If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
My first instinct is to invite James Joyce to ask him why he has written a novel that exactly 46 people in the world fully understand. But I hesitate because I probably wouldn’t comprehend his answer and then we’d be stuck for conversation for the rest of the evening.
No, my most desired guest would be the 17th century Japanese poet Basho who wrote some of the first (and arguably the best) combined travelogue books with poetry. Reading him is like reading Travels with Charlie except it is based in Japan and contains beautiful poetry. He is among the best Haiku poets who has ever lived and one of my idols of literature.
Regarding the menu, you must understand that if I cannot make it in the toaster-oven I do not want to deal with it. So, we’d probably get take-out delivered and split the tab.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
Waking up one day and finding that I have absolutely nothing to say let alone anything of value. It is akin to lecturing in front of 200 college students and realizing that you are not wearing pants.
The way I combat these fears is reading and copying out at least five poems a day and analyzing each as well as keeping handwritten spiral notebooks filled with ideas, phrases, clippings and literary fragments for future work. These (hopefully) insure that I will always have something to fall back on when I think I have nothing to write about. Currently, I am on my 58th notebook so I like to think I am well insured.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
Elizabeth Bennet and her sister Jane in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth is the intellectual, logical but “saucy” one while Jane is sweet and sees the good in everybody. Be that they could be united into one person.
Oh, wait, I’m married to that person. Cool!
What books are on your nightstand?
Which books aren’t? Currently: The One Hundred Names-A Short Introduction to the Study of Chinese Poetry (written in 1933) by Henry H. Hart, The Case for God by Karen Armstrong and Kindest Regards: New and Selected Poems by Ted Kooser.
Then, there are the audio books:
The Collected Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the Autobiography of Mark Twain (in three volumes).
Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?
I get most of my ideas from listening to other people’s conversations. Really. It drives my wife nuts: We’re in a restaurant and I’m eavesdropping on the conversation three booths over instead of listening to her. I want to get the Miracle Ear hearing-aid so I can listen to other conversations better.
I also spend a significant part of my literary life inventing lives for random people I see or hear out in the world. I see someone in a coffee shop and immediately make up a life for him/her. I don’t write much, if anything about myself. This is partly due to my literary, poetic “motto” which is: I don’t write confessional poetry because my life has not been that interesting.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
The full colon. Not only does its name describes my usual gastrointestinal state-of-affairs but also because the symbol endeavors to tell me to pause before saying or writing something I will regret later (perhaps like this Author’s Packet).
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
Here, I must confess to an embarrassing sin. I read every piece of literature assigned in high school (although the same cannot be said in the sciences and history). Not only that, I even read things in our literature books NOT assigned. I was the prototypical geek before it became a proper noun.
However, I attempt to redeem myself in two ways. First, while I read Shakespeare; to my everlasting shame, I did not appreciate him. Part of this must be laid at the doorstep of my English teachers. They absolutely killed appreciation of the plays plus the curriculum never let us read the wonderful “romances” like Much Ado About Nothing and The Tempest saddling us instead with the History plays which made no sense to an average American teen.
My second attempt at redemption is my agreement with the cartoonist who defined “Hell’s Library” as containing only Math Story Problems-Volumes 1-Infinity.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
White Out. Who could write a term-paper without it’s reassuring qualities resembling Milk of Magnesia liquid laxatives? I also have cornered the world’s market on carbon paper which I am sure has the same probability of returning as the Los Angeles Dodgers have of coming back to Brooklyn.
Why do you write? The first 5 words that come to mind. Go.
Share, Funny, Readers, Empathy, Beauty (in that order).
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
Study your craft. Every day. No Excuses. You wouldn’t write a symphony without studying music. Why think you can do it with poetry? Also, revise, re-write, then revise again before thinking of submitting your work for publication. Your first draft simply isn’t as good as you initially think.
Richard Luftig is the author of A GRAMMAR FOR SNOW, available wherever books are sold.
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