Poetic Takes: Four Poets Respond

Readers: Here is an interview conducted online with volunteer poets I have met online. Each of the four writers received the same group of 12 questions. I have listed the respondents in alphabetical order by first name. Many thanks to the respondents; bios appear at the end. Enjoy!

1) Multi-part question: Why poetry? Personally and globally. Why do you write in this form, and do you also write prose? If you write both, do they inform one another? If you write poetry as therapy (as many do), does it help you? Why, in general, is poetry important?

 

Dalton: Writing is my escape from the world, from people, from myself. I become lost in my work when I write, trying to find whatever needs to be rid of me. Nothing else matters much when I’m in words. Form doesn’t matter, except that poetry is simple and flexible and I tend to build shapes. I’ve not the time to write short stories, or to complete my novel, so poetry has become the place-keeper for my heart and thoughts. Poetry is only important to the poet until read, after which its importance depends only on the poet’s skill, and then it’s merely a transient connection of short meaning.

Kevin: Poetry allows me to get to the point quickly. I am more comfortable with brevity and I like the freedom poetry gives me with line breaks and flow.

Michael: Why poetry? I could speak as the imaginary mountain climber – because it’s there. But for me it has to do more with how Robert Duncan defined poetry: “language that becomes so excited that it is endlessly creative of message.” That’s why poetry for me – the multiple layers and levels of possibilities, gates to alternate meanings (universes) in each poem. Poetry excites me at all levels: the erotics of words as things, the aesthetics of imagery, the sheer energy of the language turned full on: rhythm, metaphor, nuance, passion, music, and silence.

Irma Stern

Artist: Irma Stern

Is art important? Who cares? It’s art. Life, liberty, peace, safety, food, shelter, blankets / clothing against the weather – basics – are important, as are love, peace, and that ugly one, war. Art? It is art. It doesn’t matter if it is important. Maybe it doesn’t care if it is important or not. It exists.

I suspect that the person who wants artists (poets, musicians) to explain why it’s important already “knows” it isn’t, and really wants the artist to be shown why it isn’t important. This is the trap. Avoid the trap. Don’t try to explain on these terms, don’t repeat the question as though it means something relevant to art or poetry.

Why are bucket seats in the front seat of my car important? Why are horses running around a river of red flowers important? Why are flags flapping in the wind important? The truth? They aren’t. They just are what they are. And we pause, sometimes, to reflect on them. Well, at least the horses, flowers, and flags. I rarely reflect on the bucket seats. Yet a poem could.

I write prose, and that is a longer wave, with peaks of excitement like poetry, but after a buildup. And there are longer pauses, rests. Mostly, these days, my prose is hybrid – flash fiction that often reaches the terrain of prose poetry. And so, they do inform each other. I sometimes choose prose for the long journey. Yet, I’ve written some very long poems, too…a series of long and short poems that only a few of which have been published.

Writing – poetry or prose – satisfies my association cortex, which some researchers think accounts for what difference there is between the human brain and that of other animals – for the human “mind” that we so readily refer to. If meaning is important, and I do think it is, for our sense of humanity, if nothing else, then making meaning, especially meaning that is “endlessly creative of message,” is important in some way. If meaning doesn’t matter (which some may reasonably argue), then it may be less important.

Rose: Why not? Americans don’t really seem to appreciate poetry, but it’s my favorite form to write in. I have written prose, but can’t seem to stick to one concrete thought for as long as it takes to write prose. I have three autobiographical books (with some liberal leeway) and they were easy to write because they were my life. But I love to write poetry, because each poem is essentially an expanded metaphor and easier for me to write.

2) Do you read a lot of poetry? If so, what/whom do you read? Do you read other books that influence your poetry pursuits?

Dalton: I read mostly online during little breaks in the day and a chapbook or a book of poetry every month or so. I lean towards quirky, clever narratives with a strong sense of atmosphere, not too dark, but near the shadows, maybe noir, always with a twist and something unexpected to discover or clever to feel. From the classics I enjoy John Donne, more currently Everett Maddox, Alan Catlin, William Trowbridge, and then Theresa Meichuc, all for the reasons above. Anything I read influences my work.  Cormic McCarthy, for instance, turns my work very dark and dismal, but to be honest, most poetry is, to me, too fluffy, too introspective. Expressive is wonderful, but when I see “rose” or “newt” or common expressions of love in a poem, I gag and go to the next.

Kevin: I mostly read poetry with an occasional novel thrown in.

