Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following poets, local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
Call of the Whippoorwill
In his blog Mike tell us “I was born in Columbus Ohio, USA, in 1947. I graduated from Ohio State University with a BA in Psychology. I served in both the US Army and the Israeli Defense Forces. I have been writing poetry since I was a student at OSU. I moved to Israel in 1978 and live in Raanana. I am married and have three sons and seven grandchildren.”
What were the circumstances under which you began to write poetry?
I began to write poetry while in high school. That’s about 55 years ago. I remember being immersed in an overwhelming gush of creativity involving mathematics and geometry, drawing and painting, writing poetry and short stories, playing clarinet and saxophone, and composing music. I had also just met my lifelong friend, David H. Rathbun, who was also immersed in a similar gush of creativity and we got caught up in a musical and poetic dialectic, in which we inspired and encouraged each other. My younger sister also inspired and encouraged my poetry. Victoria was Phoebe to my Holden Caulfield.
Who introduced you to poetry?
My mother was a poet. She died young in a tragic accident at the age of 34. I was 13 at the time. I like to tell myself that poetry was the only language in which I could speak to my dead mother. The truth was that the poetry I happened to read spoke to the love and tragedy raging through me in a way nothing else did.
How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
The poets who burned most deeply inside me were Stephen Vincent Benét, Walt Whitman, Carl Sandburg, William Butler Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Yves Bonnefoy, although I’ve picked up many more dominating presences along the way.
What is your daily writing routine?
It depends on what I’m writing. When I’m working on a novel, I have the characters and the whole storyline mapped out before I start to write. Then I write the beginning and then the end. Then I start filling the gaps and creating the bridges. The story ends up in sequence, but I write non-sequentially, as I think of solutions to get my characters from one point to another. I can write that way 8 hours a day, day after day, until I finish. With poetry it’s different. I usually wait for inspiration. When it comes it’s a surprise to me. Sometimes I try to push a poem into existence by withdrawing into myself or empathizing with another soul. Sometimes I just put a few words down on paper and try free association. I even wrote an Excel macro which uses a random-number generator to select certain words from 10 different lists and put them together in a sentence. That sentence is usually nonsensical but it can usually trigger a free association that can end up in a fairly decent poem. For more information about it, see my blog post https://uncollectedworks.wordpress.com/2015/05/23/the-flying-poetry-creation-contraption/.
What motivates you to write?
Writing is its own motivation. Although I enjoy the appreciation of my readers very much, I would write if I were alone on a desert island. I write what I’d like to read, but can’t find anywhere. I write because some ideas and feelings deserve to exist. Also, I write in order to get ideas out of my head and onto paper so I can start thinking of more ideas. Writing is spilling the overflow of your mind onto paper.
What is your work ethic?
Since I retired a year and a half ago, my work ethic is to make time for my family and, for myself, to do the things I love doing. Before I retired, my work ethic was to do what I have to do, in order to be able to do what I want to do.
How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
The writers I read when I was young influence me like a compass, showing me the depths and breadths that are possible to think and feel. Of course, I would never think to copy their work, but they egg me on to attempt similar depths and breadths in my own soul and my own works.
Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I admire Sharon Olds and Wendell Berry very much. I was captivated by the originality of Sharon’s perspective. The simplicity of Wendell’s poems and their connection to nature and local history generated similar feelings in me. I read their poetry like other people read novels, page after page, not skipping around, and heavily underlining. I also admire several Israeli poets, among them, Michael Dickel, Sabine Huynh, and Michal Pirani. Michael introduced me to G. Jamie Dedes whom I greatly admire. Michael, like me, is an American ex-pat living in Israel for many years. I found that we shared many of the same experiences. Sabine’s poetic voice is soft and breathless, creating a fragility that you’d want to protect. Michal’s poetry also has a quiet voice and is deceptively simple, masking a depth of feeling behind it. I also admire Joanna Chen’s minimalist writing. Jamie’s poems are uniquely sharp and enticingly alien. The best poet I’ve ever known, however, and one of the best poets I’ve ever read was my lifelong and best friend, David H. Rathbun, who passed away recently from brain cancer. As I wrote in the foreword to our book of poetry, An Extraordinary Friendship, “If I had to guess what guides Dave’s poetry writing, after reading all his poetry, I would have to say that it was to memorize the names of every single flower, plant, tree, forest, animal, person, geological stratum, body of water, weather phenomenon, sight, sound, taste, smell, and feeling around him, to pay attention to everything, and to write about all that is and all that is not. Simple.”
Why do you write?
I suppose I answered this question under “What motivates you to write”. I write what I’d like to read, but can’t find anywhere else. I write to get stuff out of my head (and onto paper) to make room for new stuff.
What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Although the way I became a writer was probably unique to me, I don’t believe that’s the only path. I would say that, above all, you must learn to pay attention to everything that is going on around you and inside you. Then you must develop your own language to describe those things. That language is what poets and writers call ÿour voice. The voice is what the reader “hears”in his or her own head while reading what you wrote. Avoid clichés. Write simply. Sometimes the most powerful writing is that which sounds like it’s not the speaker’s native language, like it comes out of his mouth with great difficulty.
Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’ve published 5 books of poetry, 3 of my own poetry, one of my mother’s poetry (and my dialogue with her after she died), and one which was a cooperative effort of David H. Rathbun and myself (150 poems each from the period 2000 – 2016). I also published a series of 4 science fiction novels, which I called “The Rational Series”, and one book of essays. I am currently working on a new book of poetry, entitled “Call of the Whippoorwill”. To keep up readership interest in my poetry while working on my latest project, I publish another poem from four of my books every day on the social media networks to which I belong, and I maintain a blog for my essays and to allow readers to look over my shoulder as I write.