David Anthony Sam–Interview

 Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?

Normally, I do my rewriting, revising, and submitting in our home office at a standup desk and on a PC. I have done first drafts and revisions on our porch, in hotel rooms, in restaurants, and outdoors. Years ago, when I owned a small music store, I learned how to rewrite (at a typewriter back then) through interruptions of customers−teaching me some discipline so that I could pick up where I left off.

What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?

Most of the time, I write first drafts with a Livescribe pen in a journaling notebook at night just before sleep. I like pen and ink and the Livescribe also captures the notebook in a PDF for backup. However, I have written first drafts on an iPad, a computer, on the back of scrap paper, and by speaking into a voice recorder, especially when driving.

For rewriting and revising, I began with a typewriter and now use a PC. I like the “cold type” to give me a certain distance from the wrong kind of ownership of first drafts.

What is your routine for writing?

First drafts are normally done in my nightly notebook with the Livescribe pen, though as I said above I have written them in multiple ways. I prefer to let the first drafts “marinate” for at least a couple months before I go back to them for revision and rewriting. Sometimes a poem wants me to work on the revisions right away. However, I have fallen very far behind rewriting−I am working on 2010 journals now. I use text-to-speech on my computer (and sometimes iPad) with both male and female, US and UK voices to help me hear them better and improve my redrafts.

I then send rewrites off by email to one or two friends who are good readers and critics and use their responses to help improve the drafts. My wife, who is not “into” poetry, often serves as a representative reader when I want my audience to be more general.

My poems are never done−and some have gone through decades of rewriting and double-digit numbers of drafts. But I do reach a point where some seem ready for submission. Happily, very occasionally, a first draft is blessed by the Muse and is done when written.

How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?

I wrote my first poem in fifth grade and my first story when I was 10 or so. In high school, I began more seriously writing fiction and some poetry. I was definitely no prodigy. In college at the age of 18 (February 1968) I committed to being a serious poet, to writing and rewriting every day, and I managed to keep that up until the middle 1990s when I ran out of gas or time or faith. There was a 10-year hiatus when I worked on a doctorate, a marriage, and a career that paid. In 2004, I recommitted to the daily routine and have largely kept to it since.

Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?

I have two audiences in mind: (1) A very small one of those who love reading poetry enough to spend time with it and have the patience to read my more “difficult” verse. And (2) a general audience of those who might respond to my more “accessible” poems from time to time. I do agree with Whitman that good poets need good audiences, but poetry should not merely be for the select few.

What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?

I am seldom inspired to write but I am almost never blocked either. I force myself to the pen and PC. Often, I have been surprised by a poem that seemed initially a failure after I slogged through it. Working the craft and self-discipline (even when I have to drag myself kicking and screaming to the task) have gotten me through apparent “blocks” and felt exhaustion.

But I suppose you could say that walks in nature, reading other’s poetry, reading science and history, and mulling my own biography offer doorways that I find useful.

What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?

I chose to live a career of service in higher education administration and part-time teaching that ended in 2017 with my retirement. I still will occasionally teach. Visits to creative writing classrooms as a guest author invigorate me. I enjoy nature walking and walking in general, cooking, travelling, reading, photography, and a good glass of wine with my wife and with friends.

What is your favorite part of the creative process?

The surprise when I read one of my writings and ask “Where did that come from? It’s too good.”

The joy when someone reads a poem and responds in ways I could only hope for. Once I texted a wrong number out of state and stumbled on a person at the other end who actually knew I was a poet and had read and liked my work. That was amazingly serendipitous. And a few times a reader or listener at one of my readings told me how much an individual poem had mattered to them. In one case a young man told me that a particular poem had helped him through a rough time. How humbling and gratifying.

What is your advice to aspiring writers?

Read a lot of poetry and prose, not just in styles and forms you like. Be like an art student: copy those styles and forms and learn from them. Write, write, and rewrite twice as much. Don’t be discouraged by the naysayers, but also realize that your words are not gospel from the Fount and most times will need to be revised. Get to know some other writers who are generous−not all are−and share drafts with them. Submit when drafts seem ready−understanding that most will be rejected with little or useless feedback. Try not to take it too personally. Decide what is most important: getting published or writing what you must write. Keep submitting and learn what you can from acceptances and rejections. Realize that it is OK to want to be the next Shakespeare, Dickinson, etc. and strive for that−while knowing most of us will have poems and our names writ on water. Know that you will never feel that you have made it, that you are good enough. Keep writing anyway.


Check out David’s work in Volume 2, Issue 1, Volume 4, Issue 1, and upcoming in Volume 4, Issue 2.

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