Interview with Joseph Mills, Author of “Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers”

July 24, 2015
Photo: Joseph Mills

Photo: Joseph Mills

Brief Biography:

Joseph Mills has degrees in literature from the University of Chicago (B.A.), the University of New Mexico (M.A.), and the University of California-Davis (Ph.D).  As he was working on his third one, his mother asked, “Don’t you know that stuff yet?”

A faculty member at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Joseph Mills holds holds the Susan Burress Wall Distinguished Professorship in the Humanities.  His work includes poetry, fiction, drama, and criticism. He has published five volumes of poetry with Press 53: This Miraculous Turning, Sending Christmas Cards to Huck and Hamlet; Love and Other Collisions;  Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers, and Somewhere During the Spin Cycle .

Joseph and his wife, Danielle Tarmey, are the authors of A Guide to North Carolina’s Wineries (John F. Blair, Publisher).  The second edition was released in 2007. He has also edited a collection of film criticism entitled A Century of the Marx Brothers (Cambridge Scholars Publishing)

Geosi Gyasi: What is your book, “This Miraculous Turning” all about?

Joseph Mills: It’s a collection of poetry about, in part, being a white born and bred Northerner raising black born and bred Southerners. This can result in some interesting, complex, dynamics, when, for example, we go to a place like Gettysburg National Park. I’m looking for the monuments to Indiana, and my kids want to find the ones for North Carolina, and my young son asks where he would be.

Because my children don’t talk like me or look like me, people sometimes interact with us differently than they might otherwise. Not just the double-takes, but the questions and the exchanges that can happen as soon as we walk out our door. Many of these are positive and rewarding, for example the flight attendant who said, “Your family is beautiful,” but they wouldn’t happen if we didn’t look the way we do. As my daughter asked, “Why isn’t she saying that about other families?” The poetry considers some of those moments.

Geosi Gyasi: Kelly Cherry, former Poet Laureate of Virginia once wrote about your book, This Miraculous Turning – “In general, poets are not saints, yet in his quiet but unapologetic intelligence, his passion, humility, and wisdom, and his understanding of good and evil, Joseph Mills gives us poems that could change the world.” What do you think of this statement?

Joseph Mills: To be frank, I think, “Wow,” and then I worry about the bar being set way too high. To have someone respond so strongly to your work is tremendously rewarding.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you become a writer?

Joseph Mills: Growing up and all through college, I thought I would be a writer and I wanted to be a writer and I intended to be a writer. I just didn’t do any actual writing. In my late 20s, I realized, “Oh, I better get started and produce something” and I discovered it was difficult to do well. In my 30s, I got more serious about it, and I began to appreciate the discipline required. In my 40s I got better at it, I think, and, hopefully, that will continue in my 50s (and 60s and 70s and . . .).

Geosi Gyasi: What inspires you as a writer?

Joseph Mills: Juxtapositions. Ambivalences. Odd turns of phrase. Watching my children. Watching other people’s children. Watching other people. Wondering what something may mean. Engaging with art works. Walking the dog . . .

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me something about your book, “Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers”?

Joseph Mills: It’s a book of wine-related poems. I love the vocabulary and jargon of wine. Not the descriptors – “burnt honey with hints of old leather” – but the metaphors – “the angel’s share,” which is evaporation or “the thief” which is a winemaker’s tool. I also love the stories and anecdotes associated with wine. When you talk about wine, the discussion almost always is operating on a symbolic level. The wine represents something else – metamorphosis, transformation, the fruit of suffering, companionship.

I just did a second edition of Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers, and I reorganized the manuscript, revised most of the poems, pruned many of them. As a writer, you’re constantly trying to improve the work. I agree with the Paul Valery quotation, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”

Geosi Gyasi: How much of love is in your book, “Love and Other Collisions”?

Joseph Mills: I have written very few recognizable “love poems,” probably only a handful. But, not to be flippant, I think every poem that I write is a love poem. Love and Other Collisions is a book about family, about how raising your sometimes has you re-evaluate your own childhood and your relationships with your parents. It’s about “The Middle Years” of having young children, but parents who are aging. It’s divided into four sections that are roughly: my education, my children’s education, my mother’s dementia, and my attempts at making sense by teaching and writing. 

Angels, Thieves and Winemakers by Joseph Mills

Angels, Thieves and Winemakers by Joseph Mills

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a favorite among all the books you’ve written?

Joseph Mills: I think This Miraculous Turning is a coherent, good, collection. I appreciated the chance to take a second crack at Angels, Thieves, and Winemakers, but I’m always most excited about the one I’m currently working on. “This one,” I always think, “finally this one is going to be good.” So, at the moment, it’s a book of poems that have been inspired by stage directions in Shakespeare. It’ll be released in April 2016, and it’s called Exit, Pursued By a Bear.

Geosi Gyasi: Which books have had the greatest impact on your writing?

Joseph Mills: There are plenty of books that I carry around deep within me, almost all of them are stories – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Odyssey.  But I’ve also been influenced by a number of other artists and art works – Edward Hopper’s paintings, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you keep a tight schedule as a writer?

Joseph Mills: I try to write every day, even if it’s only for ten or fifteen minutes. I sometimes fail, but I often succeed. I’ve learned not to get discouraged if I don’t manage to write much. A draft scribbled in the car five minutes before picking up my kids or a paragraph jotted in the dentist’s waiting room adds up over time. I carry a notebook everywhere, so there is always the chance to put something down in those little spaces and gaps of the day.

An hour of writing is a solid day for me. Two hours is very good. I’m not one of those who can do eight or ten hours at a time. I’m working on lines a lot in my head – in the shower, walking the dog, taking a nap – but I don’t spend a lot of time actually physically writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know why you write?

Joseph Mills: Mark Strand once said, “Life makes writing poetry necessary to prove I really was paying attention.” Writing for me is a focusing exercise. It’s a way to pay attention, both externally and internally. I write because it makes me feel like a more developed, aware, human being, and, frankly, because if I don’t, I become grouchy and depressed.

 END.


