your readers in the foreseeable future?

Greg Kosmicki: Right now I’m collecting together all the poems that seemed to have worked out as OK poems about my relationship with my older brother and me. He was killed in a car accident when I was about 16 years old and I became pretty self-destructive for a few years after that and I think that his death is probably why I ended up writing poems. I guess that was my introduction, or one of my introductions, to what life is all about. When I was in college I wrote a couple poems about it and one that I wrote, “Letter to a Dead Man” was one that I thought was pretty much the definitive poem about his death and my relationship to it, and that I was all over his death, but then I have been revisited by poems about him for the next 40 years. It seems that the dead never die as long as someone is alive who knew them. So I want to get those together. If I can get them all together, I’ll try to find a publisher. It will be called “The Sun has Stayed Where it is” which is also the title of my Master’s Thesis. And I’m continuing to write in the nights, and I’ve about got a collection-sized group together that I think I will call “It’s as Good Here as it gets Anywhere” from a line in one of the poems.

END.


Interview with American Writer, Gretchen Hodgin

October 18, 2014
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Photo: Gretchen Hodgin

Brief Biography:

Gretchen Hodgin was born in South Carolina but resides in Maryland, where she has become enamored with the local deer.  Her poems have been published in a variety of magazines, including, Gargoyle, Magma Poetry, Measure, Rattle, and Tar River Poetry. She’s currently making steady progress compiling her first book of poetry, half of which she is striving to write in terza rima.

Geosi Gyasi: Help me begin the interview with any word or sentence in Russian?

Gretchen Hodgin: Привет!

Geosi Reads: Which means?

Gretchen Hodgin:  Hi!

Geosi Gyasi: You graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s in Russian from the University of South Carolina. What influenced you to study Russian?

Gretchen Hodgin: I read Dostoyevsky’s, “The Brothers Karamazov” as a teenager, and it literally changed my brain.  I’ve been interested in Russia ever since.  The program I was involved in does a very comprehensive major, so I studied culture, history, language, and literature.   My main focus was literature.  I taught myself first-year Russian; however, whatever part of the brain responsible for language and mathematics had some kind of power outage, so I never learned Russian the way I wanted.  It’s a shame, too because it’s such a beautiful language.  It’s still a goal, though.

Geosi Gyasi: Has your study in Russian benefited you in any particular way?

Gretchen Hodgin: I think it has enriched my overall perspective.  When I visited Russia, I learned that the onion domes on top of the churches were meant to symbolize candles during the harsh winters.

Geosi Gyasi: Moving on, it appears you ditched the Russian somewhere and opted for a Master’s in writing? What happened? 

Gretchen Hodgin:  “Ditched” sounds so harsh.  I don’t think I’m capable of ditching Russian because Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy are probably infused in my blood at this point.  Charles Bukowski wrote a fantastic and articulate poem about Dostoyevsky’s effect on him.   It’s aptly titled… “Dostoevsky”.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you actually begin writing?

Gretchen Hodgin: I started writing poetry at around 10 or 11, and even then it was about the natural world and existentialism, so I’m not sure what that says about me.

Geosi Gyasi: Which writer has influenced you most?

Gretchen Hodgin:  Probably writers like Anne Sexton who have that whole, “I’ll invite you into my home, but I’m gonna take you into the basement, too” thing going on.  I like my art raw.

Geosi Gyasi: You work as a writer and editor. How does your editorial work influence your writing?

Gretchen Hodgin:  I edit a lot of transcripts these days, so I pay a lot of keen attention now to the way people actually talk.  I try to make my work sound as natural as possible, and being made acutely aware of people’s speech habits is helpful.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you edit your own writing?

Gretchen Hodgin:  It would be such a hot mess if I didn’t.  I also have a few close friends that read some of my work.  It’s easy to get all excited about new stuff after writing it, but you have to learn to simmer down and come back to it.  After some time, I’ll read stuff I initially thought was AWESOME and bang my head on the desk because I realize how much work it actually needs.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me about how you got the inspiration to write “To Myself When I Am Sobbing to Pachelbel for the Fiftieth Time in One Night:?”

Gretchen Hodgin:  I struggle pretty often with severe bouts of clinical depression.  So a lot of what I write is just basically me talking myself down from the ledge.  But there’s this particular piano version of that song I found on YouTube that always makes me cry.  I was listening to it one night on loop and realized how it was physically affecting me.  I wrote that poem to convince myself that if I can write even one thing that helps somebody get through the night, it would mean that my life would not have been lived, as Emily Dickinson already perfectly wrote, “in vain”.

For those who are similarly battling, there is a book called “Lincoln’s Melancholy” that argues that Abraham Lincoln’s depression drove him to achieve rather than cripple him because he wanted to make his life useful.  I subscribe to the notion that life is bigger than any of us individually, so I strive to devote my life to improving the world in whatever way I can. It just so happens that writing is just about the only thing I’m any good at.

Geosi Gyasi: You are originally from South Carolina. What took you to Baltimore, Maryland?

Gretchen Hodgin: A writing program at Johns Hopkins.  I like Maryland because it’s still southern enough to sell grits at the grocery store, but it’s slightly more liberal.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind telling me about reading and writing during your childhood?

Gretchen Hodgin: Around high school I started collecting and memorizing poems.  I would stumble across something that I really liked and would add it to a little scrapbook.  One of my favorites from those days was Sara Teasdale’s, “There Will Come Soft Rains”.  I also had a lot of Dorothy Parker poems dog-eared.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you do when not writing or editing?

Gretchen Hodgin: I love nature walks, taking pictures of wildlife, swimming, reading, dancing, and watching tennis and documentaries.  I’m also learning how to draw.  Sometimes I post my stuff on Facebook and people make fun of me because a third-grader could have done better, but I like monitoring my progress and being able to have visual proof of improvement.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you write “To Bitterness” from a personal experience?

Gretchen Hodgin:  I did.  It’s kind of embarrassing and pathetic, but, fortunately, I don’t have any shame, so I don’t mind talking about it.  I was sick and went to the doctor.  I had been single for a while and was feeling especially out of touch with the world.  Then he put his fingers on my throat as part of the exam, and I think all the hair on my body stood up in shock.  I didn’t have an epiphany sitting there, but I realized later that that was the first time I’d been touched by another human being in a while.  A doctor’s job is to care about you, so it was this gentle connection where my life was confirmed by a heartbeat, and I felt like a part of humanity again.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you explain what influenced the use of Afanasy Fet’s quote in writing “To The Bird Trope”?

Gretchen Hodgin: I collect quotes the way I collect poems.  Sometimes somebody else just kind of beats you to the punch and writes what you wanted to write.  Most of the poems in my scrapbook, for example, are poems I wish I had written – the kind I want to eat.

“To the Bird Trope” was written for a friend who was scared to open up her pain and write about something deeply tragic.

Geosi Gyasi: Are there any benefits one gets from studying creative writing at the university?

Gretchen Hodgin: Writers write, with or without formal training.  But meeting and growing with a community of other people pursuing your passion is pretty valuable.  I was also introduced to things I doubt I would have come across on my own.

Geosi Gyasi: Again, I want to make use of your study in Russian. Do you mind signing off the interview in Russian?

Gretchen Hodgin:  Спасиьо! Это былo весело!

Geosi Gyasi: I’m eager to know what it means in English?

Gretchen Hodgin: Thanks!  It was fun!

END. 


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