Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a daily routine for writing?
J.P. Celia: No, I don’t actually. I write when I’m compelled to write, which is sporadic. In this sense I envy novelists, who, unlike poets, rely less on inspiration and more on sheer determination and will, and therefore can write routinely. Perhaps some poets can do this. I can’t. It’s a weakness I’m aware of. On the other hand, I also think there’s something violent and unproductive about forcing oneself to write. So my envy is ambivalent.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you be described as a genre writer?
J.P. Celia: I think you could safety describe me as a traditionalist, or a formalist.
Geosi Gyasi: How long have you been writing?
J.P. Celia: Since I was a small boy.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you a great reader? What books did you read in your childhood?
J.P. Celia: Yes, but my reading is a lot like my writing in that it is sporadic but passionate. I have to be seized by a book, just like I have to be seized by an idea. I’m a very choosy reader. It’s similar to falling in love. I have to fall in love with a book essentially. Of course, there are problems with this. As a child I read the great fantasy writers, especially Tolkien. I also read the poets Shelley and Wordsworth. The first poem I remember loving was Shelley’s “To the Moon.”
Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember your first piece of writing?
J.P. Celia: I do. It was a little poem about morning. I was eleven.
Geosi Gyasi: What’s the most boring part of writing?
J.P Celia: Frost said somewhere, “no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” I think if you’re bored it’s possible you’re not writing as you should.
Geosi Gyasi: What drew you to poetry?
J.P. Celia: A childhood friend of mine, who came from a very cultured Russian Jewish family, introduced me to poetry when I was very young. I dabbled in it out of love and duty towards him, but it soon became something I enjoyed on my own.
Geosi Gyasi: You’ve said somewhere that you write because you find it pleasant and cathartic. Could you comment on this statement?
J.P. Celia: Well, I feel creative writing is fundamentally a pleasure, an intense one. This is why I’m suspicious of anything written creatively without the intent to please. You see a lot of modernist and postmodernist literature doing this, novels or poems written as if to intentionally frustrate, shock, and perplex, and which you can imagine were pure drudgery to compose. I’m against this because I believe literature should first and foremost be a pleasure, both as a reader and as a writer. It should be approached, in my opinion, naively, with expectations of delight, the way a child approaches something.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write from personal experiences?
J.P. Celia: Yes, but not entirely. I leave room for invention. One should depart from personal experience when it becomes uninteresting. You see a lot of poets writing about everything that occurs to them, as if simply by virtue of it having happened to them it’s significant. This is silly and dangerous, not to mention narcissistic. A writer should certainly write from personal experience, but not rely on it in my opinion.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you carry a particular reader in mind when you write?
J.P. Celia: I have an ideal reader in my head, but I don’t consult him when I write.
Geosi Gyasi: Do have specific subjects you write on?
J.P. Celia: Anything that is poignant, charming, true.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers have had great impact on you as a writer?
J.P. Celia: The main poets who have impacted me are William Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, John Keats, Robert Frost, Wilfred Owen, Philip Larkin, Richard Wilbur, and Donald Justice. And there are many others that I love but can’t say have impacted me. These would be John Donne, Percy Shelley, William Butler Yeats, Theodore Roethke, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Howard Nemerov, Donald Hall, W.D. Snodgrass, Stephen Crane, E.E. Cummings (at his least experimental).
Geosi Gyasi: Do you do poetry readings?
J.P. Celia: I haven’t so far. Poetry, as I’ve come to know it, is an extremely private experience, like a prayer or a kiss. I feel the stage isn’t the right place for it. Something is lost or diminished in making it public and no longer intimate. There is also a denseness to poetry that doesn’t make readings especially congenial.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, “Before Riding West”?
J.P. Celia: On that day I was simply filled with the desire to write, but with no clear idea or end in mind. I was inspired as I wrote it. This happens sometimes.
Geosi Gyasi: What things are likely to be found on your writing table?
J.P. Celia: A computer, a dictionary, a thesaurus.