Interview with Matt Jones

May 29, 2015
Photo: Matt Jones

Photo: Matt Jones

Brief Biography:

Matt Jones is a graduate student of creative writing at The University of Alabama. He is currently at work on his first novel.

Geosi Gyasi: At what point in your life did you see yourself as a writer?

Matt Jones: I started to see myself as a writer pretty recently. I mean, I’ve had this very amorphous and conspicuous feeling that I was for a long time, or at least that I wanted to be one, but I only started to refer to myself (in my own head) as a writer during the last year or so.

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

Matt Jones: Science and myth. I like to try and combine the two, mythology and science, whether personal or societal, to create some sort of mutation. Some sort of missing link that seems to answer some questions in my own mind. Or at least leads me to asking questions that I wasn’t asking before.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as good writing?

Matt Jones: I think I could go on here about beautiful language and innovative structure and provocative ideas all as things that I appreciate in writing, but I won’t, because good means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So I’ll speak about “good” in terms of what I would like to accomplish as a writer. Good writing for me is writing that makes me feel invested in characters, which in turn helps me feel invested in plot or what happens to those characters. Good writing has momentum. These are all things that I’ve only been able to identify recently. I guess that I want to write things that I like to read, not in terms of subject matter, but in terms of crafting characters and story that readers care about.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “Abi Abbey Abbie Alexander” as published in One Throne Magazine?

Matt Jones: I had a really indistinct feeling of sadness that I attached to a very specific event. I’ve always been really interested in temporality, in how we exist inside of time, in how we develop a relationship with memory and future. There’s a lot of déjà vu in life, you know? Not exactly premonition or a perfect repetition or replica of events, but of feelings. Familiarity of feelings. I think memory, or at least particularly strong memories, allow you to live in a lot of different places at a lot of different times. That’s what I was thinking about when writing this.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you start a story?

Matt Jones: With a line. I start with a line that sounds good and then go from there. Sometimes, often in fact, I end up going back to delete that line and the many lines that followed that first one, especially during the drafting process after I’ve had some time to think about what kind of story I’m trying to tell. But for me, it usually helps to just write something, to put words on paper. Then at least I can start to get the sense of whether it feels right or wrong.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you end a story?

Matt Jones: I’m not quite sure. I guess I think that an ending should resolve something, but also provoke the reader to further imagination or wondering that goes beyond the written ending. Either that or I read it aloud to my fiance and gage her reaction.

Geosi Gyasi: How is your writing schedule like?

Matt Jones: I write a lot over the weekends. I’ve also been really lucky to have the chance to attend a graduate writing program. On days when I’m not teaching or in class, I write. I try for at least 20 hours a week, but I go through periods of months or weeks when I’m only journaling and brainstorming, trying to work through what I’m trying to say, but not necessarily writing.

Geosi Gyasi: Whom do you regard as your favourite writer?

Matt Jones: I’m not sure. I’ve read a lot of writers that I really like.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you hear about One Throne Magazine?

Matt Jones: Through the internet grapevine.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any single book that has affected your life as a writer?

Matt Jones: Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist is a book that really affected me. I read it in college. It created this desire for learning and experience that never dissipated. I don’t think I’ve ever identified with a character in the way I identified/identify with Santiago.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you hope to achieve with your writing?

Matt Jones: I want to make an impression, whether good or bad. If someone can come away with an identifiable feeling after reading something I’ve written (and perhaps I’m thinking more in terms of the book I’m writing), then that works for me. Reading helps me think through the world and myself. If I don’t like something, then I have to think about why I didn’t like it. If I do like something, then I have to think about why. If I’m not sure about how I felt, well, more thinking. More thinking about why I react in a certain way. In this sense, I’d like my writing to provoke that same kind of thought or feeling.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently working on?

Matt Jones: I’m writing a novel that deals with space exploration.

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

Matt Jones: I don’t know if writing is boring. It’s hard. It frustrates me, but it doesn’t bore me.

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

Matt Jones: Exploring characters. When I figure out the motivation of a person that doesn’t exist, then I feel like they become real.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think a writer ought to compulsorily study writing?

Matt Jones: I think that writers should read and write. Whether we recognize it or not on a conscious level, we study writing when we read the writing of others. And then there’s experience.

Geosi Gyasi: How difficult is it to write a short story?

Matt Jones: Sometimes things come easy and other times I slog through the same paragraph of the same story for months. I leave more stories unfinished than I ever complete. The stories I do end up completing (and liking) often look unrecognizable when compared to the ideas that sparked them.

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

Matt Jones: More often than not. Rejection is a staple of the writer’s life.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the best thing that has ever happened to you as a writer?

Matt Jones: I don’t know. Part of me thinks that the best is yet to come. Another part of me thinks that the best thing is a feeling that repeats itself whenever I am able to have some sense of clarity about what I’m doing.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have anything to say to end the interview?

Matt Jones: I guess I’ll bring this back around to the The Alchemist, to an exchange of dialogue that I’ve never forgotten:

“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy told the alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second’s encounter with God and with eternity.”

END.


Interview with Carol Frost, Author of “Entwined: Three Lyric Sequences”

May 28, 2015
Photo Credit: Richard Frost

Photo Credit: Richard Frost

Brief Biography:

Carol Frost’s newest book is Entwined: Three Lyric Sequences (Tupelo, 2014). She teaches at Rollins College, where she is Alfond Professor of English. Her awards include 4 Pushcarts and 2 NEA’s.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any special reason why you decided to fall on the services of the “colon” in your poem, “Argonaut’s Vow”?  

Carol Frost: Colons are dramatic.

Geosi Gyasi: How often do you depend on “form” to write your poetry?

Carol Frost: If by form, you mean classical form – rhyme schemes and meter – only in echoes one still hears once one has listened hard. All the possibilities of language I’ve heard play in decades of free verse also resound when I write.  Mostly, I trust instinct.  I rarely start with a form in mind, or ear, but I imagine form underlies everything by the end.

Geosi Gyasi: I’m not sure if we can conclude that Argonaut’s “Vow” qualifies as an “Oath” in the sense that, “I told myself I’ll go where eagles go: if to brimstone:”?

Carol Frost: More a vow.  For tone and for sound. Oath seems too solemn and it’s the wrong sound (long ‘o’) in the whole of the poem.

Geosi Gyasi: How different in “form” is Argonaut’s Vow from Apiary 40?  

Carol Frost: The two poems are part of two different series of poems, two series that sound quite different and had different things to say and different ways to say them. I mean I hope readers can hear the differences in the lines and sentences. Argonaut’s Vow is part of my seascape series set in Florida – dramatic light, a turmoil of flora, fauna, and journey. Apiary 40 belongs to my poems about the gradual falling into dementia with its inevitable angers and sorrow as one’s self starts and finally finishes going away. Each of the poems in the Apiary Poems also features bees or a bee hive as a passing equivalent for the mind’s disintegration.

Geosi Gyasi: You were born in 1948 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Is there any special story you’ve been told about your birth?  

