Category Archives: Coffee with the Poets

Coffee With Barbara Wirkus

Barbara Wirkus is a Jill of all trades and mistress of none. In her lifetime she has been a wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, Emergency Medical Technician, Medical Technologist, poet, tap dancer, gardener, photographer, writer, political activist, birder, and art gallery curator. She loves baking cookies, movies, books, Broadway shows and The Rolling Stones. She resides in “The Little House That Could” in a small New Jersey town. Now 83, she is coasting toward the finish line…


[Barbara Wirkus has become a dear friend of mine. She’s intelligent and wise. She lets her heart lead the way as she analyzes its silent language. She’s earth, fire, air, and water in harmonious cohesion with consciousness along for the ride…but it’s that heart of hers that overflows onto the paper, finds its voice in metaphor and translates into lush and poignant narrative poetry. I’ve studied Barbara’s poems closely for two primary reasons: their intense emotive power (she seems to mirror my own self—perhaps everyone’s true self); and they are so poetic that they inspired me in a voiceless time to simply “be real” from both the heart and the gut, and then to infuse that “realness” with poetry.

Barbara had published a chapbook, Echoes From the Bell Jar, through Middle Island Press in 2014. This collection is a deep chamber of memories of the different types of love. It reflects a struggle against time, a longing in which she relives moments and crystallizes them in poetry, immortalizing everything within those moments in true form of the magic of poetry.

That said, she takes her coffee—usually decaf—with a tiny splash of low-fat milk and no sugar. “When I can,” she says, “I opt for a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee but that brings me in close proximity to their donuts which I have a hard time resisting!” Ah, yes. Everyone loves a good donut…]

Hi, Barbara. 🙂 Many of your poems are dedicated to particular individuals. Would you mind choosing a few of your favorites and sharing some background on them?

This will require a look back over ever so many years. Let me start with “Reflections”, “Requiem” and “The Departure” which were written for my (ex) husband after his death. Ours was an uncommon relationship, beginning when I was 12. We wound our way through the teen years and finally married in our early twenties. We moved from our home state of Connecticut to Texas, where I gave birth to 2 of our 4 sons. At some point, he began drinking heavily and I realized we had grown apart in every way possible. We eventually moved to New Jersey, and I began preparing myself to live on my own, finally divorcing him after 21 years of marriage. Soon after that, he somehow gave up both drinking and smoking and although we never really reconciled, we became heartfelt friends until his passing at age 62. I shed sincere tears of grief and “…still hear the measured beats of your absent heart”.

I’d like to share “The Departure” if you wouldn’t mind:

You left.
Unwillingly perhaps,
but now
great gusts of time
echo relentlessly.
Reminders I am
unable to escape
keep tears flowing.
Surely the sad songs
will cease and
silence will prevail.
But in the quiet times,
I will still hear
the measured beats
of your absent heart.

“Almost” is a poem dedicated to a man, a writer, who became the clichéd “love-of-my-life”. He never returned my feelings, in spite of my best efforts to convince him we belonged together. (“Your soul declined to mate with mine”). Instead, he held out false hope over a period of three years causing me the loss of my self-respect, self-esteem and self-confidence which I have slowly been reclaiming. And yes, I still “weep for what might have been”.

…and a section from “Almost”:

Shadows of
unfulfilled dreams
move in, occupy areas
in my shuttered heart,
while this wasteland
of wanting reigns unopposed.

I could have gently
lead you to warm places
on sandy, sun-filled beaches.
Lifted you on soft waves
that rolled us back to shore.

But your soul declined
to mate with mine,
choosing instead
to remain
in safe spaces,
reluctant to explore
uncharted waters.

Then there was Randy and Nathan and others whose presence in my life I did not document poetically. They were all the same, however, and “Terminal Fishing” sums it up with “I am too small to keep” which is as good an explanation as any as to why I never loved a man who loved me back.

I’d also like to share “Terminal Fishing” (winner of the New Jersey Wordsmith Competition)…

Turning into you
I meet myself
in the mirror of your eyes.

We do not touch,
deliver only glancing blows
to each other’s hearts.

Swimming through tears
of past years
I surface,
twist and tunnel
like some flat-backed fish
you’ve reeled in
on your line of love.

you throw me back.

I am too small to keep.

