Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Dustin Pickering

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers 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.

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Dustin Pickering

is founder of Transcendent Zero Press, the literary publisher responsible for the award nominated journal Harbinger Asylum. He is the author of eight collections of poetry, including O’Riordan: spurious conversations with Dolores, Salt and Sorrow, Knows No End (Number One bestseller in new releases of Native American poetry), and The Daunting Ephemeral. His collection on aesthetics A Matter of Degrees was published by Hawakal in Kolkata, India. He featured for Public Poetry in 2013. He has been interviewed on 90.1 KPFT and Houston Public Radio. He edited the Amazon bestseller Selfhood: Varieties of Experience with Kiriti Sengupta.

The Interview

  1. When and why did you begin to write poetry?

Poetry has always been an outlet for my despair and sense of beauty. I remember writing a poem about a girl I had a crush on in junior high. I still have the poem. It has a “Fivel American Tale” feel about two people under the same stars but living separate lives. I wrote from my yearning that could not be quenched. In high school I began to take writing seriously. I copied Sylvia Plath poems at the library and put them in my binder. I read Michelangelo and Bob Dylan. I wrote poems during class and typed them out when I got home. During this period, I discovered Leonard Cohen after hearing the song “Pennyroyal Tea” by Nirvana. In fifth grade, I won a poetry contest sponsored by the Daughters of the Revolution. I was required to enter. I won first place and got ten bucks.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

A teacher named Mrs. Martin shared Shel Silverstein with the class in fifth grade. We had to memorize a poem and read it to the class. In high school, my English teacher Mrs. Walls suggested I read Sylvia Plath. That sealed it for me.

  1. How aware were and are you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I have always believed a poet should study the tradition of poetry. In fact, that discouraged me at first because I didn’t know if I had the willpower to read such a vast tradition. I knew I could never write like a lot of poets out there who were already publishing.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

It varies. Right now, I’m trying to write three poems a day. I’m working on a novel but that’s an occasional thing. I often write dozens of poems at a time. Many of my collections are poems I typed at once or in a few sittings. Salt and Sorrow was written in one sitting, two hours.

  1. What motivates you to write?

The satisfaction of having composed something. Dedication to the craft. Needing order in my life.

  1. What is your work ethic?

I believe both in inspiration and repetition. I recently circulated a story I wrote for suggestions on improving it. I don’t want to sit all day and type, but I spend a lot of time writing.

  1. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Reading Sylvia Plath taught me how to reconcile personal experience with abstract sentiment. Leonard Cohen taught me the art of using strong statements while being lyrical. Bob Dylan taught me stream-of-consciousness if nothing else. T.S. Eliot taught me how to compose narratives within poetry.

  1. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I admire Anis Shivani for his studiousness and industry. Kiriti Sengupta embraces a wide spectrum of angles in his literature. I like Iris Orpi for her spirituality in verse. Duane Vorhees is an excellent wordsmith. I enjoy Sam Hamill for his wisdom. I like Usha Akella for her spiritual strength. I believe writers in India are going to be the future of literature as America refuses to expand from its postmodern pit. I believe the stagnation of art in America is connected to our historical and political reality. After World War II, our military success made us haughty. We severed our national identity from European roots to embrace a “new American” and the term “the ugly American” emerged. We saw ourselves as isolated in power from the rest of the world; our economic strength led us to the hubris we could satisfy all the world’s troubles. Of course, post-Vietnam the idea of exceptionalism began to wear off as American citizens discovered the folly of our government. The hippies wanted peace and happiness for all; they expunged greed and embraced art and drugs. Then Reagan came along and convinced them greed is a good thing and that led them into the temptation of abandoning their ideals for a pro-business, anti-social spending model of America. Now we see the milennials and the following generations embracing a kind of socialism that probably stuck around through those who wouldn’t sell out their ideals. The anti-establishment nature of Marxist thinking appeals to a generation that is seeing corporate greed run amok. Yet the current generation of socialists frame their understanding within the big government situation we are faced with. Marxism is a broader philosophy than that. It appeals to them because it attacks the power structure of corporations. They know these entities only want profit from them and they aren’t equipped emotionally and socially to simply jump in the pool and swim. Many come from bad family histories, like the hippies. They lack skills. Our schools have failed them. The attack on the humanities is largely because of this kind of situation I think, that many “practical” people blame the universities for teaching the arts and philosophy rather than how to build a computer. I see this in the GOP today a lot– colleges are “leftist indoctrination camps” that don’t give students tools for their futures. So the old thinking has stuck– the rebellions of the past surge from underground where political oppression thought it slaughtered them. Essentially, America has become a nation of self-chastising and underemployed cynics who would rather seek creative professions or something fulfilling to them rather than corporate slavery. Then Trump charges in, blaming immigrants for ruining the country, claiming to have every solution, bragging of his intelligence nonstop. He strikes a chord with the disaffected youth as well as the uneducated older crowd. You see, these people have blamed the education system for not being inclusive enough– for not being “practical.” They may be right that leftist and liberal thinking dominates the universities. This pattern of scapegoating appeals to the unthinking. Our country suffers from an opiod crisis– whose to blame? Let’s blame Mexico and build a wall. Drugs come in through the legal points of entry and tunnels like most immigrants, but sure, a wall. But we see a pattern here– violence against immigrants defines this country’s history. Nativists believe America belongs to Americans– the national identity is at stake when immigrants enter. The “American way of life” is threatened. What is the “American way of life?” We are trying to cling to an identity we never had– we tried to forge a new America from the ashes of World War II. The postmodern situation was never resolved. It’s a cyclical vacuum of adolescent fantasy. The truth is nowhere to be seen– it suffers in fragments, and it is our job to piece it together. Conceptual art tries to pull the truth from the actual world, to create a synthetic situation that speaks on the modern predicament. It is another aspect of the postmodern situation. However, as Trump’s administration borrows from postmodern style to subvert the nation’s conscience and will we know the postmodern situation is at a standstill. Once the establishment picks something up, it isn’t cool anymore. I hope American artists will catch this. Otherwise, we are going to continue down an endless road of conceptual art that wants to examine the nature of things by inventing empty paradigms. I call our current crisis the “postmodern eclipse.” We will have to become world players again by examining our actual role in the contemporary environment. This isn’t something we as citizens or authorities are prepared to do. We lack the resources both intellectually and economically to assert our independence as we did in the past. So countries like India are picking up the slack– their scholars are aware of English literary history, they know the postmodern tune, they have absorbed classical poetry. However, American artists are trying to win converts, they are preaching Maoism and collectivism. Contemporary American poets simply bore me. They sacrificed edge and integrity for doctrine and social justice.

  1. Why do you write?

Relief.

  1. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Read a lot. Write a lot. Read more.

  1. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

Restoration is a series of metaphysical speculations. Dominus Vobiscum, my novel, is a surreal battle between two visions of Satan: Dante’s and Milton’s. It’s part literary criticism and part philosophy. I also have several poetry collections in the works that are spontaneous and sort of arranging themselves.

 

 

 

 

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