Eric Greinke has worked as a Coast Guardsman, a bookstore manager, a Creative Writing teacher, a social worker, a small press publisher and in the Michigan Poets In The Schools program. He is the author of numerous books in a variety of subjects and modalities. His new collection is Wild Strawberries (Presa Press 2008). Recent work has appeared in Bogg, The California Quarterly, Free Verse, Home Planet News, The Hurricane Review, Iconoclast, The Midwest Book Review, The New York Quarterly, Small Press Review, Solo Café, Tar Wolf Review and Wilderness House Literary Review. His poem “For The Living Dead” was awarded the Muses Review Award for Best Poem of 2007. He has also received four Pushcart nominations. He has a Master’s degree in Social Work from Grand Valley State University. For additional information, visit his website: www.ericgreinke.com.
JA: I’ve been rereading your Selected Poems, asking myself, “What is it about Greinke’s poetry that I enjoy so much?” Your work, in many ways, brings together the better elements of dadaism and surrealism. In addition, unlike some of that early work, there is a definite sense of cohesiveness in many of your pieces, a cohesiveness achieved not so much through theme or narrative or other traditional techniques, but more so perhaps through rhythm, through placement, through a connectivity and flow of images. Could you perhaps discuss this a bit? How you bring together the oftentimes dadaistic and surreal in such a way that the reader does in fact experience what I might call “deep unity?”
EG: Deep unity comes primarily through emotional association, but it is supported by a combination of other unifying factors, such as visual and auditory structure. All of the supporting elements must be representative of the poetic impulse of the poem, and are in a sense supportive to the associative flow of the images, which evoke the feeling/idea being symbolized by the poem. The great lesson of dadaism is its failure to create meaningless works of art. Each word represents a concept and combinations of ideas can never be meaningless, although they can be difficult, when, for example, words are used as paint or as musical notes in a poem. Surrealism, on the other hand, recognizes that deeper meanings are also real and may lie beneath the surface. In a sense, surreal means super-real, but on a different level of abstraction than the obvious and linear.
My poetry is meant to be experienced. I want the reader to participate. I provide the outline, but the reader finishes the poem. Certain poems, such as “Carnival Rail,” may seem more surreal to the reader than they are for me. I wrote that one, for example, in a fit of irritation toward Donald Hall. We had a warm, personal relationship but argued constantly over poetry. Don had a problem with spontaneous composition, whereas I am very intuitive in my compositional process. I saw his attitude as cold and closed to poetic diversity (“You occupy your winter/ Chair, boots on, coat fastened like a/ Frozen oarlock!”). The last word of the poem (“intrepid”) summarizes the issue as really being one of courage.
Many of the structural elements I employ have become second nature to me, analogous to the body memory of an athlete. One of my rules for myself is to give each line an integrity of its own. One way I support this is to capitalize the first word of each line but to leave it without end-punctuation, to indicate that it works alone, but also with the other lines to form a cumulative chain of associations that leads to a final line that captures the mysterious essence of the poetic space being presented. I use recurrent personal symbols, sound devices, color, tonal variation and irony regularly. I also use a variety of projective and associative compositional methods. Poetry is a way to open doors of perception. My favorite works are those that mystify me with implications of deeper, perhaps ineffable meaning. Poetic sight is part of human potential, like extra
Ultimately, deep unity comes from within and reflects the pure poetic impulse. The way it comes out depends on the inner unity of the poet and whether he has found his true voice.
JA: You mention the reader. Fortunately or unfortunately, readers often bring certain assumptions and criteria to the table. I mean, in some ways, it seems to me that your arguments with Hall are related to assumptions regarding linearity, cohesion, process vs. result: meaning and the role of meaning. Do you sense prevailing notions with American readers regarding what a poem is and should do; and if so, how do you navigate and/or encounter and/or push against these notions?
