Christopher McCurry teaches high school English, is a Junior Editor at Accents Publishing, and a Field Office Advocate for poets. His poems have appeared in Limestone, the Los Angeles Review and Rabbit Catastrophe Review, Rattle and others. He is a Kentucky Teacher Fellow at the Bread Loaf School of English and the author of Splayed, a book of love poems.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “Cooking Dinner, Naming a Child”?
Christopher McCurry: My girlfriend and I found out that we would be having a child a few weeks before I left to study abroad in Ecuador. We’d only been together for about a year at that time, and after deciding together that we were ready to raise a child, we cooked dinner, spaghetti, and discussed names. We started throwing stuff out there to see if anything sounded good. Names from our childhood, movies, favorite books. Girls’ names. Boys’ names. At the same time, as the noodles cooked, we threw angel hair pasta against the walls to gage whether or not it was finished cooking.
Geosi Gyasi: What is your poem, “Lady Luck” all about?
Christopher McCurry: Perception, I think. What’s lucky for me may not be lucky for you. It’s a short poem with a kind of shock value. I think I had just lost in poker when I wrote it.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you become a writer/poet?
Christopher McCurry: Probably about 5, going on 6, years ago now. A part of me wants to say that I’m still in the becoming, but that might sound disingenuous to someone reading this or something I’ve published. I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunities I’ve had, like this one, and I honestly do feel like I constantly have to prove to myself that I’m a writer. Not necessarily by writing anything good or worthwhile, but by writing or trying to write. On that front I fail daily.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you want to be addressed: Writer or Poet?
Christopher McCurry: I’ll respond happily to either! I like to write all sorts of stuff, even though I’ve been most successful with poetry.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the greatest challenge you’ve ever encountered as a writer/poet?
Christopher McCurry: Finding time and protecting the space. With a toddler and a full time job teaching high school, there are weeks and weeks when no writing happens. In those moments, it’s about keeping the space in my head and heart open enough to still observe and feel the world around me.
Geosi Gyasi: Whom do you look up to as a writer/poet?
Christopher McCurry: Steinbeck, Márquez, McCarthy, and Morrison were my first literary loves, and I’ll spend a life time learning lessons from rereading their books, but the more I participate in the community of writers in Kentucky, the more I learn about writing as a trade, about literary citizenship, about cultivating a positive and healthy life through words. Poets and writers who love what they are doing and love the people around them, whether it be writing and publishing a Zine, blogging, editing journals, are my current inspiration.
The poet who has had the most influence on my life and writing is the Bulgarian-American poet Katerina Stoykova-Klemer. I first met her when she read some poems from her first book, The Air Around the Butterfly, at the University of Kentucky campus while I was in undergrad studying to become a teacher. I loved her poems. She’s been my mentor since I started writing poetry.
Geosi Gyasi: When and where do you often write?
Christopher McCurry: At night, after tucking my daughter in, I usually try to get some writing done. Mostly I write prose though, it seems to be more forgiving to a tired mind. Poems come when they come. I’ve written some ideas down in the car, on my hand while giving a lecture. I’ll just ask my students to wait one moment and they usually do. I write best when surrounded by other creative people, listening and reading and thinking.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best poem you’ve ever written?
Christopher McCurry: The ones I am most proud of are the ones that will probably never see publication. They are poems that say exactly what I want to say to someone, in the best way I know how to say it. I’m thinking of poems I share with my loved ones, written specifically for them.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember your first piece of writing?
Christopher McCurry: I remember the first time I was praised for writing. In the sixth grade Mrs. Sherrow had us keep a simile/metaphor journal. We needed 25 similes or metaphors in our notebooks for each semester. The day they were due I was scrambling to finish and outside of the classroom window I saw a line of teachers’ cars that were all parked nose first in the spaces except for one. I wrote a simile about the cars sleeping in the bed like children. I can’t remember how it went, exactly, but she liked it so much she shared it with the class and took it to share with other teachers. In the seventh grade my English teachers had an award ceremony for writing, and I won the poetry contest with a short poem about dew on the grass. They gave the winning writers a medal. I’ve got mine tucked away in a shoebox in my closet still.
