Q: Is there something that readers must know about yourself? If yes, can you tell us?
A: I am a baby-boomer, born in 1948. I was active in the small press movement from the late sixties through the seventies, but took a twenty year hiatus from publishing my work to be a social worker for abused & developmentally disabled children. I ‘came back’ to the literary scene in 2005. Since then, my new poems have been published in over fifty journals, websites & anthologies, & nominated for four Pushcart Prizes.
Q: Tell us something about your latest poem chap/poetry book. (Please mention the name of your poem chap or poetry book.)
A: ForThe Living Dead (Free Books, Lowell, MI, 2007) contains sixteen poems that range in length from three to one hundred eighty lines. The poems are ‘about’ perspective & the human relationship with the natural & unnatural, manmade worlds. There are metaphors for the distance we often feel from ourselves as well as between people & cultures. The poems also experiment with shifting points of view & voices. The shorter poems support & foreshadow the major 180 line title poem.
Q: What are your favorite poems in your poem chap/ poetry book?
A: My favorite short poem is Garment, because it expresses transcendence from the personal to the universal. The imagery works perfectly for me & evokes the feeling I had when I wrote it, reliably. My favorite poem in the chapbook is the title poem, For The Living Dead, which I composed over a seven month period during which my mother died.
The poem has too many built-in features to enumerate here, but its complexity is subtle & it works beautifully as a unified whole. I wanted for years to create a major poem that would encompass the full range of emotional tones, so the reader would experience a full range of emotions all within the same work. The poem is also cathartic for me. It is something I really wanted to say, said in exactly the way I wanted to say it.
Q: How did you become a poet?
A: I was an early reader, reading at 5th grade level in the 1st grade. This was an early distinction, so I took my English classes with the 5th graders every day. When I was eight years old, my mother asked me to write her a poem, so I did. Our greatest moments of intimacy were centered around poetry when I was a small child. My mother used to read poems to me & my sister before we went to bed. We each had our favorites & took turns reading them, sitting together on the couch. The poem I wrote for her at the age of eight was a credible haiku that just came out. It was image-based & much more sophisticated than the poems children usually write. I put together my first little chapbook at the age of ten. I was the literary editor of my high school newspaper. Writing poetry was considered cool at the very small high school I attended. We had an annual literary contest, & I won the poetry award for each of my four years of high school. At the age of twenty, I published a chapbook (Earth Songs, Metamorphosis Press, Grand Rapids, MI 1969) that sold a thousand copies, & the rest is history.
Q: Is it financially rewarding to be a poet?
A: It can be financially rewarding to be a poet if one gets grants, reading fees from colleges or sells a lot of books. Individual poems are not generally financially rewarding, though. Some magazines pay for poems, but most pay only in copies. You do it for the love of the art, & because you feel compelled.
Q: Why should readers buy and read your poem chap/poetry book?
A: For The Living Dead is a free chapbook. The publisher, Free Books, was incorporated as a non-profit organization for the dissemination of contemporary literature back in the seventies. Readers may enjoy the thought-provoking quality of my work. Also, I know of no poem, other than the title poem, that combines such a wide range of tones, from the spiritual first & last sections to the tongue-in-cheek humor juxtaposed with images of horror. In addition, the poem utilizes pure symbolism (zombies & robots) unattached to a specific metaphor, which puts the reader in the position of poet. Several poets have told me that this effect is intensified by repeated readings.
Q: Tell us something about your poem that was nominated for Best Poem of Year 2007. (Please mention the poem that was nominated.)
A: The nominated poem, For The Living Dead, is constructed in ten eighteen-line sections, 180 lines in all. It took seven months to compose, & a wide variety of compositional methods were used. The emotional backdrop was the illness & death of my mother. The poem begins & ends with an elegiac tone. Both sections 1 & 10 were written first, & remained largely the same. The intuitive mode often starts me out. I used the musical technique of returning to the dominant key for these beginning & ending sections. I wanted to use symbols instead of metaphor. The zombies & robots are not specifically compared to anyone, but instead ask the reader to supply his or her own metaphor. I believe this is unique in contemporary poetry. I also wanted to replicate the way our consciousness is bombarded by images from pop culture & by a wide range of different emotions. I wrote lines while watching zombie movies, & read several books that featured robots or addressed the moral issues of robotics. I chose the images intuitively, for their emotional validity. The poem protests against the depersonalization & alienation of technology & of man’s damage to himself & the planet.
Q: Who are your favorite poets and why?
A: I like a wide variety of poets, both old & new. Wallace Stevens has stood the test of time for me. I like the non-linear intensity of his work. His poems are precise yet ambiguous enough for depth. I also have a deep fondness for Robert Frost, for his lyrical narratives & poems like Birches, Death of the Hired Man & West-Running Brook. The other modern I still enjoy is T.S. Eliot. Of the Beats, I prefer Gregory Corso, for his humor, candor & lyrical ability. Also Lawrence Ferlinghetti, for his accessibility & humor. I love the work of Philip Whalen, because he broke many boundaries & described his inner dialogue so well. I also like Whalen’s zen values & attitude. I love the New York School poets, especially Frank O’Hara & John Ashbery, & the second generation New York schoolers like Ted Berrigan, with whom I studied, & Ron Padgett, for his simplicity & zen humor. Berrigan was a major influence. Another of my teachers whose work I admire greatly is Robert Bly, with whom I studied in the seventies & still correspond with occasionally. I like Bly’s poems for their deep imagery & ambiguity. Among contemporaries, I especially enjoy the work of John Elsberg for his imagery & precision. I like John Amen for his non-linear juxtapositioning of imagery. I like so many contemporaries – Alan Catlin, Ellaraine Lockie, Guy Beining, B.Z. Niditch, Jared Smith. Antler for his unique take on objectivism, Hugh Fox for his free association, Lyn Lifshin, for her interior projections, & the list goes on! I generally like poets who respect the intelligence of readers & expect the readers to participate actively in the poem.
Q: What are your favorite activities aside from writing poetry?
A: I like to spend time outdoors on the water, fishing or kayaking or boating. I like to hike. I’m also a blues guitar player.
“Nominee Interview for 4th Muses Poetry Prize (Best Poem for 2007 – For The Living Dead)”, Muses Review, www.musesreview.org, 2008.