EG: When I visualize my ideal readers, I see myself. I have found that when a poet pleases himself, a readership emerges. For every poet there are readers whose sensibilities are compatible. In the interim there are editors, the first readers, whose prevailing notions define what is good poetry for each particular magazine. Their standards and expectations vary greatly. I write in a wide variety of formats that readers generally do not expect to see from a single poet. There is probably a tendency to want to categorize poets, as a logical first step toward understanding the basic values of their approach. I write some poems which may be called “nature poems with a twist,” modernized American language haiku and ghazals, prose poems based in objective reality that are symbolic, other prose poems based in dreams or fantasies, short lyric poems, word salads, poetic translations that attempt to recapture the original poetic impulse, long poems that feature shifting tones and personae, modified found poems, meditational poems, children’s poems and humorous poems. I’m probably the only one who likes them all. So, I just please myself, then submit to publications according to their stated biases.
Today’s poetry readers generally expect tonal consistency. They have a definite bias in favor of a serious, even sad tone. I am more excited by the possibilities of evoking a wide range of emotional responses all within a single poem, which I have explored in longer poems such as “For The Living Dead.” One of the great debates seems to be over the place of humor in poetry. I also think people expect a poem to always have a specific meaning. Open-ended or ambiguous work makes them uneasy, but it also excites a big response. One ongoing theme in my work is that things aren’t always as they seem to be. When something is truly new, and there is no category for it yet, I feel it is best to just spring it on as many people as possible and see how it floats.
JA: You recently released a translation of Rimbaud’s poetry. What draws you, generally speaking, to translating? And what, more specifically, drew you to translating Rimbaud? What are some of the things you struggle with as a translator? I mean, you’re trying to take something created in one language—with all the particular nuances and musicality and rhythm that that language possesses—and convert the work to another language, while still preserving some sense of that original gestalt. This seems like quite an alchemical process?
EG: I came to translating indirectly. Sometime in the early seventies, critics and fellow poets began to compare my poetry to that of Rimbaud. Up to that point, my grounding was in English and American literature. I had only a vague idea of Rimbaud’s work. When I finally decided to investigate this French poet, two things happened. First, I had a rush of recognition. I had the strong feeling that I had seen the work before, and I even felt possessive toward it. The other thing that happened is that the English versions didn’t seem quite right. I could see how they should have been translated. I was twenty-five when I translated The Drunken Boat and sent it to my teacher Robert Bly. Robert loved it and encouraged me to do more.
Over four editions and three decades, the collection grew from a twenty-eight page chapbook to the full length book it is now. Art Beck, in his extensive review of my translations in Rattle, concluded that I was able to get in touch with the original source of the poem and translate that into contemporary American. I am very pleased that he saw that. It’s good to be understood sometimes. Rimbaud and I both touched the archetype of the poem that is The Drunken Boat. I began translating Rimbaud about a century after he wrote the pieces, but it felt like I had written them yesterday.
The big struggle in translating is in the choice of synonyms. It’s more important to be literate than literal. Most translators have been linguists first, poets maybe. I believe that the best translators are poets first, who have similar aesthetic principles to the poet being translated. The actual poem is a force unto itself, and great poems like The Drunken Boat are actually archetypes. The poet taps into them. He discovers it. He doesn’t create it. He finds it.
It takes a poet to translate a poet. One is faced with so many possible word choices when translating that the only unifying factor is the poet’s/translator’s own poetic standards. I choose the word that best describes the underlying concept in a way I find poetic. Since I was compared so much to Rimbaud, there are obvious areas of stylistic compatibility. We both see nature as alive, and we are both symbolists, so we actually speak the same language. Poetic compatibility between the original poet and the translator hold the greatest potential for growth in the art of translation. And you’re right about it being alchemical. A poet is an alchemist who tries to turn common metal into gold.
JA: Can you speak a little about the publication that you founded and edit—Presa? How did it get started? What are some of the artistic intentions? What role do you think the magazine plays in the current literary landscape?
EG: Presa came out of discussions with veteran small press activists Kirby Congdon, Hugh Fox and Harry Smith as I was re-entering the scene after my twenty-five year hiatus. Our dialogue centered around the fact that the most active and innovative poets on the alternative press scene were still basically an “invisible generation” in the words of Hugh Fox—still largely unavailable to the general public and snubbed by the literary establishment. Presa is a musical term that is defined as “the entry point into a canon.” We wanted to create an ongoing anthology of the underground canon in all its diversity. We wanted to advocate for eclectism and literary tolerance.