Interview with Hedy Habra, Author of “Tea in Heliopolis”

July 17, 2015
Photo: Hedy Habra

Photo: Hedy Habra

Brief Biography:

Hedy Habra was born in Egypt and is of Lebanese origin. She is the author of Tea in Heliopolis, winner of the 2014 USA Best Book Award for Poetry and finalist for the International Poetry Book Award, and her collection of short fiction, Flying Carpets, won a 2013 Arab American National Book Award’s Honorable Mention. Her book of literary criticism, Mundos alternos y artísticos en Vargas Llosa, explores the visual and interartistic elements in the Peruvian novelist’s characters’ interiority. She has an M.A. and an M.F.A. in English and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Spanish literature, all from Western Michigan University, where she currently teaches and received the All-University Research and Creative Scholar Award and a Doctoral Dissertation Completion Fellowship Award. She is a recipient of the Nazim Hikmet Poetry Award and was finalist for the Pablo Neruda Award. She writes poetry and fiction in French, Spanish, and English and has numerous poems and short stories in journals and anthologies, including The Bitter Oleander, Blue Fifth Review, Cider Press Review, Connotation PressCutthroatDiode, Drunken Boat, Levure Littéraire, New York QuarterlyNimrodPoet LoreSolsticePirene’s Fountain, Letras Femeninas, Alba de América and Verse Daily. She has poems forthcoming in Cimarron ReviewGargoyle and World Literature Today. Her website is HedyHabra.com

Geosi Gyasi: You’re a poet and essayist. Could you distinguish between the two?

Hedy Habra: Both activities are linked and stem from a love for reading. Writing literary criticism gives me the opportunity to appreciate and highlight certain facets of an author’s techniques. My creative work, whether I’m writing poetry or short stories, allows me to express myself without restraint and experiment with language. Both activities cross-pollinate, complement and enrich each other. I share Mario Vargas Llosa’s views regarding criticism, and my favorite essays are those that demonstrate originality and imaginative skills, this is why I have never built a wall between genres.

Geosi Gyasi: How long have you been writing?

Hedy Habra: It seems that it has been forever. Since I was a child, I loved writing essays and dissertations at school, and used to rewrite fairy tales, always changing the endings. I would also copy and memorize my favorite poems and songs. I started writing on regular basis and more formally several decades ago, first in French, then I began writing in Spanish and English when I came to the U.S. in 1980.

Geosi Gyasi: You were born and raised in Heliopolis, Egypt. Could you tell me anything about your birthplace?

Hedy Habra: Heliopolis is a residential suburb of Cairo, Egypt. Heliopolis means “City of the Sun” in Greek, and it once stood as one of the grand cities of the ancient world. At the turn of the twentieth century, Belgian Baron, Édouard Empain founded the modern city of Heliopolis. His company proceeded with the building of Heliopolis, which name in Arabic, Misr Algadida, means New Cairo. It was designed as a “city of luxury and leisure,” with broad avenues and hotel facilities, such as the Heliopolis Palace Hotel that became the presidential palace of ex-President Hosni Mubarak.When I was growing up, the Heliopolis Palace Hotel was open to the public, that’s why I chose to paint its terrace on the cover of the collection, because it symbolizes a bygone era.

Geosi Gyasi: what took you to the United States of America?

Hedy Habra: We came to the U.S from Belgium, on account of my husband’s work. We had left Lebanon at the onset of the civil war, and he was transferred to Greece, then Brussels. We are both pharmacists and he was at the time, a Director at the Upjohn Company, whose headquarters used to be located in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Geosi Gyasi: From where did you get the love for Spanish literature?

Hedy Habra: I have always wanted to learn Spanish. Every since I read Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, his female protagonist’s name, Esmeralda, kept resonating in my mind. I started Spanish courses in Lebanon, after graduating from Pharmacy, and then followed a couple of non-traditional courses in Brussels. I started a BA in Spanish in 1981 at Western Michigan University, and fell in love with Spanish and Latin American literatures.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it difficult to learn Spanish?

Hedy Habra: It is much easier if you already know a romance language, such as French or Italian because of the similarity of the syntax and the grammar. But Spanish pronunciation is the easiest, because vowels and syllables are always pronounced the same way. Grammar and irregular verbs require some attention but students start speaking after a semester and achieve a good degree of fluency after the second semester. They can perfect it if they enroll in a travel-abroad program or just spend a month in a Spanish-speaking country, but it is not indispensable.

Geosi Gyasi: Where did you get the idea to write, Under Brushstrokes?

Hedy Habra: I have a passion for art and have always taken art classes in different mediums. I spend as much time as I can visiting museums or reading about art, and my writing has always been inspired by visual art. My mother was an artist, and our home was filled with her work. In my first collection, Tea in Heliopolis, a great number of poems address the process of painting and sketching, and are inspired by artworks. Several poems in Under Brushstrokes were written or started a long time ago, and it seemed only natural to keep writing poetry inspired by art.

Geosi Gyasi: I’m wondering how you came to write, Tea in Heliopolis?

Hedy Habra: I started writing these poems several years after coming to Michigan, in an attempt to recapture people, places, affects pertaining to an almost mythical past that is at the same time lost, yet alive. I have lived in Egypt, Lebanon, Greece and Belgium and my inspiration for writing came from a sense of displacement, of belonging to so many places and cultures, all of which made it necessary to conjure up some points of reference in order to keep them alive, as one would in a photo album. But these recollections, stemming from selective memory, are filtered by the imagination. My writing is informed by my Michigan experience since it is where we’ve lived the longest, and as I’ve mentioned earlier, by my passion for art.

Geosi Gyasi: Why do you think you were the winner for the 2014 USA Best Book Awards for your book, Tea in Heliopolis?

Hedy Habra: All I can think of is what the reviewers of Tea in Heliopolis have commented upon. For example, Zinta Aistars highlights the diversity of forms, “Habra writes in various forms, and her poetry can take traditional form, to free verse, to haiku verses tucked into larger poems, to experimental and prose poems.” Djelloul Marbrook underlines the universality of the experience conveyed “Habra’s poetry is remarkable for infusing the elegiac with her exuberant accommodation to her new circumstances. She speaks with not only an American accent but an American enthusiasm. Tea In Heliopolis is not about a past in Lebanon and Egypt, it’s about recognitions and epiphanies experienced there but bearing new fruits in North America. It reminds us that vines famous for their fruits in Europe often exceed themselves in America.”

Geosi Gyasi: How do you find time to write?

