Independent Authors & Publishers
2002 Houston Book Festival
this page updated 8/31/2002
In May of 2002, the Houston Book Festival was held at Town & Country Mall in Houston, Texas, under the asepses of a new group called Independent Authors & Publishers, headed by Rita Mills. The fest brought together such diverse authors such as Vanessa Leggett, Leon Hale, Bill Crider, Christopher Woods, James Hoggard, Billy Bob Hill, Cindy Eppes, David Theis, Ed Pankau, Robert Clark and William Russell, and children's writers such as Pam Van Scoyoc, Doris House Rice, Lily Parker, Sheila Phillips, Debbie Frontiera, JoAn Martin, Deanna Luke, Marcia Bennett and Ann Fears Crawford. In addition, poets read their work all weekend, including such notables as Dave Parsons, Christopher Woods, Jane Roth, Betty Davis, Joyce Fisher, Larry Thomas, Gerald Wheeler, John Gorman, James Rankin, Glenn Irby, Betty Lynn Clegg, and Joyce Hardy.
Mary Margaret Carlisle, Managing
Editor of Sol Magazine (who also read at the Festival) interviewed a few of the
many poets in attendance, including Carolyn Adams, R.T. Castleberry, Tina
Cardona, John Gorman, Lisa Grable, Glynn Monroe Irby, Peggy Zuleika Lynch,
Dodie Messer Meeks, Chuck Taylor, and Larry D. Thomas.
Leo F. Waltz, Sol Staff Photographer, took pictures of the event.
poet Interviews --
CAROLYN: We began publishing Curbside Review in January of 2000. From the beginning, we’ve been intrigued to read what we receive. I’m proud of the quality of the poetry we publish, and the simplicity of the magazine puts the focus on the work. I’d really like for us to receive more submissions, more frequently. We’ve discussed switching to a quarterly format, but we like putting out a new issue each month. I would like to produce a larger issue each month, but the amount of submissions we typically receive at this point wouldn’t support that, and each of us has only a fraction of our personal time available to work on Curbside Review.
R.T.: Carolyn and I decided to start a magazine
after the demise of The Flying Dutchman Writers Troupe, a group we worked with that
staged poetry readings. The members of the FDWT had kicked around the idea of a
magazine and so Carolyn and I went ahead with it. We use FDWT on the masthead. We spent about 6 months
brainstorming, trying to work out the look of the magazine, the kind of work we
wanted to present, the logistics of putting it together. The title, Curbside Review, is a play
on the old Broadside music magazine from the 1960's. It's a combination of that
and of having a magazine that you could sit down anywhere, like a street corner
curb, to read.
CAROLYN: We each have other commitments, as well as writing careers. What seems to work is to take on separate tasks, to communicate a lot, and to schedule to meet at specific times. Typically, R. T. reads the submissions and votes on them first, then I vote on them. We always meet to discuss revisions and acceptances. Near the first of each month, we meet to assemble the issues. It can be a challenge to balance time with my family; my own writing and art career; time I want to spend with my buddy R. T.; and the time we work together on Curbside. It takes a lot of planning and patience. R. T. and I each have high standards and ambitions for the magazine, and also for our own work.
R.T.: CR is growing—it's still the only monthly poetry magazine in Houston. We have things we still want to do, like a web site and maybe a subscription list. We've kicked around trying to get a grant; right now, we pay all the costs every month. We've moved away from the original idea of being a neighborhood magazine showcasing local writers. We're advertising in Poets and Writers, on various websites, and we're attracting poets from all over the country. But the quality of the work we publish is consistently high. We've attracted some great poets like BZ Niditch, Dennis Saleh and Lyn Lifshin, and gotten them to contribute repeatedly. And we work with poets on crafting their work, rather than just voting something down.
CAROLYN: We’d like Curbside to achieve national recognition, keep it going for a long time with a large readership base. We’re hoping to launch a website in the next year, too. We’ve tossed around the idea of producing a chapbook series, but don’t have time or money for production or promotion right now. As far as my own poetry is concerned, I’d like to have some poetry books and art/poetry books published, and achieve world-wide fame.
R.T.: I don't find that working on the mag impedes my writing life. I have an affinity for editing and revision, the crafting of writing. Publishing is an expenditure of time, but I like that we are in control of the product. So much of the writing process is out of the individual's control—composing, submitting work, but this we control; and putting the magazine together is fun. Carolyn and I work really well together and we laugh a lot when we do. So, it's not labor to me.
