Congratulations to Charles, who published poems in The Magnolia Review Volume 3, Issue 2, Volume 4, Issue 1, and Volume 5, Issue 1, which are in his new collection, CONFESSION TO THE COCKROACHES AND OTHER POEMS. The poems are illustrated by Anthony Albert. Check out the book here, available on Kindle and paperback.
Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?
I work at home. Since all our children moved out, I have taken over half of the house. In one room I have an art desk. In another room I have my computer and most of my books. And in still another, I have a big table where with a paper cutter, various staplers, more books, and a tall tool box where I keep my art papers and finished work.
What kind of materials do you use? What mediums do you work in?
Water and Copic proof markers, Copic markers, colored pencils, pastels, and gel pens, mostly.
What is your routine for art? Do you always sketch first?
Not always. For The Diary of Lea Knight, I sometimes draw images on paper and glue them on the journal pages. That way if the picture doesn’t turn out as well as I’d like, I can try again. I think of it like doing a collage. Sometimes if I feel confident, I draw directly on the journal pages.
How long have you been making art? When did you start making art?
Since I was a child. I ALWAYS wanted to be an artist first. I got an undergraduate degree in studio art at East Carolina University. When I graduated, though, I got two Master’s degrees in English and upon graduation taught English courses at the university level. I thought it was a more stable path financially. I didn’t draw for a long time. I came back to it about 7 years ago. My plan all along was to somehow combine art and writing.
Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you make art for?
I make it for myself first. I make the sort of thing I’d like to see or to buy. I want to have fun with my art. I trust that my concerns are universal enough that they will connect with others. My ideal audience would be people interested in the inner life of a character, not so much lots of action.
What inspires you to create? If you are blocked, what do you do?
I get curious about how a person would handle certain difficult situations. I’ve written a lot about death because I think that’s the hardest experience for people to come to terms with. So a lot of my work has to do with loss and dealing with loss. The Diary of Lea Knight, for example, is about a woman who lost a baby and is in a rocky marriage. Her diary is her way of coming to terms with hard times. If I come to a standstill, I read whatever interests me. I have lots of books and am always buying more. I also have lots of art books and I look at them to get ideas about subject and composition. I rarely get blocked anymore, but I do come to a pause sometimes, and then I need to think about where to go next.
What other things do you do besides art? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?
I’m really mainly consumed with art and writing. I don’t do a lot of other activities. I teach nine months out of the year, and that takes a lot of time. So when summer comes, I just want to be creative. I don’t want distractions.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
The surprise. Each day is an opportunity to explore something different. I don’t like to plan too far ahead with my work. I have a rough plan but work organically. For instance, Lea’s birthday diary entry was only supposed to be four pages or so, but the idea grew as I worked. It took me places I hadn’t planned to go. It was exhilarating.
What is your advice to aspiring artists?
Just to do it. Inspiration is overrated. Your ideas come from working. You discover as you go. Work with archetypes. Use what’s universal but discover the personal, too. To find your personal archetypes, you have to draw and sketch a lot of pictures; that’s the only way. Don’t emulate any certain style. Forget about being Leonardo Da Vinci or anyone else. Find your own style.
- I write in a public space, a coffee shop most often. Sometimes the YWCA.
- I use a fountain pen, write by hand,.
- At 9 am I’m at the table and write till about 12. Sometimes later, depending on progress of the poem.
- I began writing in college, but when I retired in 1975, I began writing full time.
- I don’t think about who will read what I write. I just want something to be there that wasn’t there before.
- Great question. Especially since I have the answer. I have attached my essay dealing with this question (read it below). It also deals with how never to be blocked from writing.
- I read. I estimate I read 5 or 6 poetry books a month.
- My favorite part is when the poem is finished. The process is not enjoyable in any sense of the word. It’s brutal.
- My advice is not to take anyone’s advice. But read. You have to know what’s been done.
And to read more about Simon on Writing, check out the essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities.”
MAGIC, ILLUSION AND OTHER REALITIES
Where do writers get their ideas? Well, if they are writing prose, their ideas evolve one way. If, on the other hand, they are writing poetry, their ideas evolve another way. Perhaps some distinctions are in order. Distinguishing the difference between prose and poetry may not be all that simple. There are many definitions, all of which may be correct. For the purpose of this essay allow me to set forth one of the many:
It seems to me that there is available to writers a spectrum along which to proceed. At one end is prose, appropriate for essays, news, weather reports and the like. At the other end is poetry. Writers move back and forth along this spectrum when writing fiction.