Hedy Habra: It seems to me that I write constantly, if I am not composing a poem, or revising an essay, I find myself writing in my journal, taking notes, replying to emails, and so on. I take breaks from writing to do all the other activities I like to do, such as reading, painting, cooking, and gardening, among many others.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any relation between teaching and writing?

Hedy Habra: When I am teaching a language course, I feel that I always gain a better knowledge of the way a language works, of the words’ etymology and the structure and syntax of sentences. I am fascinated by the way a given language evolves and intersects with other languages. Upon teaching a literature course, each time I teach a text, I discover something new that enriches my own conception of literature and my own writing.

Books by Hedy Habra

Books by Hedy Habra

Geosi Gyasi: How did you find a publisher for your book, Flying Carpets?

Hedy Habra: I had been writing the stories for a long time, and they were all originally published in journals before I found the time to put the collection together. When I was able to compile the manuscript, I sent it to three publishers who showed interest in it. I chose Parting Gifts, because I had been a longtime contributor of this journal. After the Press’ demise, and on account of the book’s track record, and its winning the Arab American National Honorable Mention Award, Interlink Publishing produced the second edition of Flying Carpets

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that short stories are easy to write as compared to novels?

Hedy Habra: I have never written a novel, although I would love to write one someday. I believe it must be equally difficult to write a great novel, as it is to produce an excellent short story. Writers are divided upon which genre is more difficult, and sometimes their judgment depends upon personal preferences. Jorge Luis Borges has written about “the madness” of “setting out in 500 pages an idea that can be perfectly related orally in five minutes.” He also stated that he couldn’t write novels, whereas he could write short stories. Stuart Dybek, my professor and mentor during my M.F.A. program, used to say that a short story was harder to write, because of the limited space, since every word counts and must lead to the conclusion in an artistic fashion.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your main subject areas as a poet?

Hedy Habra: I consider writing as an exploration of the world and of the self. I have an insatiable curiosity and a desire to learn. Therefore all subjects and themes interest me and I try to address whatever I question, admire, or am curious about.

Geosi Gyasi: I am wondering whether you’ve thrown away your degree in Pharmacy for writing?

Hedy Habra: I wouldn’t throw it away, on the contrary, I have it framed! It was awarded by the French government and was the result of lots of efforts. Although my first love has always been for poetry, I greatly enjoyed my years of study, and despite the fact that circumstances weren’t favorable for pursuing a professional career, what I’ve learned helps me keep abreast with new findings.

Geosi Gyasi: You received the 2014 Excellence in Teaching Award and the 2013 Alumni Achievements Award from WMU. In your view, what makes a perfect teacher?

Hedy Habra: I think it is an enthusiasm and passion for the subject matter and an unlimited dedication to the students. Such enthusiasm is usually contagious and students are always appreciative of professors who try to instill in them a desire to progress and who are always available to help them reach their goals.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you explain how you managed to speak French, Arabic, Spanish, and Italian? Are you a language wizard?

Hedy Habra: I went to a French school in Cairo, where I studied French and Arabic and took English as a third language. We spoke French and Arabic at home but were exposed to English and Italian from the movies that were subtitled with at least a couple of languages. I later on earned graduate degrees in English and Spanish, and studied Italian at WMU. My grandmother spoke Italian and as I grew up, I was exposed to several languages.

Geosi Gyasi: I learned from your website that you’re studying Chinese and practicing Tai Chi. You definitely ought to comment on this?

Hedy Habra: I have been learning Tai Chi and Chinese Ink Brush painting at WMU’s Confucius Institute for the past five years. It was only natural that I would be interested in learning the language, which is fascinating, especially because of its calligraphy. My Art classes have been conducted in Chinese for the past year, and I’ve enjoyed listening to the language.

Geosi Gyasi: Shall we end the interview with a few words in Spanish?

Hedy Habra: Ha sido un placer compartir este espacio con usted, Geosi. Le agradezco el interés y estas preguntas estimulantes. Un cordial saludo, Hedy.

END.


Interview with John Abbott, Author of “The Last Refrain”

July 15, 2015
Photo: John Abbott

Photo: John Abbott

Brief Biography:

John Abbott is a writer, musician, and English instructor who lives with his wife and daughter in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Redivider, The Potomac Review, Georgetown Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Arcadia, Two Thirds North, upstreet, Bitter Oleander, and many others. His first story collection is forthcoming from Underground Voices, his first novel “The Last Refrain” is now available from Sweatshoppe Publications, and his poetry chapbook “Near Harmony” is available from Flutter Press. For more information about his writing, please visit http://www.johnabbottauthor.com

Geosi Gyasi: You’re a writer and musician. Which of the two came first into your life?

John Abbott: I guess both. When I was young, I played piano (although not particularly well), and around the same time I wrote a couple short stories and some poems. Shortly after I quit playing piano in early high school, I started a novel that I never finished. As an undergrad, I focused more on learning guitar and writing music. It wasn’t until I started grad school that I fully applied myself to writing.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the main difference between the two professions – writer and musician?

John Abbott: Writing is a lot more difficult. I can sit down with my guitar and usually come up with some decent melodies or just use the music as a way to relax. But writing, at least in my experience, requires a lot more discipline and focus. Sometimes I wish it could be the other way around.

Geosi Gyasi: You worked as an assistant editor for the literary journal, Third Coast. What were your main duties?

John Abbott: I mostly worked my way through batches of roughly twenty short stories at a time, rejecting most of them and sending maybe one or two on to the editors above me. When I rejected a piece, which I hated doing, I tried to write something positive and encouraging.

Geosi Gyasi: Talk me through your book, “The Last Refrain”?

John Abbott: This book was my way of combining my background in music with my writing. The book is about a family of musicians that tour county fairs across the Midwest. I’ve always been fascinated by family dynamics , so it was a lot of fun crafting these characters and showing how this family tries to keep from falling apart.

Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write, “The Last Refrain”?

John Abbott: About a year and six months of actual writing, but figuring out the plot and characters, which I did beforehand, took an additional six months or so.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “Theft: And Other Stories of Loss”?

John Abbott: The project started as individual stories, but over time I realized many of the stories I wrote had close thematic connections, so I started thinking of the stories as a collection.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you find time to write?

John Abbott: I wake up early every morning during the week and write for an hour or so. This time is reserved just for my own writing. I find that if I try to write later in the day, then the chance of getting distracted by something – work, my daughter, my dog – goes up exponentially.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write on a computer or in a notebook?