CAROLYN: R. T. and I enjoy each other’s twisted humor, and that spawned our first co-operative project. We read “The Bridges of Madison County” a few years ago and laughed at it so much, we found ourselves writing a parody of it, “The Cattle Tanks of Jefferson Parish”. We staged some readings using local actors, and it was really well-received. We had such fun, we took on another project involving humorous writing, which has not yet reached fruition. Humor just doesn’t show up in our poetry. Our poetic themes are usually quite serious. But we have a lot of fun together as friends, and I guess, sometimes we need an outlet for that. We’ve traded our own poetry back and forth with each other for critique for many years. When we read each other’s work, we give honest criticism where it’s needed and praise where it’s due. Through that balanced exchange, we’ve learned to respect each other’s skill and discipline as writers, trust each other’s instincts, and make a great team.
R.T.: Carolyn and I have worked on a couple of projects together. We wrote a parody of “The Bridges of Madison County” a few years ago and produced four staged readings of it. That took about six months of sustained work, but we laughed the entire time. That experience I think came in handy when we started Curbside Review. We knew the other person's working personality pretty well at the end. It was a different experience for both of us because we were writing humor, which is not something we're known for as poets. The closest my poetry comes to being funny is a sort of really dark Samuel Beckett kind of humor. So actually trying to write jokes was pretty different.
CAROLYN: I like abstract poetry and wordplay, but I also like a sketch or a story. I like strange circumstances, unexpected twists, and unusual juxtapositions, but also enjoy strong characters and elegant landscapes. I try to write as if I’m narrating an epiphany. Life is so full of irony, dark beauty, and passion, it needs a scribe to write it all down. That’s where I come in!
R.T.: I tend to focus on politics and relationships, for they interest me the most, but since they're pretty broad and volatile subjects, the possibilities are pretty much endless as to what point of view or attitude to take. As I become more experienced, more cynical, and more polished, the possibilities continue to widen. I don't really have a theory of writing—though I keep meaning to make one up. I approach writing as an artist and craftsman, rather than as an intellectual.
CAROLYN: In the past, I hadn’t written about my personal experiences. I’ve come to realize they can be interwoven, but I still don’t want them to be the main themes in what I write. So, these days, some of it’s personal experience, but most of it’s still pure creation.
R.T.: When I was about nineteen, I read an interview where John Lennon said he intentionally put himself into chaotic situations as fuel for his writing. That struck a pretty resonant chord with me, so I began to move from writing autobiographically to trying to use imagination more. I try to use emotion like a Method actor to add reality and power to scenes I'm setting up, so emotions are real, but situations probably aren’t. It allows me the freedom to work on a larger, more creative canvas than personal experience does and still have an intensity and emotional impact.
Carolyn Adam's poetry, fiction, photography, and art have been published or will appear in the print and on-line journals RiverSedge, Recycled Quarterly, Poetry Motel, Pierian Springs, Sulphur River Literary Review, Red River Review, Out of Line, The Pedestal Magazine, and Main Street Rag, among others. Her poetry has won awards in national contests sponsored by Zuzu's Petals Quarterly and New International Quarterly. Pierian Springs will showcase a full on-line gallery of her photography and art in the October, 2002 issue, and Small Spiral Notebook features her collages in the current Fall, 2002 on-line issue. She currently co-edits and co-publishes Curbside Review.
R.T. Castleberry is a co-founder and director of the Flying Dutchman Writers Troupe, a literary performance group, and co-editor/publisher of the Flying Dutchman Writers Troupe poetry publication Curbside Review. He was a juried poet at the 1988 Houston Poetry Fest and has been the featured poet numerous times at the Houston Poets Workshop First Friday series of readings. He has been featured at the Saturday Poetry In The Arts series in Austin, TX and the Community Artists Collective Coffee Talk series in Houston, TX. Mr. Castleberry has prepared and participated in the workshop "The Poet As Performer: Presenting Your Work Before An Audience" at the 1993 Houston Poetry Fest and for two writing groups: Poets At Work and The Manuscriptors Guild. Mr. Castleberry has been publishing poetry and fiction since the early 1970's, most notably in Travois: An Anthology of Texas Poetry, Stone Drum, ByLine, Visions International, Zuzu's Petals, Poetry Motel, Another Chicago Magazine and Artisan.