Thus, prose is defined by its precise meaning that excludes ambiguity, surmise and misunderstanding. It never troubles the reader. To define it another way, prose is faulty if it lacks a coherent thrust guided by rules of logic, grammar and syntax. It will not tolerate contradiction. Poetry, on the other hand, is defined by its resistance to such rules. Poetry is ignited, brought to life by haunting, evasive, ambiguous, contradictory propositions.
This is not to say poetry is more or less useful than prose. Rather, they are two separate and distinct tools, much the same as a hammer and a saw. They are different tools designed for different jobs. If an essay is called for, the reader wants certainty; exactly what the words you are now reading are intended to give. If, on the other hand, consolation for some great loss is called for, the reader needs more: a text that lights up fields of reference nowhere alluded to on the page. This calls for magic, for illusion, not lecture. Thus, one of the many definitions of poetry might be: Poetry: words that inform the reader of that which cannot be articulated. To be made whole, to heal, the reader needs to undergo an improved change in mood, a change made more effective if the reader doesn’t know why he or she feels better. Exactly like music. That’s where poetry gets its power to repair; an invisible touch, ghost-like but as real as anything on earth. A reading of the masters, Neruda, Aleixandre, Celan…confirms that a text need not always have a meaning the reader can explicate. To that extent, it informs, as does music, without what we call meaning. It’s just that it takes prose to tell you this.
This is because prose is a telling of what the writers already know. They have a preconceived idea of what to write about. With poetry it’s the opposite. The writers have no preconceived idea with which to begin a poem. They need to first force the idea out of the brain, to bring the idea to the surface, to consciousness. With poetry the writer needs a method to find that hidden idea. If the originating idea wasn’t hidden and unknown it isn’t likely to be an important one. Let’s face it: any idea that is easily accessible has already been picked over. It’s all but certain to be a cliché.
To uncover this hidden idea for a poem the writers each have their own unique method. As for me, the idea for the poem evolves when an idea from a photograph is confronted with an obviously unrelated, disparate idea from a text (mythology or science) till the two conflicting ideas are reconciled as a totally new, surprising and workable one. This method was easy for me to come by. As an attorney I was trained to reconcile disparate views, to do exactly what a metaphor does for a living. It’s not a mystery that so many practicing lawyers write poetry. Lawyer Poets And That World We Call Law, James R. Elkins, Editor (Pleasure Boat Studio Press. Also, Off the Record, An Anthology of Poetry by Lawyers, edited by James R. Elkins, Professor of Law, University of West Virginia.
The efficacy of this method for getting ideas is documented at length by Wayne Barker, MD. who, in his Brain Storms, A Study of Human Spontaneity, on page 15 writes:
If we can endure confrontation with the unthinkable, we may be able to fit together new patterns of awareness and action. We might, that is, have a fit of insight, inspiration, invention, or creation. The propensity for finding the answer, the lure of creating or discovering the new, no doubt has much to do with some people’s ability to endure tension until something new emerges from the contradictory and ambiguous situation.
Likewise, Douglas R. Hofstadter, in his Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid writes on page 26:
One of the major purposes of this book is to urge each reader to confront the apparent contradiction head on, to savor it, to turn it over, to take it apart, to wallow in it, so that in the end the reader might emerge with new insights into the seemingly unbreachable gulf between the formal and the informal, the animate and the inanimate, the flexible and the inflexible.
Moreover, the self-induced fit is standard operating procedure in the laboratory. Allow me to quote Lewis Thomas, who, in his The Lives of a Cell, on page 138. describes the difference between applied science and basic research. After pointing out how applied science deals only with the precise application of known facts, he writes:
In basic research, everything is just the opposite. What you need at the outset is a high degree of uncertainty; otherwise it isn’t likely to be an important problem. You start with an incomplete roster of facts, characterized by their ambiguity; often the problem consists of discovering the connections between unrelated pieces of information. You must plan experiments on the basis of probability, even bare possibility, rather than certainty. If an experiment turns out precisely as predicted, this can be very nice, but it is only a great event if at the same time it is a surprise. You can measure the quality of the work by the intensity of astonishment. The surprise can be because it did turn out as predicted (in some lines of research, 1 per cent is accepted as a high yield), or it can be a confoundment because the prediction was wrong and something totally unexpected turned up, changing the look of the problem and requiring a new kind of protocol. Either way, you win…
Isn’t it reasonable to conclude that the defining distinction between applied science and basic research is the same as that between prose and poetry? Isn’t it likewise reasonable to conclude that the making of basic science is very much the same as the making of poetry?