Carol Frost: I’m told I was born eight minutes before my twin sister.  I think they had to put me down pretty darn quickly and turn to the other event. Sue is now a veterinarian in Newfoundland and Labrador.

END.


Interview with Jackson Burgess, Author of “Pocket Full of Glass”

May 27, 2015
Photo Credit: Katie Hogan

Photo Credit: Katie Hogan

Biography:

Olympia-native Jackson Burgess studies Creative Writing and Narrative Studies at the University of Southern California, where he is a Greenberg Fellow for Poetry and a Trustee Scholar. In the fall, he’ll pursue dual MFAs in Fiction and Poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as a Truman Capote Fellow. Jackson is Editor in Chief and Co-Founder of Fractal Literary Magazineand has led workshops at a homeless shelter on Skid Row and at Los Angeles Southwest College.

Jackson is the author of Pocket Full of Glass, winner of the 2014 Clockwise Chapbook Competition (forthcoming from Tebot Bach). His fiction and poetry are published or forthcoming in Rattle, The Los Angeles Review, Bartleby Snopes, The Monarch Review, Atticus Review, Tin House Flash Fridays, and elsewhere. Jackson is currently at work on a novel, an immersive play, and two collections of poetry.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you first recognize yourself as a writer?

Jackson Burgess: I started writing seriously in high school as a sort of coping mechanism for depression. I had a lot going on then, mentally and emotionally, so I guess I turned to writing as a means of making sense of it all. That sounds cliché to me even as I write it, but it is what it is.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you know as a child that you would become a writer?

Jackson Burgess: No. Definitely not. My mother is a writer, and she instilled in me a love of literature, but as a kid I wanted to be an entomologist. That seems funny now because it’s so very different from what I ended up doing. Studying bugs versus studying words.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us the difference between Creative Writing and Narrative Studies?

Jackson Burgess: At USC, Narrative Studies is just analyzing narratives in different media—they had us studying literature, film, and theatre—and the ways in which we narrativize our own lives to make sense of them. Creative Writing is more workshops and learning the craft itself.

Geosi Gyasi: Why did you decide to go to the University of Southern California to study writing?

Jackson Burgess: The short answer is money. In all honesty, I got lucky with scholarships there, and USC was the only school I could afford. But I think I ended up right where I needed to be because I stumbled into a lot of success in terms of finding mentors and friends. I don’t know where I’d be without the Creative Writing program—or more specifically without professors like David St. John.

Geosi Gyasi: You’re the Editor in Chief and Co-Founder of “Fractal Literary Magazine.” Has the aim for which this magazine was set up been realized?

Jackson Burgess: When I got to USC, there were no active literary magazines, and my friends and I thought that was a bummer, so we decided to make our own. Since then, a handful have sprung up, and I think that’s great, but the goal of Fractal was to find and publish great, startling writing, and I’d say we’ve achieved that.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you access good writing for your magazine?

Jackson Burgess: Submissions are blind, so we don’t know whose work we’re reading, but with each issue we’ve had more submissions than the last, and while that means more work for us, it also means we have a lot more to work with. We’ve been very fortunate with the submissions we’ve received. It’s really an honor to publish something you’re proud of as an editor.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your main interest areas as a writer?

Jackson Burgess: Form-wise, I love free verse poetry and sprawling, black humoristic prose. More than anything, though, I’m interested in work that explores loneliness and alienation, and that (hopefully) makes the reader feel a little less alone, whatever that means.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know why you write at all?

Jackson Burgess: To make sense of my life and the world. I think everyone has their own strategy to combat loneliness, and writing just happens to be mine.

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

Jackson Burgess: It took me a lot of time and a lot of reading to find my own voice, and that’s something I’m still struggling with. It’s easy to emulate someone else. It’s hard to write anything that’s original in any way.

Geosi Gyasi: You have led workshops at a homeless shelter on Skid Row and at Los Angeles Southwest College. What does it take to lead workshops of such nature?

Jackson Burgess: It takes a lot of humility. No, more than that, it takes a thick skin because, if the workshop functions the way it’s supposed to, that humility gets thrown at you. I was teaching people far older and wiser than I was, and I feel like I learned more from them than they possibly could have from me.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “Pocket Full of Glass”?

Jackson Burgess: I attended a poetry workshop in Paris with Cecilia Woloch, a great mentor and friend of mine, and afterwards I had a big stack of poems I didn’t know what to do with. I put the collection together and sent it out everywhere I could. For some reason it seemed crucial to have a published chapbook under my belt.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know why you won the 2014 Clockwise Chapbook Competition?

Jackson Burgess: Nope. I’m still asking myself that question.

Geosi Gyasi: In your view, what is the difference between fiction and poetry?

Jackson Burgess: It’s funny you ask that because I’ve had this conversation like five times with friends in the past week. I think with the proliferation of forms like prose poetry and flash fiction, that whole binary has become pretty meaningless. I like what Nick Flynn said about how the only difference between prose and poetry for him is that the former is better suited for the day, and the latter is better for the night. I feel like my opinion shouldn’t carry much weight because there are so many more talented, accomplished writers out there, but I personally think fiction and poetry can accomplish all the same things. In my work, I write poems about my own life and experience, and I write stories that are more fabricated, even if they’re informed by things I’ve seen or done.

Geosi Gyasi: Whom do you regard as your favorite writer?

Jackson Burgess: Damn that’s tough. Can I list a few? I love Dostoevsky, he might be number one. David Foster Wallace, Bukowski, Nick Flynn. Matthew Dickman’s definitely up there. Kerouac, too.

Geosi Gyasi: Are there times you feel like not writing?

Jackson Burgess: Yes, definitely. Almost all the time, honestly. I never sit down and write if I don’t feel like it, but when I do, I typically produce a ton of work.

Geosi Gyasi: When do you write best?

Jackson Burgess: When I really get into a groove. Usually late evening-ish, alternating between sips of coffee and wine.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, “Bird” as published in Word Riot?

Jackson Burgess: For months, I sat out on my balcony and watched that mourning dove, and she watched me, and I felt a real connection with her. It was both amusing and sad how scared she was of me, and I wished I could somehow reassure her that everything would be okay. But then I realized I couldn’t even tell myself that, so that poem was me wrestling with that feeling.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that poetry is no longer relevant in the 21st century?

Jackson Burgess: No. Fuck that. Poetry is as relevant as it’s ever been, even though for some reason the narrative that the media’s feeding us now is that it’s falling out of fashion. I’ve been to three packed poetry readings in the past two weeks, all of which had people bawling in the audience because something the poets said really spoke to them. Indie publishers are consistently putting out brilliant work, and though I think it’s unfortunate that poetry’s been somewhat relegated to academia, there are all kinds of poets out there writing their hearts out—and readers responding to what they have to say.

Geosi Gyasi: What are your future literary ambitions?

Jackson Burgess: I’m heading to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop for a few years to study poetry and fiction, and I’d love to get a full-length book of poems published in that time. Also, I’ve got to finish this damn novel I’ve been working on for two years. I just want to keep writing stuff that means something to someone.