We’ve produced seven issues so far. Each issue has a featured poet whom we felt deserved greater recognition. Another ongoing feature is the series of “Lest We Forget” articles about poets who have made significant contributions but haven’t received proper recognition. We also try to address aesthetic issues and poetics in our essays and reviews. The poetry we select for each issue has a harmonic fit. We try to select works that complement each other in a wide range of styles.
Another goal of the magazine is to bring back the image. We try to publish poems that rely more on imagery than direct statement. We’d like to see a more artistic approach to poetry. We also use photos to personalize the poets for the readers.
I have always regarded literary publishing as an art. Editing and design can greatly enhance a poetry collection and add another level of abstraction too. The fact that I personally design all our publications probably gives us an overall coherence. I get into the craft aspect of literary publishing in addition to the contents. It’s one of my passions.
From the feedback we’ve gotten, we fill a need that was especially felt by poets over fifty. So many poets, librarians, editors and booksellers have expressed gratitude for what we are doing. For a magazine with a circulation of only 500, it’s been gratifying. Quality before quantity.
I love the sense of community you get with publishing a literary magazine. We exchange with over eighty other magazines, so it helps us keep on top of what’s going on. It would actually be worth it on that basis alone.
JA: How about Presa Press?
EG: Established in 2003, the press has been going longer than the magazine and that’s reflected in the numbers. Our poetry books usually sell in the area of a thousand copies, with several exceeding that. The chapbooks sell in the five hundred copy range, like the magazine. We have the second largest book distributor in Europe, covering twenty-two countries (Gazelle Book Service Ltd). In the U.S. we are carried by all the major wholesalers as well as Barnes & Noble. Our books get reviewed a lot as well, which is really the most satisfying aspect of their success.
From a literary standpoint, we have attempted to present works that push the envelope somehow. We also want to document the underground canon. An artist like Stanley Nelson may not be mainstream, but there is a sizeable niche of readers who appreciate his lyrical, experimental, linguistic aesthetic, which is unique. Our most recent production is Nelson’s third book with us (City of the Sun). I think our Lyn Lifshin book is actually the best edited book anyone has done for her, the most artistically cohesive (In Mirrors). Even a large alternative press like Black Sparrow didn’t do justice to her. She’s the most published small press poet of all time, yet she needs major editing to be presented in the best light.
Hugh Fox (Blood Cocoon & Time) is another major small press figure who always requires big-time editing. Most of the old guard figures fall into this category. They were prolific all their lives and now they need major editing. One of our first chapbooks was This Land Is Not My Land by A.D. Winans. American PEN awarded it their 2006 PEN Josephine Miles Literary Achievement Award. Subsequently, we published Winans’ big Selected Poems, and there’s another major figure properly edited! One of our first books was Selected Poems & Prose Poems by Kirby Congdon. Kirby is a legend in the small press world. Many presses have been helped by his advice and support. He is also an accomplished lyric poet, comparable to Yeats, and he’s an American! But, because of his loyalty to the small press movement from its very inception to the present, and for a time because he is openly gay, his work has been ignored by the establishment. He’s eighty-four years old and still with us and the last time anyone published a selected poems by him it was me, in the seventies, through Pilot Press Books! Or Ben Tibbs, one of the most important poets of his generation, now dead thirteen years. His Poems was our very first poetry chapbook, the one I wanted to do first. He was a genius, totally small press, and an innovator far ahead of his time.