Michael: I read poetry. I read it online, in books, sent to me by fellow poets. I listen to it, too, at readings, slams, also online. My friend gary lundy has influenced my writing – he has a little chapbook out: when voices detach themselves. Marcela Sulak, who has given me some of the terminology for what I do (notions of hybridity) is another friend whose work I like to read. I’ve read her work in journals and online – she also has some books out and recently edited a volume of hybrid writing. Adeena Karasick – her Kabbalistic poetry excites me, and she’s an amazing performer of her work. Karen Alkalay-Gut here in Israel – I have most of her books, if not all of them. I like Juliana Spahr. Recently I’ve met Kinga Fabó, who lives in Budapest, on Facebook through her amazing poems. There are so many I’ve met following links to publications or reading poems posted online – Krysia Jopek, Ampat Koshy, and Allison Joseph are among these. I am involved with two monthly online journals, The Woven Tale Press and The BeZine, and read and publish work in both. I read other print and online journals and through them read poets whose names I don’t recall.

Everything I read influences my poetry. I read fiction (all 31 flavors, although only the occasional spoonful of romance), philosophy, science, criticism, essays, mysticism. I read articles on social sciences, psychology, politics, spirituality and whatever else – even economics. You will find bits of it all in my poetry. I see connections, associations firing along that cortex; I find sparks, metaphors images, ideas everywhere. Even on walks in the woods.

Poetry’s excitement (of language and sound) and “endlessly creative…message” allows me to incorporate it all. And I think that way, jumping around often, but along some multi-dimensional grid of interconnected images, thoughts, words, sounds…it all connects. Bly talks about leaps. Michael Dennis Browne, my mentor, would speak of the “poem behind the poem” for revision, but I think there are poems reflecting possibilities of message behind every finished poem – emanating sparks of meaning for any reader who senses them. They are not all known to the writer, either.

Rose: I’m not particularly fond of most poetry, but I do read it on occasion. I like Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson and a few others. I am subscribed to Poetry Daily, though, and enjoy most poets posted on there.

3) Is creativity genetic (inborn)? and/or can it be learned?

Dalton: I think all people are born to be creative, but it’s more of an innate desire.  How do we define creativity?  The best quote which I recently heard (and I wish I could cite the person) is that art is the ultimate form of selfishness. I’ll believe that, although I’ve often said poetry is just an acceptable form of masturbation.  Also, the woman who folds my clothes is equally the artist I am for my poetry because I simply can’t do that as well as she, and maybe visa versa.

Kevin: My father claimed to be able to write poetry, but he never honed that skill. I think it is inherent but needs to be further explored and nurtured to be good.

Michael: Must it be either / or? As humans we love to debate, hold a position, and prove that it is not some other position. Creativity might well be genetic; I wouldn’t know. Even if it is, probably like many genetic factors, it depends on environment to express itself. It certainly can be (and often is, I fear) suppressed. I think it can be nurtured. Does this lead to learning it? Possibly. Do we really teach our children to speak a language, or do we nurture it? They learn it, perhaps despite any efforts we make. Language seems to be an innate capability. I think children are innately creative, too, if we nurture creativity. As with languages, it could also be learned and nurtured later in life. Likely it is both genetic and it can be learned.

Rose: I think you’re born with creative ability.

4) What constitutes poetic genius?

Dalton: The opinion of others. Effort? Shakespeare? Having enough time on your hands. I’ll pass.

Kevin: The ability to see and say things for what they truly are using poetic language.

Michael: I don’t know. I like gary lundy’s definition of good poetry, for him – if it inspires him to write. So, the ability to generate new poetry or new modes of poetry (not merely imitations) could be “genius.” I’m not sure what genius is, other than a label conferred on certain people or works. For me, if the poem transforms me or my understanding of some aspect of the world, it is good. Perhaps if it transforms the world it would be genius.

Rose: Can’t answer that one; it varies with every person.

5) Who are some of your favorite poets and why? You may provide an example or two of favorite poems or stanzas. Please credit.

Dalton: Theresa Mei Chuc, because she expresses loss and sorrow with such beauty:

H’mong

A whole village

is blanketed

in the aerial spray

of chemical genocide

Soft clouds cover

mountaintops.

>

In a field, a grandmother

carries her grandchild

in a pouch on her back

as she works.

The heartbeats

synchronize.

Seexeng Lee - Hmong Woman Sewing

Seexeng Lee – Hmong Woman Sewing

>
People who are connected

to the earth, know its secrets

Medicinal, weather, plants for dyeing

>
A woman is sewing.