Geosi Gyasi: Where did you get the idea to write, “Curbside Dirge”?

Jackson Burgess: Oh man, I had to go re-read that one because it’s been a while. Prior to writing it, I had just pulled an all-nighter in the library, and every time I took a smoke break, I’d look at the few students meandering around the quad and think about how lonely it was—all these people I would never meet, and how I’d never know where they were going or where they’d been. I feel like I’ve written that same poem several dozen times. That was just the one that happened to get published.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently reading?

Jackson Burgess: I’m working through Danielewsky’s “House of Leaves” while re-reading Saunders’ “Tenth of December” and Didion’s “Play It As It Lays.” Also a lot of Larry Levis’ poems. There are just too many good books to read. Never enough time.

END.


Interview with 1981 Nobel Prize Winner, Roald Hoffmann

May 26, 2015
Photo Credit: Gary Hodges

Photo Credit: Gary Hodges

Biography:

Roald Hoffmann was born in 1937 in Zloczow, Poland. Having survived the war, he came to the U. S. in 1949, and studied chemistry at Columbia and Harvard Universities (Ph.D. 1962). Since 1965 he is at Cornell University, now as the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters Emeritus. He has received many of the honors of his profession, including the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (shared with Kenichi Fukui).

“Applied theoretical chemistry” is the way Roald Hoffmann likes to characterize the particular blend of computations stimulated by experiment and the construction of generalized models, of frameworks for understanding, that is his contribution to chemistry. The pedagogical perspective is very strong in his work.

Notable at the same time is his reaching out to the general public; he participated, for example, in the production of a television course in introductory chemistry titled “The World of Chemistry,” shown widely since 1990. And, as a writer, Hoffmann has carved out a land between science, poetry, and philosophy, through many essays and three books, “Chemistry Imagined” with artist Vivian Torrence, “The Same and Not the Same and Old Wine” (translated into six languages), “New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition,” with Shira Leibowitz Schmidt.

Hoffmann is also an accomplished poet and playwright. He began writing poetry in the mid-1970s, eventually publishing the first of a number of collections, “The Metamict State,” in 1987, followed three years later by “Gaps and Verges,” then “Memory Effects” (1999), “Soliton” (2002). A bilingual selection of his poems has appeared in Spanish. He has also co-written a play with fellow chemist Carl Djerassi, entitled “Oxygen,” which has been performed worldwide, translated into ten languages. A second play by Roald Hoffmann, “Should’ve,” has had several workshop productions since 2006; a new play, “We Have Something That Belongs to You,” had its first workshop production in 2009.

Unadvertised, a monthly cabaret Roald runs at the Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Vilage, “Entertaining Science,” has become the hot cheap ticket in NYC.

Geosi Gyasi: Can we start the interview this way: You were born Roald Safran. How did you come to be known as Hoffmann?

Roald Hoffmann: First, my mother remarried right after the war, to my stepfather, who lost his wife in the war. So I became Roald Margulies. A year later, on the way out of Poland, we thought we would get into the US easier if we were German and not Polish. The Poles were making life uncomfortable for the ethnic Germans left in Silesia, and a German village priest found a way to support his flock which did not hurt anyone – selling birth certificates of Germans killed in the war. So overnight Naftali Margulies, my stepfather, became Paul Hoffmann. My uncle forged a wedding certificate with my mother, my birth certificate was lost. And so I became Roald Hoffmann. Americans have trouble with these stories, as you can imagine.

Geosi Gyasi: You were born in Złoczów, Poland, to a Jewish family. My question is, do you have any memories about the place where you were born?

Roald Hoffmann: Nothing from before the war, just a colorful wooden automobile I played in, and a tropical house plant that I tried to eat, a mistake. We came back there in summer 1944, on being freed by the red Army. Now I remember a little more, our house, bombed out other houses.

Geosi Gyasi: I wish I could ignore this question but do you harbor any painful memories about the circumstances in which your family perished in the holocaust?

Roald Hoffmann: My father, three of four grandparents, two aunts were killed, and so on. And a good Ukrainian family, the Dyuks in the village of Univ, hid us for 15 months at the end of the war. Ukrainian-Jewish relations are complicated, strained. I have written an autobiographical play, “Something That belongs to You” about those times, how people made choices for good and evil in terrible times.

Geosi Gyasi: You’re a well-renowned chemist and won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. How did you get into the literary world?

Roald Hoffmann: Well, it all goes back to a general education at Columbia, wonderful introductions to art history and literature, a course with a great poet of the time, Mark Van Doren. I remember him reading Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning” to us. I began to write poetry in midlife, at age poetry. And plays later.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any relationship between Science and Arts?

Roald Hoffmann: Of course. Both are man or woman made, artifactual. Sculptures do not grow on trees, neither do new molecules, even as the trees are made of molecules. In both craftsmanship is valued, and an economy of statement, and intensity. Both reach out, to others, communicate. Both have an aesthetic, and try to understand the world within and outside of us. But there are differences, too.

Geosi Gyasi: Does your study and work in chemistry have any influence on your writing?

Roald Hoffmann: I try from time to time to write poems with chemical themes. They usually don’t work. But if I relax, and look for metaphor in science, it goes better.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think winning the Nobel Prize put unnecessary burden on your public life?

Roald Hoffmann: Fortunately in America one is let alone. I survived, did not make a fool of myself. And I did not become an administrator. I just went on to do good science, and had fun in the process.

Geosi Gyasi: Under what category would you classify your book, “Chemistry Imagined” – poetry, essay, fiction or non-fiction?

Roald Hoffmann: It is modeled on the Emblem Books of the renaissance – an image by Vivian Torrence, my collaborator, which then evoked a short essay by me, sometimes a poem. It is mixed genre, not really classifiable.

Geosi Gyasi: The idea behind your play “Oxygen” often baffles me. In your view, do you think there will ever come a time when the Nobel Foundation will inaugurate a “Retro-Nobel” award?

Roald Hoffmann: Now that was a good idea, the retro-Nobel. No, they are unlikely to do it. But if they did, and that’s what the play is about, they would run into the same questions of priority, history, and personalities that are a part of any kind of discovery. Then or now.

Geosi Gyasi: What would you like to be remembered for?

Roald Hoffmann: For having done good science, and for trying, just trying, at all times to be a decent human being.

END.

 


Interview with Israeli-American Writer, Ilana Masad

May 25, 2015
Photo: Ilana Masad

Photo: Ilana Masad

Brief Biography:

Ilana Masad is an Israeli-American writer living in NYC. She is an agent’s assistant by day, a writer for McSweeney’s, Bustle, and The Jewish Currents by night, and a freelance editor, transcriber, and proofreader in whatever those hours in between are. Her work has been published in The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts, Printer’s Row, Tin House’s Open Bar, Four Chambers Press, The Rumpus, The Toast, Hypertext, and more. She is the founder of TheOtherStories.org, a podcast for new, emerging, and struggling writers.

Geosi Gyasi: You’re a writer, Editor and Imaginator. Could you tell us what you actually do as an Imaginator?