Or Lloyd Van Brunt, the founding poetry editor of the Pushcart Prize. We published his own selection of his best poems (Delirium), another distinctive American voice that shouldn’t be forgotten. Or the hyperkinetic image clusters of ex-patriot Kerry Shawn Keys (The Burning Mirror). Or the working class surrealism of my oldest, closest poet-friend Ronnie Lane (Morpheus Rising). Historically, Ronnie lead the way for literary presses to go non-profit, with his Free Books, Inc. (incorporated in the State of Michigan in 1973). Beyond that, he proposed that non-profits should give their books away free, and he does just that, putting the new model into action. Or Harry Smith (Up North), one of the greatest small press publishers of all time, publisher of The Smith and recipient of a PEN Lifetime Achievement Award. Smith is the ultimate literary activist, past president of COSMEP and also an engaging modern epic poet. We’ll be bringing out a volume of his shorter poems in 2009.
We’ve also tried to present a range of feminine voices, from the social protest poetry of Linda Lerner (Living In Dangerous Times) to the erotic poetry of Lynne Savitt (The Deployment Of Love In Pineapple Twilight). We recently nominated Glenna Luschei’s new collection (Total Immersion) for a National Book Award. Her work is a mixture of Zen awareness and prairie tradition, just an exquisite poetic accomplishment. Seedpods, the first book we did for her, won an award for Best Chapbook Design of 2006 from Muses Review. It’s satisfying to present poetry in a package that compliments its contents.
Another area we are beginning to develop is innovative poetic translations. So far, we’ve done collections of American translations of Rimbaud ( my versions) and Baudelaire (versions by Leslie H. Whitten, Jr.). You may remember Whitten as a reporter for The Washington Post, a colleague of Jack Anderson. He’s also done quite a bit of translation from the French of Baudelaire and Verlaine, and he’s had a dozen novels published.
We’re very much in service of the avant-garde, an old guard meets new guard type of thing. In addition to publishing the poets who have gained substantial reputations in the small press world, we’re presenting younger poets who carry on the avant-garde tradition, like Louis Bourgeois (Alice), Mark Sonnenfeld and John Keene. We’ve done one collection by Richard Kostelanetz (PO/EMS) now, and expect to do more. Richard has never been published twice by the same publisher, despite the fact that he is the foremost experimental poet in the U.S. We will be the first. The man is in the Encyclopedia Britannica, but even small presses are often afraid to step out on a limb to publish experimental work.
These people are icons of the small press now, and one day they will be seen as great poets of their periods. Properly managed, they actually do have some commercial potential, that’s the irony of it.
JA: In Presa 7 you published an essay of yours titled “Toward a New Eclecticism.” Can you discuss it a bit? Perhaps share the editorial vision outlined in this piece? How do you see the vision playing out in both Presa and Presa Press.
EG: Many older poets and editors refer to the seventies as “The Golden Age” of poetry. Given the attitudinal atmosphere of those time, there was much greater communication between literary groups, much more mutual respect. We had a feeling of community coming out of the sixties and shared values. Many of my projects from that period brought together groups that hadn’t ordinarily been published together. I published dadaists alongside Black revolutionaries, feminists next to gays, confessional poets next to objectivists, Beats, etc. Organizers of conferences and festivals made an effort to be eclectic. It was good for poets and poetry, and it allowed people to gain greater sustenance from poetry, to drink more directly from its enormous power. We have weakened & cheapened the art by segregating ourselves into petty difference groups, special interest groups. It’s shameful. Attitudes must open up, or the fire of the human spirit will be smothered.
My experience has given me a unique perspective on the literary scene. I was deeply immersed in it for about a decade, gone to a life of action in the world for a quarter of a century, and then deeply immersed again in the new millennium. As I communicate with the other survivors of that Golden Age, I am thrilled to find that the spirit of eclecticism, naiveté and democracy still lives, but it needs a shot in the arm. Some of my colleagues of that period are still stuck on the Beats, an aesthetic that’s a half a century old, and they snobbishly believe and declare that they are the sole enlightened ones. Now, I see much greater segregation and bigotry, and I don’t recognize it as the spirit of poetry. It bears about as much resemblance to poetry as reality television does to real life.
With the above in mind and heart, the Presa publications are dedicated to presenting and preserving divergent voices that restore the art and expand consciousness. Poetry should always be mind-expanding, open not closed, a vehicle of human potential. We want to be a resource of positive energy. We’re on a mission. It’s good karma.
