Chris Green is the author of three books of poetry: The Sky Over Walgreens, Epiphany School, and Résumé. His poetry has appeared in such publications as Poetry, New York Times, New Letters, Verse, and Nimrod. He’s edited four anthologies, including Brute Neighbors: Urban Nature Poetry, Prose & Photography and the forthcoming, I Remember: A Poem by Chicago Veterans of War. He teaches in the English Department at DePaul University. More information can be found at www.chrisgreenpoetry.com.
Geosi Gyasi: First, let’s spend some time with your new book of poetry, Résumé. How would you describe Résumé to any reader?
Chris Green: It’s a book about “work” and all that the word evokes.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired Résumé?
Chris Green: So much of our precious time is spent working, and yet we rarely reflect on its sense and significance. Also, some of my most vivid memories are of specific jobs, so I wanted to try and turn them into poems, transform them into something more than anecdotes.
Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write Résumé?
Chris Green: It took 4 years. It seems like a long time considering that it’s a relatively slim book. I’d never tried to write a themed book before, and it was a challenge to sustain. Writing only job poems month after month wore me down. I periodically worried that the whole enterprise was too narrow, but gradually the poems and book widened.
Geosi Gyasi: What influenced you to write, “The Sky Over Walgreens”?
Chris Green: That was my first book—it’s full of primary memories. It took appx. 10 years to write. I became a poet by accident—I was writing an essay about one of my grandfathers when one day I realized that some of the paragraphs sounded like poems, so I submitted them to a poetry contest—and won! I’d always hated and dreaded poetry in school, so no one was more surprised than I was when I became a poet. The way schools typically teach poetry is deadly—all of those old dense, allusive poems analyzed into their spare parts. It’s very confusing and boring for most students to be tested on something that could and should be nurtured as something natural. Children like to write poems until poetry becomes part of the endless system of tests that trails them through their formative years. We’re taught poetry from pre-school through college, and yet 99.9% of the population never buys a book of poetry after college.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us what your book, “Epiphany School” is all about?
Chris Green: Whereas The Sky Over Walgreens features my past and life before fatherhood, Epiphany School is very much about life as a new father and my anxiety about the future. Having children forces you to love the world and all the possibility and danger it holds.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for your work?
Chris Green: Well, my work has been rejected occasionally (sometimes more than occasionally) by magazines and presses. Sometimes I worry that more and more editors only want what’s fashionable—cleverish poems that play with language and refuse to offer the reader much sense. Also, poetics as poetry is popular at the moment. I’m worried there are fewer and fewer places for poets who try to write humanly meaningful poems.
Geosi Gyasi: You teach in the English Department at DePaul University. How do you combine teaching and writing?
Chris Green: Teaching prep, grading, and the business of being in a university tends to swallow time. At best, I can peck away at poems in the early early mornings. Still, teaching can inspire my writing—it’s difficult not to take the advice I’m always spooning out.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it more difficult to teach than to write?
Chris Green: They’re both challenging of course. Teaching is difficult because you must grapple with so many different personalities and needs. Writing is difficult because you must grapple with only your own personality and needs.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you keep a strict writing schedule?
Chris Green: Before I had children, I would write relatively regularly in the mornings. Someone once said, “Everyone has freedom if they get up early enough.” But now, I take time where I can grab it. I usually say that consistent writing is better than occasional writing. That may be true, but, alas, life is complicated.
Geosi Gyasi: What would your advice be to a beginning writer?
Chris Green: Read. Give yourself as much time to read and write as possible. Be moderately poor for as long as possible. Be compassionate with yourself and your work.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you read lots of poetry?
Chris Green: Oh yes. I have too many favorites to name.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever written out of anger?
Chris Green: I think various forms of anger are at the heart of a number of my poems—whether it’s anger at others or myself. But usually, there must be some level of forgiveness before I have the distance from which to write.
Geosi Gyasi: When not writing or teaching, what else do you do?
Chris Green: I do all that I can with my wife and kids. We also have a lot of wonderful friends that we spend time with. I also do yoga, easy yoga—I’m pushing 50 and am still the young hot guy in the old lady yoga class!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you do lots of rewriting?
Chris Green: Yes yes. Writing is rewriting, as they say. And I love rewriting. It’s much more difficult for me to start writing a new poem than it is to revise it.
Geosi Gyasi: You’re the founder of litcity312.com. Tell us about how LitCity came into being?
Chris Green: It started as a graduate class project where my students interviewed over 100 magazines and presses from around the world, but mostly in Chicago. We then created a website focusing mainly on Chicago independent presses and literature. Unfortunately, it’s been difficult to sustain and is in hiatus at the moment.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any secret flaw as a writer?
Chris Green: I’m sure my numerous flaws are all obvious! Each poem lives with its own imperfections. If there is a flaw as a writer that I regret, it’s any moments of professional striving or jealousy. We cannot compare ourselves to other writers: we should only compare our work to our earlier work…and keep striving to improve.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you reckon are your best moments as a poet?
Chris Green: My best moments: anytime I’m writing and surprise myself with something unexpected and right.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you ever regret becoming a writer?
Chris Green: No! I couldn’t be anything else. I’m practically useless—see my most recent book of job poems as a testament to my very very limited employability.