John Abbott: Always a computer for novels and short stories. When I write poems, I write in a notebook.

Geosi Gyasi: What is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

John Abbott: My work has been nominated for awards such as Best American Short Stories, the Pushcart Prize, and Sundress Publications Best of the Net Award, but I would say my biggest accomplishment has been getting my story collection published, since that was my biggest goal when I started grad school.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you do as a consultant for manuscripts?

John Abbott: I start by asking the author if there are any particular aspects they have questions about or need help with. From there, I review the manuscript and provide a combination of margin comments and a few paragraphs at the end. I also inquire whether the author is trying to get an agent, self-publish, find an independent publisher, or improve their work for some other reason. This helps me gear my comments toward whatever goal the author has in mind.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you know if a piece of work you’re writing is not going well?

John Abbott: Usually a gut feeling tells me whether a piece is worth continuing or not. If I have the same feeling of disgust for several days in a row, I usually scrap the project.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part of writing?

John Abbott: Sitting there staring at the screen when I realize I haven’t typed anything in several minutes.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you working on anything new?

John Abbott: Yes, I’m currently working on my second novel. I’ve finished a few drafts so far and should have the final one finished hopefully no later than May of 2016. I have also been dabbling with children’s books lately and have finished two this year.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any writers you admire?

John Abbott: Yes, quite a few. In no particular order, they are Joy Williams, Kim Edwards, Stuart Dybek, Tobias Wolff, Tim O’Brien, Walter Mosley, Jennifer Egan, NoViolet Bulawayo, Anthony Doerr, and Langston Hughes.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific audience you write for?

John Abbott: For my fiction, I guess I would say anyone who appreciates a detailed, thought-provoking story. When I write children’s books, I like to appeal to the silly sense of humor many kids have.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about critics when you write?

John Abbott: Not too much. I focus mainly on trying to get the story idea from my head to the page in a way the reader can understand.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you earn a living from writing?

John Abbott: No. I’ve made a little money, but certainly not enough to make a living. Of course, I wouldn’t mind making a bit more from writing, but even if I did, I wouldn’t give up teaching college, which is my main line of work.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your works?

John Abbott: Friends and family for sure. Also, the contributors and subscribers of the literary magazines where I’ve been published. Beyond that, I don’t really know. I’ve received some positive emails from complete strangers about my work, which is always a cool experience.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you intend to achieve from your writing?

John Abbott: This might be the toughest question yet. I guess I hope that readers will get at least some of what I enjoy about fiction – learning more about life and other people and their different perspectives and the unique satisfaction that only a good story can bring.

END.


Interview with Corey Mesler, Author of “Memphis Movie”

July 13, 2015
Photo: Corey Mesler

Photo: Corey Mesler

Brief Biography:

COREY MESLER has published in numerous anthologies and journals including Poetry, Gargoyle, Good Poems American Places, and Esquire/Narrative. He has published 8 novels, 4 short story collections, numerous chapbooks, and 4 full-length poetry collections. His new novel, Memphis Movie, is from Soft Skull Press. He’s been nominated for the Pushcart many times, and 2 of his poems were chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. With his wife he runs a bookstore in Memphis. He can be found at https://coreymesler.wordpress.com.

Geosi Gyasi: Share with me a brief synopsis of your book, “We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon”?

Corey Mesler: We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon is what I call a collage novel, or crazy-quilt novel. Others might prefer the terms undisciplined and pretentious. But I choose to think that the book’s unconventional style, mixing story, poem, memoir, quotations, real history and invented history, is in keeping with the madcap decade it is trying to limn. But perhaps I am going out on a limn.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores”?

Corey Mesler: That book started as a sort of jape. I had this idea that there was, living in a small Southern town, a man named Tom More, whose life was empty, but who took pride in being the only Tom More in his small town. Then a second Tom More arrives. That was the genesis of what turned out to be an erotic romp, with murders!

Geosi Gyasi: What’s the inspiration behind your book, “Following Richard Brautigan”?

Corey Mesler: When I was a lad I wasn’t much of a reader. Early on I discovered a couple pocketsize paperbacks which led me into books. One was John Lennon’s In His Own Write and A Spaniard in the Works. The other was Brautigan’s The Pill vs. The Springhill Mining Disaster, a wee book of wee poems. So, in a biographical sense, the rest of my life was ‘following Richard Brautigan.’ I decided I would bring him back from the dead and have him visit a young writer of verse in Oklahoma City. Why I chose Oklahoma City I don’t know. I wish now that I had based him in Memphis.

Geosi Gyasi: Where did you actually write, “Frank Comma and the Time-Slip”?

Corey Mesler: I think I should say, in the john. It’s my dirtiest book, my attempt to write a science fiction pulp novel. It’s not entirely successful but there are elements of it I still like.

Geosi Gyasi: How different is your book, “Before the Great Troubling” from “Our Locust Years”?

Corey Mesler: I think of them more as twin books, collections of similar poems, around the themes of recurring troubling and hard times.

Geosi Gyasi: How would you define a novel?

Corey Mesler: I like Stendhal’s definition. “A novel is a mirror carried along a main road.” And Camus’: “A novel is never anything, but a philosophy put into images.”

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about the history of “Burke’s Book Store”? When and how did you start it?

Corey Mesler: Venerable Burke’s Book Store, which has survived the depression and two World Wars, was begun in 1875 as a family business and stayed that way for 3 generations. Walter Burke Sr. gave birth to Burke’s Book Store on Main Street shortly after the Civil War, selling books, newspapers, slates, tin toys, and then, beginning in 1946, public and parochial school textbooks. Bill Burke, who was born above the bookstore, followed in his father’s footsteps and, in 1950, began selling used and antiquarian books, as a hedge against schools selling their own textbooks.

In the sixties, during that great urban purge known as Renewal, Burke’s moved eastward to 634 Poplar, in among the pawnshops, and the original Main St. building and surrounding neighborhood was razed. Flattened flatter than a beaten coin, flatter than the fens of Holland.

In the 1970s, no one in the Burkes family wanted to continue in the book business and they sold the store to Diana Crump. She, in turn, sold it to Harriette Beeson in the mid-80s and Harriette moved the store in 1988 to its present location at 1719 Poplar.

