John Brantingham is the author of books such as Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art and The Green of Sunset. He teaches writing at Mt. San Antonio College and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and he is the Writer-in-Residence at the dA Center for the Arts in Pomona, California. His blog Thirty Days Until Done give a prompt a day in a unified theme for every month. http://johnbrantingham.blogspot.com/
Geosi Gyasi: What is it about your new book, “Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art”?
John Brantingham: Thank you so much for interviewing me. I really appreciate the chance to talk about my work.
This is a book that I wrote with my friend, Jeffrey Graessley, about works of art, especially what we saw in the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena, California. We tried to use the paintings to prompt ideas about art and humanity, especially those works that were making broader social statements or were created in a particularly wrought moment of history. I have always loved writing about art, but working with Jeffrey was a real experience because he opened my eyes to the way that he saw the world and art which is of course different than the way I do.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you get to hear about your publisher, Silver Birch Press?
John Brantingham: Silver Birch is one of my favorite presses and has been for a while now. I’ve been reading their books because they often publish my favorite poets, people like Gerald Locklin, Joan Jobe Smith, and Fred Voss. I was lucky enough to get some of my poems into a couple of their anthologies, so I thought I’d take a chance.
Geosi Gyasi: How long did it take you to write, “Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art”?
John Brantingham: It took about six months. It’s hard to be precise here because we came back and revised a couple of times. Some of the sonnets in the series were written a few years before and then revised to fit our vision of the collection.
Geosi Gyasi: What does it take to become a writer?
John Brantingham: There are two ways to think of this question. First, a writer is just someone who writes. I spend four to five hours a day writing at a minimum. I’ve been writing since I was fifteen or sixteen years old, and I’m forty-four today. Also, included with this is reading. I read a minimum of 100 books a year. None of this proves that I’m a hard-working person. This is a lot of fun.
The second way to think about this is what does it take to be a professional writer. What distinguishes the professional from the amateur is promotion. An amateur does not promote and does not try to make money from his or her work. Not promoting your work is unethical if you are a professional because of the investment of time and effort of those who work with you. Because of that, I do readings and have developed blogs. I teach classes and work with people. I try to make appearances. This takes me a couple hours of work every day, and this is work. I enjoy it, but not the way I enjoy writing.
Geosi Gyasi: Is there any personal aim for why you set up the blog, “30 Days until Done”?
John Brantingham: The idea behind the blog is that if you write every day for a month and you follow a unified theme, your writing will be much stronger and you will have a short collection finished every thirty days. More than anything, writing daily will help you to be a good writer.
I set it up for two reasons. The first is to help promote my work. I can keep people informed of what I have out by using this. The second is that I really enjoy teaching, and I wanted to make sure that my former students kept writing. It’s really easy to fall out of the writing life and not do it every day. If you don’t write every day, then it’s nearly impossible to keep going.
Geosi Gyasi: How different is your book, “The Green of Sunset” from “Dual Impressions: Poetic Conversations about Art”?
John Brantingham: “The Green of Sunset” was written at a time when I was deeply depressed and working through the pain of some personal experiences. I was drinking and dealing with feelings of worthlessness. It was largely a book written to myself. The central metaphor of the piece is that there are moments in life, like when the sunset is no longer orange, but turning to green that no one notices but are nonetheless beautiful because of their subtlety. If we can focus on the small beauty that we’re inclined to miss, we can find joy. “Dual Impressions” moved out of myself. I want writing about the world around me rather than about me. It’s not as directly emotional, or rather it’s just not about me in the same way.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific place you sit to write?
John Brantingham: No, I move around a lot. I run a group called Shut up and Write at the dA Center for the Arts in Pomona, California. We meet there every day for three hours and do nothing but shut up and write. I like working there because I love the creative energy that surrounds us. Aside from that, I’ll write wherever I am. I’m about half deaf and can’t hear high tones at all, so generally public places and noise don’t bother me. I’m writing this from a Starbucks right now. Later, I’ll be home, and I’ll work for a few hours there.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you know who reads your books?
John Brantingham: I’m most well known in the Los Angeles area, especially in Long Beach and the San Gabriel Valley. I think nearly all of my readers live here although I’m branching out all over California and the rest of the states. I have a few readers in England and Canada where I publish occasionally, and just this year, I did my first literary tour of China, which was amazing.
Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary forebears?
John Brantingham: Raymond Carver, John Steinbeck, Gerald Locklin, Charles Bukowski, Joan Jobe Smith, Andre Dubus, Sharon Olds, Elmore Leonard, Rex Stout, and Bonnie Hearn Hill. I love them all.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell me about the inspiration behind your book, “Let Us All Pray Now To Our Own Strange Gods”?
John Brantingham: That was a short story collection about the restoring powers of the natural world, especially the forest. I wanted to show how the forest can put any difficulty in life in perspective.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the best time to write?
John Brantingham: For me it’s the morning. That’s when I have the most hope and energy, and hope is really the mood I want when I write. That’s changed over my lifetime. When I was young, I was a late night guy.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that poetry is no longer relevant in the modern world?
John Brantingham: No, absolutely not. Poetry used to be reserved for a small group of wealthy people. The modern world and new technology has opened poetry to humanity in a way it has never been. More people write and read poetry than ever did in the past, and because it’s no longer reserved for the most privileged people, subject matter and form has opened up as well.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about the subject matter of your works?
John Brantingham: Yes. I want all of my work to affirm courage and hope, and show the emptiness of self-doubt and self-hatred.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell me a little about “The Gift of Form”?
John Brantingham: This is a short textbook about writing in poetic forms such as the sonnet. The idea behind it is that people too often approach forms in the same way that they approach free verse, which is to come up with an idea and try to force it into a form. This creates a lot of frustration. The forms, however, were designed to draw poems out of your unconscious. That’s the gift of the form. If you just concentrate on the line and work line by line, the form will give you a poem. It’s a completely different approach to poetry.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as your greatest achievement as a writer?
John Brantingham: When people tell me that they’ve read my work and feel less alone because of them, that I understood what they were going through. I think that’s the highest achievement of art in general.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more books?
John Brantingham: Absolutely. I’m writing two collections right now. The first is a poetry collection about nature, especially water. The second is a collection of very short stories. Together they tell the entire history of California from the days when mammoths roamed the valleys until now, and I’m trying to include as many voices and perspectives as I can.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have anything to say to end the interview?
John Brantingham: Just to say thank you for asking these thoughtful questions and taking the time to read my work. I truly appreciate what you’ve done for me and other writers.