Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?
I have an office which was supposed to be a second bedroom, so it has long, shallow closets along one wall. The left one has a filing cabinet, two guitar cases, scraps of Foamcore, and a low rolling cabinet on which rests a Braille embosser. That’s a printer for Braille that creates bumps on heavy paper. The right closet is where my clothes and shoes are piled up. One or two folding card tables on the floor. My desk is by the door to the hall. A bookcase holds racks of Blues CDs and reference works. Under the windows are short shelves crammed with books, journals, and a boom box.
What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?
I work at home on most of my tasks. I submit a lot, so that happens on the computer. I’m revising a novel, near the end, which means probably no more than one more year. That also happens on the computer. I started out as a visual artist, so I find myself still drawn to the flow of ink onto paper. I transcribe my notes once a month, create files of stages of editing, and with some luck, eventually, arrive at some poetry that doesn’t embarrass me.
I’ve been experimenting with different sizes of pen recently. Arthritis has made my thumbs almost useless. I’ve tried several ways to hold them so that thumbs are not necessary.
What is your routine for writing?
I’m terrible at maintaining routines. I start the mornings with submissions. I bounce back and forth between poems and the novel. Usually, more often than not, I think of something that interrupts the regular pattern, so I have to look into that immediately. I read too much news. After lunch, or at lunch, I go out with my spiral notebook and read and write in burger joints and Starbucks along Broadway on Capitol Hill in Seattle. With the release of Rookland, I’ve stepped up my attendance at open mics around town. I hustle spots as a featured reader. Performing before audiences is crucial to me. I write for the mood. I revise for the sound.
How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?
That story is too long for this questionnaire. Short version: as I mentioned, I was a visual artist. I got an M.A. as a sculptor in 1981. I moved to Seattle and my eyes started bleeding inside. Diabetic Retinopathy is a primary cause of blindness. Treatment was a matter of laser beams being shot at my retinae, over 1800 per eye. I came away with most of my vision, and with a resolve to find art to do that didn’t depend on vision. I started to write, for radio, stage plays, short stories, and poems. Figure I started about 1985. That’s 32 years.
Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?
Always a tricky question. My novel audience may not resemble my poetry audience at all. Ideal audiences don’t exist. Real audiences exist, so I like them the best. Poetry on the page is one way to look at poetry, but poetry coming from a human mouth and into human ears is more exciting, more seductive, more terrifying. I work on page form, I take the look of a poem seriously, but I can’t imagine getting my blood to surge because of the shape of a poem on a page. I live for the microphone. Actually, I don’t need a microphone. Just listeners.
What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?
I’m inspired to write from the fact that I have an expiration date. I need to get as much done as I can before I turn sour and undrinkable. Some days I walk away with a blank page. Some days I fill a page with useless crap. I have my box of tricks, some I learned in design classes in art school. It all comes down to three actions: transform, reshape, and rephrase.
What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?
I operate a nonprofit corporation called Arts and Visually Impaired Audiences. I create access projects to the arts for blind and visually impaired people. I’ve slowed down in recent years, but I still work with an organization called the Jack Straw Cultural Center on workshops for very young students, blind and sighted, to create projects related to installations in the Jack Straw New Media Gallery, and to train the staff and gallery artists on how to effectively interact with blind and visually impaired people. In the summers for the past 21 years, I’ve worked with kids 9-18 in audio production workshops. I lead the radio theater, or audio storytelling, section. It involves writing, teaching kids about what goes into stories, performance, production, and how to work with coaches and engineers.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
In prose, I like the moment when I realize the sentence I’ve worked an hour to rebuild can now be reasonably spoken. In poetry, it’s that rush after the reading is done. Sure, sometimes people say nice things, good job, I loved that thing you read, etc., and I can’t say I don’t like that, but before that is the spinning head and the thumping heart. Okay, Minkert, they say, you really set yourself on fire this time.
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Go over every phrase you have written down. If you believe you might have stumbled across it anywhere other than out of your head, cut it. Make up some phrase that nobody has ever heard before, and put that in its place. When reading to an audience, embrace the fear. If you find yourself reading with total confidence, you are screwing up. Fear keeps you honest. Fear means you are taking the risks you need to take. Submit a lot.
Check out Jesse’s work in Volume 3 Issue 2, and check out his book ROOKLAND here.