The poems I feel are my best work are those I wrote for my grandson Christopher: “Winter Walk”, “Beba and Beyond”, “The Visit” and “Grandmother’s Reverie”. I called him “Beba”; he called me “Macca” and “we rode on rainbows…” Experience had taught me however that our bond would be short-lived and so it was. He has since taken “manly strides…away from us” and I rarely hear from him. Because I had anticipated it, the pain is not as great as it could have been.

“Beba and Beyond” makes the eyes mist even now.

You shine with the glow
of a thousand candles,
sparkle like moonlight on wave peaks
illuminating my opaque heart.

You are generous enough
to kiss my dry and straight-lined mouth,
gentle enough to curl against me
when I read to you.

You are a miracle in the making,
an icon for life’s renewal,
an arrow pointing the way to courage.

As my years wind down, I find
all the lost loves of my life
distilled in the purity
of your dark eyes.

You protect me from fear
with the lilting cadence
of your laughter
as we kneel in the street
to find trees mirrored
in the puddles left over
from yesterday’s rain.

You bring tears to my aging eyes
as we explore, hand in hand,
the jungle at the end of the block.

I yearn to transfix you in time
as the sunlight filters
through high trees,
gilding your golden hair.

But you forge forward,
the joy of discovery
urging you on,
leaving me to follow slowly
burdened with memories
until you disappear
into future days
without me.

“On the Death of My Son” and “June 15th, 2004” were written out of untold agony that is still with me some 12 years later. Billy was my first-born and left life after a short 47 years. A series of medical mistakes led to his death and caused me to have a deep-seated distrust of doctors. Every year, on the anniversary of his death, I procure a helium balloon, write “I love you” on it and release it at dusk. This is small comfort, however, to the “hard black knot” that “slowly replaced my heart”. I have not been, nor ever will be, the person I was before I lost him.

Your method of dealing with pain is so romantic. It comes through in your poetry which has such clarity of wisdom. How has your life shaped your poetry?

Interestingly, I wrote my first poem for a class assignment when I was 12. It was included in an Anthology of High School Poetry. Reading poetry and writing my own quickly became my primary procedure for dealing with emotions that often threatened to overwhelm me. My first efforts were predictably awkward but as years passed, I took classes and slowly learned to express my feelings in a more disciplined way. Still, my work has always been dark and frequently focused on death which I came to see as both my enemy and the answer to my pain.
I took refuge in my own words and was thus able to navigate life successfully these past 83 years. Somehow, the work of choosing words, similes and metaphors forced me to focus on the situations I encountered along the way. Writing the hard truths as I saw them, without trying to mitigate them, gave me the strength to endure and move forward.

Yes; things are what they are, and pain is like childbirth: “The only way out is through,” so it’s a valuable insight that your own words have been the “refiner’s fire” that has kept you strong. What else keeps you strong, what takes you away from the pangs of life?

The earth in my yard and gardens. The smell and feel of it in my hands and under my feet. I plant and weed and water till my back aches but the sense of peacefulness I experience gives me respite from my demons. Then, when I’ve coaxed buds into blooms, I take my beloved Nikon film camera to record them in all their colorful glory. In February, when I think I can no longer endure the dark days of winter, I select flower images from the previous summer and display them on a poster board. A feast for my eyes and soul till spring actually arrives. Lastly, but by no means least, is my devotion to dance. I have been tap dancing for well over 20 years and the sound of my tap shoes coupled with the music never fails to lift my spirits. Miss Kara, my wonderful friend and teacher, “tweaks” the steps so they are doable for my arthritis-ridden back. Tap class is arguably the best half hour of my week. My original goal was to tap till I turned 80 but I’m still at it!

I love it!!! I understand that you are grounding yourself, so to speak, from the deep sky of thought and the deep water of emotion. Terra firma lends its own solidity to “Here Now” and has its beauty that pulls one out of the pain, and your tap dancing is like drumming with the feet. I love it! I’d like to go back up to where you said “I took refuge in my own words.” Would you care to shed some light on how you (or anyone, for that matter) can “take refuge” in words, and what value or praise would you give to words in the sense of emotional healing?

I read somewhere that “Everything worth saying has already been said in the Bible or by Shakespeare”. The poems I wrote over the years in times of great stress were comforting to me but broke no new ground in the world of poetry. I still reread my poems because they refer uniquely to myself and say exactly what I was feeling at the moment. The words I chose were a snapshot in time much like the images I make with my Nikon. This affirmation of emotion wraps itself around me, saying “Yes, yes, you were here and there and you are still standing.” I tell my writing students that writing is simply talking on paper. Words give voice to the emotions that so shape our lives. Although when I wrote my poems, they were inspired by specific events in my life, I have discovered that by keeping the words simple and straightforward, other folks have been able to relate them to their own life. These “shared experiences” can bring comfort and healing when one realizes they are not alone.

