Born in the Bronx, New York, Bruce Cohen’s poems and non-fiction essays have appeared in over a hundred literary periodicals such as AGNI, The Georgia Review, The Harvard Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, Prairie Schooner & The Southern Review as well as being featured on Poetry Daily & Verse Daily—He has published two previous acclaimed volumes of poetry: Disloyal Yo-Yo (Dream Horse Press), which was awarded the 2007 Orphic Poetry Prize, and Swerve (Black Lawrence Press). Placebo Junkies Conspiring with the Half-Asleep (Black Lawrence Press) is his third book. A new book, No Soap, Radio! is scheduled to appear this spring. He was recently awarded The Green Rose Prize for his new manuscript, Imminent Disappearances, Impossible Numbers & Panoramic X-Rays which will be published in 2016. AArecipient of an individual artist grant from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism, prior to joining the Creative Writing faculty at the University of Connecticut in 2012 as a Visiting Professor, he directed, developed, and implemented nationally recognized academic enhancement programs at the University of Arizona, The University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Connecticut.
Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin from your birthplace, Bronx, New York. What do you remember most about Bronx as a child?
Bruce Cohen: What I remember most was my father snuck an air conditioner into our old Brownstone. The wiring wasn’t equipped for a new fangled gadget and it was, of course, not permitted. It started a fire and the apartment was burned down we had to move in with my grandparents, also in the Bronx. I was the only son of an only son and my grandfather, at least in my memory, adored me and we spent every waking hour together, mostly in the backroom of his tailor shop. It was an Eastern European neighborhood and it felt very old world to me.
Geosi Gyasi: What books did you read as a child?
Bruce Cohen: As a child I would love to say I was a voracious reader, but I was a movie kid. My mother loved movies and she’d take me to matinees and we’d watch the Million Dollar Movie on TV. I think movies provided me with a sense of narrative and images that I love in poetry.
Geosi Gyasi: You earned both your B.A and M.F.A from the University of Arizona. What were some of your great moments as a student?
Bruce Cohen: Ah, there were so many. It was there that I met my wife. I had two fabulous teachers: Steve Orlen & Jon Anderson. I was lucky to have many amazing poet friends: David Rivard, Tony Hoagland, Bill Olsen, Michael Collier…and many more. It was a wonderful community and I learned via osmosis what it is to devote a life to trying to write.
Geosi Gyasi: What themes do you often write on?
Bruce Cohen: Whatever strikes me. I am infinitely interested. Disloyal Yo-Yo is very family oriented, Domestic Surrealism, but I like to think that everything is fair game in a poem. Nothing is not poetic. I feel in a constant state, as Rilke said, of unknowing…and I feel like I’m trying to figure out how to fit into the world.
Geosi Gyasi: A you a great reader?
Bruce Cohen: I can read quite well. It’s sort of a necessity if you write.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for your work?
Bruce Cohen: Yes, often, always. My poems are not for everyone and many have called them quirky or edgy so I feel like my poems only appeal to a particular audience. Other writers for other folks.
Geosi Gyasi: Who reads your poems?
Bruce Cohen: I have a poetry group and my wife and poet friends read my work and provide amazing feedback. I like the idea that someone I’ve never met reads my poems., someone in a café who’s a little displaced. A romantic notion I know.
Geosi Gyasi: Your book, “Disloyal Yo-Yo” was awarded the 2007 Orphic Poetry Prize. Tell us about the prize?
Bruce Cohen: Dream Horse Press holds a yearly contest and I simply threw my manuscript into the slush pile and was lucky to have it selected.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired you poetry book, “Disloyal Yo-Yo”?
Bruce Cohen: I was working long hours and raising my three sons and the poems all seemed to be about the mundane aspects of such a life, but with an imaginary life thrown in.
Geosi Gyasi: Where and when do you often write?
Bruce Cohen: I try to write something every day: at home, in my office, in my head, cocktail napkins, what have you.
Geosi Gyasi: Does inspiration matter to you as a poet?
Bruce Cohen: No, I absolutely don’t believe in inspiration. Blue collar. Work.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about how the publication for “Swerve” came about?
Bruce Cohen: It’s funny, Swerve, technically was accepted a week before “Disloyal Yo-Yo”. I was too busy to send out manuscripts for many years and decided, after getting a small grant to send my work out into the universe. I was lucky to get two books accepted so close together. Since then, I published Placebo Junkies Conspiring with the Half-Asleep and No Soap, Radio! is scheduled to appear this spring. Last month a new book, Imminent Disappearances, Impossible Numbers & Panoramic X-Rays won the Green Rose Prize from New Issues Press and will be published next spring. I feel like I’m in a lucky streak right now.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind giving us a glimpse of your forthcoming collection, “No Soap, Radio”?
Bruce Cohen: I don’t know what to say. I’m not very good at describing my own poems. You might have to read them if you have an interest.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers have influenced you most?
Bruce Cohen: Weldon Kees, Philip Larkin, Dean Young, (my master) John Berryman & Robert Hass. But many more and many poems…
Geosi Gyasi: Do you find pleasure in writing?
Bruce Cohen: Of course…
Geosi Gyasi: Do you do a lot of rewriting?
Bruce Cohen: I am an insatiable rewriter, revisionist…I actually love the revision process more than the first draft composition.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us what inspired your poem, “Japanese Buffet”?
Bruce Cohen: I was traveling for work quite a bit then and being around a lot of people I find exhausting and I become re-energized by eating alone in restaurants. I like it. I like to read and enjoy the meal and people watch. I appreciate the fact that solitary diners are an object of…well…some people I suppose think it pathetic. This poem is sort of about that…
Geosi Gyasi: Do you think about subject matter when you write?
Bruce Cohen: No, the poems write me. Otherwise I’d be bored.
Geosi Gyasi: Did anybody discourage you from being a writer?
Bruce Cohen: No…I always was and will always will be despite anything that occurs. I can’t help myself.