Chris Dombrowski is the author of Body of Water, forthcoming nonfiction from Milkweed Editions, and two full-length collections of poetry, most recently Earth Again, published in 2013 by Wayne State University Press and named runner-up for ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year in Poetry, in addition to two chapbooks. His first book, By Cold Water, was a Poetry Foundation Bestseller in 2009. Dombrowski’s poems have appeared in over 100 journals and anthologies, including Poetry, New Letters, Michigan Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, and Crazyhorse, and his prose has been published in Orion, Outside, The Sun, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and many others. Other awards include the Associated Writing Programs Intro Award, two Best American Notable Essay citations, a National Magazine Award Nomination, and a Pushcart Prize Special Mention. He has taught at the University of Montana, Interlochen Center for the Arts, and currently serves as the Founding Director of the Beargrass Writing Retreat based in Missoula, where he lives with his family and has worked for nearly two decades as a fishing guide.
Geosi Gyasi: How young were you when you started writing?
Chris Dombrowski: I was probably 6 when I started writing songs, mostly about scary characters at the apartment complex bus-stop, but occasionally about the moon. When I reached high school, a seminal teacher named Jim Colando ignited my interest in poetry, often via songwriters.
Geosi Gyasi: Which specific genre of writing did you start out as a writer?
Chris Dombrowski: In high school, there were a lot of early “poetic efforts,” but I’m not sure there were many poems–they were shaped like poems, at least! Perhaps if I dug deep enough, I could find a single redeeming line. I also recall an early essay in college, a narrative about watching a huge cottonwood snap and fall across the river on a windy day. Among other comments, Professor Mezeske wrote the following, which I cherished: “A very nice, moody piece. ++”
Geosi Gyasi: In your view, what’s the difference between a writer and poet?
Chris Dombrowski: Here are a few lines by a poet I adore, Alicia Ostriker, from the close of a recent poem, “The Liberal Arts”:
“In the novel they say omit nothing, harvest the entire goddamn world
In memoir they say the self is silently weeping, give it a tissue
In poetry they say the arrow may be blown off course by storm and returned
Perhaps a poet is anyone who writes, in any genre, and allows “the arrow” to be “blown off course” and awaits its return.
Geosi Gyasi: Can you tell me something about your non-fiction book, ‘Body of Water’?
Chris Dombrowski: Yes! BODY OF WATER is forthcoming in October from Milkweed Editions. It’s a work of long-form nonfiction that centers around the elemental life of David Pinder Sr., the first Bahamian bonefish guide, who knew the ways of the largely inedible sportfish-to be decades before it became the industry upon which the Bahamian Ministry of Tourism bases its faith (to the tune of $150 million per year!). Several years ago, I had the rare fortune of meeting “Senior,” as the folks near the East End of Grand Bahama call him, and our friendship inspired the composition of the book, which also focalizes my own life as a guide, and water’s very lasting ambit and impression.
Here’s a link to the publisher’s description: http://milkweed.org/shop/product/416/body-of-water/
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers of the past do you most admire?
Chris Dombrowski: Keats, Basho, Issa, Dickinson, Teresa of Avila. Elizabeth Bishop, Flannery O’Connor, Larry Levis. I refuse to call Jim Harrison a writer of the past because he just left us, but I’ve found great sustenance there.
Geosi Gyasi: What is it all about your life as a fly-fishing guide?
Chris Dombrowski: For nearly two decades I’ve earned at least a portion of my income rowing the rivers of western Montana. The occupation, which has occasionally flirted with being a “vocation,” has afforded me the opportunity to work seasonally, setting aside large chunks of time for writing; kept me in wild places for much of each year; allowed me to spend much of my work-time with good, feral friends, some of which are rivers.
Geosi Gyasi: What time of the day do you write?
Chris Dombrowski: I prefer the morning, starting early before house bustles with its often pleasant distractions; I like working after lunch, after a walk with the dog and an espresso or a cup of strong green tea; I even like mornings after late-night dinner parties, where perhaps I had too much to drink, for editing with an unforgiving eye.
More and more I find value in practicing like a fish in a stream, trying to identify peak-activity periods, the way a trout would during a hatch of mayflies, and attempting to block out all else during said time.
Geosi Gyasi: By what medium do you write?
Chris Dombrowski: For a long time I preferred a roller-ball ink pen on legal pad, but the further I delve long-form non-fiction, the more I find myself typing straight into the computer. When editing, I like a clean printed draft under a good light, and a blue pen with which to attack!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you think about prizes and awards when you write?
Chris Dombrowski: No, but I’ll admit to thinking about money when I’m at work on freelance pieces.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you read as much as you write?
Chris Dombrowski: When I’m reading, I binge; when I’m writing I read only to fuel what I’m working on, and usually just in bits because I’m very easily influenced by prose styles and aspects of mind. I find I can read poetry, though, most anytime.
Geosi Gyasi: How do ideas for poems come to you?
Chris Dombrowski: “Poems are made not of ideas,” the French poet told the inquiring French painter, “but of words.” Most often poems arrive as sound or image. If the latter, the challenge for me comes in giving audible life to the image; if the former, the task lies in finding an imagistic residence for this sound. Sometimes, too, to complicate things, the sound is an inner one–Robert Lowell talks about this in the Paris Review interview–that arrives wanting a shape or form. The groan, the cry, the exultant yelp. Ad infinitum.