In 2000, my wife, who I met in the store, and I, after working there for over a decade, bought Burke’s and vowed to “keep it cool.” The store has expanded over the years, like a gas, and now encompasses, as its slogan says, “the best of the old, the latest of the new, and hard to find collectibles.” In its present incarnation it has played host to a wide range of writers, honored scriveners of the modern, plumbers of the collective unconscious, including John Grisham, Richard Ford, Ann Beattie, Anne Rice, Bobbie Ann Mason, Kaye Gibbons, Peter Guralnick, Peter Carey, Lee Smith, Ralph Abernathy, Archie Manning, Isaac Hayes, Rick Barthelme, Charles Baxter, Charles Frazier, Robert Olen Butler, Bill Wyman, and many others, to whom we still genuflect in gratitude.

Visitors—shoppers–to the store include Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley, Courtney Love, Gene Hackman, Matt Dillon, Mary Louise Parker, Benecio Del Toro, Judy Greer, Adrian Belew, Carla Thomas, REM, and Will Patton (yes, you do too know who he is).

Today, muddling toward the future, having moved the store to the Edenic neighborhood of Cooper-Young, where we also live, we keep the old flame burning, still cognizant of our role in the community, re-energizing the store’s once semi-active publishing arm, still remembering the signed W. C. Handy autobiography, the book bound in skin, the first edition Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It’s a heady business, a calling, a place of sympathetic magic. Oh, and we still sell textbooks.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you define your voice as a writer?

Corey Mesler: If I have a distinctive voice it is perhaps in my dialog. Early on I figured out that, in storytelling, dialog could reveal personality and human nature as surely as what the character’s job, where he or she lives, what he or she look like. I’ve read a lot of Albee, Mamet, Bergman and Pinter and I pay attention to the rhythms of speech. This is my voice, the voice of dialog.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that it is easy to write poems?

Corey Mesler: It’s easy except when it’s not. Sometimes, and every writer has felt this, a poem writes itself and comes from someplace beyond the writer. Those are days of fire. I remember reading a conversation between Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. Dylan asked Morrison where ‘Tupelo Honey’ came from and Morrison said, “It was always out there. I just found it.” And Dylan said, “That’s how I feel about ‘Blowing in the Wind’.” I wouldn’t begin to suggest that I’ve ever written anything as powerful or as lasting as either of those songs, but I do think there is an element to writing that is outside a writer’s worldly knowledge.

Geosi Gyasi: Does your family approve of your writing?

Corey Mesler: Oh yes. My wife is very supportive. Very. My kids seem vaguely interested in what I do… perhaps as if I do bone scrimshaw, or ham radio. But I’m not sure they’ve read very much of what I’ve written. I believe they both say they’ve read the poetry. Maybe other writers have experienced this; maybe it’s the norm. It’s odd, to me.

Geosi Gyasi: What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?

Corey Mesler: Getting published, making money at it. Both are secondary to the whoosh of actual composition but both are key to keeping my writer’s pilot light lit. I’ve never had writer’s block so I don’t understand that, but I imagine it could drive one barmy. I’ve had days when everything I wrote is caca, but that’s not the same thing.

Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparation goes into the writing of a poem?

Corey Mesler: I think what engenders much of my poetry is reading other poets. It puts my mind in that place. So I sit down, put my fingers to the keyboard, which loves me and swears eternal devotedness, and I open my third eye.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific place where you sit down to write?

Corey Mesler: Yes, at my desk and only at my desk. The only exception is when a poem is suddenly there like a scream I have to release. Then I’ve been known to grab a legal pad and pen.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you read reviews of your own works?

Corey Mesler: Yes, always. I wish I were reviewed more. I want one review in NYTBR before I die, even if it’s a pan. Then I will at least know I have failed on a national stage.

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary forebears?

Corey Mesler: Oh too many. Off the top of my head: Nabokov, John Lennon, Steven Millhauser, James Tate, Mark Strand, Kafka, Camus, W. S. Merwin, Anne Sexton, Graham Greene, Iris Murdoch, Vonnegut, Brautigan, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Steve Stern, Joseph Heller, John Updike, Philip Roth, Woody Allen, Don DeLillo, William Carlos Williams, Walker Percy, Donald Barthelme, Rod Serling, Ann Beattie, David Markson.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the best part of writing?

Corey Mesler: Those days when the chain engages and drags you along and you look up and a few hours have gone by and you’ve got 750 new words. There is nothing to compare with that. If Satan were to offer me fame and riches, as an author, but I would have to give up that rush, I would kindly ask him to leave me alone and go back to his lair, where he dines regularly with the ex-members of the Bush administration.

Geosi Gyasi: What books are often found on your writing table?

Corey Mesler: 2 good thesauri, various poetry books, sometimes copies of my own books so I know that, at least once or twice, I’ve been successful, a slang dictionary, Dylan’s Lyrics, The Literary Baby Name Book, Strunk and White.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you working on any new project?

Corey Mesler: Just finished a 250,000+ word novel that Counterpoint/Soft Skull has right of first refusal on. And I’m about ankle-deep in a new novel set in the 60s. Plus I have a new full-length poetry collection due out in Fall 2015 from After the Pause Books. It’s called Opaque Melodies that Would Bug Most People.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for your works?

Corey Mesler: Today, yes? I average way more rejections than acceptances, in my personal and my writing life.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you often do in your spare time when not writing?

Corey Mesler: I think about writing. Seriously, I work at the bookstore, relishing daily that I get to handle those little talismans called books. And my wife and I watch a lot of movies. Movies are my 2nd passion, after books. But, I am one of those writers who often seem distracted because I am working something literary out in my head. I’m lucky I don’t walk into traffic. When my wife and I go out she uses a leash.

Geosi Gyasi: How would you like to be remembered as a writer?

Corey Mesler: As someone who occasionally wrote a memorable sentence, a sentence that sings, a sentence you might want tattooed to your lower back. And, when I’m dead I want them to say, “He wasn’t always very good but he was really funny.”

END.


Interview with Jeff Dupuis, Author of “Everything Must Go”

July 10, 2015
Photo: Jeff Dupuis

Photo: Jeff Dupuis

Brief Biography:

Jeff Dupuis is the author of the e-book Everything Must Go published by Found Press. His poetry, satire and short fiction have appeared in a variety of journals, including The Barnstormer, Valve, Foliate Oak Magazine, After The Pause, The Lapine and Acta Victoriana. Jeff lives in Toronto and haunts baseball games from the intercounty level all the way up to the Majors.

