Part 1 - Beginnings
When did you first start writing poetry?
I first started writing poems when I was in high school, but actually what I was writing then was more verse than poetry. I would be embarrassed now to have anyone see what sappy, simplistic, and self-indulgent doggerel I wrote back then.
Did you always want to write poetry or did other creative forms call your attention first?
Poetry was always my favorite genre, though I have occasionally flirted with fiction, probably because my poems have a tendency to lean more toward narrative rather than toward image. Story and humor are like the poles of a horseshoe that attract my creative filings.
Who are some of your literary models?
By literary models, I suppose that you mean writers who have most influenced me, a factor which is always difficult to ascertain. Instead, I guess that I would cite the poets whom I most enjoy reading--William Butler Yeats, W. H. Auden, William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, and Emily Dickinson.
Why the Beats?
When I was a Teaching Assistant at the University of Illinois, I was assigned an experimental course, a Freshman English class taught in the lounge of the dormitory where the students lived. My assignment came too late for me to have ordered books for the class, and so during our first class meeting, I asked the students what they were interested in reading and writing about. At that time they were all interested in the Hippies and wondered where they came from. I explained a little about the Beat Generation, about whom I had limited knowledge myself, and the students decided that they would like to read and write about the Beats. As the semester continued, I found that I really liked and appreciated what the Beats were doing, and so I decided to write my dissertation about them: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gregory Corso.
Did you have mentors to help you along the way, or were you formed from the head of Zeus?
I was certainly not sprung from the head of Zeus; perhaps, however, from the head of Seuss. I did not have any mentors actively working with me as I began to develop in small ways as a poet. In fact, only recently have I joined a writer's group to share my poems in progress. On the other hand, I did extensive research on poets and poetry from the pre-Romantics to the present, English and American, for the courses which I was teaching. In other words, I read a lot of and about dead white male poets--and learned a lot from them.
What do you think of the writer's group: help or hindrance?
The writer's group is able to point out problems that I may be too close to the poems to see. The group provides me with some objectivity and distance that often help me to re-view the poems. This is usually very valuable.
Clearly, you wrote and published poetry while you taught, but you had just one chapbook published. Now you have more books forthcoming. Did teaching limit your writing, and now you're making up for lost time? Or were you writing and published all along, and are just now collecting your back catalog poems into books?
Yes, I definitely feel that teaching (mostly the grading, but also the class preparations and committee work) limited the time and energy that I could spare for writing poetry, especially for finding appropriate outlets to which I might submit. I had published about a hundred poems in various periodicals before I retired. I have been collecting some of my older writings, but I am not just recycling. I am also exploring new avenues for my writing. For example, of my latest publications, two of them were written to celebrate the late musical genius, Prince, and I have just had a poem accepted today to celebrate the late master Leonard Cohen. As with many other poets, I also find myself gravitating lately toward poems of social and political protest.
How do you feel about this process? How do you decide the order poems should be in a book?
I have no problems with the process of compiling collections of previously published poems or of creating new ones. My poems often seem to have a narrative thread to them, and so ordering them is a lot easier than it might otherwise be. One whole section of Me & God involves a road trip, and so I used a geographical organization for that section. Elsewhere, I structured the organization on my imagined development of the relationship between the primary characters.
What's the process of book publication like for you? How did your first chapbook come about? your first book?
After hearing me read some of my poems, the wonderfully talented Denise Brady invited me to submit poems for my first chapbook, Me and God Poems, which she crafted into a beautiful hand-set chapbook collection in 1990. I had continued writing poems in that series, and one of the new ones, "Pinballs," was selected by Jim Reese as Paddlefish's Winner of the 2013 William Kloefkorn Award for Excellence in Poetry. Jim suggested that I try to find a publisher for the entire collection, and he mentioned Wayne State College Press, where Chad Christensen accepted the volume and helped to shepherd it toward its final publication.