Ilana Masad: Into every generation an imaginator is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one. She alone will wield the strength and skill to fight the muses, inspiration, and the forces of blank pages; to stop the spread of writer’s block and the swell of their number. She is the Imaginator. #BuffyReference In reality, I don’t think I’m anything special (I just really like Buffy) and I liked the sound of the word “imaginator” when I was making my website. I imagine things. About people and places and situations.

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

Ilana Masad: Absolutely! At least in my experience. I think there’s a big difference between editing someone else’s work and editing your own. But as someone who analyzes books as I read them just for fun (because I can’t turn that analytical part of my brain off), I know what to look for in a manuscript that I’m reading or editing. Editing also makes being edited so much easier because I know the mindset the editor is coming from. I also think it makes me a better writer; editing others, I know what to avoid myself or what parts of my own writing I can work on and improve.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us about the literary landscape in New York City where you live?

Ilana Masad: Oh boy, that’s a tough question. I feel like there are multiple layers to the literary scene in NYC. There’s the low level, where I’m at – the aspiring writers that litter this city like its pigeons, fighting to survive and eating whatever scraps we can find. There’s the level of people who run workshops and work in publishing or on the agency side of things. There’s a parallel level of people working as regular staff writers and editors for both online and print newspapers and magazines. And then there’s the elite, the people we pay to see talk to one another or read their work in big auditoriums.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember anything about the time when you were on the staff of “The Oxford Student” newspaper at Oxford University?

Ilana Masad: Of course I remember! How could I not? It was my first experience at intensive copy-editing, as well as my first experience of getting promoted. I was first a sub-editor (which is basically a proofreader but posher because of the English accent), then the de-facto Chief Sub-Editor, because I was proofreading most of the paper and organizing the other sub-editors. Then I was the actual Chief Sub-Editor as well as the Section Editor for the Arts & Lit section (where I started a flash fiction column!) and finally I was a Deputy Editor, working directly under the two Chief Editors. It was a great experience. I learned a lot about editing, about writing, about getting along with coworkers in a cramped space where people are passionate about what they’re doing but also kind of see it as a big joke (we all knew that delivering the rugby scores was not seriously breaking news. The one time we had a scoop it was pretty grim and involved a body falling off a church spire and the blood that was left on the ground after).

Geosi Gyasi: You received your BA from Sarah Lawrence College where you happened to be the non-fiction editor of the Sarah Lawrence Review. Why did you decide to study at Sarah Lawrence College?

Ilana Masad: Because of the writing and theater programs. I used to want to be an actress, and decided I wanted to go to a school where I could study writing and maybe also dabble in some acting. Which I did, mostly in a club called Midnight Cabaret (where we wrote, rehearsed, and performed an entirely new skit show every Friday at midnight) and in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Though I also had an actual role in an actual play – one by Tom Stoppard no less!

But the reason I stayed at Sarah Lawrence and loved it so much was the entirely unparalleled faculty. Each and every one of my teachers was dedicated, wanted to be there and do what they were doing, and made it an absolute pleasure for me to study with them.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any major difference between editing fiction and non-fiction?

Ilana Masad: It depends on what kind of non-fiction, for one thing – is it narrative non-fiction or is a reported story, an interview, a review? I think that editing narrative non-fiction is rather similar to editing fiction except that you have to be more careful of the author’s way of telling their story. Narrative non-fiction can be fascinating but can also be extremely dull. Fiction is different because there is almost always room for suspension of disbelief, unless the work is trying to convey something historically accurate as well as create a story and characters within it. So maybe they’re not so different. There is always a narrative, something being conveyed, and editing whatever work it is means trying to make that piece of work the best it can be on its own terms, without inserting your own style or voice into it.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any fond memories about the days when you interned at the Writers House Literary Agency?

Ilana Masad: Of course I do, and Michael Mejias who runs the intern program would have my head if I said I didn’t. But in truth, yes, I do. I learned how to write editorial letters, pitch letters, reader’s reports; I learned how to work thoroughly and for hours on end on one manuscript and be able to give a concise opinion; and my intern class was simply fantastic. We were a great group of people and I’m still friends with some of them, and Michael is definitely one of my mentors.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired you to become a writer?

Ilana Masad: I don’t know, really. When I was in high school, I wrote poetry, like everyone does it seems, and it was in Hebrew (I grew up in Israel primarily). Then at some point, while getting ready for college, I started writing a lot. Telling stories. My mom is in the process of moving from Israel to Los Angeles at the moment and over the last year whenever I’ve been home we’ve been going through old boxes of mementos, and I was incredibly surprised to find all these things I’d written long before I realized I was a writer. I don’t think I ever thought of it as something I was until I started taking writing workshops and honing my skill and realizing more and more that there was nothing else I would rather do with my life than spend it around words, books, and keyboards.

Geosi Gyasi: Are there times you worry that you made the wrong choice of becoming a writer?

Ilana Masad: I wouldn’t say that, exactly. I think that what I worry about more is that I’m not really a writer because when I tell someone I’m a writer and they ask “Oh, can I find you on Amazon?” I have to tell them that they can’t. I’ve written five novels and am working on a sixth but none are published. I’m a writer no matter what – the question is will I be able to write for my living in the way that I’d like to (i.e. fiction for the most part). And that is something I grapple with daily because I simply don’t want to do anything else with my life but make people feel what I feel when I read books.

Geosi Gyasi: Where did you get your story, “Voracious” from as published in One Throne Magazine?

Ilana Masad: Actually, I got the idea from a writing prompt I got in my senior year of college. We’d read Lydia Davis’s story, “The Thirteenth Woman” and my teacher, David Hollander, asked the class to write a story for next week about a person who both does and does not exist. And that’s how “Voracious” came about.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you struggle with ideas for your stories?

Ilana Masad: Not really. Everything is a story to me. A piece of Kleenex that’s lying in front of me can be a story. My mind just thinks in stories. My struggle is finding time to write them and not losing the ideas I have. I work so much as a full time freelancer that my own writing becomes secondary, and I hate that and am constantly trying to find ways to remedy that.

Geosi Gyasi: I read somewhere online that you’re partial to cats and books. Could you explain that?

Ilana Masad: Well, I’ve always loved cats. Very much. I love their independent natures. I’m an animal lover in general. And books are… well, let’s just say that I would rather die than be told that I couldn’t read another book for the rest of my life. I love their smell, their texture, the feel of them in my hand; I love the stories nestled inside of them and the innumerable ways we can read those stories; I love the language I find inside books, the peculiar combination of words made out of symbols that we’ve decided mean something. I know this sounds incredibly pretentious, but I mean it sincerely. Books are my first and greatest love. I surround myself with them. They’re my escape from the world.

Geosi Gyasi: In which “style” would you place your story, “A Lifetime of Author Bios”?

Ilana Masad: You know, I don’t really know. I’d love to say that it’s fiction, because it does technically tell a story of one writer throughout the course of her life. But it’s in Shouts & Murmurs which is a humor column, so maybe it’s humor? But writers I know told me it made them want to both cry and laugh, which is what I was going for. My humor tends to be rather morbid and/or upsetting.