Geosi Gyasi: What theme(s) do you often write on?
Christopher McCurry: Love, sex, masculinity, failure, growing older, my daughter, marriage. I like to engage with humor, but humor is hard.
Geosi Gyasi: You teach high school English and intern at Accents Publishing. Could you tell us anything about the publishing industry?
Christopher McCurry: I’ve been with Accents for a couple of years now. We are a small outfit, seven of us working on chapbooks and full-length books of poetry. I can tell you that independent publishers love what they do and love the books they publish. It’s a very intimate process, often leading to future collaborations between editor and writer.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you get your first piece of work published?
Christopher McCurry: I like this story because it is also the first interaction I had with the woman who would become the mother of my daughter and eventually my wife.
The University of Kentucky had an undergraduate literary journal publishing poetry and fiction. I was in a fiction workshop, and so I sent in a story that I had written for the class. A couple of weeks later my submission was returned with an acceptance contingent on a couple of “light”edits. This email came from the short story editor (my future wife), and the light edits removed over a thousand words and a large scene in the middle of the story. After some discussion back and forth about it through email, I ended up seeing it her way, and the journal accepted the edited piece. Several months later I ended up working on the journal and meeting my future wife who was still there editing short stories mercilessly. I’ve since learned she is rarely wrong about good writing.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you often get rejections from publishers?
Christopher McCurry: I think my acceptance/rejection ration is somewhere around 1/75, maybe higher. If a poem isn’t sticking out to the editors at several places, I’ll either work on it and send it again or retire it. I don’t linger too much on the submission process, it can bog me down. The main goal is to get back to the writing as quickly as possible.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any ritual you do before you sit down to write?
Christopher McCurry: I buy the same kind of notebook. It fits in my pocket, but has enough bulk that I won’t misplace it too often. I try to have a clean desk and a clean house, but that’s not possible. I find that rituals slow me down, and become an excuse not to write, if I let them.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you write love poems?
Christopher McCurry: My first chapbook of poems, Splayed, is a book of love poems. They aren’t always romantic but there’s love in every poem. But really, is there any other type of poem!
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best response you’ve ever received from a fan of your work?
Christopher McCurry: People are so amazing. A friend of mine who writes prose wrote a long email to me about how much he enjoyed Splayed and that meant a great deal to me. The other day at an open-mic a local poet approached me with my book, and inside of it he had written a bunch of his own poems alongside mine. He said when he got stuck he would steal a line or look at the poem for inspiration. Just knowing that someone read my poems and enjoyed them is enough to make my day.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the relevance of poetry?
Christopher McCurry: Oh shoot. I don’t know. Some days it seems unwieldy and unnatural to push a thought through a narrow funnel of sound and rhythm, then organize it on a page. But then, inevitably, I read a line that strikes a chord so deep inside of me that I know the relevance of poetry is in the emotional coalescing of living and sharing this life of consciousness.
Geosi Gyasi: What are your hopes as a writer for the future?
Christopher McCurry: To inspire others to read and write their own poetry and stories. To not have my daughter be embarrassed by me. A lofty and futile goal, I know.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you do poetry readings?
Christopher McCurry: Yeah, but they make me nervous. When I’m finished reading my back is always cramped up and it takes me a while to catch my breath. I envy the poets who are also exceptional performers.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most boring part of writing?
Christopher McCurry: The revising. I have a hard time getting into revision of an older work. The longer I spend away from it, the harder it is to get back to it. Generating new material is just so much more fun and refreshing.
Geosi Gyasi: How do you begin a poem?
Christopher McCurry: I look for the clearest and most interesting path into the emotion or idea I want to convey with the poem. I think a good poem is easy to fall in to and satisfying to climb out of.