Describe your first writing experience:
I wrote two detective plays in sixth grade for members of my class to perform for the other class. It was a thrill to see my words up there on the stage in action, so to speak. As an incentive to get class members to try out for parts I wrote in a scene where the characters are drinking cokes while talking about solving the crime. This was at a time when sodas weren’t allowed in school and not usually in the fridge at home, either. It worked like a charm.
Describe any life changing events that affected your writing:
On the positive side, it was when I decided to leave a secure job, one I liked, running a treatment program in the V.A. Hospital near Boston to wander down the east coast in a 22 foot sailboat with the then love of my life. We had no set destination and the only time factor was trying to stay ahead of cold weather. We had taken courses on everything from knot tying to advanced navigation (no GPS then). I expected us to be alone out there on the water, but it turned out that other boaters formed a community along the water, living a life style based on giving to boaters who were in need of assistance and passing what you received on to the next person in need, a lifestyle far more profoundly unselfish and spiritual than I’d found even in the commune where we’d been living in Boston. We didn’t take a regular radio or music. Our entertainment was watching the sky at night, listening to the lap of water, the sounds of animals onshore when we anchored.
On the negative side, I was hit with ME/CFS in 1990, cutting short the active life I’d known and thought I would continue having. This illness affects everything from your ability to think clearly, your immune system, your energy. I ask the readers to google it, if interested, or check my ‘about me’ page on my website, listed with this feature. For example, preparing the material for this feature had to be done in stages with rest periods in-between and I’m exhausted now from both the concentration and energy to type this. Not true of me before. I could go endlessly as your typical Type A. This is the same illness Sea Biscuit author Laura Hillenbrand was hit by. In the past I thought I wanted to write novels and had actually completed three unpublished ones. I could no longer do this after becoming ill. Poetry was something that fit my concentration span and I found that not only did I love writing it, but was finally successful in terms of publications and praise from peers I admired.
What is your major complaint about poetry today:
Two major complaints…
The first is that some poets spend far too much time trying to decide who belongs in what school or sub-school or newly-made-up schools of poetry. It becomes endless!
The second is the idea that a poem must be obscure to be good. I like accessibility in a poem. I also want my poems to be read. That last comment has actually received shocked responses from some poets….’but you’re supposed to be writing for yourself’. Give me a break. I wouldn’t be writing if I didn’t want to. I just don’t want to be my only audience. I think it was Gerald Locklin who said something like ‘Novelists write for their audience. Poets write for themselves’. And we’ve written ourselves into a fine corner, haven’t we? It’s the rare individual, who doesn’t write poetry, who carries a poetry book to bed to read before sleep time. Let’s reach the public again the way Ginsberg reached me, for example, when I first read Howl when I was twenty. I was blown away. This man was speaking to ME.
What were your strongest influences?
First, my mother. She took me to first grade with her in her womb. I stopped kicking at story time each day.
Next, every human being who’s shared a piece of his or her life with me. It’s all in there waiting to be told along with my own stories along the way.
Writers such as Lucile Clifton, Sharon Olds, Li Young-Lee, so many more. Impossible to list.
Artists such as Redon who held me for an hour in front of the first painting of his I saw in Washington, D.C. And the courage of such artists as Frida Kahlo who painted under her own very hard physical circumstances.
Musicians who move me, all the way from the etudes of Chopin to Al Green strutting his stuff at the Apollo Theatre in the eighties. Yo Yo Ma at Carnegie Hall. That unknown musician I heard playing his violin deep in the underground trolley section at Cambridge, MA, when I disembarked one day.
Now my hands will type no more even though there’s a lot more I’d like to say. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could connect a wire from my brain to your brain so I could just lie down and take a much needed rest and still share?