Geosi Gyasi: You’re known to write fiction, poetry and satire. My question is, how do you distinguish between poetry and satire?

Jeff Dupuis: There is an element of satire in my poetry and in much of my fiction. What I consider purely satire appears in the satirical news website called The Lapine, although I tend to lampoon something in almost all my work. Satire for me is the wall between optimism and cynicism. I try to make light of dark subject matter, or at least find something amusing in sad times. Satire allows me to do that without becoming overly emotional. It allows the reader to draw conclusions for themselves.

Geosi Gyasi: Have any of the satires you’ve written sprouted any unfavorable reviews from critics?

Jeff Dupuis: Nothing I’ve written has been so inflammatory that it has sparked negative criticism. I’m blessed to have good editors that keep me from going too far. I use satire to get readers thinking, not get them angry. Angry people don’t reflect, they reject ideas like the body rejects foreign cells.

Geosi Gyasi: At what period in your life did you discover fiction and poetry?

Jeff Dupuis: As long as I can remember, literature has been part of my life. My parents prioritized books and reading over other activities. They never bought me a Nintendo system or anything like that, so books were my constant companion as a child.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know why you write?

Jeff Dupuis: I write to connect with people in a deeper and more intimate way than I could otherwise.

Geosi Gyasi: What is your biggest challenge as a writer?

Jeff Dupuis: Pleasing myself. I have a love/hate relationship with my own work. I’d rather read great authors like Denis Johnson and Zadie Smith or watch the next generation of all-stars like Andrew Forbes and Mike Spry redefine the literary landscape. So often I ask why people should care what I have to say?

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us how you came to write, “Everything Must Go”?

Jeff Dupuis: The original concept came from a small party my friend’s girlfriend was hosting, one of the guests discussed his addiction to selling his possessions online. It made me reflect on the metamorphosis of a breakup, shedding the life you’ve built with another person and flying solo again. I’m also at that transitional age where my peers are starting to get serious about long-term planning, reassessing whether their current jobs/careers/relationships will sustain them into the future. The story was published by Found Press, which follows an iTunes-style business model, it was the perfect venue to submit this story to.

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you get the inspiration to write?

Jeff Dupuis: Everywhere. My brain is like a computer that absorbs stimulus and repurposes it into writing. As soon as I can couple a scene, a sentence, the flight of a chickadee from one branch to another, with a narrative thread, off I go.

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you often sit to write?

Jeff Dupuis: My couch, my bed or my desk. Sometimes the bus.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it difficult often starting the first line of a poem?

Jeff Dupuis: The first line is the easiest. It usually appears in my mind, then I have to build a poem to support it.

Geosi Gyasi: What is your greatest achievement as a writer?

Jeff Dupuis: A good story that I can reread and not find heavy-handed or sounding too much like me. That’s all I strive for.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about “form” when you write?

Jeff Dupuis: I rarely think of form. I’m sort of wild in my writing. Form comes into play in the editing phase, if I need to refine what is there on the page, find a system of organization to make my idea more clear.

Geosi Gyasi: Whom do you write for?

Jeff Dupuis: The perverse imp that lives in my reflection. Writing is an addiction, it makes me both happy and unhappy, but I can’t stop. I’d write even if nobody read my stuff. That said, I’m blessed to have the support I have from those who read everything I write. I hope to keep them happy.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for your works by editors or publishers?

Jeff Dupuis: All the time. There was a year when everything I wrote was published, but that’s rare. Rejection is part of the game. There’s no shame in it. Any art form appeals to particular tastes, the challenge is to find where one’s art fits in. It’s like baseball, you can’t worry about your last strike out every time you’re at bat, you just have to keep trying.

Geosi Gyasi: Does your family approve of your writing?

Jeff Dupuis: For the most part they approve. Sometimes I touch on sensitive subjects relating to my family relationships, but I think they’ve learned to live with it.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that to become a great writer, you ought to have talent?

Jeff Dupuis: When I become a great writer, I’ll let you know. I’m not sure I know what talent is, I’m not sure I have it. Hard work and willingness to change and improve is what is most important.

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

Jeff Dupuis: I’ve been writing since I was a small child, so I don’t remember all the stories and poems I wrote back then. I was ten when my first piece was published in a daily newspaper. It was a poetry contest for children. I was second place. That taught me a lot about both placing in the top three but not winning first.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you continue to live and work in Toronto?  Could you tell us about the literary scene in Toronto?

Jeff Dupuis: I’m still here. Toronto is a great city to live and write in. It’s the home of large and small presses, so there are readings happening all the time. We also have our share of literary festivals and a great university that produces fantastic writers.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, “American Sex”?

Jeff Dupuis: I wanted to write about the artifice of the American dream. The United States is an odd mix of prudishness and sexualization. It’s also a hub of opportunity but also oppression. Those contradictions seem so clear living in Canada.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the best poem you’ve ever written?

Jeff Dupuis: I wrote a poem called “Monkey Business” that was published in the University College Review, 2010. It was about the similarity between us and the animals we so often think are beneath us.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you still madly in love with baseball and do you continue to daydream to become a world-class athlete?

Jeff Dupuis: I love baseball, I always will. I get that from my dad. I’ve recently joined a kickboxing gym and I’m struggling with the idea of competing. I’m too old to become a world class athlete, but there’s something in me that is driven to test myself, to better understand my physical limitations and the effect they have on my character. It’s easy to be gracious and kind at the dinner table. It’s after five rounds of hard-sparring, when a talented young athlete beats you bloody, that you see what you’re really like. Do you pout, get upset or do you touch gloves with the man and say “good job?” Or is it both? Writing and athleticism have always been closely related in my mind. They both require endurance and the desire to work harder at self-improvement.

END.


Interview with Priscilla Atkins, Author of “The Café of Our Departure”

July 6, 2015
Priscilla Atkins

Priscilla Atkins

Brief Biography:

Priscilla Atkins, born in central Illinois, was educated at Smith College and the University of Hawaii. She earned her MFA at Spalding University in 2008. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Shenandoah, Poetry London and other journals. Her first full-length collection, The Café of Our Departure, is available from Sibling Rivalry Press. She has worked as a librarian, professor and poet-in-the-schools. She lives in Michigan with two small dogs and a tall man.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you become a writer?