JA: Yes, I think that part of what is needed is for editors to be committed to acknowledging excellence in various forms, otherwise default preferences simply kick in, and over time a certain homogeneity grows apparent. An editor, I think, has to be committed to being an expansive reader, to connecting with material that does not necessarily conform to his/her running opinions or criteria, to let go of predetermined standards in order to encounter the poem on its own terms.
EG: You’re absolutely right. That’s why, on one level, my essay is a confession of biases and a resolution to do better, not only as a reader/editor, but also as a poet. We lapse so easily into self-parody or into a rut. It’s human nature, psychological inertia, if you will. We need to think divergently, not convergently. We need to question our own preconceptions, for the sake of progress. Any value worth preserving will stand up to questioning. If an idea crumples under pressure, how good was it in the first place?
JA: It’s an interesting theme. I’ve always thought that the way you do anything is the way you do everything; i.e., the way an editor edits or a reader reads represents the way he/she does life, too. What you’re suggesting, I think, goes so beyond literary matters to life approaches. What we’re talking here is a practice, a discipline—in terms of reading, writing, etc., yes—but more importantly in terms of the way we live and think.
EG: Those are my real concerns, and art is just one way of addressing them. The poetry is really just a by-product of how one approaches life. In my book, The Art Of Natural Fishing, I used fishing as a metaphor for how we live. I advocate fishing for experience more than fish. I’m convinced that an artist of any kind must focus primarily on the process, not on the product. The painting, poem or song will emerge automatically, as a by-product of the process. And process is uniquely personal. No one can be a better me than me. Art is about self-actualization.
When I look at the drawings of Charles Schultz, and the warmth and tender humor of the Peanuts characters, I think that he must have been a wonderful person. His cartoons ooze love. As simple as they seem to be, no one can replicate them, because his lines are like personal handwriting, a perfect projection of Schultz. He could whip out a perfect Snoopy or Charlie Brown as fast as you can sign your name. This is really the solution to the problem of content. To be fully evocative, a poem must carry a full charge of inspiration. That self-actualization carries across to readers.
In my book Whole Self/Whole World, the main theme is that in order for mankind to survive and flourish, each individual needs to achieve holistic balance. Rimbaud famously said that poets are the legislators of the world. As poets, we are responsible for ministering to the world and for opening new doors of perception.
JA: Over the years, as a Social Worker, you interacted extensively with emotionally and developmentally challenged children. Did writing or other forms of art play a therapeutic role for these children? Were you using writing, etc. as a way to facilitate a healing process?
EG: At the time I went into social work, I had already done undergraduate psychology work researching the Poetry Therapy of psychiatrist Jack Leedy, whose two books Poetry Therapy and Poetry The Healer were very influential in my thinking. The National Association for Poetry Therapy, formed as a result of Leedy’s work. Like other forms of art therapy, poetry therapy is adjunctive to more primary approaches, but adjunctive therapies can often tip the balance in a person’s overall movement toward health. They have value as motivators, because they feature an element of entertainment and stimulate endorphins. Poetry is especially effective in opening up the doors of perception in emotionally disturbed adolescents with normal and above normal I.Q. scores. I never found a way to use it with the developmentally disabled clients, although I did use music with them with great success. Of course, the goals were specific to the particular problems of the target group.
Once adolescents are disabused of the usual poetic stereotypes and clichés, they are natural poets. The typical adolescent mind is racing to keep up with the onslaught of ironies and new perceptions, a state not unlike that of an actively practicing adult poet. Poetry has a cathartic value. It takes feelings and persistent images from the inside and puts them outside, into a symbolic package that can reconcile and balance them into a unified whole.
I used art therapy extensively in a group home setting. We basically divided the kids into two groups: the anti-social, aggressive types and the withdrawn, depressive types. For the first group, I used cooperative art projects, like murals, where they had to work together to produce a product they all liked. I did use poetry with this group too. We did group collaborations. Everyone wrote one line and passed the poem on, until everyone agreed it was finished. I’d then read it aloud, and the kids really attended to it. For the withdrawn types, I stressed self-expression, to bring them out and give them catharsis. Personal cartooning worked well with depressed adolescents.