Geosi Gyasi: Where did you get the idea to write, “At a Glance”?

Ilana Masad: That was another writing prompt from that same teacher, David Hollander. He challenged us to write a story using a format that is not used in fiction. I looked up the text of those leaflets that come with all Apple products. “Your iPhone At A Glance” or “Your iPad At A Glance” and I copied the language from there and replaced it with something else entirely, and somehow I managed to tell a story, though I never know whether the story I’m telling is the same one that people are reading.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you know when you come to the end of a story?

Ilana Masad: I don’t, always. Usually I know that I’ve gotten to the end when the conflict of the story (if it’s in traditional story format) is resolved. If I’m writing something more experimental or a piece of flash fiction then I have restrictions that I need to work with, which often actually make things easier for me. I like restrictions. A blank page without instructions is a scary thing to start out with.

Geosi Gyasi: When and how did you start your blog, Slightly Ignorant?

Ilana Masad: I actually started it in September, 2008, when I decided to start writing more. And I’ve managed to maintain it more or less for the past six and a half years now. I don’t post as often as I’d like, but I try to, because it has always been my place to try things out, to just get out the scenes that crowd my brain and that don’t necessarily lead to full stories. Recently I’ve also been using it as a place to post pieces that I haven’t found a home for elsewhere.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you find time to write? Do you have a strict writing schedule?

Ilana Masad: Short answer: I don’t, and no. Longer answer: I write for many of my jobs/freelance assignments/whatever you want to call them, and so sometimes it just gets exhausting to stare at a screen for so many hours. And my brain doesn’t flow with a story when I’m writing longhand, unfortunately. I love the feeling of a keyboard beneath my fingers (when I was in Oxford I always got stared at in the sacred Radcliffe Camera, part of the Bodleian, for typing too loudly and vigorously on my computer). Recently I started an early morning writing date with a friend which is helping. I want to have a strict writing schedule, but it’s very hard to do when I have anywhere between five and twelve jobs at any given time (some paying and some not, some projects of my own and some that are given to me by employees or as opportunities through zines).

Geosi Gyasi: This question may sound odd but who is a ghostwriter?

Ilana Masad: I don’t know. My first thought is always of the TV show and the books it spawned, all under the brand name “Ghostwriter” – that is, there was always a cool ghost who communicated with these kids through letters and words. But I suppose ghostwriters are those who don’t get a byline, who write something for someone else, whether it’s a technical manual or an autobiography.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you likely to be caught doing when not writing?

Ilana Masad: Reading manuscripts for the agent I work for, going to the gym, walking feverishly back and forth from subway stations, listening to NPR and playing Candy Crush, chatting on Facebook and spending way too much time on Twitter. Also doing stuff for my podcast, TheOtherStories.org, which takes up a LOT of my time.

END.


Interview with Canadian Writer, Richard Osler

May 24, 2015
Photo: Richard Osler

Photo: Richard Osler

Richard Osler used to live the poetics of the stock market’s rise and fall as a specialty money manager. Now, he lives to capture the sound of word-rise and word-fall, as a poet and poetry workshop facilitator. His chapbook Where the Water Lives was published by Leaf Press in 2012 and his poems have been accepted in numerous journals including the Malahat Review, Prarie Fire, Antigonish Review, Ruminate and CV2 which published a feature interview with him in its Winter 2011 issue. A recent poem was long-listed for the 2015 PRISM international poetry prize. He also leads weekend writing retreats for poets and facilitates poetry workshops, once or twice a week, in a drug and alcohol recovery centre in the Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island, B.C. where he has lived since 2010.

Geosi Gyasi: I learned from online that the renowned Canadian doctor, Sir William Osler was related to you. Could you tell us what we ought to know about this great doctor?

Richard Osler: Since our interview is focused on writing and poetry my first response would be that Osler (1849 – 1919) was physician in the 1880’s to Walt Whitman, the American poet who is considered one of the pioneers of modern poetry. I would like to say Osler liked Whitman’s poetry but it was too “out there” for him. But this is not why Osler is still renowned today around the world even though he died almost hundred years ago. Ironically, he is, dare I say it, revered by many doctors even today as the equivalent of Whitman for modern medicine, one of its most important pioneers.

Osler’s massive literary output contributes to his reputation: he wrote more than fifteen hundred, books, articles, pamphlets and scientific papers in his lifetime including  his textbook – The Principles and Practices of Medicine published in 1892 . It lasted as an authoritative educational medical resource for almost 30 years.

One of his best known essays — Aequanimitas — was handed out to graduating doctors in North America for maybe as long as fifty years! Aequanimitas, which means even minded, was the motto on Osler’s coat of arms when he was knighted by the King of England in `1911. I named my money management business Aequanimitas in his honour!

But even more than his medical and scientific texts, his numerous quotes on what it is to be a successful human being as well as a great doctor is what make him so well known. At least two volumes of his quotes have been published in the past thirty years.

Here is one of my favorite Osler quotes which also celebrates poetry:

Nothing will sustain you more potently that the power to recognize in your humdrum routine, as perhaps it may be thought, the true poetry of life – the poetry of the commonplace, of the ordinary man, of the plain toil worn woman with their loves and their joys, their sorrows and their griefs.

What’s uncanny to me in this quote is its call to pay attention. The same call all poets are given. The best doctors and poets pay attention. For a doctor that is called being a great diagnostician. Osler, by all accounts I have read, was one of the best in his time.

Geosi Gyasi: Who gave you the permission to become a writer?

Richard Osler: I never thought about writing needing permission from any outside source. For me, as long as I can remember, writing was a basic need. It was the way I could prove I existed outside of myself.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you determine how many years you’ve been writing?

Richard Osler: Since I was a small boy, so for more than fifty five years. But much of that writing, until the past twelve years when I rediscovered poetry, was through journalism and journals and for the past five years through a blog on my website (recoveringwords.com).

Geosi Gyasi: What is the most important aspect of writing?

Richard Osler: To write, no matter what. Mood-on, mood-off. Do I do that? No. But if I don’t I carry that resistance with me, sometimes for days, until I do.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever thought about how you want to be addressed – a poet or writer?

Richard Osler: I don’t care what people call me. I ‘m the one I care about calling a poet or writer. Yesterday and the day before I was a poet. I wrote a poem each day. Today I am a writer, responding to your questions and starting a new blog post. And maybe I will be a poet today as well!

Geosi Gyasi: Do you apply the same principles of writing poetry to non-fiction?

Richard Osler: The same principle: do it! A non-fiction writer writes non-fiction. A poet writes poems!

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

Richard Osler: Writing the “next” poem. I say this slightly tongue in cheek but it holds a big truth. I only grow as a poet by reading the poems of others and writing my own. The more “next” poems I write the greater the chance I will write a poem that matters to me and others.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you earn a living from writing?

Richard Osler: No. I earn my life. Every time I write a poem which requires me to pay attention to my life and the world around me I pour money into my “life account”. Forget the bank account! By writing I remember what I forgot and my life gets larger. I become more of who I am! So much of what we do and who we are falls away but writing can recapture it. Yes!