Priscilla Atkins: I think I’m still becoming a writer.

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

Priscilla Atkins: In sixth grade, I wrote an impassioned poem about “great men” who had been assassinated and also about civil rights. In 1963, I was in first grade. In the spring of 1968, I was in fifth grade. The assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK made a big impression on me; as did the civil rights marches, freedom rides and Vietnam war protests.

Geosi Gyasi: Does your family approve of your writing?

Priscilla Atkins: This is a great question. My parents were proud of my writing. My father was a scientist and read all kinds of books. My mother was a nurse practitioner and was also a great reader. So, someone writing is a fine thing. I loved my mother’s honesty. One time she said, “I think I need to take a class in how to read poetry.” They are both dead, which leaves two older brothers and two older sisters, and my husband and “found family” (close friends). I’d say everyone is fine with it. My recent book is dedicated to my oldest sister and her partner. They were quite honored. My friend Mike was a great fan of my poetry and a sweet reader. He loved that he was an inspiration for some of my poems.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your subject areas as a writer?

Priscilla Atkins: My subject area is whatever’s going on in my head. (Maybe a third party would be better able to “name” what my poems are about.) Most of my poems seem like love poems. Love of particulars: people, dogs, bagels––life. Some of my poems are directly or indirectly about solitude. For a while many of my poems were inspired by my non-fiction reading.

Geosi Gyasi: Where did you get the idea to write your poem, “Belle-Île-en-Mer”?

Priscilla Atkins: The French language enchants me. This isn’t very original of me, but c’est la vérité. Some years ago I read the Jean-Yves Tadié biography of Marcel Proust. I imagine that was the first place I stumbled on the island. It turns out a lot of artists, in addition to Proust, went there. “Belle-Île-en-Mer” is something I wrote a long time ago.

Geosi Gyasi: How long does it take you to write a single poem?

Priscilla Atkins: Anywhere from fifteen minutes to fifteen years.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that poetry is difficult to indulge in?

Priscilla Atkins: I’m not sure what you mean. Perhaps, you’re asking if I think poetry is difficult to access. For me, some poetry is difficult to access. If you’re asking if it is a bit of a grind to sit down to read poetry, I would say No. For me, poetry is as difficult to indulge in as chocolate mousse.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any special reason why you decided to write about a straight girl and a gay boy in your book, “The Café of Our Departure”?

Priscilla Atkins: “The Café of Our Departure” is my only book. The poems are about one of the most special relationships of my life. I did not sit down to write a book. I write poems. So, the poems as they appear in the book were not written in chronological order, or anything like that. At one point, I had another manuscript going that included many of the poems in Café, but also had poems not directly related–for instance, poems about my family. Someone read the less-focused manuscript and said “Give him [your friend Mike] a book.”

Café of our Departure by Priscilla Atkins

Café of our Departure by Priscilla Atkins

Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write, “The Café of Our Departure”?

Priscilla Atkins: For the most part, the poems that are in “Café” were written off and on for a decade. I wrote many other poems (about many other things) in addition to the poems that eventually found their way into “Café.” (This reminds me: one of the poems is a tribute to Marcel Proust.) Several people helped me in the ordering. In putting the book together, I wrote four or five additional poems. The book has a narrative arc, and to complete the arc (or come as close as I could at the time), I wrote poems specifically to give the reader a fuller picture. I thought this would feel so weird and contrived––but these poems are among my favorite in the book.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you find a publisher for “The Café of Our Departure”?

Priscilla Atkins: A friend who had read “Café” in draft form said, “I think the editor at Sibling Rivalry Press would really like this book.” And he was right. BTW: The Library of Congress selected SRP’s entire print collection to be housed in the Rare Book and Special Collections vault of the Library. The ceremony celebrating this event was last week (June 18, 2015). Sibling Rivalry Press was a dream come true for me. I could not have asked for better, sweeter, smarter, more caring editors than Bryan Borland and Seth Pennington.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you do lots of edits?

Priscilla Atkins: Yes, I do lots and lots of edits. Some of them very small; some huge. Every once in a while I get a gift poem––no edits needed. This is very rare. I enjoy revision.

Geosi Gyasi: How often do you engage in poetry readings?

Priscilla Atkins: Because “The Café of Our Departure” just came out, I am actively pursuing readings. In general, though, I don’t pursue readings.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you give me a bite of your essay on Cathleen Calbert’s poetry?

Priscilla Atkins: From the end of the first paragraph of the Calbert essay, there is this description of Calbert’s poetry: “Calbert’s form of ‘funny’ is expressed via a witty persona who is both ironic and honest, a persona that blurs with the situation of the poetry in such a way that the poet’s voice, vulnerability, and character show through. For all their truth-telling and dry, self-mocking humor, these poems, set in the late-twentieth century, never slide into overbearing pedantry, or bardic oratory.” The title of the Calbert essay is “Vampire Babies and Chocolate Martinis: Habits of Wit in Cathleen Calbert’s Poetry.” I recommend Calbert’s book “Bad Judgment.” One of my all-time favorite collections. The essay about Calbert began as my extended critical essay for my Master of Fine Arts degree at Spalding University. I was pleased when Studies in American Humor published it.

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary forebears?

Priscilla Atkins: Here is a short list of some of the writers I greatly admire: Elizabeth Bishop, James Joyce, James Schuyler, Apollinaire, Cathy Song, Cathleen Calbert. Someone once said of my poems: “She writes straight out of the tradition of Whitman and Dickinson, all ‘me-me-me-me.’” Remembering this always makes me smile. This woman didn’t say it in a mean way. As far as direct influence, James Schuyler has had influence on many of my more recent poems.

Geosi Gyasi: I read from online that in your past life you shipped a small car to Hawaii and stayed there for ten years? What actually took you to Hawaii?

Priscilla Atkins: Love.

Geosi Gyasi: Where did you get the inspiration to write, “Cut”?

Priscilla Atkins: Hard to say now: a random memory and trying to be dramatic (in general I do not think of myself as dramatic).

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as your greatest achievement as a writer?