For more information about Curbside Review,
or write to:
P.O. Box 66789
Houston, TX, 77266-7189
Our writing is immersed in us. Even when we are not writing or when we are in that state where words seem not to flow from the pen, when we feel we have nothing to say, the words are there bubbling beneath the surface like lava under a dormant volcano. Writing rises out of that deep space. We are merely the medium for all the voices within us and maybe voices outside of us, all voices waiting to be heard. I heard a version of the Demeter-Persephone story where Persephone stayed in the underworld not because she was forced but because it was her duty, her mission to listen and to remember all the stories of the dead and to relate to the living what they had said. I rather like that version. The poetry is already submersed within us; our role is to find the courage to hear it, feel it, give it form and then release it.
I want to evolve a truly courageous style of writing and expression. I want to wear no walls. I want someone who hears my poetry (at least some of it) to feel it viscerally -- to shudder off the words. A woman recently told me that one of my poems related what "every woman thought, but didn't have the guts to say." That was probably the best compliment I have ever gotten.
The idea of voice and liberation and mother metaphors prevail in my poetry. I do not strive to embrace this. It just works out that way. Lately, my goal is to write from the "deep space." Not simply a stream-of-consciousness spew that more rightly belongs in a journal or psychotherapist's office but to give artistic form to an ember or still-beating heart.
The oft-heard feminist slogan of "the personal is political" is very apt in this case as well. As poets, whether we initially write from a personal situation or not, does not really matter. Ultimately the poem takes its own shape and reality. As we become enamored with the shape and sound, we recreate whatever we're writing about into something new and different. All poetry, and all art for that matter, reaches some universal core within us.
I think of Frida Kahlo whose paintings were extremely personal and yet they continue to resonate because something about her honesty, her naked pain touches the pulsing wound within us all. There's a certain security in that, a universality that assures us we are not alone in the cosmos.
In the words of poet Tina Cardona, “I'm a published poet, an activist, a mom, a lover of plants, strays and good food.”
I think in writing poetry there's a nice balance of egotism and friendliness. The ego part probably speaks for itself--even people who'd say poetry's fairly marginal are kind of Secretly Impressed when they hear you're "a poet." This is good. The friendliness part comes from the fact that you implicitly trust your reader or someone who's just happened by when you're reading in a bookstore or coffeehouse with a level of intimacy on aspects of your inner life that theoretically come forth only after a process of mutual testing. I feel this way, and I'm not an especially confessional, spill-your-guts sort of poet. The activity of poetry puts you in touch with other men and women. It puts you on solid existential ground.
How do I write? It's usually by chance, at the outset. An image or a little hunk of language occurs to me. Or I'm driving up or down the Gulf Freeway (which has given me over a dozen poems, many drafted physically while I'm at the wheel--so motor with care) and I see something or remember something or George Bush or Richard Tallheimer--that's the guy who runs The Sharper Image—said, something that sets me off. I can force a poem, say for a special occasion. I have a whole plan to force some text from a six or eight year span of my life when I was beyond childhood and adolescence (the memory stuff) but not yet writing observational poems. It's non-Romantic, non-Mystical; but it's beginning to pay off. I usually get 80-90% of a poem in the first draft/first revision.
As to the future of poetry. . .I'm not good at this. I haven't predicted anything that's happened so far. BUT I love the way the reading scene has developed. I think that will continue, and I wish more people who don't themselves write poems would realize what fun it can be. My own work is now often geared to performance. I don't especially like slams--but I did come in second at a Valentine's Day Love Poetry Slam at Mausoleum. Won a white chocolate death mask. I put all this on my annual report of Scholarly and Creative Triumphs for the University. It was an accomplishment completely unduplicated by my cherished colleagues. They can eat their hearts out—if that wouldn't be too much of cliché. Have I strayed from the topic?
I've been with the Poets Roundtable in Galveston very nearly every month for--what?--twelve years? Fifteen? It's been a wonderful spur to production. I've gotten lots of good advice. It's purely a working group; we don't do anything but critique, though it feeds in to two public readings each year. That focus on the practical keeps the one bad thing about groups from happening. It's possible to make your whole career as "A Writer" a matter of meetings and workshops and conferences and agonies over block and agents and people in New York. I wouldn't want more than one group or a more frequent meeting schedule. But my personality structure isn't normative for the whole of humanity. Even I don't think it should be, and I know for sure that no one else does.
