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 life-long resident of New York City and has managed group homes for the mentally challenged in Brooklyn for over 35 years. His work has appeared in Rattle, Poet Lore, New Ohio Review, Spillway, Patterson Literary Review, The NY Times & Ted Kooser’s newspaper feed. I have been nominated for 9 Pushcart Prizes without ever getting one. His full length books include One Wish Left (Pavement Saw Press 2002), The Last Lie (NYQ Books/2010) and Until The Last Light Leaves (NYQ Books 2015). My next book will be published by NYQ Books. He doesn’t have a website, but his Facebook where he often posts publications
1. When and why did you start writing poetry?
Around 1970 when I was 16 or so and it truly sucked. Used it as an outlet to examine my thoughts and feelings and how it seemed like nobody was talking about most of the things I was thinking about. it helped me clarify things, see how I fit and didn’t fit in my little world.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Myself. I went from Dylan’s lyrics to poetry. I took a few classes in college: Contemporary poetry and Women’s Poetry.
I was first drawn to people like Anne Sexton and Adrienne Rich and Richard Hugo.
2.1 Why were you first drawn to these poets?
They seemed to be writing about themselves in an unguarded way and maybe more important, I could usually understand their poems without suffering a hernia of the brain.
Though I found Rich tougher. I also liked the way Sexton had these weird rhyme schemes that didn’t smack me in the face by being too obvious…at least that’s how I remember it.
3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
I’m not sure I understand the question….I will say I never had any use or interest in the so called canon and when I was in workshops and being told to read things like the Psalms, Shakespeare’s sonnets, Pound’s Cantos, Robert Burns I was convinced it was worse than water boarding.
I do read and learn from the contemporary established, well known, recognized contemporary narrative poets like Levine, Laux, Patricia Smith regularly, Probably I am as old as the 2 women, though not dead like Levine.
3.1 Why was it worse than water boarding?
It felt like a constant struggle to understand and didn’t seem to have anything to do with my life and Robert Burns seemed like bad Hallmark cards. It just never clicked with me, made a connection with me. It never seemed worth the trouble to read and because I didn’t get any of what other people said they were getting, it made me feel dumb. And I was pretty sure I wasn’t….. Ok water boarding is probably a bit worse.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t write daily. I don’t want to make it feel like a job or obligation. If and when I get an idea that seems like it might be worth writing about, I’ll walk around with it in my head until I have a kind of strategy on how I want it to go, what direction, what I want to focus on and then I’ll sit down and try to find out if it feels right, see if it moves along and still interests me.
Then I’ll sit down for 2 or 3 hours at a time until it feels like it’s well on its way and then I’ll keep going back to it at different intervals. If it’s going to turn into something worthwhile to me, it will stay on my mind, haunt and tease me, until I get it down to where I feel it’s finished…..So my writing is usually comes and goes in splurges. I’m not one for writing exercises and I have never been good at them in workshops. I can have periods where I don’t write. After a month or so, I start thinking shit I’m out of ideas. But so far, an idea has always showed up
5. What motivates your writing?
Mostly that I have something to say, that I think I look at things differently than most people, that I’m good at it (I’m not good at many things) and I want to write things that feel true and right and when I do that, I feel good about myself, I get this quick surge of a sense of accomplishment.
6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I think the biggest influences on my writing came from listening to people like Dylan, Jackson Browne and Springsteen where I wanted to and still want to move people like their songs and words moved me. What I’ve read hasn’t measured up to that.
Then in the mid-eighties I signed up for a workshop and was extremely fortunate to get William Packard as a teacher. He taught me about cutting and paying more attention to sound and rhythm. He also validated my writing and he made me feel that I wrote good poetry and I had a chance to be better. I took a number of workshops with him and just to be sure he wasn’t the only person who felt I was any good, I took other workshops and teachers/writers like Ntozake Shange, Kevin Pilkington and Patricia Smith helped me along.
7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Well, this could get me in trouble…I’ll leave out the well-known ones and start with the two people I’ve exchanged work with for a long time, Michael Flanagan & Ted Jonathan. If I didn’t think they were real good, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time. When I first started to try and get published, do readings around NYC there were 3 poets: Angelo Verga, Shelley Stenhouse and Doug who is now Diana Goetsch and we supported and challenged each other. All five are still writing strong shit and have had some degree of recognition…and three others who I’ve come across more recently, Rebecca Schumedja, Alexis Rhone Fancher and Tom C. Hunley. I’ve been impressed at their ability to write so many poems that resonate with me consistently.
8. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Become a writer?….Get a real job and if writing is important to you, read and write as much as you can.
9. Tell me about the writing projects you’re involved in at the moment.
I don’t really do projects. I tend to go poem to poem, concentrate on individual poems and then when I think I have enough good ones, I’ll start looking at them and figure out how to organize the poems into a book: what subjects/threads are dominant an if it feels like it’s a strong enough collection I’ll focus on finding someone to publish it. Currently, I have a commitment from NYQ Books to publish my next book, What Kind Of Man. It’s taking longer than I hoped to come out, but I keep adding poems and I believe I’ve made it stronger.