Before the interview begins, you can read some of his poetry at Lit Break Journal HERE . And you can contact him at his Facebook Author Page
HERE if you want to respond to his poetry or ask him any questions.
Q. When did you first write poetry? Have you written fiction or non-fiction as well?
I wrote half a dozen poems during my last two years of high school. After that it was fifty years before I wrote a poem again. When I started college, I wanted to write plays more than anything else I could imagine doing in life. But since there weren’t many undergraduate playwriting classes, most of the writing classes I took were for short fiction.
I eventually had to accept that the short stories and plays I wrote were, frankly, incompetent. But they had just enough glimmers of talent to keep me trying for a few years and enough talent to keep my instructors from writing me off. When I put my creative energy into art and design classes I got a positive reception and a lot of encouragement. I did make a few more attempts to write plays during my late twenties but after that I stopped doing creative writing altogether.
Q. What inspired you to start writing poetry again—fifty years later?
I went through some emotionally difficult circumstances starting in 2012. Poetry started creeping into some letters I was writing a year later and I found that writing poetry was a good way to process some of the emotional overload of those days. I had no idea that I might actually have a talent for it—meaning the poetry.
2016 was when I started attending a weekly poetry workshop. After a few weeks at the workshop, all my other interests became what I did when I wasn’t writing. I’ve been at it ten to thirty hours a week since then and I try to have a poem for the workshop most of the time.
Q. Where do you find your inspiration for poetry? What sparks your interest?
During the years that I made a living as a designer, doing mostly retail store design, I spent about half of my free time studying and reading on my own—subjects like psychology, world religions, mythology, and medieval culture—that was my idea of having fun.
I suspect a lot of what I write now pulls from that—although I’m not remembering a book or author. Instead, I’m prompted, in some way, to remember what I’ve learned about different ways to look at the world, different postures one can take. A memory of something that I studied years ago may be triggered by a line I’ve written and then my memory of the subject might return along with the joy of the initial discovery.
I’m inspired a great deal by the very process of writing poems—looking at significant experiences in my own past and our culture’s past—then the trial and error of trying to remember what it was I understood the first time around—the initial hunch, the initial shots in the dark, the ones that echoed without the usual ridicule—trying to retrofit various meanings onto an experience from the past in the present time in a way that opens up the experience without suffocating it, subjecting it as well to metaphors, irony, various meters and forms, listening for multiple voices that I can put in tension, then stirring and shaking and editing for several days.
And sometimes, the whole mess starts to sound like a poem. Or it doesn’t. And the resulting poem, if one arrives, is rarely anything like what I imagined writing. Where did it come from? The surprise of it all, when it happens, has me wanting to try it again as soon as I can. There’s nothing else like it. And when the process is working, there’s the matter of feeling connected to something larger than myself—when I can trust in the alchemy of it all. And at other times the trust thing is lost and the alchemy stuff sounds silly, immature, and superstitious. And when I feel that way I don’t write well or I don’t write at all.
Occasionally I write something just to have fun. But I can have a great deal of fun writing about an otherwise depressing subject if I can bring imagination to it.
Q. What is your writing process? Do you first start with an image? A recurring line? A theme or idea?
I usually start with three or four words that become part of the first line of the poem. That’s what usually gets something sputtering about on the page. And I can get awfully impatient waiting for those to show up. If I’m hoping to get a new poem started, I’m usually throwing words and phrases around in the back of my head, somewhat unconsciously, at various idle moments and hoping to hear something unexpected, intriguing, or phonetically delicious.
For me, if I catch a little phrase that’s clever but doesn’t have any emotional meat on it, I’ve learned that I have to throw it back. I’ve also tried to start a poem from an image but it seems my visual art background gets in the way. Most of my poems have a story line and so far, when I find an exciting image I want to work with I haven’t been able to find a story inside it. I find that my poems are not inclined to “be here now;” they’re not inclined to expand the present moment.
Q. How often do you write? Do you write full time or part time?
I have a simple part time job but other than that I can put about as much time as I want into writing which is currently about fifteen hours each week. If I’m really immersed in a poetry project, it’s wonderful to spend six hours every day of the week writing. That’s my idea of luxury. Once or twice a year I find that I need to stop writing for a few months and build something with my hands. That seems necessary.
Q. Do you read a lot of poetry? Who are some of your favorite poets and why?
I try to. The poets I enjoy tend to be pretty philosophical. That really limits the range of poets that I read. I’d like to be able to read more broadly but I think I’m just not wired that way. With that in mind, my two favorite poetry books on the nightstand now are one by Louise Glück and one by Tomas Tranströmer. I’m also enjoying the work of Chris Wiman currently and some of Jane Hirschfield, James Richardson, Mahmoud Darwish, Rilke and Neruda. Those are a few of the names that come to mind. The names keep changing.
Q. How important do you think poetry is to society?
Regarding the culture at large, I think it’s currently of marginal value given the way that film, television, popular songs, and novels have taken over much of the role of poetry in the culture. I think that’s just the nature of a technological culture. But there’s an economy or density that’s unique to poetry. Some poets have coupled this aspect of poetry with the capabilities of Instagram, Twitter, and audio files and their poems are being read by a previously unimagined number of readers. While it’s safe to say these poems are not ones appearing in The New Yorker or Poetry, perhaps the internet offers a potential for a poetry renaissance?
For myself and many of my poet friends, regardless of the culture at large, I think we’d defend our right to read and write poetry with our lives or at least with some very sharp words.
Q. Your bio lists an MFA in Stage Design and theater work. Does your experience in theater affect your poetry?
While the theater work was short lived, I do like to include a little dialogue in some of my poems. Also, I keep trying to think up ways I could do readings that would be richer and more impactful for listeners, more theatrical in the best sense of that word. I often wonder if public readings could be done in a way that would attract a greater number of non-poets.
Q. You’ve been published in online magazines, been a featured poet in a poetry program in Placerville and at the Sacramento Poetry Center. What’s next?
I think I should set up a web site. I’ve just now set up a Facebook “writer page” so I’ll see how that works first. I’m getting ready to send out more poems. And I want to see if there’s a way to pull together a chapbook. I’ve been trying out a number of different styles and themes including a number of prose poems. I’m not sure if I can find a common theme or style that will allow a selection of my poems to cohere.
Q. What is your advice for someone just getting into poetry, either as a reader or a writer?
As a writer, participating in a regular poetry workshop has been the most helpful step for me.
One might consider these services to discover poets to learn from and be inspired by:
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/newsletter (check “Poem of the Day”)
Meeting modern poems for the first time: If you want to read or write poetry in the modern vein but you haven’t had much exposure previously, I’d suggest that newcomers anticipate that some poems are hard to read. I presume if one knows this up front it will be less frustrating if comprehension ever feels like an issue. I’ve found lots of modern poetry very easy to read. Maybe read more challenging poems as you have time and interest? I wish someone had told me how much easier it gets with experience.
Reminder: You can read some of Gary's poetry at Lit Break Journal . And you can contact Gary at his Facebook Author's Page .
How many of you like to read or write poetry? Which do you like best, and what kind of poetry? Have any of you submitted your poetry to websites or magazines? Any follow-up questions for Gary?