RICHARD J. FLEMING is a survivor of three Chicago blizzards. He graduated from Mundelein College of Loyola University, and has degrees in Fine Art & English Literature. He has recently had poetry published in Right Hand Pointing, The Rusty Nail, Inkwell Mag, Curio, Otoliths, Rain, Party & Disaster Society and Rattle. Right Hand Pointing published his first Chap book, “Aperture”. You can read it here: https://sites.google.com/site/richardflemingrhp/
Geosi Gyasi: Your biography online often says of you as a reformed street poet from Chicago. Could you explain the phrase reformed street poet?
Richard J. Fleming: When I first decided to take myself seriously as a poet, I was leading a very Bohemian life style. I was a member of a guerrilla street theater group comprised mostly of students from the Art Institute and Columbia College. I frequently read poetry at open mike in places like the Body Politic, Kingston Mines and the Green Mill. None of us worked. All we did was write poetry or perform. We met up anywhere, in the park, on a bus, down by the lake. When the poetry slams started at the Green Mill, and the emphasis began to be more on performance rather than content, I drifted away from the scene. But, I never stopped writing. A couple of years ago I started submitting poems on line. Hence, the “reformation”. I’m no longer taking it to the streets; but taking it to the Internet.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you describe the literary culture in Chicago?
Richard J. Fleming: I’m sure there is one. After all, Poetry Magazine is based here; and I know they promote plenty of Literary events. But, I’m not really a part of it. Up until I started submitting work in 2012, I’ve pretty much kept to myself.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you indulge in other genres of literature beside poetry?
Richard J. Fleming: Not really. I’ve written a few plays; but they were all in verse.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you describe your work of selling paint to starving artists?
Richard J. Fleming: I have a Fine Arts background. When I got tired of living hand to mouth, I took a job at an Art Supply Company, and I have been doing it ever since. I’m not a career oriented person. It just seemed like the path of least resistance.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most difficult poem you’ve written?
Richard J. Fleming: I once wrote a 30 page poem in rhyming couplets of iambic pentameter, based on Layamon’s Middle English poem, Brut. I dedicated it to Queen Elizabeth II, and presented it at Buckingham Palace on her Silver Jubilee. In a drawer someplace, I probably still have a letter of gratitude from her official secretary.
Geosi Gyasi: How profitable is it to become a poet?
Richard J. Fleming: Not a good career move, if you think that way. I received 17 copies of Rattle, which I opted for in lieu of the $50 contributor’s payment I would have otherwise received.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you regard form when writing?
Richard J. Fleming: I emerged from a strong background of traditional verse. For years, I wrote blank verse, iambic pentameter, hexameter, sonnets, odes, rhyme, meter, you name it. Even now, when I write a prose poem that seem to have no form, the shadow of form can’t help but creep into the work.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired “Burn After Reading”?
Richard J. Fleming: I wrote it right after the 2012 Election. It just rolled out; themes of Government surveillance, the election, communication with real or imagined entities, just swimming around, vying for attention in my head.
Geosi Gyasi: Why did you write “send in the clones”?
Richard J. Fleming: Someone said that the three universal themes of Literature are Sex, Power and Death. I have always been interested in good Science Fiction. I think the genre has provided us with some pertinent (for the present age), themes. I find themes such as Immortality, Time Travel, Artificial Intelligence and Cloning, fascinating.
Geosi Gyasi: Why did you study at Loyola University Mundelein College?
Richard J. Fleming: I attended Northern Illinois University for four years and studied Fine Arts and English Literature. But, I never took the required Basic courses for a degree. Ten years later, I received a Grant, and Mundelein had a program, called a contractual degree. It was a very liberal program. I had a mentor from the Art department, and one from the English department. I could monitor and attend any class I was interested in. I made my own course descriptions and syllabus; and they gave me credit for the Art courses I had taken at Northern and the Poetry I was working on at the time. I received a B.A. in Fine Art and another B.A. in English Literature.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember some of the teachers who had a profound influence on your study?
