Coffee with Gene McCormick

09 Oct

Gene McCormick’s writing can be seen regularly in small press journals. He has published more than twenty books of non-fiction, fiction and poetry. He lives in the small village of Wayne, Illinois, forty miles west of Chicago. Middle Island Press has published his two most recent titles, Big City Nighttime Stories and Obsessions.

After you read his narrative poems, you might be looking over your shoulder when out in public, wondering who might be watching and taking notes (ha!) but I’ve gotten to know Gene and he has a heart of gold, is very thoughtful and not without a sense of humor; and as he says in this interview, he is a doer, and to that I add the old proverb: “A man is known by his deeds.”

I asked Gene how he takes his coffee. His response: “I take my coffee in other people’s cups, as I don’t enjoy the flavor of coffee. I much prefer a Diet Pepsi, or, if feeling carefree, a Diet Coke.” Alrighty then! That’ll work.

(“Coffee with the Poets” interviews are conducted by Christina Anne Taylor.)

Glad to have you, Gene. You are prolific, with more than twenty books published and a regular presence in small press publications. Do you have a writing schedule that you adhere to?

No, absolutely not. Unlike almost every other writer quoted on the subject, to me writing is not 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration. To me, it is the opposite and that is what makes it fun, challenging and especially fulfilling. My first book was non-fiction, done for McFarland & Company in North Carolina—a fine publishing house—but that was back in 1980 and I used a typewriter, which was a nightmare. While it was a huge thrill to hold my first book in my hands I don’t think I could now work on any project of length without a word processor. Nowadays, if something is not enjoyable I’m not going to do it.

Understood! Those early typewriters were something…

Also, being non-fiction, that first book had some shackles that no longer apply to what I write: poetry and short, short stories.

That’s good. Are you currently working on any projects?

As long as I can think and reason I should be able to have something happening because writing, the arts, are a compulsion for me. I have to write, or paint, and hopefully that will not change. Specifically, I have a small illustrated book on Hollywood laying around and another book-length narrative poetry/novel soon to be published that will be a companion to my current Obsessions, which was artfully published by Middle Island Press. I have a handful of poems that will be appearing in several literary publications this winter.

Thank you, and that’s wonderful news!

In addition to writing, I paint and have two to four one-person exhibits a year and also illustrate for Painting projects are ongoing and fill a gap when inspiration doesn’t feed my writing compulsion adequately.

You’re blessed to have different creative outlets through which to channel your energy. I love the character of your paintings on your book covers and elsewhere. If you wouldn’t mind expounding, I notice your reference to “compulsions” and consider your narrative Obsessions, and many creative people can relate to these tendencies. What tends to jumpstart your creative compulsions?

Beauty. I should also add observation. Sometimes I can sit alone in a parking lot, with a receptive mind, and see something that registers on a level that needs to be pursued. I’m currently writing a piece that originated by the sight of a trench coat in the rain, and a freight elevator at a nearby warehouse. The piece began life as a typical twenty-line narrative poem but keeps morphing into something broader, longer…and maybe not as good as the short version. I live in a small village of several thousand and rarely get involved in group activities so a highly developed sense of observation, by necessity, can make a Walmart parking lot as literarily bountiful as the Pentagon at war time.

Yes! What is beauty, what is beautiful to you?

Anything can be beautiful, but of course isn’t. Beauty is to a small degree a personal choice although there are material selections that transcend, such as a white with red leather 1951 Jaguar convertible with a youthful Angelina Jolie (or 1950s version Gina Lollabrigida) on the passenger seat. A flair for style and panache helps. There is not enough coffee in the pot to discuss inner versus outer beauty.

Is there a general theme to the bulk of your observations that inspire you to write?

If there is, it is coincidental to my writing what is laying in front of me, a vista of everyday people and actions, a—to quote from my most recent book jacket—walk in the park through the feral landscapes of daily life. We all take the trip, walk the walk. I put it to paper and call it literature.

We’re grateful for that! Have you been influenced by other writers?

I am very careful what I read as I don’t want my chameleon-like tendencies to be overtly influenced by the writing of another, just by things: happenings, sites, words, emotions. Having said that, I do have some favorite contemporary writers: Patrick Modiano, Patti Smith, Spencer Reece, the late Thomas Bernhard, Roger Lewinter, Hernan Ronsino, Valeria Luiselli. These are writers whose work I enjoy reading but I can’t say they have influenced me. For sheer influence, to be technical at the risk of sounding snarky, the two major influences for me have been Charles Bukowski and Amy Hempel. After reading their body of work I figured if they can be successful with that sort of stuff, well, then, maybe I can too, although my writing can in no way be stylistically compared with Bukowski’s or Ms. Hempel’s.

