Interview with Bob Lucky, Author of “Ethiopian Time”

Photo: Bob Lucky

Photo: Bob Lucky

Brief Biography:

Bob Lucky currently lives in Jubail, Saudi Arabia. He was educated at Dartmouth College and holds an MA in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Washington, Seattle, and an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Texas at El Paso. His work has appeared in various journals such as Flash, Rattle, KYSO Flash, Modern Haiku and Haibun Today. His chapbook Ethiopian Time, a collection of haibun, tanka prose and prose poetry, was an honorable mention in the recent Touchstone Book Awards. He is an editor at Contemporary Haibun Online. In his free time he makes noise on a variety of ukuleles.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you see yourself as a writer?

Bob Lucky: I’m not sure I see myself as a writer now. I write, I edit an online literary journal, Contemporary Haibun Online, but I’m not paying the bills with my literary activities. Like many writers, I have a day job that I can’t quit. That’s the social and economic reality. In my mind I’ve always wanted to be a writer and I’ve been regularly publishing since 2007, though before that I did infrequently publish travel articles and essays and did a fair bit of food writing in the 1990s.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember your first piece of writing?

Bob Lucky: A haiku in elementary school. I remember that because my teacher and one of my grandmother’s liked it. It was, in hindsight, an awful haiku, just a simile about the sun being like an orange broken into three lines of 5-7-5. It was a nice feeling to have a fan club of two. And I remember the first time I got paid; it was for an article about Indian travelers to Japan, for Japan Airlines’ inflight magazine. That was some time in the last quarter of the 20th century!

Geosi Gyasi: How do you start a poem?

Bob Lucky: I often start with an image or a phrase. I rarely know where the poem is heading. Every once in a while, I have an idea, but poems that start with an idea are often stillborn, at least in my hands.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write, “Wouldn’t You Confess”?

Bob Lucky: That was a poem that started with an idea, but an idea that I abandoned. The frustration of writing a protest poem became the poem. I had been reading Robert Hass’s Time and Materials, and had come across an anti-war-poem by Marvin Bell – I can’t remember which one – and felt that I wanted to write something “meaningful.” What I wrote was sincere but very boring, too earnest. “Wouldn’t You Confess?” arose out of my inability to write an anti-war poem. I let go of the idea and went with the emotion.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you know when you’ve come to the end of a poem?

Bob Lucky: I usually go beyond the end of the poem and find myself stranded in the white space at the bottom of the page. When I revise I often find the end of the poem further back up the page.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you start writing haiku?

Bob Lucky: Like most Americans, I was introduced to haiku in elementary school. It was taught more as an aid to syllable counting than as literature.

Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that it is so easy to write haiku?

Bob Lucky: It’s hard to answer this question without looking silly or pompous, but the answer is “no.” It’s hard to write a haiku. Once you learn how to read a haiku, which is the first hurdle, you understand how hard it is to write a good one. I’ve written thousands of bad and mediocre haiku.

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you get the inspiration to write?

Bob Lucky: Observing, listening, and reading. My first foray into graduate school was anthropology. And I haven’t lived in my ‘home’ country in years. I’m like the so-called professional stranger. As an outsider, I’ve learned that it behooves me to pay attention.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you get rejections for your works?

Bob Lucky: All the time. Doesn’t everyone? What can one do but keep writing, revising, and submitting. As an editor, I’m also on the other side of that equation so I know not to take rejection personally, not that it doesn’t sting sometimes.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific audience you write for?

Bob Lucky: Not really. I write for myself, of course, and I read journals before submitting so I know what their editors and readers want. When I first began publishing poetry regularly I wanted to run drafts by my wife. That didn’t go well. When she liked something, I accused her of not being critical. When she didn’t like something, I accused her of being critical. Now and then she’ll read some of my published work, but I don’t consider her my audience. I write for myself first and then go looking for the best audience.

Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write?

Bob Lucky: For me, early morning is a good time to write, but as we all know it’s also a good time to sleep. The past year I’ve done most of my writing on the weekends or late in the evenings. I like to have a good block of time to work with.

Ethiopian Time by Bob Lucky

Ethiopian Time by Bob Lucky

Geosi Gyasi: Where do you often write?

Bob Lucky: I move every few years so routine, a regular time and place for writing, is often hard to maintain. When I moved to Saudi Arabia, I wrote at the dining room table until my old writing desk arrived in the shipment from Ethiopia. Now I still write at the dining room table but also upstairs in a small study crammed with ukuleles, which are major distractions for me.

Geosi Gyasi: Which books have had the greatest impact on you as a writer?

Bob Lucky: Every book has an impact on me. Reading has an impact on me. I can’t think of one that has particularly impacted me as a writer. Many books have inspired and awed me. Lately I’ve tried to read all of Cesar Aira’s novels that have been translated into English. These days my Spanish reading level is best suited to cookbooks. I’m intrigued by his approach to literature.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a favorite among all the poems you’ve written?

Bob Lucky: Not really. I like some of them. When I get something of mine that has been published, I read it once or twice, maybe pat myself on the back, and then put it away. About the only time I read my old work is when someone asks permission to reprint something.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any special ritual you engage in before you write?

Bob Lucky: I like to have something to drink. Coffee or tea if I’m writing in the morning, a glass of wine or single malt scotch in the evening. Living in Saudi Arabia has changed the evening ritual. I usually like silence but sometimes I put on some instrumental music as background, especially if I’m fully engaged in a longer writing project. I like Hindustani classical music but lately have been listening to the band Moon Hooch.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, “Working with Ghosts”?

Bob Lucky: I’m not sure. Probably having read Cesar Aira’s Ghosts.

Geosi Gyasi: How long does it take you to write a single poem?

Bob Lucky: I write mostly short poems and flash, so the writing often doesn’t take long, but the cogitation and then the rewriting can go on forever.

Geosi Gyasi: Can you tell the future of poetry?

Bob Lucky: I feel hybrid poetry of different types may become more accepted/published. As a haibun and tanka prose writer, I find that encouraging. “Working with Ghosts” is not the type of tanka prose one sees in the usual tanka and tanka prose venues. But that is beginning to change as well, I think.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you talk about your chapbook, “Ethiopian Time”?

Bob Lucky: I lived in Ethiopia for four years. Outside of India, where I lived for a time in the mid-1980s, it is the place that has most astounded me. Much of what I wrote in those four years were attempts to make sense of my experiences there. When I knew I was leaving, I gathered together some haibun, tanka prose, and prose poems written in or about Ethiopia. I suppose you might characterize it as a memoir/travel book. The chapbook was recently shortlisted for a Touchstone book award.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently writing?

Bob Lucky: Short form poetry mostly, some flash. I’ve always got a big project going on in my head. Some of those projects have been there for decades. Recently I had an idea inspired by Thai funeral cookbooks. You never know.

Geosi Gyasi: What are you currently reading?

Bob Lucky: Ruth Padel’s The Poem and the Journey and Will Grove-White’s Get Plucky with the Ukulele. I’m rereading Modern Japanese Tanka, edited and translated by Makoto Ueda.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your works?

Bob Lucky: I imagine most of my readers are writers who publish in the same journals I publish in.

END.

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