So true! Your subject is LOVE, plain and simple, and you’ve learned a lot through it and touched the hearts of many with your words. I’d love for you to express what you’ve come to understand about how the power of words and the power of love fuse together.

Love is a kaleidoscopic word! It means so very many different things depending upon who is loved and who is doing the loving. I have experienced many different forms, if you will, of love. And yes, there is power in saying “I love you” or hearing it. Writing poems that define that love can distill it into a pure form that affects deeply both the writer and the person written about. Alas, most of the subjects of my poems will never read them, although I did experience the joy of having my grandson read aloud one of the poems I had written about him! (“Winter Walk”). Love is a primal emotion and as necessary, I believe, as air or water is to life. Being able to “talk” about it through my poetry satisfies a very basic need and although I have ceased writing, I still cherish the words I have written as well as those of others whom have trod the same path. I want to add here, that love does not always need to be expressed in precious words. Giving a gentle massage, preparing tomato basil soup for the loved one, lending them a sympathetic ear can also convey your love rendering the actual words unnecessary.

How beautiful. Thank you so much, and I wish you endless joy and peace. If there is anything else that we haven’t yet touched upon that you would like to share, please do so.

Bringing this wonderfully pleasant interlude to a close, let me thank you dear Christina for the opportunity to clarify my thoughts and feelings about my writing. As I mentioned, I no longer write simply because after a certain age, life is all deja vu. The names, faces and places change, but the emotional reaction remains essentially the same. Therefore, writing something fresh and new becomes exceedingly difficult. Having said that, let me assure you that my creativity has not dissipated, only transformed. I still make good use of my camera, recording images of things, people and places that speak to me. I frequently post them on Social Media and have the pleasure of people’s responses in real time. It is both uplifting and satisfying. I also have joined an online organization of photographers from all over the world who have banded together to promote the use of film rather than digital cameras. They, like you, have become my virtual friends although not quite in the same way you and I have connected.

I must add that I never expected, when I sent my poems to you to be published by Middle Island Press, that we would establish such a close relationship. We are indeed kindred spirits. I knew that the moment I received my copy of Echoes from the Bell Jar. You had executed my vision perfectly and for that I am grateful. The friendship that ensued was a bonus.

In closing, I wish I could say that after eighty-three years of living, I had some great insights to pass along. Unfortunately, all I can offer is that time does heal, and the sharp edges of life soften as we age. Compassion and empathy are easier to come by and one no longer judges oneself or others harshly. Life is, and always will be, difficult. There are no shortcuts or loopholes. My mantra has become “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” The rest is in the hands of the powers that be, whomever they are. One can only hope they will be merciful…


Barbara’s poetry collection, Echoes from the Bell Jar, was originally printed as a saddle-stitched chapbook, which she prefers for its hand-made charm; however, it is now an Expanded Edition (inclusive of this interview) in paperback form via

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Posted by on March 17, 2017 in Coffee with the Poets


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Coffee with Jack Phillips Lowe

Jack Phillips Lowe is a native Chicagoan. His poems and short stories have appeared in Barbaric Yawp, Clark Street Review, Nerve Cowboy and Open Wide Magazine (UK). His chapbooks include So Much for Paradise, Pariah Tales, Revolt at the Internet Café, and Cold Case Cowboys. Lowe currently resides in Addison, Illinois, an enchanted land of foreclosed houses and fast food restaurants. In his spare time, Lowe serves as chairman for the Abe Gibron Appreciation Society.


Coffee with the Poets

[Despite Jack’s edgy sense of humor, I (Christina) have found him to be one of the most amiable poets, and he takes his humor and wit quite seriously! I appreciate how his uniquely casual style has evolved my own perception of poetry, so here he is…]

Greetings, Jack. Coffee?

I’m sorry, but I don’t drink coffee. The bitterness and the caffeine don’t agree with me. And since it’s too early in the day for a beer, I humbly request a cup of decaffeinated black tea, please.

Fine enough. Black tea it is…

I returned to and very much enjoy your reading of “The Satisfaction, ” one of your most popular poems, via YouTube:

You admit that you don’t like doing poetry readings, that you prefer the written word as opposed to the spoken word. Why?