Between her fingers,

the needle dives into cloth

and emerges, pulling along

colored patterns, stories

and customs into handmade

clothing.

>

H’mong is a word

that means “freedom.”

It is difficult to cross

the MeKong River

to a refugee camp

without getting killed.

How many dead flowers are scattered about the land?


Everett Maddox, for his insight into to South:

Hypothetical Self Epitaph

What if I just caved in,

gave out, pulled over

to the side of
the road of life,

& expired like an old

driver’s license?

You might say He didn’t

get far in 31 years.

But I’d say That’s

alright, it was

the world’s longest trip

on an empty tank.


Alan Catlin – for his narrative style and ability to jump into the shadow without getting into the dark.

Downwind from the Dumpster

He hit the door

at about 10 per

smacked out of his

brain looking

for a bathroom &

a drink.

Twenty years of

sleeping downward

of a dumpster did

nothing for his

personality.

I waited as he

used the head

watching ESPN

Sports Center

knowing I would be

watching the out takes

of A War of the Worlds;

knowing I was going

to have to cut him off,

piece by piece

a limb at a time

until he was aware

he was dead.

Kevin: Charles Bukowski, for his way of telling things boldly and without fear of reproach, and George Bilgere for his way of writing layman’s language.

Michael: Today? Yesterday? Tomorrow? I listen to Joy Harjo’s musical renditions a lot. I love her voice, cadence, music, have loved it since before I knew she could play sax and had a band. I often have favorite poems rather than poets. This 1956 poem by Leonard Cohen (before his music career) is a favorite:

Gift

You tell me that silence
is nearer to peace than poems
but if for my gift
I brought you silence
(for I know silence)
you would say
This is not silence
this is another poem
and you would hand it back to me.

(This comes from the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.)

Cohen is also a favorite song-writer poet.

A list of poets who have moved me with poems and sometimes poetics (in no particular order, or perhaps an order unraveled to my conscious mind): Robert Duncan, Anne Waldman, Gwendolyn Brooks, Ron Silliman, Robert Bly, Ann Sexton, Czeslaw Milosz, Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsberg, Anna Akhmatova, Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, e. e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman…it’s a totally incomplete list. The list in question 2, equally incomplete, could be appended. I generally like poetry from the Modernists through the Beats to the language poets and from all the chaos of not-yet-labeled contemporary poetry. I am not a fan of sing-song rhythm and easy rhymes.

Rose: I hate these type of questions. Too mush like SAT essay questions and I hate tests.

6) Do you do much ekphrasis (art influenced by other art)?

Dalton: Yes and no.  I’ve done done poems for prompts and paintings, mostly as a diversion, but I do best with sudden, found inspiration. Anything can inspire me, but it’s mostly up to my muse and time available.

Kevin: Not really. I have tried it a bit with Rattle magazine’s ekphrasis challenge, but I haven’t ventured past that.

Michael: I do some. I’ve written from music (jazz, mostly) and from paintings. I haven’t done a lot that is direct influence and somehow the theme of the writing, maybe a dozen or so – fewer than that have been published. Art and music always influence my poetry to a degree, but I am thinking here of works that are mainly in response to a particular artwork. Sometimes it’s the reverse – I create digital or other art influenced by my poems. I’ve also recorded readings of my poems and played music behind the recordings – multi-track technology. William Erickson-Ress and I put out an audio tape of our work with our reading and playing music behind it (back in the 1990s, so, yes, a cassette tape). We weren’t singing the words, as Joy Harjo does with some of hers. We were reading them.

Rose: Not generally.

7) Can you think of a prose-writer whose work is poetic?

Dalton: Cormic McCarthy, Kurt Vonnegut, M. Kei, really so many…

Kevin: Carolyn Forche always struck me as very poetic in her prose writing, but then, there is a very fine line between the two. Prose poetry has been very hard for me, but I occasionally try the form to step out of my comfort zone and for me, this is necessary in order to stretch one’s poetic legs.

Michael: Tim Robbins (“Even Cowgirls Get the Blues,” etc.) writes with that excitement and rhythm that makes me feel poetry is in the room. Salman Rushdie definitely excites with language, as does Leslie Marmon Silko. I think Stephen Dixon often achieves this. Definitely Toni Morrison writes poetically; especially in “Beloved” and “Jazz” I feel the energy. Hélène Cixous in her experimental novels (I read in translation) writes what I would now call hybrid – very poetic. Meg Pokrass, who writes flash fiction, has the poetic crossing. Many of her flash pieces feel to me like prose poems, sometimes with a plot. I’m sure I will think of others in the coming days. I’m sorry. You asked for only one? This is just the beginning…

Rose: Richard Brautigan

8) Has the quality of poetry declined over the last century, or improved?

