Friday, November 22, 2019

Reading — One of Life's Great Pleasures

Right now I am reading two books — both mysteries, but different kinds of mysteries. The Sherlock Holmes mystery will get reviewed on my Victorian Scribbles blog soon. Stay tuned . . ..

Meanwhile, I am scrabbling through poets and overdue posts re: our Spain trips in 2019 to be posted here. Again, stay tuned . . ..

Everyone have a great Thanksgiving if I don't get back before then.

Friday, November 15, 2019

An Interview with Poet, Gary Kruse

I have attended two weekly poetry workshops this the past year, learning and being exposed to new poetry I like very much. The poetry of one member, Gary Kruse, caught my attention for the mixture of visual imagery combined with deep philosophical thought. He has  been involved in poetry programs, readings, and has been published in online poetry vehicles, and has kindly consented to an interview about his process.

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

                                                               THE INTERVIEW:
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// (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.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts for this interview. It was a pleasure to learn more about your history and process. 

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?

Thursday, November 7, 2019

"Estranha forma de vida" - Strange Form of Life

A little follow up regarding my chapbook: Yesterday I received the exciting news from the publisher that Saudade, Thirty Poems of Longing, was the featured Book of the Day.

Saudade, Thirty Poems of Longing by Elizabeth Varadan

With my bio:
Elizabeth Varadan was born in Reno, Nevada, and was raised in California. She graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a major in history and a minor in English. A former elementary teacher, she and her husband live in Sacramento, California, but travel to Spain and Portugal. Her children’s books include Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls (2015), Dragonella, (English Edition, 2016; Spanish Edition, 2017), and Carnival of the Animals (2018). Her stories, flash fiction, and poetry for adults have appeared innumerous online and print magazines.
and blurbs:
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR Saudade, Thirty Poems of Longing by Elizabeth Varadan
Elizabeth Varadan‘s first book of poetry, Saudade, Thirty Poems of Longing, is aptly named. The first saudade speaks eloquently of longing as “a yearning for what was, what could have been but was stillborn” and later in another poem she relates that in saudade there are no returns nor arrivals. In this book, Portugal, a country she loves becomes a place we know as she brings us poems of fado—like the blues. She speaks eloquently of our troubled land and of loss echoing my sadness for America. The four saudades in this book frame a lovely unity. Phantoms of promise in the third bring us to a place of keeping the heart dormant so that in the fourth we learn to trust again. This first book is a beautiful read, not to be missed.
–Allegra Jostad Silberstein, Poet Laureate for the city of Davis 2010-2012
In Saudade, Thirty Poems of Longing, Elizabeth Varadan reckons with an untranslatable Portuguese word, the title of this exquisite chapbook, in order to evoke a universal emotion: longing for what was lost, missing, never fully known, never truly experienced. Music, poetry, and travel offer her poignant glimpses of this evanescent but irrepressible condition, which comes close to love but escapes, sometimes into the thin air of memory. Yet once saudade has been evoked, other emotions emerge in Varadan’s poems: nostalgia, terror, sorrow, dread, and hope all appear and fade into a muted acceptance of fate. What lingers is the haunting echo of the fado, the quintessentially Portuguese blues that Varadan too sings, quietly, and with perfect phrasing.
–Bradley W. Buchanan, Professor Emeritus, Department of English, California State University, Sacramento
In this short, cohesive collection, Elizabeth Varadan steeps us in saudade, that peculiarly Portuguese feeling of regretful longing, and we emerge, ironically and gratefully, more hopeful for the immersion.
–Naomi J. Williams, Author of Landfalls (Farrar, Straus & Giroux 2015)
RESERVE YOUR COPY TODAY, PREORDER SHIPS FEBRUARY 14, 2020…/saudade-thirty-poems-…/
#poetrylovers #now #reading #FLP #poetry

But today I want to share two poems from the collection. 
 One is a tribute to Amalia Rodrigues, known during her lifetime as "The Queen of Fado." I was moved to write this poem because, once I knew I wanted to write about Saudade, I recalled the newsreel I had seen of her funeral procession on YouTube. She was such a beloved icon in Portugal! When she died, the government declared three days of national mourning. If you watch HERE, wait until the procession leaves the church: As the crowd response is shown, this eerily beautiful song — one of her signature songs — plays.  You can get an idea of her fabulous, emotional voice. If you want to know the complete translation of the song, you can go HERE . And here is a public domain picture of her when she was mid-career: 

And now, here is my poem for Amalia:


“Estranha forma de vida . . ..”
(“Strange form of life . . ..”)
Her voice conveyed 
the sad arias and 
bright moments from the
opera that was 
her life. 

Vibrato of pain,
soaring cry of despair,
rise and fall of story,
sweetness, humor—
and always the

“Strange form of life . . ..”
In an old, flickering 
newsreel they carried the
casket out, while musicians 
wept, crowds wept,
I wept.

The second poem reflects my hopes for our country despite the troubled times we are going through. I think it is pretty self-explanatory:


Night falls, drawing a curtain 
across another day of longing 
for a kinder vision. 
The moon travels its lonely 
path, lost among stars. 
The stars keep their distance 
in the dark, silent night.   
Constellations wheel round in 
the abyss of space. 
And I, at the window,
yearn for signs of promise in 
the new break of day.  

Most of the poetry  in my chapbook is on the philosophical side. If you are a poetry lover, what kind of poetry do you like?