Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Lennart Lundh

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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Lennart Lundh

has written sixteen books of poetry, two short-story collections, and five books of aviation history. His writing and photography have also appeared internationally in anthologies, journals, magazines, and articles since 1965. A resident of northeastern Illinois, Len reads frequently at venues in the Midwest.

Poetry and short stories are available at https://www.etsy.com/market/lennart_lundh

Aviation histories are available from https://www.amazon.com/

Photography is available through https://www.redbubble.com/people/lenlundh/shop

and https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/lennart-lundh/shop

A jpeg is attached of my annual project, Poems Against Cancer. This is an April fundraiser for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s research into childhood cancers. Donors to the project on the Foundation web site receive a poem written by me for the occasion each day, and a limited edition chapbook at the end of the month. This year’s effort is the sixth in the series. For details, and to donate directly to St. Baldrick’s, visit

https://www.stbaldricks.org/fundraisers/mypage/3594/2019

The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

There’s really a two-part answer, because I don’t see my poetry as entirely separate from the rest of my wordsmithing.

I started writing when I was four, imitating what I was reading in the Sunday newspaper’s comics section. It wasn’t much, just a child’s simple sentence: G I want to b a G man. It was the beginning, though, and the more voraciously I read (in the third grade, my parents and teacher had to argue with the local library to let me read books from the Juvenile and Adult shelves) the more I imitated and learned from what I was reading. Words were important.

By my sophomore year of high school, I was the kid who didn’t need a study hall to keep his grades up, so I had a permanent pass to spend that hour in the school’s library. Heaven at age fifteen. Five days a week when I could read anything that caught my eye. And I did: popular and scholarly history, literary and genre fiction. Lomax’s American musicology. There were no checks on my love of words gathered together. Anything was possible.

Including poetry. We didn’t study contemporary poetry in the early Sixties. Not that there’s anything wrong with Shakespeare, Wordsworth, et al. But I discovered the free verse writers, the experimenters. Sandburg, Pound, Whitman. Ferlinghetti and Corso. Once I realized form could follow function, that it was possible to insist on the right word instead of the one that merely fit, I was hooked as a reader, and on the path to being a poet with my own voice (which took most of ten years).

  1. Who introduced you to wordsmithing?

For this, I can only guess. That eight-word piece of micro fiction, a story filled with both hopeful longing and an uncertain future, is one of my three earliest reliable memories. The other two, also from the same period, are a cistern being removed from our then-rural yard, and of waking in the family car as we arrived home from Missouri after my uncle’s wedding (the only part of the trip I recall).

Since this was before I went to school — we had no pre-school or kindergarten in the early 1950s — I suppose my parents read to me from an early age, and aided my learning to read so young. Our house, it seems, was always awash with books, magazines, and newspapers, and I can’t recall a time they were off limits to me. Mix this with what my parents tell me was a native curiosity and spontaneous storytelling, and the result is, in my case, a word-nerd.

More guessing: Born a few years later, I might have been a visual artist (I did finally fall in love with photography and movies pretty simultaneously around the age of eight), but I come from the last pre-television American generation. The house was filled with conversation in English, Swedish, and Norwegian. We listened to the radio a lot, and it’s menu in the evening contained many dramas and comedies. All of these relied almost exclusively on words, either dialogue or narration. Fertile soil for a love of words and respect for their powers.

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

Outside of school, poetry didn’t really exist in my world until 1963. Songs weren’t spoken of as poetry, limericks were bad jokes, and translations of Biblical verse were stilted and archaic. In the classroom, we pretty much only read dead white men, and a few dead white women, from seventh grade through undergrad lit. Once I discovered free verse, that changed for me on a personal reading level. Yes, Whitman was a DWM, but Sandburg, the Beats, Pound, Eliot — they were alive and writing. They spoke to me, so age or longevity weren’t considerations. Because I was writing but not trying to get published, dominance wasn’t an issue. I didn’t even qualify as a small fish in a big pond at that point, and I knew it.

Today? If there’s any dominance because of gatekeeper influence, it falls to poets in the mid-twenties to forties community. At 70, my generational peers are respected but not household or classroom names. And, while formal poetry is still “a thing” with strong adherents, the formal-free wars of the early 20th century are dusty history. I even heard a reading series host recently suggest “no room for rhyme” as a guiding principal. So much for old and traditional.
For the most part, I think the Web has fostered a certain leveling. While the academic world has its elitism, everybody else is able to read, and get published by, the abundance of small presses, both print and digital. The global exchange also facilitates the introduction of “foreign” cultures (new and old) into the “domestic” mainstream.