Dalton: I would say declined, but I don’t really believe that is true.  With the internet we are exposed to so much poetry that the bad deludes the good.  I think much of what we read should have stayed in a spiral binder under someone’s bed, to be shared some special night. Also, with the internet, I think way too much paper is put into poems. I guess it’s just traditional, but wasteful.

Kevin: I think it has improved in one sense and declined in another. Let me explain. The emphasis on poetry has declined, but the poetry itself has improved both in form and language.

Michael: I have no idea. Who decides such things? Poetry has changed over the past century. It probably has over any 100-year period. Language changes, culture changes, society changes, the other arts change – why wouldn’t poetry? We are tied to odd notions of quality – I know what I was taught in junior high and high school, that “good literature” must “withstand the test of time.” I also know what I learned in grad school, that the “test of time” was fixed by patriarchy, colonialism, and inequities of race, class and gender, even region.

I also know that a poem I once liked might not suit me later. That might not be the fault of the poem, but a change in my perspective. It probably has little to do with quality. I don’t know what quality is, for poetry. If it’s what I call “the lundy test” (see question 4), then if it generates new poetry or modes of poetry, I would suggest as a sign of quality (borrowing from gary lundy). If it is a more idiosyncratic criterion, does it speak to me? I still read Williams, whose work is around a century ago. I still read Ginsberg and Waldman, let’s call them half a century ago. I read the other poets I mentioned before, let’s say, Karasick and Spahr, nowadays. They still spark my associations toward poetry.

Rose: Tastes were different in the last century. That’s the only difference.

9) If a person wishes to publish, and writes with this in mind, does this mean he/she is not a “true” poet?

Dalton: Why not?  If someone can sell a book of poetry doing it that way, then sure it’s true poetry?  Who is to determined what true poetry is? Aren’t we all seeking an audience and presumably desire to publish?  Unless we win some college press award and are published by merit deemed by fellow members of our community, what’s the difference?  What sells is what’s read.  What poetry sells anyway, a handful of poets in the poetry section of Barnes and Noble? One way or another, we all write from our heart and our mind. It’s not like there is any money in this business, just pride of accomplishment, whether on a binder under the bed, or in a bookstore window.

Kevin: I don’t think it means the individual is not a true poet, but perhaps is a poet for the wrong reasons. I used to write to that end, but realized the publication comes when the poetry is naturally flowing from the writer and not some promise of success.

Michael: No to the not. I feel like the interview curmudgeon, but I suspect you might want to call attention to the problems with some of the notions in the questions. The problem is that word “true,” which is a judgment. How do we make that judgment? Plato and many philosophers before and since have spent a lot of time on questions of truth and epistemology. Who knows or decides what a “true” poet is?

As with the notions of “important,” “genius,” and “quality,” I don’t think these ideas originate from poetry or poets. We may repeat them, out of anxieties or concerns or jealousy or who-knows-what motivation. I think they might come from capitalism and consumerism, from cultural views that an artist must suffer, be crazy, earn little, be a genius, be “called” to art, or whatever myth. Is a poet who doesn’t publish more or less of a “true” poet than one who does? I don’t see a correlation, let alone a cause and effect relationship. I suppose, if one writes poetry, one is a “true” poet. A poet writes and lives as other humans. Poets get dressed as other people do. They are as much “truly” what they are as other humans are, or aren’t. We are all truly human, I suppose, poet or not.

Rose: Of course not. What rubbish. Wouldn’t you want to get paid for what you love to do?

10) What are a few of your favorite words? Can you share a “minute-poem” using them? Why do you like these words?

Dalton: Whatever comes to mind, or occasionally the Thesaurus.  At the moment no particular works come to mind; it’s a matter of what word is needed.

Kevin:

sometimes, time, death, wonder
I find myself wondering
sometimes about the
death of things
and why time
allows this
to happen

Michael: I don’t think I have any favorite words. I like them all. Well, most of them. I don’t like some. I won’t tell you which ones I don’t like, though. I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Here is a poem playing with words or more with ideas and associations in this interview

No word resounds important
sounds, meaning less true
than mean and more genius
than nice and with-in—or—
-out, favorites loose quality
associations of sparks reading
across cortical resistance to
poetry shattered into multiples
of one —so many endless messages.

