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 the author of five chapbooks, including: when voice detach themselves (is a rose press, 2013), and at | with (Locofo Chaps, 2017); and two full-length collections: heartbreak elopes into a kind of forgiving (is a rose press, 2016), and each room echoes absence (FootHills Publishing, 2018). His poems have appeared most recently in Ethel, The Collidescope, The McKinley Review, Filling Station, Shark Reef, Anti-Heroin Chic, and Fence. gary is a retired English professor and queer living in Missoula, Montana.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I enjoy this question; however, I’m not sure I know the answer. Initially, as a youngster, I loved language, the words. I was always a reader. As a child I would hide under the covers after I was supposed to be sleeping, and with a flashlight I’d read until at some point I’d fall asleep. There was, for me, a sense of sanctuary. A sense of being in other places, etc.
My first writings were little stories. Somewhere in one of my boxes of memories I’ve a small journal with five or six of these stories. I must have still been in elementary school.
While I have no idea now what drove me to poetry, my first efforts at writing poetry happened in high school. I have no idea what writers were informing me, except I’m sure they were in anthologies. A dear high school friend, and editor of the school newspaper, actually published a couple of my efforts. Long lost now.
But I remember them filled with teenage angst. At that time, the Vietnam War was the backdrop for everything. Like many boys my age, I was sure I’d get drafted and die. I’d probably not reach twenty-five. I suppose I wrote to express my fears, sadness, loneliness, all that. I do remember reading Gandhi during those years. I did end up serving in the Navy, on a destroyer, two tours off coast of Vietnam shore bombing.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
I suspect I’ve answered this earlier. I do remember one moment as a senior in high school. I wasn’t a particularly driven student. But as a joke I shared one of my poems with my English teacher. I’ll not name her here. I was in college prep English. I shared the poem because I knew she’d hate it. It also had ‘fuck’ in it.
And I was right. She called me to her desk after class, and immediately told me that what I’d written wasn’t a poem, that I had no talent for poetry, and that I should stop trying to write it. She went on to tell me I didn’t have what it took to go to college, that I should go to a tech school, meet a nice girl, get married, and have a happy life.
I hadn’t expected that second part. After all, college was one way to forestall the draft.
Yet, I couldn’t stop writing poetry. Not out of stubbornness, but out of some youthful need to get to my feelings and world.
After the navy, and enrolled at Long Beach City College in California I began studying poetry, mostly on my own. Basho and other Japanese poets. Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island spoke to me, and many of the beats. But if I’m honest, A.R. Ammons was the one who truly introduced me to poetry. His book Corsons Inlet changed my understanding of what language could do.
When I returned to Denver to pursue my bachelor’s degree I took my first poetry workshop. It was so enlightening. I was checking out books from the campus library, frequenting Tattered Cover bookstore, and reading poetry. While I had no ambition to write poetry, or to be a poet, if you will, I couldn’t stop writing it.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I knew about Whitman, Dickinson, Pound, Elliot, etc. Later I discovered William Carlos Williams, Charles Reznikoff, and the others in the objectivist school. Naturally, I learned about the tradition of American Poetry when I entered graduate school. What a joy.
However, with a few exceptions this tradition was comprised of men. A few women were introduced, but nearly always as an afterthought. My education in poetry really took off once I’d completed my Ph.D. and began teaching.
It was while teaching in Oswego, New York that I experienced a real epiphany, if you will. A dear colleague, a woman, introduced me to feminist theory. At about the same time I had the pleasure of meeting Nicole Brossard. Her talks and reading, and her little book Lovhers changed my life. I hadn’t realized how bound I was in an unexamined sense of identity. And the consequent sense of poetry. During this time I was forced to examine my sense of poetry, along with my sense of queerness. I was slowly coming out of the closet.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
For years now I hang out at the local coffee shop, what used to be coffee house, and read, take notes, and, when given, write. My writing at this point seems to focus on the prose poem, or a mixture of prose and verse, if you will. As those who live here in Missoula can attest, I am at Butterfly Herbs every morning and afternoon. Usually I have my earbuds in, listening to classical or jazz, reading and writing. My writing practice is pretty isolating to be honest. While many sit visiting and enjoying the company of friends, I sit alone observing and listening to what the words that arrive have to say, and where they want to lead.