 

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

Once I realized I didn’t have the creative attention span to write a novel in my lifetime and returned to poetry, a daily routine became unnecessary. There are always submission call and housekeeping things to be done, but they can happen on a weekly, monthly, or sporadic basis. The only constant is playing with combinations of words in my head and making notes for further pursuit. I can’t escape the voices.

I mostly write poems three months a year. Each April, I do a donation-driven poem-a-day fundraiser for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, with May given over to creating and assembling a limited edition chapbook of those poems and doing submissions of the individual pieces. June is a 30 poems/30 days participation in Lexington Poetry Month, hosted online by Workhorse Writers and Accent Press. Zoetic Press does Write Like You’re Alive in July, and again I commit to writing a poem each day. The June and July poems become chapbooks or a collection, and individual submissions, during August and September.

In and around this? Reading and re-reading other writers, both poetry and prose. Writing blurbs and reviews. Sharing info on social media about other poets’ events and new releases. One of my undergrad majors was History, and I still assist other writers in my field with research and gathering material. I’m also a fine art photographer, so there are day trips with a camera hanging around my neck, plus all the work that goes into submitting and marketing those images.

And, maybe once or twice a month, you’ll find me at an open mic, or sometimes featuring. I get out for these less than I used to — the closest mic that fits my home life schedule is an hour’s drive away through evening rush traffic — but they’re such an important part of my friendships in the Chicago-area poetry community.

  1. What motivates you to write?

Every October for the past seven years, I’ve been invited by the English Department at Lewis University to take part in their discussion and readings on the topic, “Why I write.” My answers, different each year, have included “because I love words,” “the voices insist,” and recalling Sandburg’s wish that he might one day in the future be a poet. None of them have been lies, but I still don’t think I’m finished trying to answer the question. It seems to be a moving target.

I know vanity’s not a factor. Writing, shaping my part of the conversation with the reader, is more emotionally satisfying than getting published — by the time words appear, in print or online, they’re old, finished business for me. We can forget money; I make less than $100 from writing in a typical year. Fame? Nobody beats my door down so they can get my autograph, or asks to teach my work. And, while it would be nice, there’s no promise anyone will be reading my words a month after I’m gone.
Perhaps I have congenital storyteller syndrome. My imagination has always sent my mind to strange, tangential places that I felt compelled to describe, first in prose, later in poetry. Wordplay is a constant (as is editing billboards while traveling), often reflexive thing that sometimes surprises even me. Or maybe the uncontrollable urge to write is a weird form of OCD that insists on the right words in the right order.

5.1 What do you write about?

Collectively, my poems are about, In a word, anything. Over five decades of poet-ing, coupled with my insatiable imagination and curiosity, have made the universe fair game. My overarching themes are love, war, and personal/communal ends of worlds, but those are so accommodatingly broad. The trick, for me, is to not write the same poem twice, so I rarely return to a specific event; one exception is a dead Marine in Vietnam who still haunts my nights.
“Anything” also applies to triggers/prompts. I happily fall down cyber rabbit holes. I eavesdrop in public. My friend, Mary Carroll-Hackett, posts daily mini-prompts on Facebook, along with frequent on-line collections of prompts of all shapes and sizes. Not being one to color within the lines, I’ll often make combinations of Mary’s offerings that together go in directions she might not have intended. Much of my work is ekphrastic these days, so I regularly spend time browsing and bookmarking images from Pinterest and Google that immediately strike a chord. Finally, yes, there are the “voices” — my brain seems to spontaneously gather words together for my conscious consideration.