In a real way I, too, work in a laboratory. Every day at 9 am I arrive at a table in the local coffee shop, open a dog-eared book of photographs, open a text, and begin mixing all my materials together to find something new.
For the famous Walker Evans photograph depicting a migrant’s wife, I began:
Walker Evans Farmer’s wife
Tough life, mouth closed, no teeth? Sorrow?
Not too bad looking. Plain dress
This description went on and on till I felt I had drained the photograph of all its ideas. I then read the chapter entitled On Various Words from The Lives of a Cell. Photograph still in view, I then wrote down ideas from Dr. Thomas’s text. I began:
Words –bricks and mortar
Writing is an art, compulsively adding to,
building the ant hill,
not sure if each ant knows what it will look like when finished
it’s too big. Like can’t tell what Earth looks like if you’re on it.
This too goes on and on with whatever comes to mind while I’m reading. But all the time, inside my brain, I’m trying to reconcile what a migrant’s wife has to do with the obviously unrelated ideas on biology suggested by Dr. Thomas. I try to solve the very problem I created. Of course my brain is stymied and jams, creating a self-induced fit similar to the epilepsy studied by the above mentioned Dr. Barker, M.D. But that was my intention from the beginning.
Sooner or later an idea from the photograph and an idea from the text will be resolved into a new idea and the poem takes hold.
No one is more surprised than I. Or exhausted. The conditions under which I write are brutal. My brain is deliberately jammed by conflicting impulses. Its neurons are overloaded, on the verge of shutting down. I can barely think. My eyes blur. The only thing that keeps me working is that sooner or later will come the rapture of discovery; that the differences once thought impossible to reconcile, become resolved; so and so, once thought impossible of having anything to do with so and so, suddenly and surprisingly, has everything in the world to do with it. Or has nothing to do with it but can be reconciled with something else it triggered: one flash fire after another in the lightening storm taking place in my brain.
Getting the idea is one thing but the finished poem is a long way off. And to get there I abstract so my subconscious can talk to the reader’s subconscious, much the same as an artist abstracts the painting so the viewer’s subconscious can listen to the artist’s subconscious. There will be nothing anyone can point to and say, “That’s why”. Exactly like music, the most abstract of all the arts. Thus, for each poem its opening phrase is stolen shamelessly from Beethoven. He’s the master at breaking open bones and I might as well use him early on in the poem. Then I steal from Mahler whose music does its work where I want my poetry to do its work: the marrow.
Perhaps marrow is what it’s all about. Abstraction, since it contradicts the real world, is a striking form of confrontation which jams the brain till it shuts down confused. It befits the marrow to then do the work the reader’s brain cells would ordinarily do. And though what the marrow cells put together is nothing more than a “gut feeling”, with no rational footing, it is enough to refresh the human condition, to make marriages, restore great loses, rally careers.
Of course abstraction is just one of the ways writers arrive at the poem with their idea. But however they come they all leave for the reader poetry’s trademark: illusion. It is that illusion that builds for the over-burdened reader a way out.
Perhaps, as you may have already suspected, a poem, unlike a newspaper, is not a tool for everyday use by everyone; it’s just for those who need it, when they need it.
Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?
I work mostly in public spaces, my local coffee shop (which should be a national treasure!) and sometimes at home. But since I drive a lot for work, I often write in my head while I’m driving and use my voice recorder on my phone to record the ideas.
What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?
As I stated above, I sometimes use the voice recorder function on my phone to record ideas while driving. But if I’m not driving, I get ideas and jot them in the memo pad of my phone. Sometimes I will use a notebook or my laptop.
For the actual writing, I do tend to write on my laptop—but if I’m revising, or need to work something out, I will use pen and paper (often one of the pair of purple Moleskine notebooks I bought when I decided to take this poetry thing seriously!). Occasionally I will write in the notebooks to start from, but it’s rarer and rarer these days.
My favorite writing utensil is, and has been since I was 16, Pilot Precise V5 Rolling ball extra fine liquid -ink pens in various colors. Second choice is PaperMate Flair marker pens. If I MUST I will use UniBall liquid ink, and if I am REALLY REALLY desperate, traditional ballpoint pens. But that has to be a dire writing emergency! Before you all start thinking I’ve lost my marbles—I like the feel that these pens have on the page and in my hands; I like the ease of writing with them, and I love color. 😊
What is your routine for writing?