The one kind of art experience I found most effective with the developmentally disabled is music. My band did concerts for the Association for Retarded Citizens and for the local special education school, and the kids would dance and really get into it. Those kids loved Chuck Berry! I used to play my guitar for wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy victims, and was struck by how much they valued the experience. One boy whom I particularly admired, whose movement was limited to the neck up, thanked me with big tears in his eyes and said “That really helped me.” Those words opened my view, because I had never thought of the true value of music in such a direct, concrete way before. I finally understood that the listener is the real musician, just as the reader is the poet. Artists are mediums.
I should add that my experiences as a social worker greatly enriched my own poetry and other artistic pursuits, by giving me greater emotional depth and intensity and by allowing me to think and perceive more divergently.
The great paradox is how, by bringing us into ourselves, art can bring us out of individual angst and perception into the universal. The unifying value of art is a powerful force for healing and enhancing quality of life.
JA: Over the years, you’ve played in blues and rock bands and been pretty involved musically. What instruments do you play? Are you a songwriter? Singer? Can you talk a little about the relationship, for you, between music and writing? How do the two complement each other? What do you experience as fundamental differences, perhaps in terms of composition?
EG: I am primarily a guitar player and a singer of folk music and blues. I’ve written a few songs over the years, but I don’t think of myself as a songwriter, because it doesn’t happen very often. Nothing like what you do. Of course, with blues there’s a spontaneous, improvisational aspect.
For me, music informs poetry more than the other way around. I think short lyric poems work best when they return to the original key at the end, as music does, for example. Musical elements add a memorable, universal quality to poetry, as long as the poet doesn’t overdo it.
I also think that the two arts are related in terms of the mental space they represent or originate from. Both songs and poems find their resolution in emotional resonance, not necessarily rational or linear “meaning.” They both evoke more than declare. Artistic impulses begin as eidetic and the artist translates them into his form of choice.
Certainly they can complement each other, especially when the musician “illustrates” the words of the poet, as the jazz poets of the Beat generation did. Both Kerouac and Micheline did many readings to a jazz accompaniment. Jack Micheline worked with a saxophone player (Bob Feldman) extensively.
The fundamental difference between music and poetry is that the degree of metaphor or symbol is usually greater in poetry, but figures like Bob Dylan have stretched that envelope too. Some rock composers, such as Ric Ocasek, have produced poetry consistently in the form of rock songs. The potential for a blend is always there between the two arts, and poets should feel free to try anything a musician or any other artist does, in poetry form. The “rules” for one art shouldn’t be more restrictive than for any other. Words can be used to paint, sing and dance too. Each art enriches the others.
JA: What do you consider to be some of your major literary milestones? Not so much in terms of commercial success or reception, but stylistically or thematically. Are there specific poems you can point to that represent significant breakthroughs for you as a writer? Similarly, what are some of the things with which you still struggle as a writer? Are there particular areas, themes, that remain difficult to address? What things about the writing experience continue to prove challenging for you? Finally, as a writer, in what direction do you see yourself moving now? Are there areas you’re addressing or exploring that are new for you? What keeps you engaged with and excited about the creative process?
EG: My first big milestone was when I found my own voice, in 1972. When I began to study poetry formally in college, I fell under the spell of the great modern poets and went through a period of apprenticeship. My early work was imitative, usually of Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Frost or Wallace Stevens.
My mature style began to emerge in my book The Last Ballet, in poems like “Night Watch,” “Tonight,”and “The Forest.” I had worked with Ted Berrigan by then, and heeded his advice to pursue my own natural voice. I began to use declarative statements to tie seemingly disparate images together in a non-linear sequence of associations. Both “Night Watch”and “Tonight” are about the mystery of the unknown, how it presses to break into consciousness. My next collection, Iron Rose, was a high point for me, because I’d had the breakthrough into my own voice. I’d integrated my influences.