The short answer is that I just don’t do spoken word well. No matter how I try, I always end up (to my ears, anyway) sounding like a train conductor reading off a list of stops.

I think I did okay in the YouTube video—with plenty of help from my computer genius nephew, Joe, who skillfully assembled the whole project for me. But that was after much rehearsal, with Joe and his laptop as the only spectators. Put me before a live audience and I start stumbling over my own tongue like Ralph Kramden—“hummina, hummina, hummina. . .”

Still, I respect any poet who can do justice to oral reading. My friend in England, the poet Salena Godden, is a prime example of that. Her written work is lively and studiously crafted. When Salena reads her words aloud, though, her warm and personable voice just takes them to a higher level. It’s like she’s talking directly to you.

As for me and my thick Chicago accent? I think it’s best that I stick to the written word.

You did great; don’t sell yourself short. That poem is one of my favorites in your poetry chapbook, Cold Case Cowboys, which is very natural and “readable” as your poems are basically narrative. What’s your opinion on narrative poetry as poetry?

My opinion is that narrative poetry is poetry. I’ll never understand why some people insist on treating narrative poetry as the red-headed stepchild of verse. The ancient Greeks and Romans had no problem with this genre, which is at least as old as they are. Who would argue that Lord Byron’s Don Juan, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” Carl Sandburg’s The People, Yes or Gwendolyn Brooks’ In the Mecca aren’t poetry? All of them are narrative poems. What about Charles Bukowski, who revived the free verse narrative poem back in the 1960s? Not poetry? No way.

On this subject, I take my cue from Ray Foreman, himself a terrific narrative poet and the editor of Clark Street Review, which specializes in such writing. By limiting oneself to an insular, navel-gazing format, it’s easy to get bogged down by the Overwhelming I—“I feel, I think, I want.” It’s just you yammering on about you all the time, which can get damned tedious, for both writer and reader. I’m not saying that this type of poem isn’t valid or necessary for some topics. But it’s like painting exclusively in one color. Eventually, you paint yourself into a corner.

About five years ago, I was feeling similarly cornered myself. I didn’t know where else to go with the Overwhelming “I” and feared I was washed up. Sure, I wrote narrative poems before, but like Dr. Frankenstein, unleashing some jerry-rigged monster on unsuspecting readers. Through Clark Street Review, I learned that narrative poetry wasn’t just a natural and time-honored form. It was also liberating and energizing to me as a writer. I wasn’t stuck in my own voice and viewpoint. I could create countless characters, with as many viewpoints to go with them. I could converse in their voices in addition to mine. I didn’t have to just say what I felt—I could illustrate it. Imagine going from using just one crayon to coloring with the whole 64-count Crayola Big Box. That’s how it felt.

I don’t mean to imply that writing narrative poems is easier. Quite the contrary. You don’t have the novelist’s or short story writer’s luxury of leisurely developing plots, characters and themes. You have lines in which to do these things, as opposed to pages. So you’d better have your flight plan filed, Sonny Jim, well before taking the runway.

In fact, that’s a good analogy for writing narrative poetry. The novelist builds a B-52 bomber. The short story writer, an F-15 fighter plane. The narrative poet, though, constructs a hang glider—canvas sailcloth stretched over an aluminum bird-skeleton. It’s you versus the wind and the raw elements. For this reason, with the poem, you have to reduce the narrative to its essentials. The language is concentrated; you’ve no room for extras. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in. But when it’s built right the narrative poem, like the other two aircraft, can soar high and far.

So, coming to the narrative poem was like rediscovering myself as a writer. It’s the genre that I (primarily) want to continue working in, because I get such a kick out of it. For this rejuvenation, I thank Ray Foreman and the poets of Clark Street Review, who continue to inspire me.

Great! Something else I really love about your poems is the nature of the “flourishes” that conclude most of them.

Ah, yes. Thank you. I’m glad you enjoy them. Others I’ve heard from don’t share your enthusiasm. To each his or her own.

This, though, also pertains to the narrative poem. With a narrative, you can’t just stop. A story requires a proper ending. To simply slam the door shut, a la The Sopranos, smacks of English 101-style showboating and results in nothing more than a pissed-off, unsatisfied audience. I happen to respect whatever readers I have too much to be rude to them for the sake of a literary cliché.

Beyond that, a poem’s ending is the natural place to make your point. It’s like a cymbal-crash at the end of a song. It’s underscoring the main idea of the piece. For those who don’t agree with this practice? It’s my party and I’ll “flourish” if I want to.

