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 a retired psychoanalyst and is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), and An Accident of Blood (forthcoming), all from WordTech Editions. His poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net anthology and twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Main Street Rag, Chiron Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, The Paterson Literary Review, and elsewhere.
1. When and why did you start writing poetry?
I started out as a fiction writer. I wrote a couple novels but wasn’t happy with them. Tinkered with them endlessly. I wrote poems in high school and in college, then met my wife to be, the poet Judith Brice, read a couple of her poems, and stopped writing poetry for about 25 years! About 15 years ago, Judy and I attended a writers’ conference in Michigan: Judy as a poet and me as a fiction writer. I had some down time and Judy talked me into attending a workshop offered by Maria Mazziotti Gillan (the Editor of Paterson Literary Review). Maria gave us an assignment: write a poem that refers to a popular song. I wrote a poem called “The Game,” about going to a minor league baseball game with our son, Ariel. On a lark I sent it in to a magazine and it got published immediately. More and more of that happened with my poems and I discovered that I was a poet!
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Well…my first poetry teacher was a horrible woman named Sister Humbert, a Dominican nun who was a full fledged sadist. She made us sixth graders memorize a poem and I memorized Excelsior by Longfellow. I immortalized this experience in my first book, Flashcuts Out of Chaos, with my poem, “My First Poetry Teacher.” Actually, the nuns, for all their faults or because of them, have turned out to be terrific muses for me. The guy who really got me writing poetry was named Bernie Beaver, my freshman English teacher at the University of Wyoming. He really wasn’t a very good teacher, but one thing he drilled into our heads was that “anything can be a poem.” I will forever be thankful to him for that. Because of him I never run out of subjects to write about. Just recently I wrote a poem about what I don’t want to write about. See what I mean?
3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
I never thought of these wonderful people as “dominating,” but as poets whom I loved to read and learn from. I suppose the first poet I loved was e.e. cummings. You’re not supposed to like cummings now. You’re supposed to think of him as a light weight. But lines like, “It may not always be so, and I say, that if your lips should touch another’s as mine in time not far away”…or “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands” (this may not be perfect–just rattling off the top of my head), lines like those just send me someplace out of this world. Other American poets that I loved: Theodore Roethke, Thomas Lux, Jim Harrison, and the great European poets, especially Rilke, Dylan Thomas, Keats, Shelly, Shakespeare, of course, also Dawson and Swinburne. All those wonderful writers, they were all so inspiring to me. People I could not only learn from, but get comfort from. I used to hand out poems to some of my patients. Hopkins’ poem, “Margarat are you grieving over golden groves unleaving” was especially helpful to people undergoing vast life changes.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I spend the morning reading. I love fiction, am rereading Jim Harrison’s, The English Major, and Dickins’ Bleak House right now. Just finished, today, The Galloping Hour, by Alejandra Pizarniek–a South American poet who wrote in French and who was clearly interested in the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, and I’m reading Lawrence Krauss’ book on astro physics, A Universe From Nothing. I find physics, especially quantum mechanics, to be an orchard of metaphor for poets. In the afternoon I go up to my study and write. If I don’t have a new poem, I edit and revise old poems, especially ones that have been rejected. I submit a group of poems every day. I see submission as part of my writing day. I love the entire process including editing my work and doing interviews like this one.
5. What motivates you to write?
I think my main motivation is interest in the world and in what we are all up to in our lives. When I was at the Universtiy of Wyoming I was lucky enough to run into a philosophy professor, Richard L. Howey. I took loads of courses from him. Richard taught us to be interested in everything and skeptical of everything and to think before we speak and anticipate the arguments of others before we venture into a debate or dialogue. I have dedicated my new poetry collection, An Accident of Blood, to Richard.
6. What is your work ethic?
My work ethic? I write every day, or submit, or revise. I really feel horrible if I don’t do one or all of those things every day. I can write in all conditions and almost anywhere. I usually start out in longhand in a notebook I carry with me everywhere, then type it up, get it on the computer and go from there. It’s unusual for me to send out a poem that hasn’t gone through at least 7 revisions. Some have been revised as many as 30 times. One poem, Soulium (in my second book, Mnemosyne’s Hand) was accepted 20 minutes after I wrote it! That’s a record for me.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Cummings remains an influence. I want to write poems that provoke an emotional response in the reader. I don’t care for the more academic writers, the Ashbury’s of this world. If I can’t feel something or if my world isn’t improved by reading a poem, then I’m not interested. Tom Lux and Jim Harrison always produced strong feeling in me and that’s what I want to do in my own work.
8. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I admire so many writers. I love Facebook because I’ve “met” some great writers like Ace Boggess and Gary Glauber there. I admire their work immensely. I think the poetry of my teachers is wonderful: Jack Ridl, Michael Dickman, Robert Fanning, Richard Tillinghast, Maria Gillan, and Maria Howe are terrific teachers and wonderful poets. The poetry community here in Pittsburgh is incredible. Every day of the year, all year long, there is at least one poetry reading in our city. It’s incredible! My favorite poets here are, Judy Brice (my wife), Jason Irwin, Jen Ashburn, Angele Ellis, Janette Schafer, Joan E. Bauer, Michael Wurster and a slew of others too numerous too mention. I feel very lucky to live in this city.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I don’t really know why I write. I just write. I can’t imagine not writing. I’m retired now. I was a psychoanalyst for 35 years and I’m much happier as a poet. I miss my patients, but my analytic colleagues were, mostly, much more troubled than my patients. I haven’t met any writers that are as troubled as my former colleagues. Anyway, I just love writing and I’m not sure why I do. I just do.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
As for advice on how to become a writer–read, read everything. Do what Howey taught us to do: be interested in everything. My mother always said that if you’re bored, it’s your own fault. You’re not looking far enough or deep enough into your world. She was right. In terms of the writing itself, the most important thing to overcome is the inner critic, what we called in my former profession, the super ego. There will always be a “voice” in your head that will tell you not to write somethin or that no one will be interested in what you say or that you are immature… . Fuck all that. Get rid of the critic. Often, the very stuff you’re critic is telling you not to write is what readers will be most interested in. Also, allow the music you love to influence you. I always write with a soundtrack (usually classical music, but that’s just me).
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
My new book, An Accident of Blood, should be out in just a couple weeks. I’ve got almost enough poems in the hopper for a fourth book. Aside from that, I’m busy arranging readings and promoting my latest book, Mnemosyne’s Hand, in any way that I can. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to do this interview. Thanks so much.