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.
is author of four books of poetry, most recently I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So (Unsolicited Press, 2018) and Ultra Deep Field (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2017), and the novel A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016). His writing appears in Harvard Review, Notre Dame Review, Rattle, River Styx, and many other journals. He received a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.
Links to the books he still has available:
1. When and why did you begin to write poetry?
I toyed around with in high school, but started writing it regularly as a way of taking a break from the novels I was working on throughout the 90s. The novels took a great deal out of me and were so focused on their own visions that poetry allowed me to escape them and jot down whatever else might be going on in my head. Then, something weird happened: while I couldn’t sell my novels, the poems started getting picked up by journals and zines. Before I could figure out what was going on, I was known as poet. Life is funny like that.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Oh, probably some junior-high teach pedalling the usual classics. Or maybe it was Iron Maiden. I don’t really recall.
3. How aware were and are you of the dominating presence of older poets?
When I was younger, there really was no one else. These days, I think a lot of the younger (or at least, fresher) poets have control of scene. I’m thinking of Kaveh Akbar, Chen Chen, Jenn Givhan, Maggie Smith. There’s so much great work being put out by folks like them. Plus, it seems like the older poets that I loved and consumed in the 90s are dying off at an unbelievable rate these days. It seems almost metaphoric that the old die as the young come to prominence, almost like Kawabata’s The Master of Go. Que sera sera. Still, as a struggling middle-aged poet trapped between the old Greats and the new Greats, I hope there’s a place for me, too.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I make a lot of coffee. Then I read for about half an hour before writing. After that, I write from sort of a transcendent state, not worrying about whether what I’m putting is any good. I write in longhand, so it’s easy to disappear into the page. Next, I type, revise, and submit. When something comes back, I edit (I say edit here because I believe revision implies transformation whereas editing implies fixing the flaws) and submit. I don’t leave anything lying around.
5. What motivates you to write?
Love for that transcendent state, a desire to create something beautiful, a need to shared my life with others in a way I often can’t do because of my anxieties. So, really, the anxieties motivate me, as they do everything else in my strange world.
6. What is your work ethic?
I write no matter what. Drug addiction didn’t stop me. Prison didn’t. Unemployment, a failed marriage, and a constant sense of unexplainable terror didn’t, don’t, won’t. I thought sobriety would stop me for a while, but no, not that either.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Not as much in poetry as prose. I don’t care as much for the classics. Most of the writers that have most inspired me are ones I read in my thirties or late twenties: David Lehman, Adam Zagajewski, Billy Collins, Natasha Sajé. And of course the newer poets often blow my mind in a way that opens me up to fresh possibilities.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
There are too many to name. I already mentioned Kaveh Akbar and Maggie Smith. They are the pinnacle, not just for their beautiful words, but their openness and honesty. I also the love the current poet laureate Tracy K. Smith. Her book about outer space and David Bowie was one of the greatest things I’ve ever read.
9. Why do you write?
At this point, I think it’s because I have to, or because I can’t do anything else, or, I don’t know, because writing still allows me that moment of escape from everything that hurts or trembles inside. I need that. It’s its own drug.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t (there are many writers out there who’ve heard me say that, so I think it’s the advice I always give).
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I write poetry and short stories mostly these days. Much of my time is spent trying to find homes for my growing collection of manuscripts. I currently have three other poetry books that I’m trying to find homes for, as well as a couple collections of shorts stories and a few of the novels that I haven’t given up on. One of those, States of Mercy, will be released this summer from Alien Buddha Press, and another, Somewhat Misunderstood, has been edited down to a novella and will be included in the Running Wild Press novella anthology toward the end of the year. I’m excited about those. Both mean a lot to me. As I said, my novel-writing process was immersive. I left big chunks of me in those books, and I’ll be glad to see them out in the world.