Good for you. Yet another standout feature of your poems is the prevalence of popular culture (movies, television, books, etc.). What value do you see in Richard Brautigan, for example, or why do you place so much emphasis on media and entertainment?

Books, music, films and TV are the things I use to feed my creativity. I don’t see them as objects fixed in time. These works are part of an ongoing dialogue called our culture. They’re as alive now as the moment they were first released, in that they continue to help push that dialogue forward.

Example? I once saw a silent movie called Mickey. The movie was made in 1918 and it starred Mabel Normand, a then-famous comedienne. So taken was I by Mabel’s humor and personality, I sought out her other films and read her biography. This led to my writing my poem about Mabel, “WTF?” Maybe one person will read my poem, be moved to seek out Mabel Normand’s films and be enriched by the experience, as I was. So the dialogue continues, unlimited by time or place.

Here I’ll share “WTF?”

Laura and David Clawson spend the night
in adjoining rooms a world apart.
She’s in the living room, Facebooking on her first iPhone
which she bought after saving six months for it.
He’s in the kitchen reading a biography
of Mabel Normand, the silent film funnygirl.

David isn’t a fast reader,
but he burns like a fuse through this book.
To him, Mabel seems like a lost friend found.
David learns that the comely Ms. Normand
was a sharp feminist battling in a man’s business—
armed with a tongue that was even sharper.
Mabel ate ice cream for breakfast,
made and spent money by the truckload
and used men like sticks of Doublemint gum.
Rock & Roll before rock was invented,
Mabel even managed to check out by age 40,
just a heartbeat before soundies arrived.

For half a minute, David wants to go in
and tell Laura all he’d read.
Learning was a joy they once shared.
Then David recalls the monster mask
Laura made of her face
whenever he interrupted her surfing.
Without lifting her eyes from the screen,
Laura would grunt, “WTF?”
cutting her man off at the knees.
David neither understood nor responded;
Web was a language he never could speak.

Instead, David decides to say nothing.
He goes to the fridge and scoops himself
a dish of chocolate ice cream.
He takes it to the kitchen table
and pretends he’s sharing it with Mabel.
There, they sit and David tells Mabel
everything he read about her that night.
The flickering black & white beauty listens closely,
smiling through a free-and-easy expression.
Mabel doesn’t say “WTF?”
In fact, she says nothing at all.

As for Richard Brautigan? He’s one of my favorite poets and a major influence of mine.  Brautigan made poetry out of everything.  The first moon landing, the Andy Warhol starlet Ultra Violet, a moth in a room in Tucson, Arizona.  And he manages to say something memorable, if not poignant, about them all. His poem “What Happened?” tells the story of an old woman, who went from being the darling of the Class of 1927 to a blue-haired pariah, abandoned by everyone, including her kids, because she “make[s] them nervous.” Immediately, you picture this lady in your mind and start speculating about her backstory. And Brautigan’s poem is only eight lines long!

I eat that kind of stuff up with a spoon. It’s what I aspire to do with my own work: find memorable subjects in everyday places, unusual analogies, surrealism and a sense of fun. Referring back to the aforementioned cultural dialogue, I recently wrote a poem based on one of Brautigan’s. His 1970 poem, “The Amelia Earhart Pancake,” is about him abandoning the “Earhart” title after trying, and failing, to

Like I said, it’s an ongoing conversation. Read Richard Brautigan’s poetry—it’s a mind-blowing ride, for all the right reasons.

“The Amelia Earhart Pancake”

I have been unable to find a poem
for this title. I’ve spent years looking
for one and now I’m giving

Richard Brautigan November 3, 1970


Richard Brautigan spent years
searching for a poem
to match up with a title:
“The Amelia Earhart Pancake.”
He quit on November 3, 1970.

On April 24, 2014, I revived the cause.
Dig this, Rich:
it’s a pancake so light,
it disappears somewhere
between the pan and the plate.

Jack Phillips Lowe

Thank you for bringing this issue to closure! Much appreciated. I did read a Brautigan paperback recently, Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, and found it to be an entertaining read.

Okay, delving into poetry and “society,” you and I have discussed the mutual disappointment that poets, particularly in America, seldom support each other by purchasing books or penning reviews; we have to work so hard to sell our words if we want them heard. Feel free to expound however you choose.

Wow, where do I start? Sometimes, it seems like certain members of the literary community prefer to exploit that neighborhood for their own benefit, like the Once-ler in Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, instead of living in and contributing to the community in order to help it survive and grow.

