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.
Describes himself as “Arriving at the time in history (including literary history) when I did. I was blessed to have such a rich tradition of poetry, art, music, and culture available to me. This continues to allow my poetry to flourish in a rich loam of influences. The work I believe is representative of the best thoughts and intuitions of my generation of writers whose challenge is to move forward with the gifts given to us from previous generation of artists. From Ferlinghetti who opened my eyes to Pound and Eliot through the various significant literary and art movements of the 20th century. Then there was the haiku master Basho who showed us frogs leaping into the pond of our mind. John Berryman said our poetry should be something no one else could do. I’ve tried to focus on that idea.”
- When did you start writing poetry?
I’ve had this thing called a creative urge as long as I can recall. I was too poor for piano lessons and my art work was never hung up at school. As a senior in Ligonier High School poetry, the poem, the poet was what was part of English class. Senior year was British literature. It didn’t resonate with me but I was a good student and I did my assignments and got good grades.
That year there was a student teacher attached to our English teacher. He was a good guy, close to our age and part of the culture we were all immersed in. In an attempt to spark our minds he would bring in poems that he felt might serve as flint. He brought in lyrics from the Beatles and others. One day he brought in a poem by a guy named Ferlinghetti that began: in a surrealist year of sandwichmen. I read it, understood it and enjoyed it. I thought if this is poetry I can do that.
2. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
at that time not at all…..
i majored in english in college…which meant i studied american literature…focusing on poetry…in the beginning i immersed myself into ferlinghetti….but not so much as an influence…
Ferlinghetti opened my many eyes to poetry not the friable texts of English classes but something alive. Without a conscious effort I took the first steps on the road not taken-before i even knew Frost. Before I would read Lao Tzu who said the journey of a thousand li begins with the first step.
I flew the Ferlinghetti nest because it was time to go. I was well fed and well kept by him but it was time to fly. Around that time John Berryman jumped off the bridge and killed himself. Reading about that incident led me to read his work. I read everything he wrote. The one thing about him was that I couldn’t lapse into imitating him which often happens with novice poets. One day I was reading an interview with him. At one point he said- the important thing is that your work be something no one else could do. Read that again. That became the litmus test against which I judged my poems and everyone else’s continuing to today.
I became voracious to live up to that idea. Growing up we were told-choose your friends don’t let your friends choose you. In doing so I ran into a book called Haiku Ancient and Modern by Asataro Miyamori. The best book on haiku ever. It’s still in print. Asataro took a grandfatherly approach to haiku. But what a grandfather to have. What a beautiful thing haiku is. It introduced me to Basho. I never hesitate to say the best poet ever. His frog leaping in the pond in my mind still. The whole cosmos in a few words. The 17 syllable thing is only relevant in Japanese. He got to the quantum level before the physicists. The flash in the mind pure without cleverness.
When I first read the poem In a Station of the Metro I thought-there’s a guy who knows how to write a short poem- a great piece of comedic irony. Ezra Pound was one of the creators of modernism. His name today still in some circles raises the hackles. But no one can consider themselves a truly worthy poet without having read the Cantos. It’s the Mount Everest of modernism and stands along Picasso’s work of that period as one of the monuments of modernism. Modernism is not a movement but the moment we find ourselves in no longer wandering like a lonely cloud. Caught in the cacophony and crapulence with nowhere to go but forward. Pound taught-make it new. When the moment of poetry arrives no longer welded to the past constrictions or contemporary conventions. Not unlike Basho’s call for freshness of expression. Pound also introduced the west to Asian literature with his transition of the Jade Mountain poets like the lovely Li Po. It was Pounds vanity that caused the curse upon him-leaving that wrenching line in the Pisan Cantos- pull down thy vanity. Another grandfather to me.
If I didn’t mention Allen Ginsberg there’d be a big hole in the page. One of my personal favorite accomplishments was being able to produce a reading for him. I always learned something from him when I would read his poems. Learning the mantric realities of the word, the role of the poet in the world, similar to Pound’s idea of poets as persons of action in history. Allen was a gentle soul and I wish he was still around. I miss my friend Dennis Brutus every day.
3. What is your daily writing routine?
i dont have one…..i write when the poem arrives…..the period of not writing is as important as the period of writing…i dont believe in writers block…its like waiting for ups..the routine can be a distraction….the poem may be coming from that direction but one gets too focused on looking in this direction…and misses the opportunity….a lot of folks write the same kind of poem…ive been lucky not to…i think it may come from not having a fixed perspective…..sort of what denise levertov touched on in her essay on organic poetry……
4. What motivates you to write?
now that its football season …and im not a big sports guy…but living in pittsburgh you have to be or they kick you out of the city…i like to watch the players during pregame warm up where they yell and scream and beat on each other for motivation…i think that would be funny to see poets do that..
poetry like all the arts is a gift given to the true poet…and theres some kind of….responsibility… to the gift….and now that we are in the period of art where there are no rules …i think the responsibility is even greater…..i might be wandering off here……so my only motivation is to be true to poetry….which is a real thing…like oxygen…the true poet is given the gift to be able to perceive the emanations of poetry..which is all around us…and to be able to collect the emanations into a container we call a poem….thats all a poem is….a container for the poetry…and doing it in such a way that poetry remains alive….not like the pressed butterflies our grandmothers collected….
4.1 so the motivation is the subtext for all that….
now there is an excitement that accompanies a job well done….and maybe thats my motivation…the excitement of creativity…the surprise…..
5. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
.i have an enormous love of the poets who are part of the idiotic and feeble minded poets facebook page….and wouldnt want to slight any of the active poets there through accidental omission
its good to know that gary snyder is still with us …as is mr merwin….i was over joyed to find that michael horovitz from england is still doing his thing…..
6. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
t think its like elwood p dowds story of how he came to meet harvey the pooka….it introduced itself to me…. and gave me a lifelong gift of friendship.
7. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment
i finished my 16th volume of poetry LIM1IN6AL in december and its being published through alexander szep as part of the ongoing postpublsihing world effort…as a digital book…anyone who would like a gift can contact me through facebook or by email at email@example.com.. (if you’d like a copy lemme know)
ive begun poems for my 17th volume
im beginning a project to archive the poetry organization and production work here in pittsburgh ive done with the szep foundation…through the heinz history center
im continuing my work with the IDIOTIC AND FEBBLEMINDED POETS facebook page…….featuring poets from 16 countries and 5 continents those who are interested should check it out at https://www.facebook.com/groups/idioticandfeeblemindedpoets/
also considering re-running the posthumous poetry series that first appeared on youtube.. perhaps in december https://www.youtube.com/user/alexanderszep
THE IDIOTIC AND FEEBLE MINDED POETS