5.2 How do you write?

Mechanically, I write with whatever’s available — pen and paper, computer, cell phone. I’ve tried dictating into a recorder, but it never really worked for me. The advice to slit a vein and let my blood flow onto the page is misguided and ineffective.
The predominant forms of my work really haven’t changed over the years: unrhymed free verse and prose poems, almost always left justified, carefully punctuated, conversationally rhythmic, and easily readable. With Oxford commas and single spaces after periods. When I was younger, I played with imitating Ferlinghetti and cummings; that was so much more fun in the days of Courier and typewriters. I never enjoyed reading formal verse, and have only written one, a Shakespearian sonnet as a competition requirement. Most of my work has been no more than two pages long, as I was counseled early against trying to be Walt Whitman or Bob Dylan by Max Parmley, a valued teacher in high school.
I’m a believer in form following function, and for me the number one function of a poem is to touch something mutual in a reader. (Or a listener. I like the dictate that a poem should, preferably, work on both page and stage.) To each their own, and those who treat writing as an academic exercise are welcome to it, but I’ll pass. The exact shape of a single poem, and the words chosen in the shaping, are intentional in communicating rather than fitting a space.
The verses in a “traditional” piece are thought blocs, the breaks between them a chance to breathe in what’s just been said. Line breaks are more arbitrary, based on the particular conversation; reading across the breaks is generally guided by punctuation.
By and large, my prose poems have become the text on the back of old fashioned postcards: paragraph-shaped, quick stories or observations that are more rhythmic than most prose paragraphs. They are, with few exceptions, based on found photographs, many of them uncredited and without accompanying histories. They’re also balanced precariously on the thin border between poetry and flash fiction. I’ve had editors reject flash fictions as too poetic, while others would only run prose poems I sent them in the fiction section.
In either form, the words chosen are intentional, precise for the moment of writing. It’s not unheard of for me to change them years later, as experience and time change what I want to say.

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

They were teachers, every bit as much as my high school and college mentors, and the things I learned from them about good and bad writing have been absorbed to the point that any influence is now subconscious and automatic. The best of them, such as Bradbury, McKillip, Atwood, and Brautigan, taught me about both poetry and prose, regardless of which medium I read them in: how to create rhythmic lines/sentences without being sing-song; when to use dialogue or narration; allowing the reader to build images and backstory from a few careful words and their own imagination; how and when to turn a story or poem; when it’s time to shut up. Masters of those arts, they’re also still my go-to sources of pleasure reading.

7. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I seldom think in hierarchies, and I’m honored by the company of too many writers around the world to try to name. Instead, here’s an unranked, probably incomplete list of groups involved in writing that I appreciate to the moon and back:
— Anybody who takes pen and paper in hand for others’ consumption. Neophyte or veteran word-wrangler, each of them adds something of incredible value to the present and future.
— Mentors and teachers. They give of their hours and hearts to help willing writers understand their chosen craft.
— Publishers, from the big houses to the home office pamphlet printers. Online or physical, their output broadens the reach of assembled words.
— Editors and proofreaders, without whom my failure to take Typing in school would be disastrous.
— The folks who organize readings, signings, workshops, festivals, and conferences. I’ve done this work in other fields; it really is a big deal.
— Readers and listeners. Reaching them, touching them, having conversations said and unsaid with them, is critical.

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

If they aren’t already writing fiction or poetry? I’d ask them why they want to before recommending them to the nearest community college counselor or poetry writers’ group. Thinking of “becoming” a writer as a career choice or lifestyle change is a good first step toward being a hack; the third step can be averted by a good reality check.

If they’re already writing, if they’re struggling to find their place, or want to improve? They already *are* a writer — probably have been since birth — and smart enough to want to improve, to boot. I’d give them the standard “read everything” lecture, with the caveat that reading isn’t enough; while and after reading, they need to wrestle with the what and why of their reactions, positive or negative, and compare those with other works they’ve loved or hated.
I’d tell them to attend every reading and signing they can afford and reasonably travel to, again with the caveat that reasoning through their reactions is essential. I’d invite them to bring their work to open mics that I attend or trust to be welcoming and fair, and suggest writers’ groups I also respect; trying to learn in a battle ground is a mistake that’s hard to overcome.
Would I point my newest writer friend toward a degree track? That I can’t answer. If the subject arose, I’d ask them if having a degree is in their budget, if they think it’ll make their writing better while still being in their authentic voice, or if they want an academic career. To each their own needs; I’ve just been asked to share my knowledge of possible paths to their goal.

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

Early in April, I’ll be one of the readers in suburban Batavia when Ray Ziemer launches his first novel, The Ghost of Jamie McVay; I’ve shared mics with Ray for five or six years, so this will be a real treat. I’m also scheduled for a poetry reading in Evanston the next day.

As mentioned before, I’ll spend April writing a poem each day to raise funds for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s research into childhood cancers (https://www.stbaldricks.org/fundraisers/mypage/3594/2019). As a great-grandfather, it’s a cause dear to my heart, and well worth the effort. There’ll actually be some two-poem days, since I’ll be on the road with my camera the last week of the month.

Workhorse Writers/Accent Press will release The River Singing later this year. This is a twenty-six prose poem chapbook, drawn from last year’s Lexington Poetry Month work. It’s the first book I’ve worked with them on, and I’m looking forward to the experience.
And that, I think, is it. Thanks for the opportunity to talk about this lovely madness we share!

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