For instance, it boggles my mind that a poet like Fred Voss—who’s so utterly American—has a larger following in the UK than he has in his own home country. Voss’s latest chapbook, Tooth and Fang and Machine Handle (Liquid Paper Press, 2013), totally rocks. It deserves to be on the New York Times Bestseller List. Yet, Voss’s very worthy effort receives only a fraction of the readership of the often dubious titles which occupy that list. And that’s truly unfair, because Voss’s work speaks to the masses.

The poet Gene McCormick is another case in point. Gene’s poems are approachable, insightful and vividly descriptive, to the point of being “mind-movies.” His chapbook, La Vie en Rose: Paris Today (Chicago City Press, 2014), is all these things. Reading Gene’s work in a small chapbook is like finding Billy Joel working the piano bar at the local Holiday Inn. After a while, you wonder why people can’t hear what’s so plainly there. Unless, of course, it’s because they’re not listening.

I believe in a writer actively promoting his or her work. I’ve no time for that Emily Dickinson/J.D. Salinger “reticent artist” crap. If the writing’s worth doing, it’s worth sharing and, gentle snowflakes, the world ain’t going to come to you. When Cold Case Cowboys was published, I spent as much time banging the drum for the book as I did writing the poems that are in it. I believed in my words and in your artful chapbook design and obviously, felt they deserved to be seen. So I tried everything my budget would allow—YouTube, Craigslist, Goodreads,, e-mail chains, flyers sent via snail-mail and lots of Old School networking. Got some nice reviews and sold a couple copies, I did. But at the end of the day, I finished up feeling like a hot dog vendor at a vegetarians’ convention.

Of course, I can’t tell anyone what to do with their time and money. Lord knows, everybody’s budget is stretched to the limit these days and I’m no different. So, I’ll just tell you what I do. If a magazine publishes my work, I subscribe to it. When a writer I like publishes a chapbook, if I can afford it, I buy a copy. If there’s a writer or editor whose work I enjoy, I drop that person a brief note saying so. I feel less like the Once-ler this way.

I understand. Thank You for your compliments and for setting a fine literary example for our fellow Americans. You have persevered with your efforts as only a small percentage do. What keeps you motivated in this regard?

First, I’m a stubborn bastard. I, for real, actually know how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. But because I’m also a smartass, I will keep that number to myself.

Outside of that, I just truly enjoy writing. I’ve been playing this game for nearly thirty years. I long ago abandoned any notions of “fame and fortune.” These days, it’s all about arranging words on paper in a meaningful way and then getting those words into outlets where a like-minded audience, however small, might read them.

Nothing else I do in life brings me as much fun and satisfaction as writing does. As I get older, it keeps my mind from atrophying by making me wrestle with ideas and concepts. Gray matter exercise, if you will. I feel most alive when I’m writing. That’s why I keep at it.

Excellent. I hope you keep at it for decades yet! Thank you for your time and a most enjoyable conversation.


(For an example of Jack’s most recent work, read “Where the Wheels Fell Off” at The Bitchin’ Kitsch, a literary ‘zine in which Jack features his favorite British comedian/explorer, Karl Pilkington. “I’m kinda proud of it,” says Jack.)


Posted by on December 23, 2014 in Coffee with the Poets


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Coffee with Joseph Smith


My name is Joseph T. Smith. I have been writing in some form or another for two decades now. I feel like a sweetened old soul. Experience has shaped me like a circle. Poetry is my verbal salvation. Words have seemed to pour out of me like water molecules since my educative years. I learned how economics can be applied to any length of poetry. You don’t have to exude extreme style, only more substance to create.

Anyhow, thank you for perusing this interview with Christina & myself. I appreciate any miscellaneous feedback.