I understand the importance of maintaining your own unique signature. Describe for me, if you would, how your signature has been shaped by who you are as a person.

I have been active, a doer. Long before Nike registered its “Just do it” line, I was living life that way although never to the extent of being irresponsible to obligations incurred.

So everywhere you go, if there is any “dead space,” you take notes and fill it with the life of narrative poems. I love it! Do you have a favorite poem of yours? Would you mind sharing it and telling us a little something about it?

My personal favorite poem is “Obsessions,” which happens to be a book-length piece that you published. I have not committed the 107 pages to memory so will decline to read it, and I doubt your local supermarket has enough coffee for me to struggle through. The poem/book started out as a thought process intended to be a routine length narrative poem and just spread like spilled water (or coffee) on a Formica table top. It is a hundred percent reality based, happenings of which I was a witness or conspiring fabricator.

That it’s reality-based is certainly part of what makes it so amusing (the rest being your delivery). I’ll share a snippet from the section called “The Parking Lot”:

A Ford Explorer parks twenty feet away
directly facing the man’s economy car.
It looms ominously.
The driver, a woman, turns off the ignition
and prepares to eat her lunch out of a
red and white striped carry-out bag from a
nearby fast food chain, but not McDonald’s.
She eats one item at a time, rapidly;
finishing the French fries she wipes
her fingers with a paper napkin
then pulls a burger from the bag.
Light from the sunroof highlights
the burger as she peels back waxy wrapper.

Her hair is in a ponytail so as not to fall
on her food, her head tilting toward the
steering wheel as though reading.
She begins to eat furtively as she notices the man,
coleslaw or potato salad with a plastic fork.
She is not drinking coffee.
She is drinking from a plastic cup with a straw.
The man cannot stop watching her eat.

Haha! This is why we try not to watch others eat, lest they watch us eat.

The problem with watching many people eat is that they chew with their mouths open, and try to talk as well.

I recall an area artist/poet posing the question: “Can a writer have friends when every observation becomes inspiration and every soul risks being stripped naked by the pen?” Just for fun, how would you answer this?

As far as stripping naked with the pen, too bad I didn’t have a pen when Angelina Jolie or Gina Lollabrigida were in the Jaguar. As to making friends with my writing, I recommend Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People as opposed to reading Obsessions.

I’m certain that Obsessions is a much more interesting read, just as Big City Nighttime Stories and your numerous other titles (I’ll provide information below). You said to me recently, “I have always said that I never worked a day in my life—it was always an enjoyment. Still is.” On that note, I’ve enjoyed this time we’ve spent chatting.

I’d like to conclude with a contemplative slice of your life selected from Big City Nighttime Stories, and if you have any concluding words, feel free at this time.

Can’t really think of anything to say, so thanks for a job well done.

One Just Knows A Gift Pen
Should Be In Sterling

Shafting through Venetian blinds, mid-day sun
lays alternate dark and light stripes
across the desktop, unveiling corner dust,
shadowing a shiny fountain pen at work.
Sterling silver, a gift, its nib long since molded
to the slanting handwriting of its possessor,
it has recorded reams of letters and stories,
validated stacks of documents and checks,
but never something as this.

Three rooms away the faint sound of a CD,
flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal interpreting Mozart,
entertains the Siamese curled in a sun spot.

Pausing absently to consider the pen…
years ago when such things had consequence
the giver’s choice would have been 14k,
but sterling’s chic elegance had been requested
and, like all else, granted.

Task at hand complete, the note is signed
and folded just as the music ends,
the cat exits, blinds shut.
The postman will be by in an hour or so.

“Self-Portrait,” “Big City Nighttime Stories,” and “Obsessions” art by Gene McCormick.
His titles can be purchased through Amazon, and signed copies are available directly from the author. He donates all money from sales of his books and art to area no-kill animal shelters.
Postal address: Gene McCormick, PO Box 51, Wayne, IL 60184

1 Comment

Posted by on October 9, 2017 in News & Reviews


Tags: , ,

One response to “Coffee with Gene McCormick

  1. Jack Phillips Lowe

    November 6, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    An insightful interview with a skilled poet/artist—what can be better than that? Rock on, Gene!


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