Let me conclude with something about the Houston (or the Nine-County—my fellow Galvestonians are often a bit touchy about being told they're "in Houston") poetry scene. It's great. I moved here from Boston in 1974 not knowing what to expect; but I found a lot of activity, a lot of companionship and support. First Friday, Munchies, several annual Poetry Fests, more and more bookstore readings. Things have gotten better and better. There are ethnic dimensions, places where very, very middle-class people will feel comfortable, places where really rather freaky people will feel comfortable—and there's a fair amount of interlocking and crossover. Print outlets continue to come and, alas, go. And now, with venues like Sol Magazine, there's the e-world. I hope people in Ireland and Kenya and China are listening in right now. Everything like that does us all good.
John Gorman lives in Galveston and teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. He has published three chapbooks. His work is recent or current in Lean Seed, Curbside Review, and Bayousphere, and forthcoming in Suddenly.
Perhaps I write because I love language, love to play with words and paint with them. More than that, I find I am compelled to do something with these poems that happen in my mind, to communicate them to others. Despite the dizzying swirl of distractions in life, I persist in writing. The world is a puzzle and I am like the child who simply cannot quit trying to figure out which piece fits where. Images, scenes, and people, and the metaphors of everyday life fascinate me, and reading the works of others often inspires me to write.
Writing has always been an essential part of my person, even as a small child. I continue to find inspiration in the work of other poets—from Whitman to Ogden Nash to Dickinson to William Carlos Williams to Elizabeth Bishop to Joyce Silko to John Gorman to Mark Doty.
I seek to continually fine-tune my poetic pen, and I plan to put more energy into getting my poetry published, including having my recently completed manuscript published. My long-term dream is to actively follow my heart in writing all my life.
Generally, my poems concern issues related to women; marriage, divorce, motherhood, self-development, spiritual journey, tradition. I never intentionally write feminist or woman poems, though much of my work has naturally worked out that way. I just write the poems as they happen. My poetry is about being a woman; about being a middle-class woman, about being a Caucasian/Jewish/southern middle-class woman. It comes from ME, but I write of issues that relate to women in general, about woman/man relationships, about motherhood, about divorce, about abuse, about middle age chaos, about being a daughter, sister, friend, about being human.
Philosophically, humans look into the dark absence of light, and seek to understand the light. There is such an abundance of endings, despondencies and sorrow in the world today to comment about that we naturally write on these subjects. As we mature, we write from experience, and many do indeed dwell on sadness and pain. However, all this darkness is not completely void of light. Positive truths are often expressed as shadow play—more intense and complicated expressions of truth that involve acceptance of the pain of existence as a reminder that we are indeed alive. I don’t think that’s a stylistic decision, but rather reality. As long as the “negative” is deliberately and carefully crafted expression and not mere emotional diatribe, it works. Our words come together within the circle of poetry; a circle, not of complacency, but instead an active dialogue–a circular field of words and rhythm, where poetry becomes an active arena of peace between people.
Lisa Grable has published work in journals such as Borderlands and Galaxy and recently in another AIPF anthology, Tres Di-verse City. She has a BA and an MA in Literature from the University of Houston, Clear Lake. She lives in League City with her husband, two daughters, a dog, and a cat. She writes, she writes, she stretches, she writes… At this point in life, she finally understands the cubist perspective. Lisa Grable is co-founder and co-producer of HIP (Houston International Poetry).
There are many reasons to write a poem, and many ways to do it. It often seems, when one endeavors to put a series of words together on a page and call it a poem after the wonderful use of simple wording, imagery, subtle innuendo and symbolism, after paying real close attention to the sound and rhythm of each word and the flowing sounds of all the words linked together, it ultimately seems that a poem ought to have a “point” of some sort.
For reader or listener, a poem ought to leave a thought in one’s mind that lingers-on much longer than just the time it takes at the first encounter. A poem ought to be simple to read, relatively clear in its presentation, somewhat seductive to the mind, and usually concerning a subject that at first glance may be easy to understand.
It is also good if, in addition to the “face value” of initiation, a poem has a structure that leads one to be further absorbed into possibly mysterious realms of meaning and how the simple utterance of word-sounds may bring closer communication between writer and reader, or speaker and listener, or lover and beloved. There ought to be a musical character to the use of words and how the mind perceives them. There ought to be phrasing, and volume, and rhythm, and meter, and timbre, and cadence, and even repetition. There ought to be rests. There ought to be choruses. Like the silence between the sounds of a poem and the sounds in the mind ought to speak nearly as profoundly as the words.