Rose:

Exceptionally challenged,
the hermaphrodite languished
with no knowledge bequeathed
as to whether it was
the automobile
or the tunnel.

11) Is there a question or topic not covered that you would like to address? You may ask a question, then answer it or explore a topic related to the writing of poetry.

Dalton: pass

Kevin: No. Everything was covered very well.

Michael: I think the best way to know about poetry is to read it. Thus, what I say about poetry or poets doesn’t matter much. I probably don’t know that much about poetry, especially my own. However, if you want to learn about poetry, my approach, what I think about it – then, it’s probably better to read my poetry. You will probably learn more accurately, as it will be unfiltered by rationalizing or extemporizing or trying to explain what I don’t know well myself. It will be the poems themselves speaking what they are. It is always and only about the poems.

Rose: Q: Why does one figure it’s important to describe and map out the poetic process? A: I don’t know nor do I have the means to describe it.

12) [“Bonus points!”] What exactly is writer’s block and how do you, personally, overcome it?

Dalton: For me, writer’s block is simply not having time (or sometimes desire) to write.  I value what little time I have to write the things I want to write, rather than the things I need to write.

Kevin: Writer’s block is the inability to be satisfied with anything you write. The way I deal with writer’s block is reading. I literally take some time off from writing and I read voraciously.

Michael: Writer’s block is an adversary that reinvents itself in its own image. If you think about it, it comes into being. I think it could be a product of some belief that you must struggle and work and write prolifically, always write, write every day. If I’m stuck, I wait. I write something else. I play guitar. I start over. I realize that it’s not something I want to or am interested in writing, so I let it go. If I’m on a deadline and I’m procrastinating, I could call it writers block. Or I could write. I have done both. Writing is much more work, but much more rewarding. However, if I don’t write a poem for a month or a year, I must be doing something else. Unless, that is, I died. And perhaps, then, too. That could mean that I’m not a true poet. But I’ve never been able to walk away from this act of writing. And I mostly write poetry. It sings to me, the body electric.

Rose: I read Poetry Daily or their archives, not to copy the poets, but for inspiration. (Bonus Points? Is this a test and have I passed?)

   
BIOS

Southern California born poet Dalton Perry has written poetry since grade school.  His poems were first published when attending college.  In 1986 his poem Passionate Geometry earned runner up  honors at the regional Writers Day competition judged by Ray Bradbury and others. Dalton has since been fortunate with his submissions.  He writes mostly free verse, but also haiku, tanka and other forms as needed. His work chronicles life, and emotions of suburbia from his childhood roaming the hills behind his parents’ home to being boxed into canyons of oversize apartment building and high rises, often with a grain of cynicism, bittersweet sarcasm, or outright humor.

Kevin D. LeMaster is currently an avid student of poetry.  His poetry has been inspired by many people, including, but not limited to, Robert Frost, Billy Collins, Charles Bukowski and others He has served as poetry editor for Silhouette magazine, and prose editor for Twizted Tungz.  His works have appeared in many publications, both online and print, and has participated in Tupelo Press’ 30/30 project.  He currently resides in Northern Kentucky with his wife and children.

Michael Dickel, a writer, photographer and artist, is chair of the Israel Association  of Writers in English. He received top awards in the 2008 and 2009 Reuben Rose Poetry Competitions, co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36 (2010) and was managing editor of arc–23 (2014) and arc–24 (2015). Dickel’s poetry, prose, & photographs have appeared in small-press literary journals, anthologies, art books, & online. His latest book of poems is War Surrounds Us, came out July 2015. He holds degrees in psychology, creative writing, & literature. He taught college and university writing courses in the United States and Israel for nearly 30 years. He directed the Student Writing Center at the University of Minnesota and the Macalester Academic Excellence Center at Macalester College (St. Paul, MN). Dr. Dickel has published articles, presented conference papers, and led workshops on writing and the teaching of academic writing. He currently lives in Jerusalem, Israel, where he writes and occasionally teaches.

Rose Aiello Morales has been writing poetry since she was seven years old (with various time outs in order to live her tragic life). She has written several books of poetry and prose, and recently has taken a (very) short sabbatical in order to catalog her very colorful life and get her metaphors in order.

{Note: permission granted by respondents for light editing where necessary.}

 

Created, compiled and posted by Julie Shavin

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Poetic Takes: Four Poets Respond

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s