5. What motivates you to write?
I think as always to get to a saying that I feel compelled to say, if you will. I paraphrase Williams here. In his poem “The Desert Music,” when asked why he writes poetry, his response is “To get said what must be said.” I think, too, writing pushes me to investigate what remains hidden and probably unexamined in my life and consciousness. Sometimes my writing returns me to those now dead, or those lost through moves, etc. Loneliness certainly has a place in this, as does isolation. And the simple pleasure I derive in discovering how language dances, surprises, etc.
Also, I’ve learned that writing, once written, reveals insights into my life that I otherwise would remain blind to. As an example: when my first full length book, heartbreak elopes into a kind of forgiving (is a rose press, 2016), was released, as I was preparing for the first public reading, as I was selecting poems to read, I discovered so many warnings about what at the time of their writing was a decision on my part to retire early and move east to be with a man I was deeply in love with. In so many passages, fragments, etc., I saw how what I’d written was warning against the move. Of course, at the time of the writing I missed these completely. But this illustrates how what we presume to know, and what we write out of that knowing, is only a starting place. What is written can teach us if we are open to listening, instead of insisting upon our intentions.
6. What is your work ethic?
I believe I’ve probably covered this. However, I will say that I still write in a journal. I transpose what I’ve written the next morning into my computer where the writing languishes for a few weeks to a few months. I return to it once its had time to sit, and I’ve had time to continue writing new entries. Once I return to it I listen carefully to what it has to say, and follow the writing’s lead. I stopped writing with intention years ago.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I’m sure they influence simply be making up a portion of my development as a writer. I return to Williams, and especially Paterson and “The Desert Music.” I return to Robert Creeley and Charles Olson. Langston Hughes. Gwendolyn Brooks. Pablo Neruda. Ammons of course. There are, naturally, so many others; however, it’s mostly more contemporary writers who influence me now.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Rosmarie Waldrop, Lisa Robertson, Leslie Scalapino, Lyn Hejinian, Bhanu Kapil, Claudia Rankin, Etel Adnan, Melissa Buzzeo, Thalia Field, Maggie Nelson, Laura Moriarty, Erin Moure, others of course.
Each of these writers first and foremost give me permission to explore the terrain of my life and experience. Each opens the field of what is possible in poetry. And each redefines a sense of form, in contradistinction to the kind of formality I was raised to believe the scope of poetic explication.
Naturally, each of these writers offer me a ground upon which to examine my privilege, and my queerness. They all in their individual way critique the binary structure of patriarchy, and, thus, enable me to engage in a critique of heteronormativity. For much of my life I have struggled to find where and how I fit. In this struggle I continue to uncover new areas of self-censure and self-hatred. I suppose, too, each of these writers afford a sense of comfort in my experience of discomfort.
9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
Simply put, writing has been what I’ve been given to do. Not that I haven’t done many other things; but, writing is where I find a curious sense of home, of place. Even when that sense of home or place is strange and disconnected–filled with fragmentation and frequently confusion.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Not to sound flippant. But, seriously, write. Not for accolades or degrees or approval. But write out of what your world and sense of language afford. Along with this, and as the opportunity arises, read. Not just those books privileged as “great,” but those books that engage your imagination and intellect; those books that educate, surprise, and compel. And after all of that. Keep writing. Don’t let others or your sense of self-worth dictate the writing practice. Write on, as some might say.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
At this precise moment I’m going through a group of pieces I wrote toward the end of 2019. I’ve proofed them, which means I’ve corrected spelling errors, etc. Now I’m in the process of listening to what form they want to take–whether broken lines and stanzas, or prose poems. These particular poems are informed by the political turmoil we are immersed in, along with the issues of aging, of solitude, all that. We’ll see how they develop.
I’m also busy submitting to magazines, the occasional press. That sort of constant activity.