Richard J. Fleming: I would have to say Rev. John Beall, Prefect of Discipline at my high school, Loyola Academy in Wilmette. With the tough love of a Jesuit Intellectual, he made me read a lot of classic literature, everything from Romeo and Juliet to Moby Dick. At Northern, I experienced the Zen influence of Lucien Stryk, a prominent Academic and poet who taught Oriental Literature and Philosophy. At Mundelein, I benefited from the erudite guidance of my mentor in the English department, Michael Fortune. I should also mention Richard Vogt, a fellow Chicago Poet who greatly encouraged my devotion to Poetry.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write “Aperture”?
Richard J. Fleming: After publishing several of my poems, Dale Wisely the editor of Right Hand Pointing invited me to do a chapbook. He wanted short poems, 75-100 words. Most of my work is longer. From the shorter pieces I had available, I felt that these were thematically cohesive, when arranged in a loose order that corresponded to the books of the Old Testament.
Geosi Gyasi: Is “Aperture” your first chapbook?
Richard J. Fleming: Yes, it is.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write?
Richard J. Fleming: Anytime. I carry a notebook around with me everywhere. But, I do like to ride my bike down by the lake, find some quiet rock overlooking the water, and write.
Geosi Gyasi: Which books have influenced your writing?
Richard J. Fleming: Although, I do share your enthusiasm for J.M. Coetzee, a list of books that have influenced me would be longer than this interview. So, I will take the question to mean writers, and specifically poets. Early on, I liked the usual suspects: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Keats, Shelley. In my 20’s, I came to appreciate poets like Rimbaud, Rilke, E.E. Cummings and Beats like Kerouac and Gary Snyder. Of late, I am drawn to poets such as Charles Simic, the prose poems of Rosemarie Waldrop, and John Ashbery, particularly his books around the turn of the century, like Do You Hear Bird. As far as Contemporary Poets who submit frequently to on line sites, I like Howie Good and Alex Stolis.
Geosi Gyasi: How long does it take to write a single poem?
Richard J. Fleming: Depends. Occasionally it all falls together, and I can hammer it out in a couple of days. The average is usually about a week.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the motivation behind your poem “Flowers for Algernon”?
Richard J. Fleming: I often find it hard to attribute any definite motivation to the poems I write. I prefer that they provoke a mood, an atmosphere, a fascination with the language, that may resonate differently with each person who reads them. Flowers for Algernon is my usual mash up of random thoughts with similar attitudes hanging around together in front of the same building.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about critics when you write?
Richard J. Fleming: I never gave much consideration to critics. To me, the most important criteria for being a poet is not remuneration or fame, or even notoriety, but merely to always perfect your Art. However, lately I have been more respectful of the commentary of others when they read my work. They often make salient observations that I hadn’t considered.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific audience you write for.
Richard J. Fleming: Not really. Although, I am not so naive, that I don’t think people who are drawn to my work, have a similar appreciation for the cultural, historical and often esoteric references I frequently employ. But, I would hope that anyone could read it and enjoy the moment, whether they understood all the references or not.
Geosi Gyasi: Does your family approve of your writing?
Richard J. Fleming: My parents must have thought I had been abducted by aliens, taken apart and reassembled with a few parts missing. I don’t think they ever understood my writing. I do have a nephew who once was the lead singer in a punk rock band, and now teaches English as a second language at a University in Turkey. He loves my poems. But then, he is a bit like me. My girlfriend also really likes my work, and is very supportive; but that only stands to reason.
Geosi Gyasi: What are your future writing plans?
Richard J. Fleming: Just keep writing; pushing the envelope. It helps to keep the mind tuned.
Geosi Gyasi: Perhaps you may have a question for me to end the interview?
Richard J. Fleming: Not so much a question; but I do confess to a certain curiosity. After reading your blog, and seeing some of the prominent writers you have interviewed, I did wonder why you chose to interview a poet like me with somewhat of a postmodern bent to much of his work?
Geosi Gyasi: The truth is that, your haiku, published in Rattle #47, caught my attention. I particularly enjoyed this one: “a bike/chained to a tree/rusts”.