To add something: very few people I know, if any, make enough money just from writing poetry to get by. Outside of so-called spoken word artists like Canadian Shane Koyczan ( one of the best in the world) or England’s Kate Tempest maybe just university professors who write and teach poetry can be said to make a living through poetry! But it’s their teaching that brings home the bacon or should I say the tofu!

Outside spoken word poets and the university system the only poet I can say for certain makes a living solely from poetry would be David Whyte (born in the UK but now lives in the U.S.) who uses his poems and the poems of others to inspire audiences all over the world. He takes poetry and makes it relevant in the lives of his readers and listeners. And he makes big bucks doing it.

Geosi Gyasi: Your poems have been published in a number of places including The Antigonish Review, The Other Journal, Ruminate magazine, Prairie Fire and a host of others. Do you have a favorite among all the poems you’ve written?

Richard Osler: Never thought of that question. Maybe my favorite in terms of a poem I use a lot at readings is one I wrote during divorce proceedings with a former wife. My lawyer had sent me a note about poetry and I began to write a poem based on splitting up our poetry collection which is huge. We didn’t actually split the collection. I kept it. But the idea kicked off a poem “Two Poets Divorce” which my lawyer often gives to new clients.

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

Richard Osler: No. I can write anywhere but most often it’s here in an upstairs library where I am writing this. I am surrounded by more than two thousand poetry books I have collected during the past fifteen to twenty years.

Geosi Gyasi: You lead poetry writing retreats and work with recovering addicts using poetry as a source for transformation. Could you educate us on how you use poetry as a tool for recovering addicts?

Richard Osler: I use it by using it! Many people have not experienced the impact of a great poem in their lives ever, or at least since their school years. And even then poetry wasn’t being delivered as something that could change them but as an intellectual exercise. What does it mean? I don’t give a darn about what a poem “means”, I care how it makes someone feel less alone, more alive. As if the writer could have been writing from that reader’s or listener’s life and experience.

Let me quote something President Obama said during Poetry month this past April:

Poetry matters.  Poetry — like all art — gives shape and texture and depth of meaning to our lives.  It helps us know the world.  It helps us understand ourselves.  It helps us understand others — their struggles, their joys, the ways that they see the world.  It helps us connect…..

Sometimes it’s only after reading a poem — or writing a poem — that we understand something that we already went through, that we felt, that we experienced…..A good poem can make hard times a little easier to survive, and make good times a lot sweeter. 

Poetry helps us understand ourselves! Yes. Thank you President Obama.

But let me get specific. I use poetry in two ways:

I use poems of others to engage the patients. To make them sit up and take notice

Then I will take a line from one of the poems I have read and ask the clients to write from that line.

I have witnessed poems created this way almost five thousand times. And almost every time the writer is shocked by what they wrote. But because they discover the mysterious secret at the heart of writing poetry: a poem writes us, we don’t write it. Or to put this another way: we write a poem so we may know! Not just to tell what we already know.

I collect quotes by writers who describe this mysterious process: here are three by three women writers, Canadian poet, Susan Musgrave, American poet, Alicia Ostriker and British writer, Jeanette Winterson.

Poems always seem to know more than I do and to be wiser than I am, as far as I can see. That’s also what’s magical about writing. Where do these things come from?

Susan Musgrave from an interview with Joseph Planta, February 2014

When I was young I used to plan my poems. I knew what I wanted them to ‘say.’ Now they are like crawling into the dark. I write in order to understand what confuses/troubles/baffles me. I write to clarify what I’m feeling. I write to include the contradictions, wrestle the obsessions, because I don’t know who I am when I’m not writing.

Alicia Ostriker from God in the House, Tupelo Press, 2012

Jeanette Winterson from Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, Vintage International, 1995

I love these quotes. But especially Musgrave’s quote: Poems always seem to know more than I do and to be wiser than I am. And then Winterson’s quote which expresses the healing that come from the given-wisdom of our poems.

Sometimes the feeling or emotion revealed by a poet from their poem can be life changing. An example from a recent writing session is this line from the Asian-American poet Li-Young Lee: What kept you alive/ all those years kept you from living. For the exercise I changed this to “What kept me alive, all those years kept me from living. Some great poems came out of that line! Many of the writers realized how their coping mechanism had blinded them to the life going on in front of them.

Often I will also use the line: I Remember as a writing prompt. This idea comes from the book of that title written in the 1960’s by Joe Brainard. His book of I remember’s was one hundred and sixty five pages long!

Here is poem, with permission, by a woman who surprised herself utterly by what she wrote:

 

I Remember

I remember seeing my three year old sister

sitting in Uncle Jimmy’s lap

 

I remember thinking Uh Oh

 

I remember walking up to the arm chair

 

I remember tapping my sister on the leg

to get her to come outside to play

 

I remember I was four

 

I remember the sun was shining and Aunt Alice

was vacuuming

What a remarkable poem. (I have changed the names of the uncle and aunt in the poem to protect the writer’s anonymity.)What a shocking last line. No amount of that kind of vacuuming could clean up Aunt Alice’s life! When this client walked into the writing workshop her abusive uncle was not on her mind! But when she wrote I Remember, this memory showed up. Not one of the thousands upon thousands of memories she has but this one. This gave words to an abusive situation the writer had encountered as a child and one she had not shared publically before. I think that poem was very important for her, for her recognition of the impact of that event on her life and her addiction.

This poem is such a great example of why poetry matters and not just to recovering addicts. And Jeanette Winterson in another quote says it so well: A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.

In an interview in The Times in 2007 Winterson gave perhaps my favorite quote on the healing and nature of poetry: If I break my leg, I’ll go to a doctor. If I break my heart or if the world breaks my spirit, I will go to a poet.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “Where the Water Lives”?

Richard Osler: Where the Water Lives is a small format chapbook of small poems I began to write during a poetry retreat with the Canadian writer and poet Patrick Lane. He encouraged us to write a short imagistic poem everyday, one that just describes an image you see. His point was that in most cases that simple description will become a metaphor whether you like it or not!

Here is the first poem I wrote in the series that inspired all the others:

 

Beach Cathedral

The ocean sounds

its Gregorian chants

to a congregation

of crows, tidal rocks

and a heron,

the small fish

               dangling.

This happened at the beginning of the Christian season of Lent so I decided to keep writing these small poems for almost forty days.

Where the Water Lives by Richard Osler

Where the Water Lives by Richard Osler

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your book, “Again, No More, Poems of Africa”?

Richard Osler: Ah, this needs a longish answer especially since you are an African and I am not. I first went to Africa in 2004 with a friend who had a foundation that was funding water wells in the Gwembe Valley in Zambia between Lusaka and Livingston. We were hearing much about the agonies of Africa, especially the AIDS epidemic, and I wanted to have a first hand experience. I still remember a list on a school teacher’s wall of all the children in the school based on whether or not they were single-parent or double-parent orphans. Now, that put the AIDS horror is stark relief. (That program has now funded more than four hundred wells and an on-going maintenance program means less than 5% of them or not working at any given time.)

