Neil Ellman, a poet from New Jersey, has published more than 1,100 poems in print and online journals, anthologies and chapbooks throughout the world. Primarily basing his paintings on works of visual arts, he has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, twice for Best of the Net, and also for the Rhysling Award. His first full-length collection, Parallels: Selected Ekphrastic Poetry, 2009-2012, contains more than 200 of his previously published works. His second collection is due out later in 2015.
Geosi Gyasi: I learnt from online that you’ve published almost 1,000 poems. You’re prolific writer, I think?
Neil Ellman: I have now published more than 1,100 poems. I suppose you could say I’m prolific.
Geosi Gyasi: Among all the poems you’ve written, do you have a personal favorite?
Neil Ellman: My favorite is always the one I sent out last; but then if it’s rejected, it becomes my least favorite. Even when it’s accepted, and I have a second, later chance to read it, it always seems less exciting.
Geosi Gyasi: What naturally inspires you to write?
Neil Ellman: Most of the time, it’s art, particularly modern art.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you become a writer?
Neil Ellman: I have been writing poetry since high school. I suppose it’s because some teacher foolishly encouraged me.
Geosi Gyasi: Let’s talk about your first full-length collection, Parallels: Selected Ekphrastic Poetry, 2009-2012. How did you come to write it?
Neil Ellman: All of my poems have a very tenuous existence—online, in which case they will vanish into the ether at some point; or even in some obscure journal, in which case they will turn to dust. Thus, I felt a need to preserve the “best” of my poem for my heirs.
Geosi Gyasi: You have five beautifully written Ekphrastic poems published in the current issue of Verse-Virtual. Could you tell us what an Ekphrastic poem is?
Neil Ellman: It sounds more intellectual than it is. It is no more than writing a poem expressing one’s reaction to a work of art.
Geosi Gyasi: How difficult is it to write Ekphrastic poem as compared to other forms of poetry.
Neil Ellman: For me, it is much easier, but the work fo art provides a prompt, a jumping off point.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your Ekphrastic poem, “The Painter in Bed”?
Neil Ellman: It’s a peculiar, almost childlike work by a rather peculiar artist, and it made me wonder what a painter was doing and thinking in bed rather than being at his easel. It’ really a sad poem.
Geosi Gyasi: What influenced your decision to go to Indiana University to pursue a Masters degree?
Neil Ellman: I went on the advice of one of my instructors, who believed that the school had a very fine English Department. He was right.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific place where you sit to write?
Neil Ellman: Bed.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your poems?
Neil Ellman: Not really, but probably not many. Most literary magazines have very limited readerships. Occasionally, I get an e-mail or Facebook message from a reader. Here’s a dirty little truth: the vast majority of poetry readers are poets themselves. Are you?
Geosi Gyasi: Is there any relationship between teaching and writing?
Neil Ellman: For me, they were two different worlds. In fact, I did not write a single poem during my career as an educator.
Geosi Gyasi: What is your main purpose for why you write?
Neil Ellman: To get accepted and published, which serves the ultimate end of getting read.
Geosi Gyasi: What are your literary writing plans?
Neil Ellman: To keep going.
Geosi Gyasi: Is there any single writer who has influenced you as a writer?
Neil Ellman: Wallace Stevens.
Geosi Gyasi: What would be your initial advice to any budding writer who wants to quit the business of writing?
Neil Ellman: If your only reason for writing is that you want to get rich, famous and wildly appreciated—quit! If you enjoy it, that’s reason enough to keep writing.
Geosi Gyasi: Finally, is it possible to earn a living from writing poems?
Neil Ellman: Only a few writers, and certainly not poets, can really earn a living directly from writing. If they develop enough of a reputation, they can do well by teaching in an MFA program, conducting workshops, and doing readings. Or in a case like William Carlos Williams, being a pediatrician.