My writing routine varies by the week or by the day, since I have a full-time, demanding professor job, a 3-year old at home, a husband, dog, and a home to run. But when I do write it takes one of two forms: writing (where I often look at what I’ve written in my notes, or getting out the laptop and clicking away), or revising. I sometimes revise on my own; sometimes in response to feedback. I have a few readers and I work with a coach/mentor on a regular basis.
The revising routine varies, of course, depending on my time and on the extent of the revisions, or even how I’m feeling! I never write with my own music on; being in the coffee shop, though, there’s always ambient music playing and conversations, which for some reason I can tune out there but never at home!
How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?
I’ve been writing almost as long as I can remember, though it has often come in fits and starts. But I’ve always been interested in, and “good at” language. I love turns of phrase, and I like sounds of letters and syllables; I love words. Love everything about them, and always have!
In 6th and 7th grade I wrote short stories and poetry almost constantly; in high school I did some. I even did a final project on fiction writing my senior year of college, and intended to minor in Creative Writing (along with a traditional English Lit major) in college. My alma mater, Skidmore College (which is the best school in the world and changed my life profoundly), phased out the major and minor, I think, when I got there, so though I took a couple classes, I couldn’t. I also decided, on the first day of 8th grade, I wanted a PhD in literature so I could teach English—which set my path more academically than creatively. (I’ve since earned the PhD in Rhetoric and Composition and absolutely love teaching first-year students how to write academic pieces).
The creative writing classes I took in college were lovely, but it ruined my ability to really write for a while, because –as is often the case with 20-year olds—I didn’t want to revise my work and I didn’t think poetry could be revised. So the feedback shut me off. It wasn’t until late college that I found my voice again.
However, since graduate school, I didn’t write at all. One poem on October 23, 2007, for a man I was dating’s birthday—and not a single (creative/poetic) word again until July of 2016, when my first poem in that time, now titled “Crossroads” (and can be found in the inaugural issue of Brine) came to me while driving through Elkhart, Indiana. The poem seemed to descend the heatwaves, and I chanted it in my head for the remaining 3.5 hours home. Then the floodgates opened and I couldn’t (can’t!) stop.
Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?
My ideal/ intended audience is anyone who likes rich imagistic poetry or who appreciates a real voice in poetry. I’m not an experimental poet, and I don’t do things just to do them. Sometimes, of course, I get lines/phrases/ideas/images out of thin air; or someone says things to me and I like them (moral of the story, folks: I might put what you say in my work. Watch out! 😉). I write for me, as is expected, but I’m increasingly writing for women, I think, who want a different view on what women’s poetry can be. I’m not afraid, anymore, of saying what needs to be said.
What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?
The world inspires me, though I have tended towards particular themes that have cropped up as I develop a body of work. I’m interested in male/female relationships and love; the interaction between nature and our emotions/experience; mythology, and, though I am an atheist, religious concerns from both my Jewish (secular, reform) background, and my mother’s Catholic roots. But, as I stated before, I sometimes just get phrases that clatter around in my head, or someone says something interesting. For instance, a dear friend of mine said, once, in a conversation about their favorite poets, “Neruda when I want to remember” and that struck me—so it wound up in my poem “The Timekeeper.” So, I never know what I’m going to discover; and I don’t write on assignment. I can’t—I need the muse.
If I’m blocked, I revise or put it away. I have to just let it percolate. Something always comes.
What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?
I cook, read, and teach, of course. I’m also about to have my fourth semester of piano lessons with a delightful and feisty, 81-year-old piano teacher. I spend time with my family, of course; going on excursions to fairs and zoos and museums and other kid-friendly adventures.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
My favorite part is getting inspired. Turning that inspiration into something, even if it’s not very good. Seeing the feeling or idea or image or thought turn into something else with live arms stretching into all kinds of nooks and crannies. And, of course, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it when someone says they liked my work!
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Can I just write a book about this? Advice, from 15 years of teaching writing to undergraduates, and from my own, hard-won lessons:
1. Do it whenever you can. Sit and write. Don’t stop.
2. Don’t judge it—just let it be. It can always be shaped and changed and altered. But don’t let that stop you. Just write it down. No one has to see it.