A poem ought to be as primal as the sound of drums, or as eloquent as a Lamborghini, or emotionally imposing as a .45 barrel to the forehead. Poetry ought occasionally be an epiphany. But even more often, a poem ought to be simple, unassuming, and concrete. If, in addition to all these things, a poem has a potentially separate meaning altogether or maybe even a parallel meaning, then that is certainly a bonus. Such as it is to read the given words of a poem, say, about an asparagus, and then somewhere along the way notice that the poet could be talking about elephants as well, or the metaphysical will to excel. These are all good things about poetry and they can all be perceived as goals to write toward, occasionally attaining one or two of the qualities, but rarely attain several qualities at the same time in the same poem. But such as it is, it nevertheless seems a good quest to try for.
Poet, musician, photographer and artist, Glynn Monroe Irby has a BA in history from the University of Texas at Austin, with studies at the University of Houston, Brazosport College, and Edinburgh University, Scotland. He has done graduate studies in architecture at University of Houston. As a Professional Member of the American Society of Interior designers, he manages a family furniture business in Brazoria County, Texas. He is a member of the Poets’ Society of Brazosport, the Austin Writer’s League, and Galveston Poets Roundtable. He has been published in Sol Magazine, Tres di-verse-city, di-verse-city 2000, and Galaxy Literary Journal. He is co-author and illustrator of “3 Savanna Blue,” a collection of poetry and photography.
What is Poetry?
Poetry is intimacy with yourself. Only when you look within do you attain the ultimate insight into the humanness you are. It is then you seem in touch with the infinite reality of God, transcending the commonplace and imbued with the ethereal. And from that encounter you receive the inspiration revealed to you to write thoughts in words that seem impossible to have evolved from your mind, yet were "handed" to you "at that moment." When asked later about that poem, you have only one reply, formed in these similar responses:
"It just came to me." "I really cannot
claim I wrote it." "God inspired me to write it." "I
always know I am simply the instrument for recording His divine
I wish I had time to research the classic poets' work in depth to record their different but similar statements. It would be a wonderful dissertation for a doctorate. I seem to have observed in my study of their biographies similar remarks.
Rereading various statement by even contemporary poets reveal this awareness of their words being so given.
Peggy Zuleika Lynch is a poet and author in her native Texas. Her poems have been published in the United States, Italy, India, Canada, and on the continent of Africa. A knighted Dame of Grace by the Sovereign Order of St. John of Jerusalem in Malta, she has been received as an honored poet in Italy and Switzerland. She has read and lectured in the USA, France, Canada and Puerto Rico. Peggy Lynch has been named Permanent Poet in Residence at the American Academy in Paris, France. She has been honored with three Pushcart Prize nominations. Her medals, awards and diplomas include honors from the World Congress of Poets, the Houston Poetry Fest Literary Arts Award, the Poetry Society of Texas Hilton Ross Greer Outstanding Service Award, and the Stephen Gil International Peace Award for Poetry. Her books include God and Inspired Songs in the Night, Stacks and Files, Ups and Downs, and The Gandy Dancers, and others. In 1983, she and her husband, Major General Edmund C. Lynch (now deceased) co-founded Poetry in the Arts, Inc.
I don't understand the current rash of coaches who teach "creativity." I know saying that is bound to “gork” some people, but creativity would seem a natural enough function. Children create happily. What's with the mystique and hoopla? Just do it. If you can write your name you can be taught to draw. Or paint. Or whatever. If you are dying to tell someone something, you can write. Sitting around inviting The Muse seems silly. My Muse gets good and mad at me for fiddling around with e-mail.
I only write poetry when I cannot not write poetry. My husband, Brad, loathed the stuff, as do most newspaper editors. My kid sister wishes I'd quit wasting time with it. "Get a grip." Schoolmates think it's goofy. "Don't tell anybody, okay, because you seem normal." For years I was a closet poet. You offer to read almost anyone a poem, any poem, and the reaction will be, “Uh, THAT's okay, thanks.” Why write? Why, indeed? It's a life of rejection. And almost anything else pays, to some extent. But I can't not do it. That's why.
I was first inspired to write by Mrs. Mullins, in grade school in Holland, Michigan. Now I am inspired by WIVLA. Women in the Visual and Literary Arts, with no headquarters, no office, no phone number, simply a group of women who get together to help each other and the community, like the show in the Jung Center right now, "Seeds of Healing,” to benefit Crisis Hotline. Women like Susan Giannantonio, at the Watercolor Art Society of Houston, exist to help, to teach, to inspire. Slews of people here are inspired and inspiring—it's contagious, you know, inspiration. Little theaters all over the place. This (Houston) is the GREATEST city. It is.