Coffee with the Poets[Joseph Smith is from New York’s Lower Hudson Valley, and he’s a fascinating individual who prefers cappuccino over standard coffee and mystery over the spotlight. I firstly became acquainted with his poetry via Compass Rose, a Raven Publishing anthology edited by R.L. Jones and Gloria J. Wimberley. A portion of Smith’s “Road to Somewhere” landed as a quote on the back cover, and an Amazon review references “surrealistic vistas” within his poetry, so I had to read more…]

Welcome, Joseph! I was just enjoying your “Pish Posh & Blue” from page twelve of Compass Rose:

Whenever the song vibrates into
an ear of her choice
there is a tiny voice that freshens the memory
it cuts through the darkness and the high
drama that persists there
it unleashes a cruel spell which the
afternoon has been afflicted with
spoiled by the pleasure of everything else
fertile records strewn over the cold, baseless floor
a second before the needle is inserted
the sound of a brief sigh by the sensitive artist
too much heaviness of words, not enough soul to taste
this elegant apartment used to be loved somewhere
a strand of yellow hair on the gray border
a patch of green outside the garden
there used to be an embrace of two
now there are none to add
brown memories worn like old leather
the scent of a faint cologne in the closet
where the emptiness resides like our dreams
the sight of invisible furniture
marks on the surface, a position of nobility
close the door that creaks
a reminder of how the newness fades
like a kiss on antique paper

I find myself wanting more of what is between the lines or behind the scenes (yet we know that the blank spaces are intriguing). If you were to pen a preamble for this poem or your poetry in general, what would it say?

I believe that there are things which are intangible like dreams & thoughts. It is a surreal place indeed. Sometimes the ideas flow like a controlled river. Inspiration can be daunting. The unconsciousness is not regulated by what is created by words. I don’t consider myself a modern writer. I’ve always been entranced by traditional, classic authors. Robert Frost was the first poet I connected with as an impressionable high school English Lit student. “Mending Wall” shaped my future. I often wonder about how unique or special as a human race we really are.

It’s unfortunate that good fences often really do make good neighbors and it’s fitting that “The Mending Wall” speaks deeply to societal outsiders. Poets who write objectively benefit from the outside view, and their subjective work seems almost always to be a longing of some sort. How does where you stand manifest in your poetry?

Well, I do think that certain boundaries need to be explored further. Social commentary speaks to the common people, the ones who feel disenfranchised or segregated somehow. The idea of a wall that separates is acceptable to certain thinkers. If you inquired to me decades ago, I would be more inclined to feel as a social idealist might. Now, the state of international affairs is quite disturbing. I just comment on what is meaningful for me. I am not the authoritarian police, only an acute observer. I don’t try to enforce opinions on others.

Understood. You openly discuss your diagnosis of schizophrenia and how it impacts your poetry: “Would I have been a writer if not for my disease?” Would you say that it inspires you to write, or do you feel that your poetry is an innate skill beyond schizophrenia which is then shaped by it?

Hmmm. That’s a fascinating analogy. I do believe my disease has enhanced certain neurological receptors. I’ve always been creative whether it was drawing, writing stories, music reviews, or poems as a child to adulthood. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed after college that there was a name for my condition. I’d like to believe that my poetry skill is innate. Schizophrenia only magnified what was wrong with my brain. It also accelerated my creativity as well. So Yeah, it’s interchangeable.

That’s interesting; thank you. What is the primary message about schizophrenia within the mind of a poet that you would like readers to understand?

I would like readers to understand that a disease does not define you no matter what you are afflicted with. You are not a label for science to identify us. You can attain your dreams. It might take years of sacrifice, diligence, & goodness. It is possible. Strive to achieve. Believe.

Very nice. Having read your “story,” you describe yourself as a romantic. You also say, “I debate with myself how my words affect people. I question how it makes me feel.” What is it that you hope to accomplish by sharing your words?

I hope that other readers won’t feel excluded by their romantic notions. Being a romantic in a modern society seems like a lifetime of aloneness. There are times when you wonder about personal happiness & self-worth. Love is the reward. Romantics tend to be more introverted, introspective, & attached to Experience.

It’s difficult for romantics to not attach. Do you feel that your poetry is a form of release of the Self from attachments, or is it an attempt to immortally marry the two?

I definitely haven’t succeeded in detaching myself emotionally. I have been told to leave my worries on a shelf. I wish it was that simple. Wishful thinking I suppose.

Poets often spend a lot of time in the future tense and consequently fill the present tense with worry, but we also proffer possibilities that cannot be seen by most others.

Somehow I feel as though poetry marries the Self as well as the attachments. The idea of deconstruction seems primitive yet rewarding. Poetry offers us a bond, a union of the abstract/spiritual with the physical plane.

Would you give us an example from one of your poems?

“Hot Stars in Distress”

when the night is all you have left to cherish

may celestial stars guide you home

when the soul’s heart is vacant

fill it up with love and sympathy

The whole idea of how spiritual objects can be personified is not a modern concept. I do believe that a marriage of the Self & its attachments can be attained. I hope this example is not too vague.