That trip led to another in Zambia in 2005 and then another to war-effected areas of Africa in 2006. This trip was brutal for me. My trips to Zambia did not prepare me for the reality of what war-related violence does to a country and its people. We visited Northern Uganda still suffering from the Lord’s Resistance Army, Rwanda and its unbearable history and then to Goma in the Eastern Congo where warfare was still on-going and especially the war of rape against women.

The only way I could deal with my shock from all the stories I heard was to write poems each night during that trip. Those poems turned into a small book of poems, Again, No More. I had to write those poems, to place into a container, some kind or order, the chaos created inside me by what I was seeing and hearing.

But let me be clear as well, I was also overwhelmed with the unquenchable resilience in so many people we met. They had something, an essence, that I can only define as a mysterious joyousness and commitment to living, in spite of all their suffering. Out of it came a generosity of spirit not a smallness of spirit.

I met a woman on a trip up to a safe house for women in a village near where fighting had overtaken it a few years ago, and again a few months later. The house was for women, suffering from fistula’s caused by rape or childbirth, or recovering after surgery in Goma. This woman exuded a warm and generous optimism. She worked tirelessly for a widow’s group in her spare time and for her job, on outreach programs for women including those recovering from fistula repair through the NGO Heal Africa, based in Goma, DR Congo.

On the way up in the back of a pick-up I learned that her husband had been murdered eight years before by thieves in her home, in front of her children, as she was in hospital, having delivered her daughter the day before. For me, growing up in a safe and prosperous Canadian neighbourhood in Toronto, this seemed inconceivable. From her story I wrote this poem, probably still my favorite from that collection.

 

Now I Am Eight

(Goma, DR Congo)

My father came home

and the men came too,

to rob him.

But there was no money

so he died there

in front of me

and my sister.

My mother was not home.

She had given birth

the day before.

I was five then.

Now I’m eight.

I tell my mother

I am ready to put

flowers on the grave.

She says if I do

I will be the next to die.

I say: there are many ways

in Africa to die.

I am still in touch with this boy, now a young man, through Facebook! Although, it is difficult because he speaks French and I don’t but enough to get a flavour of him. A few months after I wrote this poem his mother did take him to his father’s grave. What a remarkable young man he is. So engaged and optimistic about his life in spite of living in an area that can erupt back into a war zone at any moment.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you arrive at the title of your book, “Not Yet”?

Richard Osler: The title of this limited edition chapbook (fifteen poems) comes from the title of the first poem in the collection:

 

Not Yet

Death’s proximity startles life

into ferocious abundance –

even death hesitates against

that intensity – seems an eternity.

It’s a held-breath – a moment.

The surfer speeds on and on

while the wave waits, suspended

not yet a fist.

I haven’t read this in years. I cringe somewhat with all the abstractions in this poem. I am reminded by a line in a poem called Tenderness by Stephen Dunn: Oh abstractions are just abstract//until they have an ache in them. Isn’t that a great line?

I am not sure my poem has enough ache in it. It’s about remembering to pay attention, to look at life with eyes wide open since life is so short. To appreciate each day because we are not dead – not yet. In an interview a few years ago Stephen Dunn, after a reading where he didn’t realize how much “death” was in his poems said: a poet came up to me afterward, shook my hand, and said, “Mortality: a poet’s best friend.” Love and death, the engine rooms for poems I guess!

Geosi Gyasi: What is the motive behind your poem, “A Month Before She Left”?

Richard Osler: Well, I just finished saying that love and death are the trigger for most poems! In this case it was the death of a twenty year marriage that ended up being central to this poem. The poem has gone through many revisions but the story of the newt that looked drowned in the pool, but came alive and disappeared, prompted this poem.

 

A Month Before She Left

At the pool’s bottom, past

any reflection,

including her wavering face,

she sees the newt

belly-up

             wrong coloured

as Bowering says

about his snake. Belly up –

how much easier it is to say,

without a quaver, than death.

She finds the pool scoop,

fishes out the body, places

it on her palm, arranges

the feet, curls the tail,

then puts it on the top plate

of the pool-side light and waits.

Why bother, he wants to say.

Just a newt. But then, later,

when she turned back

to look and said: it’s gone,

he thought she meant

                             the newt.

When I first was writing this poem I thought about the newt’s seemingly miraculous resurrection but later I wondered if it was a metaphor for something that came alive in my wife’s life . Something that led to her leaving.

Geosi Gyasi: I am wondering how long it took you to write, “The Trouble a Poet Is”?

Richard Osler: When you asked about a favorite poem this one came close to the top. In many ways it was a gift, a found poem, of sorts, through my work with recovering addicts. And it was also a gift because I wrote it in about ten minutes. It was done. Not usual for me! As I was answering written questions to an interview for a feature article on me in a Canadian literary magazine, one question prompted this poem. And the editor published it!

 

The Trouble A Poet Is

At a centre for recovering addicts,

a hollowed out place with echoes inside,

I come prepared with twenty-sixers,

empty ones I want them to fill back up

with words; but with this proscription:

no mention of bottle or booze

of any description – Old Crow, Jim Beam,

Johnny Walker Red, or Maker’s 46.

At first, blind stares: the look of fish

too long in the net or, up from the depths,

cavers too long in a crawlway.

Then some words: my wife; a prison.

And this: A wrecking ball made of glass,

from the boy/man with his big-sass smile

and his tattooed swagger.

I expected trouble but not this trouble:

the trouble a poet is. Their lies, the way

they upset the ordinary, the everyday;

describe a world farther away and nearer

than the one we think we know. I am

thief and liar, too, call poets, their poems,

wrecking balls made of words.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry workshops?

Richard Osler: I have to think this one through! I lead workshops for poets of all skill levels, from beginners to master poets. And I lead workshops for recovering addicts in one program and for their loved ones in another. With the writers’ workshops, which I call retreats, I focus on aspects of craft but also know even with that each poet is likely to be surprised with what appears in their poems. With the “recovery” workshops I just hope that each writer takes the risk to write even though they “know” it’s impossible, they can’t. And during these workshops I am still so astonished and happy when everyone manages to write something. It is rare to have someone not come up with something.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever regret becoming a writer?

Richard Osler: Strange question for me. For most of my life, except when I was a business journalist for four years back in the 1970’s I have not thought of myself first as writer. Iive always thought of myself as something else first and a writer second. So if I have a regret it’s that I didn’t fully embrace being a writer forty years ago!

Geosi Gyasi: Between 2004 and 2006, you took three trips to Africa. Could you tell us what brought you to Africa and your thoughts about Africa?

Richard Osler: I have talked a lot about Africa in a previous question. But it still haunts me. After those early trips I co-founded a charity in 2009 to support on-going projects for women and children in the Great Lakes region of Africa. I learned that the experts were the local nationals on the ground. They came up with the projects and the ways to make them successful. Our support was financial. Yes, the money was important but I always felt we were the ones who benefitted most! The women I met through our projects, especially in the DR Congo, they have been my greatest teachers! Their bravery, their resilience. What life knowledge do I have that comes close to theirs? Not a lot!