Once I won more than $200 in one year. Okay, serially, yep, indeed I did, for years, on the staff of the Tribune (R.I.P.) and doing that weekly column (heavy, heavy it hangs over your head, a column.) Supported three children back then by writing on the Tribune. We ate a lot of beans and greens and cornbread, except when guests came laden with exotic goodies to share and sat on our beds in wet bathing suits. Then, later, after I married Brad Messer we lived on what the Galveston Daily News paid, and were so poor, but who else had a teletype machine in the dining room? And a firepole? Being the Chronicle's Galveston Bureau was fun.
Were I a youngster starting out, I would learn, learn, learn something, have something genuine to say, to give, to contribute to this poor woozy world. Naturalists, scientists, archeologists, geologists, architects do such terrific art, when they get time and they write marvelously well, look at Annie Dillard. People beg political scientists for their books (she says, wistfully.)
I'm an activist. When I can't stand it I've got to have a go at what's going on. It's tough. Today's news...how can you try to write about it without screaming or trivializing or going obscene at the obscenities?
Or, worse, roaming so far off the reservation that you tip over and sound sappy.
For the longest time I went around saying things like sonnets were plagiarism of form and function, and rolling my eyes at ballads, but you know what? I was shooting myself in the foot. This free floating stuff tends to float. Prosody reigns. Or it will. Maybe?
Note from Dodie to the Editor:
Oh, good grief, delete, delete—cut this into something usable, honey. It's easier to write long than short, as you know. Brad used to put his elbow on my column and tear the bottom off, all the time.
Veteran newspaper journalist turned poet and watercolor artist, Dodie Messer Meeks works in many creative areas, including theatre. The Arts Alliance Center at Clear Lake recently published a thousand copies of a collection of her poetry and illustrations in a book entitled, "When I Got Dressed Again, " and almost half of the run has sold.
We writers, to satisfy the expectations of our audience, do “write, be, think” in a certain way. Once I read at a benefit, along with other poets, for a friend poet whose child was suffering from a serious illness. The “push” there was that I read material not X rated and that was positive and life affirming. Another time, in front of an adult alternative theatre audience, I read material that was erotic and politically satirical.
Everyone wants to write the best poetry they can, so poets will struggle to write a certain way that meets high aesthetic standards. The catch is of course that modern art is dedicated to “making it new.” Each artist wants to break from the pack and take poetry to a place that it has not been before, in order to be remembered, and also to give the audience out there something they weren’t getting before. The problem is we are all lazy, and we don’t want to do our homework, read extensively in the poets of the past and the present.
If you read, you will learn that rhyming poetry is passé, that Walt Whitman with the publication of “Leaves of Grass” brought in a new American style of poetry that was less formal than the European models. You might then decide, to make things new again, to re-introduce rhyme into poetry, as the new formalists or expansionist poets of the 1980’s attempted to do. Yet, if you were going to get back into rhyme, you would do it from the perspective of knowing what was thought wrong with rhyme and you would have learned different rhyme forms and how to not pad lines to fit the rhyme and how to rhyme with surprise at times and perhaps with predictability at other times.
An element that leads to conformity in writing is wanting to get published and win prizes. Yet how do you separate this ambition from the ambition to write well? That’s not an easy task. And is ambition necessarily bad? Personally, I’d like to see the return of longer poems—not necessarily epic length poems of 100 pages or more, but poems of twenty to fifty pages. Wouldn’t it be fun to read a novel in verse? E.A. Robinson wrote them. I do think the lyric poem dominates too much and poets are pushed too much to write just this short kind of poem.
As you change and age, you may try out different things. As a product of the Vietnam era, I was drawn to poetry at first which tries to make things happen. In academia, poetry which tries to make things happen is generally sniffed at, although there has been some softening of that opinion. At the present time, I am interested in the way poetry provides the opportunity to open up a channel to the unconscious where both gods and demons are speaking. I feel sorry for the young poets of today because it is such a sleepy, complacent time. 9/11 woke us briefly and now we’re back napping. You have been cursed to have been born in interesting times, goes the Chinese saying. Poets should be born into crisis. It is out of crisis that the best poetry is made.
