If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
If I could tape the dinner, I would invite Samuel Johnson and feed him plenty of roast beef, sausage, pudding, eel pie (if I could get the eels), bread pudding, and plenty of wine, preferably a tasty Bordeaux. Although Dr. Johnson would likely espouse on any topic, I might prompt him for his views on current politics and the state of the English language in the days of social media. My ideal dinner would also include my nineteenth-century heroes, Percy Shelley, John Keats, William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Dickens, along with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg, who might all hold their own with the doctor. This is beginning to sound like a compelling screenplay.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
I greatly enjoy writing and could not imagine a life where I did not write, but every time I finish something I worry that it might be my last poem or story. Sometimes I have another idea or project to distract me, but the scary moments are those when my cupboard feels empty. At those times I continue to write in my journal every day, even if it’s just a word or a dream or something that happened the day before. Eventually I strike an idea I can mine, but I still worry about the next time.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
My biggest literary crush is probably Jack Kerouac, though I have several, including John Keats, Percy Shelley, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray, Jane Austen, George Eliot, and a large number of modern poets, beginning with T. S Eliot. I credit Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg with inspiring me to write poetry, but Kerouac as a unique artist and character stole my heart. You might say my feeling for Kerouac is more than a crush—I want to be Kerouac. That said, I have also gone through similar attachments to Wallace Stevens, John Ashbury, Ted Hughes, Ernest Hemingway and others. When I love an author, I tend to read their entire canon, and I feel a sense of loss when I finish.
What books are on your nightstand?
Lately I have been trying to reground myself by cycling back to the masters of modern poetry, including T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens and more recent poets like Ted Hughes, Pablo Neruda, and Seamus Heaney. The post-WWI poets in particular seem to echo the current state of the world, or maybe it’s just my own dark imagining. Even if Eliot’s vision of the Wasteland sprung from the no man’s land between opposing trenches, it feels like an apocalyptic image of global warming and renewed social and international tension. Poetry has the power to frame our fears so we can move past them. It also helps me to realize we have survived dark days before, and not all memories of the past are positive.
Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?
Most days I write in my journal, which began as a series of spiral notebooks and now continues as a word file. I enter observations and ideas from my life and people I know, sometimes science or events, maybe condensed to a thought with multiple implications. Many of my ideas come when I’m walking outside, reading, or sleeping. I often find a word or phrase that stays with me and festers. A poem might begin as one idea but the best poems tend to attract other ideas like lint.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
I like commas because they can be abused in so many ways, substituting for articles and conjunctions to let nouns breath, tying gerunds to sentences with fewer filler words to dull the impact of a verb.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
My reading confession is from graduate school where I took a course in Milton and failed to finish reading Paradise Lost. I read most of it, enough to write a term paper, and I managed to pass the course. I have great admiration for Milton and the creativity and detail of his poem, and I wish I could say I would like to go back and read it one day, but I don’t. I figure we can only read so many pages in our life, and there are too many other pages I would rather read. As Dr. Samuel Johnson said, no wishes Paradise Lost were longer.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
The typewriter. It probably seems wonky in these days of computers and WYSIWYG word processing. The first time I saw words flow from my mind through my fingers to the individual keys and rolled sheet of paper it felt like magic. The mechanical transformation of idea to type seemed like the epitome of creativity. I love writing with a computer because it’s so easy to compose and edit, but I sometimes miss the effort and sense of transmutation embedded in a manual typewriter.
Why do you write? The first 5 words that come to mind. Go.
breath, birth, oneness, understanding, death
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