James Proffitt is a 45-year-old freelance writer living in Marblehead, Ohio. After working as a reporter for a group of Gannett newspapers for six years, he now writes freelance fishing, hunting, conservation and Lake Erie-related pieces. He is also a photographer and is currently working on a book about the Marblehead Lighthouse for The History Press. In the distant past, he was editor of the small press rag, Great Midwestern Quarterly. His poems, fiction and photos have appeared in North American Review, Red Rock Review, Blueline, Notre Dame Review, Chautauqua, Tampa Review, New Letters and elsewhere.
Geosi Gyasi: “For the past seven years I have reported news and created a photo collection while living in a little trailer…” Could you explain this statement?
James Proffitt: As a reporter for a group of a dozen or so small Gannett newspapers in Ohio, I have been active in the news and photo front, mostly on stories and places along the shores of Lake Erie. While reporting news, I have also been constantly on the prowl for interesting and unusual photos. Most of my subjects are inanimate, and involve either the natural or the decaying man-made. I have been fortunate enough to sell some images at the retail level here and there, and also to have a local school district order some larger canvases for new constructed buildings. I have placed two small groups in New Letters and Chariton Review.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, “On Being a Carpet Installer”?
James Proffitt: Well, now that caused a row with my wife, whose family were in the business, and of course, I was also. Mostly, just the experience of literally having people look down at you. It gets old, and it plays out as you could imagine it might. There’s nothing wrong with carpet installers, mind you, though sometimes the company can leave a little bit to be desired. Especially with the early morning joints en route to job sites. I will have to say, one of my favorite sayings though, which I did not use in the poem, was: “A man on a galloping horse would never notice.” This was often uttered when carpet was cut a little short and either you placed furniture on top of it or you sprayed glue onto the floor, then took a razor knife and shredded some carpet “fuzz” onto the glue.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you become a writer?
James Proffitt: I began writing in my early teens, probably in seventh grade. And while the output has surged and ebbed, depending on jobs and other factors, it has never stopped.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest challenge you’ve ever encountered as a writer?
James Proffitt: Probably reconciling my work with those around me. The problem with writing, with respect to non-writers, is that for some reason, they often feel the writing is a commentary on my life or theirs, or that it is somehow relevant to them. In my experience, when non-writers read your work or your notes, they invariably become irritated, defensive, jealous or suspicious. It has always been difficult to convey to others that just because it’s written, doesn’t mean it’s true, or real, or relevant to them. In the past, prying eyes have always been met with turmoil.
Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary forebears?
James Proffitt: In poetry, it began with a copy of “31 New American Poets,” (Hill & Wang, 1969) and went from there. The names Plath, Bukowski, Richard Brautigan, Sharon Olds, Rita Dove and Andrew Hudgins, among others, have gotten my reading attention. Of course, the old-school classics, Eliot, Whitman, For more than two decades I have been perusing the poems of The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Christian Science Monitor and other publications, both large and small alike. During any given year, I subscribe to about ten journals.
Geosi Gyasi: When and where do you often write?
James Proffitt: There is no single place that I necessarily consider my writing place. Revision, of course, most often happens at a small desk at my home. But the initial writing for poems or short stories almost always takes place out somewhere. Places where I have often written things include while fishing or hunting or hiking, at bars, while driving or after waking up in the middle of the night.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best poem you’ve ever written?
James Proffitt: I have had my favorites over the years, though they they tend to fade with the advent of a next favorite. Currently, “June Pastoral” is my favorite. The 17-line poem features berries, rain other quaint shit. Perhaps the reason it remains my top pick is that Briar Cliff Review paired it with artwork and created a handsome poster for promotional purposes.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember your first piece of writing?
James Proffitt: My very first piece was a story I wrote in first grade, for no particular reason. I illustrated it and gave it to my teacher and I think I must have been pretty proud of it. My mother even saved it for years, and in fact, she may still have it in a box somewhere. My first serious attempt at verse I remember well, but would definitely rather not talk about it. It was a start, though.
Geosi Gyasi: What theme(s) do you often write on?
James Proffitt: I have found that stark reality works best for me, whether of a natural nature or delving into human relationships and activities. In my experience, I rarely do too well with success, happiness and the like.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you get your first piece of work published?
James Proffitt: My first piece poem published outside of school (high school) came when Mary Groneman, an instructor at the Cincinnati Art Academy, accepted a poem titled “Market Research.” I was working for a market research firm at the time, and when my manager got wind of it, was excited and wanted to print it in the company newsletter. Of course, after reading the poem, which did not rhyme and was not exactly a cheerful piece, tempered the manager’s desire to share it with others company-wide. I guess that means it was a good poem.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any ritual you do before you sit down to write?
James Proffitt: No. It just happens wherever, whenever. For me, a ritual would mean that I have the ability to sit down and know what’s coming, or that I necessarily have the power to conjure words from thin air at a certain time or a certain place.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write love poems?
James Proffitt: Yes, though they are never the sweet dotings or the intense ramblings that often come to mind when thinking of love poems. And by the time I write them, the objects of my affection have long since parted.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best response you’ve ever received from a fan of your work?
James Proffitt: Over the years, I’ve received many responses, in many forms. While emails and notes are nice, and appreciated, probably the most memorable interactions with an audience have come in personal words, that is, after a reading. A firm, lingering two-handed shake, a brief conversation amid the din of a crowded room and the knowledge that one person, at least, was deeply moved and made it known.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the relevance of poetry?
James Proffitt: Today, it is as relevant to the same group of people as it always has been, over the centuries. Unfortunately, the group is a small one and I fear it will always be a small one.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you do poetry readings?
James Proffitt: It has been, over the years, a rare treat. I have participated in a few informal slams, and won two, including one with a small cash prize. I traveled to NYC twice for launch readings and recordings for Rattappallax, and will be traveling to Los Angeles this February for a Rattle reading. I have never been one to take advantage of open mics, though I have attended my fair share. In high school, I gave my first “reading,” having won a small scholarship for a poem I wrote.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part of writing?
James Proffitt: For me, the most boring part is revision. With poems, it’s not so bad because the sheer volume of words you’re working with is so much lower. It simply seems to drone on for months, or years, lingering
Geosi Gyasi: Do you want readers to like what you do?
James Proffitt: Of course, though personal satisfaction is probably the most important goal. But by the same token, the more others appreciate a work, the more satisfying it becomes.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you an avid reader?
James Proffitt: Yes. Although my life is hectic, and making a living eats up so much of my time, one of the most productive uses of time for me, as a writer, is reading. Whether fiction, non-fiction, poetry, magazine articles or news, reading always leads to writing.