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any literary forebears?

Richard Osler: Yes. I have mentioned Sir William Osler. Although he was a doctor his literary output was astonishing on many topics, not just science and medicine. One of his books which I cherish most is tiny. It’s called A Way of Life. It was the convocation address he delivered at Yale in 1913. The language may feel a little dated but the wisdom is timeless. Live your life one day at a time!

A niece of Osler’s, Anne Wilkinson, was an accomplished Canadian poet who some critics feel never got her due, whose work needs to be revisited. She also wrote a history of the Canadian Osler family – Lions in the Way — that created quite a scandal and stir in the family. Her name was a dirty word in my family when I was young. I had no idea she was such a fine poet!

On my mother’s side of the family, my great, great, great Grandfather wrote a diary of his early life in Canada in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s that was published in a book called Ten Years in Upper Canada. He was captured by native American and he was the only survivor. One day I would like to work on something based on it.

Geosi Gyasi: Are you currently working on any new project(s)?

Richard Osler: I have been working on a full-length poetry manuscript for about seven years! Its latest version, unrecognizable from its first version, is out with publishers as we speak. It has made a few short lists but so far remains unpublished. My fingers remain in a permanently crossed position!

And I am always looking for topics for blog posts and new material for my workshops. Right now the floor in my office is littered with about sixty poetry books! Oh, the joy of poetry!

END.


Interview with American Writer, Charles Bane Jr.

May 23, 2015
Photo: Charles Bane

Photo: Charles Bane

Brief Biography:

Charles Bane, Jr. is the American author of The Chapbook (Curbside Splendor ) , Love Poems ( Aldrich Press) , and Three Seasons: Writing Donald Hall (  Collection of Houghton Library, Harvard University ). He created and contributes to The Meaning Of Poetry series for The Gutenberg Project, and is a current nominee as Poet Laureate of Florida. His website is
http://charlesbanejr.com

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

Charles Bane: The idea for the book came from my agent, who thought it would have reader appeal. I wanted everything graphically about the book to be understated, which my publisher understood. That said, I enjoyed writing the collection.

Geosi Gyasi: Does a writer need special training to be able to write love poems?

Charles Bane: No, you just have to go there. There’s deeply beautiful poems about love out there by very gifted poets. I think you just have to have something to say, and be secure that you can say it.

Geosi Gyasi: Roald Hoffmann, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and poet said of your book, “Love Poems” that, “it is too rare to find good poems of love in our day.” Do you agree with him?

Charles Bane: I would have a few years ago, but not now. Feminists in particular are showering their collections with poems about relationships, on new terms.

Geosi Gyasi: Why the title “Love Poems”?

Charles Bane: It was all about marketing, and I follow the advice of my agent closely.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write “The Chapbook”?

Charles Bane: The Chapbook was my first collection, and I learned that getting a box of your poems in the mail is up there with your first sight of Paris, first kiss, first everythings. That said, I think it’s a good sign when a poet is embarrassed by earlier work, and there are several poems in the book I wish hadn’t been published. As you mature, hopefully your work becomes more subtle, stronger, more ambitious. All the poems were previously published and I never put a poem into a collection that hasn’t been published in more than one journal.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a favorite poem in your book, “The Chapbook”?

Charles Bane: I like ” Come Beloved”, which I think is very pure, and “My Old Soul”, about the Holocaust.

Geosi Gyasi: Whom do you write for?

Charles Bane: I write for the reader I’ll never meet, but who deserves the best you have.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us what you do as a contributor to The Gutenberg Project?

Charles Bane: It’s a history of poetry in the West, BUT I want to include those women excluded from the Canon, which in the West is all male, all white. There were female troubadours writing in the 13th century, but their work has only recently come to light. I began the series with Virgil’s Georgics translated by John Dryden, because it’s a masterpiece and because it’s completely unread.
http://projectgutenbergproject.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-meaning-of-poetry_7.html

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, “My Old Soul”?

Charles Bane: The unconscious desire to find meaning in the Holocaust through my own poetic voice.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you what motivates you to write?

Charles Bane: I was writing very young. I had no choice at all, and I think that’s true of all serious poets.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write?

Charles Bane: Anytime of day that I have lots of coffee, and quiet. I just quit smoking and it took a few months to get used to writing without cigarettes. But it was wonderful, at last, to write again

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “When Masai Raise Spearheads”?

Charles Bane: The poem is a brew of questions about science, faith and culture. I’m beginning to think all faiths are essentially the same. So the answers–the true answers— we seek about the meaning of life should be cognizant of science.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you earn a living from writing?

Charles Bane: No. I don’t accept payment from journals who need money for operating costs, nor royalties from my books until they hit a certain sales mark. A small press deserves financial reward for accepting the merit of your work.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest challenge you’ve ever faced as a writer?

Charles Bane: You have to push , push , push yourself as a writer. I wrote a poem in the persona of Saphho, and I worried it would be ridiculed. You’re awfully vulnerable out there, and the definitions of sexuality, gender and relationship are all in flux. It would be a good time to play it safe. But if you play it safe creatively, you’re done. The poem, “Thunder, Lightning”, is, fortunately, popular.
http://rpdsociety.com/latestissue/14/1/2015

Geosi Gyasi: Could you spend some time to talk about your poem, “My Love” as published in the Issue 2, Summer 2014 of One Throne Magazine?

Charles Bane: That’s the only surviving poem from my childhood which I wrote at about twelve. The version in One Throne is incomplete, because I sent it off from memory. I like its image of sunset: ” The loom removed in lowering steps”, and night- time: ” A hearth of sparks is overturned” I’m putting the poem in my next book.

Geosi Gyasi: How true are your “love” poems?

Charles Bane: They are as true as the effect they produce for the reader. Personally, the poem for my son is the truest, literally.

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary forbears?

Charles Bane: Too many: Virgil ,  Donne, Milton’s Lycidas, but not his other works., Ezra Pound, Elizabeth Bishop, Anthony Hecht, Karl Shapiro.

Geosi Gyasi: How would you describe your “style” of writing?

Charles Bane: It’s usually described as romantic, which is complimentary if you’re not described as a “romantic poet”, which I’m not.

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

Charles Bane: No, not at all.  The poem unspools from you and the images fall into place of their own accord. A poet is as much downhill skier as artist, courting disaster at the end of every line break as you hurtle towards an end that explodes into meaning.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you do when a poem you’re writing is not going well for you?

Charles Bane: I write online, and put it in my drafts folder, but the majority of them will be left aside. I read that Kay Ryan throws  away 80% of her work. That’s huge.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently working on?

Charles Bane: I have a new collection coming out from Urban Farmhouse Press: “The Ends Of The Earth: Collected Poems”. It will blend my previous work with about 15 or twenty new poems. My agent is seeking distribution through China Mobile.com which has millions of English- speaking readers. That’s exciting.

END.


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