Travis Cebula currently resides in Golden, Colorado with his infinitely patient wife, Shannon, and his infinitely impatient dog, Stresa. Today’s home is not only in his original hometown, but is the very home in which he grew up—a strange state of affairs for this particular period in Colorado history (which is a narrative populated by new residents from all over the country), and a constant source of amazement upon waking every morning.
In another life he tried his hand at construction and land surveying. In a third he was a classically trained chef and restaurateur, winning awards and accolades after having survived both culinary school and an apprenticeship that at times would have made even Gordon Ramsay cringe. But that path was not to be, and eventually he returned to his first love: writing poetry. Still, sometimes he travels, sometimes he doesn’t… There is always something to write about. There is always something to take a photograph of. And there is always something for a döppelganger to discuss with a poet.
My first impression of Travis Cebula as I enter the his basement office is that I’m confronting a not-altogether-unfriendly badger. He’s hunched in front of his iMac screen, typing intermittently on sentences or lines of poetry. It’s hard to tell which at first glance. His hair hangs down into his face and a half-finished and obviously cold cup of coffee rests, askew, on a coaster. The cup only becomes evident when it rises, periodically, from the rest of the clutter mounding the desk. After which it, along with the cartoon on its side, disappears among the pens, notebooks, and collections of unpaid bills. He doesn’t bother to look up as I begin the interview.
How long have you been writing poetry?
The short answer is, “all my life.” But that seems a bit disingenuous. Let’s just say since I was 12 and leave it at that.
What on earth did you write about when you were 12?
I’m not sure that’s relevant.
When did you first know that you wanted to become a poet? Was it before that?
I never wanted to become a poet. I wanted to write, but other than silence poetry is the only language that would come out through my hands. Prose requires the use of much more force on my part. I might say I had no choice, but that would be abdication. I was nine then. It’s hard to abdicate when you’re only nine. You don’t know the heft of it yet.
Were other options for your life on the list back then?
Of course. I would have accepted being a fireman or a Pittsburgh Steeler. One of my uncles had a knack for balding just like Terry Bradshaw, and I admired that. At the time I was a touch small, but I eventually grew enough and have the requisite Slavic last name to be a place kicker. However, I think in the long run I made the lucrative choice. Poetry is set to make a strong comeback. The world is primed for it.
Why do you say that?
Well, for one thing, attention spans are shrinking. Hardly anyone has time to absorb a whole novel—a poem, if the fear of it can be overcome, can be experienced in a small way in a brief amount of time.
But isn’t poetry difficult? Something that inherently requires a huge amount of investment on the reader’s part?
Well, ideally the reader is at least paying close attention to the language at play, but it is not absolutely necessary that the reader sell his or her soul to “get” a poem. Often, the beauty of a poem is it’s ability to get inside the mind and soul of its audience without them even being aware that the interchange has occurred. A character, a narrative, an image, or a mood gets its foot in through the door… After that it’s hard to get it back out again.
Earlier you mentioned poetry being lucrative. Are your books selling well?
Now you’re just being cruel.
And yet you keep writing them.
God help me.
What was the inspiration for your latest book?
I wanted to write something about a place that I am deeply rooted in. Often I write from a position of novelty—of someone who experiences a place from the point of view of a visitor or outsider. What would someone like that see that a local wouldn’t? In this case I wanted to explore the narrow liminality that only a true resident can detect: the border where a place begins and ends, the thin layer of the present between the future and the past, the line where the city becomes the country, the second where a child becomes an adult, the realization where belief becomes incredulity. The more I explored, the more I discovered that my own city contained all of these elements. That, and I was just plain pissed off that the powers-that-be changed the color of streetlights.
Yeah. They used to be blue. Fuckers.
I see. Are there other projects on the horizon?
At least five different manuscripts are being juggled around in my head.
How do you keep them all separated?
I have absolutely no idea. I’m actually not sure that I do keep them separated. Some poems play well with others and some poems need to be sitting quietly in the woods by themselves, though. I know that much now, but not much more. Every moment is about learning.
Are you working on poetry right now, as we speak?
In a manner
of speaking, I suppose.
We are always writing
poetry, and poetry is always
being written. Somewhere.
This is the question in a match.
all manners of poetry wait.
All poetry is mannered
speaking. All poetry
is the door to a building
whose third floor is
on fire. A stack of paper
becomes words and as their
smoke rises it rises
to a rooftop garden.
To bloom with orchids.
What does that mean?
Dear lord. Not you, too.
Travis continues to type as I quietly back out of the room. He barely seems to notice. His right arm brings the stale coffee to his lips and, if I wish, I could consider this a wave or a salute. Goodbye, and good luck.