If I write a poem which attempts to record exactly something that happened to me, I write to make the experience something my reader can identify with. Readers don’t buy books to listen to your problems. If that’s what you need, talk to a friend or relative, or go to a shrink. Readers are selfish and they should be. They paid for the ticket; it’s your job to feed and entertain them, give them what they need. At times I write very selfish poems—poems just for myself. I stick them in a drawer.
Poetry is heart and art. If you enjoy living, you are inspired most of the time. You can even be inspired by your boredom or inspired by your lack of inspiration, and write poems about those subjects. Poetry keeps me inspired. Yet, if I sit down to play the saxophone, knowing nothing about the instrument, the result will be noise, no matter how inspired I may be. Words are the poet’s instrument. You’ve got to love dictionaries and spend a lot of time with those notes. Then there are the techniques—image, simile, metaphor, iambic pentameter, etc. I’ve had students fight against a fixed form, say a sonnet, and then end up writing their best poem in the fixed form.
Poetry is not escapism. Poetry is not innocence. We Americans live in a relatively stable, affluent world. There’s a danger when we live with our heads in the sand. There are artists who have faced and worked through the big issues, as well as the individual issues of illness, aging, and dying, and who have come to some wisdom. There are artists whose view of life is essentially comic. I wish there were more comedy in modern poetry, and more spiritual wisdom. I wish also there were more faith and belief. I still like poetry which makes things happen, that does something to reality rather than merely reflecting it. You can make things happen if you think positively about life, if you work from a position of courage.
Chuck Taylor quit his teaching job to write poetry and be a hippie househusband in Austin in 1973. He has published a number of poetry books, his most recent being "Letter to a Lizard King," which is addressed to the rock and roller Jim Morrison of the Doors. Currently he teaches at Texas A&M University, and this fall will begin coordinating its creative writing program.
I never made a conscious decision to write. One evening, I was mysteriously compelled to write a poem about the dusk sky across which myriads of birds were streaking, and I have written poetry regularly ever since. I am inspired by everything I encounter, especially phenomena of nature. At the time I started writing poetry, I was deeply moved by the work of Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and James Dickey. I loved the power of their imagery and especially their mastery of language. A poet whose work I particularly admire today is Walter McDonald. We are both West Texas natives in whose poetry the sense of place is extremely significant.
One of the prevailing concepts in my poetry is a sense of place. I grew up in far West Texas. For several years after I moved to Houston, I forced myself to avoid West Texas subject matter. My resistance eventually subsided, and I started composing many of the poems that ended up in my collection entitled Amazing Grace. Much of that material is set in West Texas, and it was as if the land started writing itself through me. My other two books, The Lighthouse Keeper, and The Woodlanders, reflect my Gulf Coast and East Texas affinities. Although I risk being branded as “regional,” I cannot deny the critical importance of “place” in my own literary experience. I feel I should be completely honest in honoring my natural literary impulses. “Regional’ is merely a vehicle through which “universal” may become manifest.
I mainly write in free verse, but have recently worked more in form, mainly rhymed quatrains and tercets. One of the main things which distinguishes poetry from prose is the integrity of line. In prose, line length is arbitrarily determined by the margin. Poetry is completely different—integrity of line is indispensable and must be achieved through metrical pattern, rhyme, syllabics, or whatever technique works best for the individual poet. Much of contemporary “poetry” in literary journals is but prose arbitrarily divided into lines to give it the appearance of verse.
A poet should be able to “justify,” at least in her/his own mind, exactly how each line is shaped. No line break should ever be determined by accident, but should be carefully thought out and executed. I have found that working in form is easier than working in good free verse.
Much contemporary poetry is too insular (in terms of the poet’s “wallowing” in her/his individual ego), and in many cases is merely a means toward “self-aggrandizement.” Life and experience is fundamentally beautiful and mysterious, and poetry is an ideal way to celebrate both.
Larry D. Thomas has published three volumes of poetry: The Lighthouse Keeper (Timberline Press, 2001); Amazing Grace (Texas Review Press, 2001, winner of the 2001 Texas Review Poetry Prize and 2002 Spur Award Finalist, Western Writers of America), and The Woodlanders (Pecan Grove Press, 2002, Finalist, Pecan Grove Press National Chapbook Competition). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous national magazines, including the Southwest Review, Poet Lore, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Spoon River Poetry Review and The Christian Science Monitor.
ã2002 Sol Magazine