The next milestone came in a rush of surrealism, with poems like “What To Do Next,” but also in the form of personal poems that put the poem squarely between self and others, a form of occasional poetry. Initially, this was also influenced by Ted Berrigan, who had an abiding interest in occasional poetry which he, in turn, took from Frank O’Hara and Phil Whalen. I like the idea of using poetry as a functional tool in relationships, thus many of my poems are dedicated to specific people, with an extra level of meaning put in there just for them. I also found that Robert Bly’s deep imagism had “taken” strongly after my workshops and correspondence with him. I related to a poetic position that focused on imagery and relied on it. All these influences became integrated. At least those are the ones I’m aware of. I’m sure there were more. I think each poet evolves through a period of influence, usually after college exposes him to them in a systematic way. Hopefully he emerges on the other side with his own voice.
I began to write intuitively with confidence. “The Broken Lock” and the early ghazals, like “Black Milk,” best exemplify that. In “The Broken Lock,” the doors of perception opened. It was written through free association, which became my primary method. My interest in archetypes and symbols also began in the early seventies and has continued to evolve over the decades.
Throughout my career, I’ve shifted gears between the intuitive, more surreal and non-linear approach to a form of objectivism or symbolism. A couple of years ago, Robert Bly wrote to me about Francis Ponge when he saw me going in that direction in my prose poems (my first prose poems were strongly surreal.) In a letter dated 9/22/05, Bly wrote that Ponge “is very reckless. He doesn’t want to stay on the surface of the subject, but is willing to go way down into some other book. And he’s reckless too in his wit. He didn’t believe in the unconscious and he thought everything one needed to know was lying in a dictionary.” I think one can approach poetry from either inside-out or outside-in. The result is fundamentally the same.
Prose poems like “Dilemma” or “Kayak Lesson” are attempts to reveal the underlying meaning of events through use of public symbols rather than private ones. My ghazals, on the other hand, go at it from a purely intuitive direction. Because the symbols function as personal ones for me, I have a special fondness for them. I hope that the images are also universal. A recent breakthrough came with the long poem “For The Living Dead,” which integrates the two approaches and adds shifting emotional levels as well. Ponge probably would have liked it.
If I struggle with anything as a writer, it’s impatience. My work requires that I wait for inspiration. I can’t force it, but part of my personality wants to. I don’t get anxious, exactly, but I do wonder when inspiration will return. I fill the time with prose tasks, but I’m really only happy as a writer when the poems are flowing or have flowed recently. When they do come, they arrive unannounced and leave the same way.
I don’t perceive any difficulty in terms of themes because I know that I must wait for themes to reveal themselves. I’m usually not aware that I’ve written yet another “Nature versus man’s nature” poem, for example, until after the fact.
My current projectory seems to be binary. One path is toward austere, Zen-like imagism, as in Americanized haiku, and the other continues in the “For The Living Dead” direction. I’ve done a collection of haiku in collaboration with John Elsberg (Catching The Light) that creates sequences of haiku that are related in a non-linear way. As with ghazals, I take the formal elements or essences that work for me and discard those that don’t. So they are quasi-haiku. Cervena Barva Press of Somerville, MA will publish it in 2009. I’ve also done several “scary monster” poems that are in the “For The Living Dead” vein. But what satisfies me the most are the short lyric poems like the ones I sent you for this issue. Revelation of the mysterious seems to be my ongoing theme in these, and how it relates to self-perception (“Clown”). Also, the mystery of the soul and death (“The Mist”).
The creative process is exciting to me and sustains my interest as a means of transcendentalism. The more I practice Zen self-discipline, the more naturally it flows. At sixty, I feel intensely engaged with both the world and with my art. I know me, but I still don’t know me. I get up each morning to greet the dawn with recognition that it is another good day to die, thus to discover.
JA: Thanks so much, Eric. It’s great to be featuring you and your work in this issue of Pedestal, and it’s always such a deep pleasure to connect with you.
“Featured Poet – Interview,” The Pedestal Magazine (Issue #47), Charlotte, North Carolina, August, 2008