Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Ohio, which is where Jack Lemmon and Sandy Duncan were from in the 60s movie, “The Out Towners,” well, that pretty much sums up what people from the coasts think of Midwesterners. I have a brother and three sisters, including a twin sister. My mother never wanted us to have a dog when we were young, thinking that she would be the one who would have to do all the walking and feeding (she was probably right). So we had lots of rodents. Gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, a rabbit (is a rabbit a rodent?). I was in charge of naming all of these pets. The gerbil, who did quite a bit of running on his hamster wheel, was named Runner. The hamster was named Hammy for obvious reasons. The guinea pig was Squeaky, the rat was Rattix and the rabbit Thumper. It was because of the precocious creativity that I displayed in naming these animals that I decided to become a writer.
You’re a writer. What do you write?
Short stories, non-fiction essays, screenplays, poems, saucy little reviews of Rod Stewart concerts at the Hollywood Bowl, and scripts for reality TV shows.
A “writer” for reality TV shows? Isn’t that an oxymoron?
Yes people say that all the time. But you’d be surprised how much a good sense of story is needed to shape these shows.
How long have you been writing poetry?
I didn’t really start thinking about writing poems until I took a course my junior year in college. My professor, a frumpy mustachioed poet who looked like a younger and more diminutive Kurt Vonnegut, asked the entire class to submit a poem so he could evaluate our style and what level we were working at. At the time my twin sister had just been accepted into Veterinary school, so I wrote a poem for her to celebrate this milestone. It was purple, sentimental, effusive and very precious. After the next class my professor called me in and said, “I don’t think this class is right for you.” I was furious. For the rest of the semester I shot him deadly looks from the back row, but it was this brutal assessment that made me start to seriously examine poetry and the way it was written.
And what have you discovered since then?
I’ve come to realize that the vast majority of people in this country (it may be less so in other countries) are hostile to poetry. They feel it is an affront to their intelligence, that poems are an “inside game” designed to make people outside of the game feel like idiots. I know that I shared some of these beliefs before I started reading and writing a great deal more poetry. And the truth is, some poetry is opaque and requires a great deal of careful reading to glean meaning, and these are the poems I’m less interested in.
So what kind of poems are you interested in?
I prefer poems that gravitate toward the emotional rather than the strictly intellectual. I like poems that use rhythm and pace and meter and show the poet really crafting his or her work. I like clarity in poems. I like stories. I like to feel something when I read a great poem. Richard Hugo, James Wright, Stuart Dybek, Lucia Perillo, Ted Kooser, Bukowski, Billy Collins, Denise Levertov, Sherman Alexie, Anne Sexton, Tony Hoagland. All of these poets, to some extent, accomplish this. That being said, I know I have a great deal more to learn about poetry and many, many more poems to read.
What is your greatest claim to fame in poetry?
I once beat the Poet Laureate of the United States in a game of horseshoes.