Priscilla Atkins: Remembering that it’s not about achievement. -:)

Geosi Gyasi: What do you often do in your spare time?

Priscilla Atkins: Sit and stare out a window. My writing room looks out into beech trees. I also sit at the dining room table. I think about whether or not I will have trouble falling asleep.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about the people you write for?

Priscilla Atkins: I care about this world.

END.


Interview with Susan Ramsey, Author of “A Mind Like This”

July 3, 2015
Photo: Susan Ramsey

Photo: Susan Ramsey

Brief Biography:

Susan Blackwell Ramsey’s work has appeared in journals ranging from Poetry Motel to The Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner and The Southern Review and in such anthologies as The Muse Strikes Back (Storyline Press,) Michigan in Poetry, Poetry in Michigan (New Issues Press) and Saint Peter’s B-List (Ave Maria Press); her book, A Mind Like This, won the 2011 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. She got her BA from Kalamazoo College and never really got away again, for years teaching spinning, knitting, and creative writing at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. She eventually got an MFA from and taught at the University of Notre Dame, but she still can’t seem to stop double-spacing after sentences.

Geosi Gyasi: You were the winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry for 2011 for her manuscript, A Mind Like This. Could you tell me how you came to write it?

Susan Ramsey: One of my favorite words is ‘accretion,’ a slow accumulation, the way a caddis fly builds a shell from scraps or a pearl layers nacre around a speck of grit.  This book wasn’t built on a grand architectural plan; it accreted.

Geosi Gyasi: Does one need any special training to become a writer?

Susan Ramsey: In ‘Blazing Saddles’ Gene Wilder is hanging upside down from an upper bunk; asked if he needs any help he sighs “Oh… all I can get.”  Writers are smart to be open to all the help they can get, including the kind that helps you peel away the bad training, to trust your own impulses.  Sheer stubbornness helps, too.

Geosi Gyasi: For how long have you been writing?

Susan Ramsey:  I’d remember pecking out poems on the family typewriter in 1957 or so.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell me about the Irving S. Gilmore Emerging Artist Grant you received in 2002 for your poetry?

Susan Ramsey: Irving S. Gilmore was a department store scion interested in the arts; among his gifts to the community was a foundation for Emerging Artist grants.  I used mine for a week at a retreat center and for entry fees and postage, an expense that has decreased, blessedly, even as entry fees have risen.

Geosi Gyasi: You teach spinning, knitting, and creative writing at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. I am wondering what entails in teaching spinning and knitting?

Susan Ramsey: Rheumatoid arthritis has forced me to discontinue teaching, though not the spinning and knitting themselves.  Oddly, teaching a physical skill requires very great attention to language.  I know a contra-dance caller who used to say “Everyone put your partner on your left,” which if observed would result in a whirling room.  Saying “Insert the needle in the stitch” or “Draw the wool forward” could have similarly catastrophic results.  I’ve always been intrigued, though, that such contemplative activities do not, in my case, at least, lead to creative thinking — they lead to deep breathing and a flat brain scan.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired you to study at Notre Dame’s Creative Writing MFA program?

Susan Ramsey:  The independent bookstore I’d work in for years went out of business, and a friend who had just completed her MFA at Notre Dame (which is only a 90 minute drive from Kalamazoo) pointed out that the program is tuition-waived — free.  (These days everyone is fully funded as well, either through teaching or helping with publishing.) I had an enormously good time; for a 57-year old Protestant uninterested in football, it was also an interesting anthropological experience.  Who would have expected Notre Dame’s specialty to be the avant-garde, though?

Geosi Gyasi: Could you define your voice as a writer?

Susan Ramsey:  Not with any enthusiasm — like tightrope walking, I think voice works best when you’re not thinking about it.  Colloquial?

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that it is easy to write poems?

Susan Ramsey: Sure.  Now ask me if it’s easy to write good poems.  Thomas Mann said ” ‘A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.’

Geosi Gyasi: Does your family approve of your writing?

Susan Ramsey: As long as I don’t write about them.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: What has been your greatest challenge as a writer?

Susan Ramsey: Sloth.  I live in a wonderful town for writers — universities, reading series, critique groups.  But you do have to actually sit down and pick up a pen.

Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparation goes into the writing of a poem?

Susan Ramsey: See, there’s that word accretion again.  In my case it’s keeping a notebook with such notions and phrases as you train yourself to notice going by.  Then, at sit-down time, I try to play with one for a while before it starts to cool and solidify, noticing, for example, if it shows an inclination to work best in a formal structure.  (I love form.)

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific place where you sit down to write?

Susan Ramsey:  Back room couch facing the garden, generally, though I do have a 7×15 studio in an old factory turned microbrewry.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you read reviews of your own works?

Susan Ramsey: Such as there have been.  Most people don’t bother to write bad reviews of poets who aren’t stratospherically successful — what would be the point?

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary forebears?

Susan Ramsey:  John Donne, Emily Dickinson, Linda Pastan, Lisel Mueller, Bob Hicok, Sarah Lindsay.  I could do this all day.  Thomas Lux, Dorianne Laux, Sharon Olds, Gerard Manly Hopkins…

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the best part of writing?

Susan Ramsey:  Tempting to be flip and say “Having written!”  But really it’s watching what I intended to say take the bit in its teeth, head off in an unexpected direction and meet up with other facts or associations that I hadn’t expected.

Geosi Gyasi: What books are often found on your writing table?

Susan Ramsey:  Popular biology, biography, current literary journals, history.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you working on any new project?

Susan Ramsey: I’m frustrated by the current admiration of Tesla, whose ideas tended to fizzle out and by the binary with Edison, when no one seems to have heard of Charles Proteus Steinmetz, a four foot three hunchbacked dwarf with a huge cigar who, among other accomplishments, made AC work AND was a great guy.  I’m working on a … sequence?  Chapbook? … about him, but it’s rough going.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for your works?

Susan Ramsey:  My works, like everyone else’s, have certainly been rejected.  My self, not that I’m aware.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about the people who read your works?

Susan Ramsey:  Absolutely.  This is communication we’re talking here, not just self-expression.  My self isn’t all that interesting, but the world is.  That’s generally my subject.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you often do in your spare time when not writing?

Susan Ramsey:  During our fifteen minutes of summer, I garden.  All year ’round I knit — and read, of course.

END.


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