Tim Suermondt is the author of two full-length collections of poems: TRYING TO HELP THE ELEPHANT MAN DANCE (The Backwaters Press, 2007) and JUST BEAUTIFUL (New York Quarterly Books, 2010.) His third collection ELECTION NIGHT AND THE FIVE SATINS will be published early in 2016 by Glass Lyre Press. He has poems published and forthcoming in Poetry, The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Blackbird, Bellevue Literary Review, PANK, North Dakota Quarterly, december magazine, Plume Poetry Journal and Stand Magazine (U.K.) among others. He lives in Cambridge (MA) with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.
Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin with your book, “Trying to Help the Elephant Man Dance”. What a striking title! What necessitated this title?
Tim Suermondt: I thought the title was striking too, which I’m sure is a big reason I chose it. I can’t remember every facet (the book was published in 2007), but I knew the John Merrick story and hitched him to poets who often feel like outsiders themselves yet embrace the condition and insist on dancing with everyone else—often showing off moves the insiders can only dream about.
Geosi Gyasi: What sort of preparations do you do before the start of a book?
Tim Suermondt: I try to keep myself open to anything, and when a spark occurs I marinate and work on it in my head until there’s enough there to get me to sit down and start writing. Changes, sometimes big, will happen but I need that initial thrust and mind time to get the poem(s) rolling.
Geosi Gyasi: When did you become a writer?
Time Suermondt: I started writing when I was a boy—there was limited TV, no computers and I-Pads and all that stuff. Books took me both into the world and away from it in the best sense—adventures galore. I didn’t send work out seriously though until I was in my early 30’s.
Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write, “Trying to Help the Elephant Man Dance”?
Tim Suermondt: That’s almost impossible to say. The manuscript itself was only out for a number of years before it was accepted. New and newer and older poems appear in all my books.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the major difficulty in writing a poem?
Tim Suermondt: Getting it the way you want it and getting yourself and the Muse to be on the same page. Of course, that never happens—poetry is too neat for that. You just hope you’ve done all you could and made a decent poem, and some come very close and that’s a joy. The saw about a poem never being finished but abandoned has a lot of truth to it.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about your collection, “Just Beautiful”?
Tim Suermondt: “Just Beautiful” is my second full-length collection of poems. Raymond Hammond of NYQ Books asked for a manuscript and this is the one he got. Unlike my first book, I wrote a number of poems for “Just Beautiful” and weeded out some of the poems I thought were weaker. It did make it a stronger collection.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the importance of poetry in the modern world?
Tim Suermondt: I can’t help but think of the scene in Casablanca where Victor Lazlo answers Rick’s question as to why he fights on with: “You may as well ask why we breathe.” Poetry is the King and Queen of the Arts and with all the doublespeak of the 20th and now 21st Century, poetry is indispensable to what it means to be fully human. And let’s not forget, poetry is often a hell of a lot of fun. Those who keep droning on about the “death of poetry” don’t have a clue as to the art’s resiliency. When the chips are really down, it’s amazing how people turn to poetry, witnessed by the editor’s of newspapers and journals after 9/11 imploring people to stop sending them poems.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a favorite among all the poems you’ve written?
Tim Suermondt: No, that’s like asking a parent which of his or her children he or she likes the best. Many poems sadly didn’t make it in the end, but the ones who made the cut I have to treat equally. Okay, I do have a handful that I think I nailed better than the others, but I’m not telling.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you show your work to friends before you send them out to publishers?
Tim Suermondt: I did show poems now and then to a friend or two in the early years, but now the only person who sees the poems before they’re sent out is my wife, Pui Ying Wong. She’s a poet too, and is a compassionate critic, but a thorough and insightful one as well.
Geosi Gyasi: How long does it take you to write a single poem?
Tim Suermondt: That could be days, weeks, months—and some I still might tinker with over the years. The poems do come quicker now and I think that comes from the assurance that I know much more about the craft and art than I did in the past. Not that I know everything—far from it and I can always learn more—but at least I have a better sense of knowing what should be avoided, at least in my poems, and I can cut to the chase quicker.
Geosi Gyasi: Is there any reason why you decided to move to Cambridge after many years in Queens and Brooklyn?
Tim Suermondt: Well, financial reasons came into play, but even more than that my wife and I had lived in NYC for so long we actually decided to consider something elsewhere. We liked what we saw in Cambridge and made the move. We like the country, but we’re city people and if it was to be in the Northeast, where else? We love to travel anyway, and we can get to NYC pretty easily and can keep up a bit with the old neighborhoods—and see friends.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “Now that the Revolution Is Finished”?
Tim Suermondt: Everyone has a cause (or more) nowadays—many of which I support. But sometimes the cause, the “Revolution” becomes a be all and those of us in the “modern world” know all too well what that can lead to. I think it was Camus who said “keep the revolutions human”—probably impossible even when necessary, but the attempt is just as worthy as any revolution. The poem is just a reminder—to myself as well—of the pleasures the “Revolution” couldn’t take away, hard as it tried to.
Geosi Gyasi: Where in particular did you write “Hoops on Red Widow Road”?
Tim Suermondt: This scene actually took place in the New Territories of Hong Kong and I wrote the poem not long thereafter. I’m glad Earl Monroe got in the poem.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you regard writing as a passion or business?
Tim Suermondt: I don’t make nearly enough money to even think about my writing as a business. No, it’s a passion, a devotion—and I’m happy with it as is. Writing poems is work, but it’s what I want to do.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us something about your poem, “Staying the Courses”, published in the Fall 2014 edition of One Throne Magazine?
Tim Suermondt: I was reading “The Accidental Universe” by Alan Lightman—a good book that got me thinking of astrophysics in a sensual way. Astrophysics and sexiness—they both can enthrall, ground us merrily to our planet and the stars at the same time—red roses throughout the Universe.
Geosi Gyasi: Did you write, “My Boyhood House Still Shines Though It’s Gone” out of a personal experience?
Tim Suermondt: Yes. My father was in the Air Force and we were always moving around, always leaving things behind. And I was also thinking of the house my wife and I left behind in Brooklyn to come to Cambridge.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you often read poetry books?
Tim Suermondt: I read them a lot.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more books?
Tim Suermondt: Absolutely.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you discover One Throne Magazine?
Tim Suermondt: I was looking through a call for submissions site and One Throne looked interesting. It’s a solid magazine—good poets and production values.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you often do when you’re not writing?
Tim Suermondt: I do the “mundane” stuff that we all do, not counting traveling and long walks. I’m also a reviewer for Cervena Barva Press, evaluate poems for Bellevue Literary Review and do introductions and blurbs for books from time to time.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for your work by publishers or editors?
Tim Suermondt: Many times over the years, but that’s just the nature of the beast. I’ve also been fortunate to have been accepted many times as well.
Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently writing?
Tim Suermondt: I continue to write poems. I’m putting together a new manuscript and have a book coming out in early 2016 from Glass Lyre Press. I will also plunge in shortly and review a book, and do a blurb for the other.