3. That said, get readers. Good readers, whom you trust and love and respect. You can control the feedback, too—ask for specific things—but find readers who love you, and can provide support. Sometimes, don’t guide the feedback. Just get their thoughts. And sometimes take it, and sometimes don’t. Just get it from people who have your back—it’s YOUR work, and your voice. You won’t hone a voice if you’re always crowding it out.
4. It will take a bit to find your voice. And your voice will change. But let it come out anyway, and don’t let things get in the way.
5. Be brave. Be unafraid to say what you need to say, how you need to say it. It might change, but be brave. Say it.
6. Don’t throw anything out. Ever. Keep it. (No, seriously. Don’t throw it out.)
7. You will have fallow periods—this was the hardest thing I had to learn, and I still get freaked out when nothing is coming. Enjoy the fallow periods. Embrace them.
8. Don’t throw anything out. Ever.
Describe your creative space.
I have an office/library space in my home where I do most of my work, along with a place in the living room where after my morning meditation I work on poetry business, social networking, website, revisions and other tasks.
What kind of materials do you use?
I use my laptop mainly, but if I’m at a café or at work and get struck by something, I will certainly grab a pen and paper to keep the ideas fresh and hostage so to speak.
What is your routine for writing?
Early morning after my 4:00 am twenty minute meditation sit, I work on drafts in progress, do multiple submissions, answer emails from editors, read new books of poets I love, and mainly dig in for three hours before my work at the office begins.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing for 25 years.
When did you start writing?
I began writing poetry in 1993.
Who is your intended, or ideal, audience?
I don’t really have a specific audience in mind, unless it is folks who are drawn to work that deals with the politics of intimacy, sexuality, the body, religious and sexual trauma or all of the above.
Who do you write for?
Myself and the world.
What inspires you to write?
My own interior life/mediation experience/other poetry/ and everything I open my mind and heart to in the hope I can always translate that experience back to the world in a fresh and different poetic form
If you are blocked, what do you do?
I have no experience of that. I have Asperger’s syndrome, and a radically obsessive mind that I calmly and fiercely turn to poetry. It’s the same as breathing.
What other things do you do besides writing?
I work out, play guitar and enjoy being a Grandfather and husband.
What is your favorite part of the creative process?
The pure joy of being powerless over what I call having, “the affliction.”
What is your advice to aspiring writers?
Read poetry. Listen to poetry. Find a community of poets and humble yourself to be mentored and loved through the trials and tribulations of poetry’s flames.
The issue was published January 16, 2019. The sample is available here as a PDF to download.
The full PDF issue is available here from PayPal for $2, to help with funding contributor copies and mailing costs.
The optional theme is Lost and Found.
Contributors: Sudeep Adhikari, Charles Joseph Albert, Rey Armenteros, Jan Ball, Gary Beck, Susan P. Blevins, Michael K. Brantley, Judith Alexander Brice, Alexandra Brinkman, Frank De Canio, Aidan Coleman, Daniel de Culla, Lydia A. Cyrus, Nathan Dennis, Deborah H. Doolittle, Steven Goff, Dave Gregory, John Grey, Jack D. Harvey, Kevin Haslam, Michael Paul Hogan, Erica Michaels Hollander, Mark Hudson, Heikki Huotari, Nancy Byrne Iannucci, Jayant Kashyap, Wade McCullough, Don McLellan, Todd Mercer, Daniel Edward Moore, Donají Olmedo, Simon Perchik, Zachary A. Philips, Mari Posa, Eric Rasmussen, David Anthony Sam, J.B. Santillan, Marygrace Schumann, Sydnee Smailes, Ruben E. Smith, William L. Spencer, Penn Stewart, Lisa Stice, Ash Strange, Lee Triplett, Mitchell Waldman, Thomas Wattie, Richard Weaver, Theresa Williams, and Bill Wolak.
Reviews: Blunt Force by Gary Beck, The Remission of Order by Gary Beck, Overhead from Longing by Judith Alexander Brice, Bombing the Thinker by Darren C. Demaree, Lady, You Shot Me by Darren C. Demaree, Never One for Promises by Sarah A. Etlinger, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green, Mark the Dwarf by Jack D. Harvey, The Frayed Edge of Memory by James Croal Jackson, Mishigamaa by Robert Krantz, Firefly: Big Damn Hero by James Lovegrove, I Exist. Therefore I Am by Shirani Rajapakse, Final Inventory by David Anthony Sam, and Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running With My Dog Brought Me Back From the Brink by Nita Sweeney.