No, it’s beautiful and wonderfully positive. I’m a fan of personification which too many people water down or simplify as “I am this and I am that…” Anyway, also from your story, “…writing poetry has opened new doors of perception. It has invited me to think deeper, below the consciousness.” As well you mention your love of astronomy and physics. What do you see up there that you are inspired to pen from the depths?

The whole Universe appears whenever the Muse is signaled. I feel stronger, able to be honest with my thoughts. I notice how stars experience their own life/death cycles. It is a human quality. The unknown is a mystery. I think we undervalue what is above us. There are other civilizations besides us. We must not be narrow-minded. We should apply our senses. It is divine.

You are in tune with the divine process, its manifestation, its wisdom all around us. What is the poetry of the cosmos from your perspective?

I am far from perfect though. I think as flawed humans it adds character & depth to our souls. I’d like to be more optimistic about the spiraling Universe. I dunno. I just try to grow a visual picture from my perspective.

…and in doing so, you are creating!

The cosmos is quite old yet charming too. We can learn a lot from the Universe. We also can contribute enough wisdom for the future generations in order to thrive.

Would you like to conclude with some wisdom of your own words or some that contributed to your own managing to get by in this world?

As for a parting word or two, I’d fancy to interject a philosophical quote to you.

“I know nothing, therefore I am.”

No one is perfect. Those who claim to know everything should be ignored. Focus on knowledge instead. Be modest, don’t take yourself seriously. *Giggles.* Above all, create.


(Compass Rose contains several of Smith’s poems. Copies can be obtained through

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Posted by on September 18, 2013 in Coffee with the Poets


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Coffee with Mohineet Kaur Boparai

Mohineet Kaur Boparai, Poet & ScholarMohineet Kaur Boparai is a research scholar at the Department of English, Punjabi University, Patiala in India. Her research is concerned with subalternity, agency and subjectivity in the selected novels of Toni Morrison, Amy Tan and Abdulrazak Gurnah. Her first book of poems, Poems That Never Were was published in 2007 by Writers Workshop, Kolkata. She has two subsequent poetry collections, Windows to the Ocean and Lives of My Love, published in 2012 by Middle Island Press. She is 26 and lives at Moga. She is teaching English at the Panjab University Constituent College, Nihalsinghwala.


(“Coffee With the Poets” interviews
are conducted by Christina.)

Hi, Mohineet! Congratulations again on your relatively recent marriage. It was evident to me in publishing two poetry collections for you in quick succession that your life currently is full of love and poetry.

MKB: Thank you Christina. I published two books last year with you and it was the first year after marriage so it was full of discovery and loads of newness and freshness. My book Windows to the Ocean is dedicated to my husband Guramrit and my brother Fateh, because I felt they were most important to me at that juncture. After marriage one begins a whole new life; the past suddenly becomes more clear and important because it is something we’ve been somewhat misplaced from. At that point, my husband was the discovery and my brother was the nostalgia; I had always felt that Amrit and Fateh shared something but I couldn’t pin point it, maybe it was how they lived their lives and hence, my dedication “Who carry a tune in their hearts when they walk”. The second book Lives of My Love is about how I experienced my love life with Amrit and is dedicated to my niece Abeer. Her name means “fragrance” in Arabic and “festival color” in Hindi. My dedication reads, “When you blink your eyes, a solitary leaf dances in the wind”. On the surface, it is about her eyes, but the impetus behind it is more than description. Her eyes are natural, they are innocent and the movement in them is patient, almost like the effortlessness of the seasons.

Thank you for sharing that heart-warming personal insight. I have been intrigued by India for a few decades now as it seems like a place of such creativity, color, beauty, vitality… What is it about your culture that sparks such fine creative expression?

MKB: I believe that living in India has given me an experience of living in diversity. The number of languages spoken in India is 438; there are several religious beliefs, and cultures living under a homogeneous governing system. There is so much to learn and observe, not only in people but also in the geography. There are the Himalayas, Ganga-Brahmaputra plains, the vast Deccan plateau that covers most of southern India and the Thar desert; Tropical, alpine vegetation and xerophytes; maritime climate as well as the severe seasons of north India; metropolitan malls and slums; local artisans and foreign brands. Living in such a space, there are so many different things to experience. I am particularly drawn to the landscapes and the colorful tribal people. The diverse cultural intermingling motivates creative expression because there are so many different cues to catch when one goes about perceiving the land.

You are India’s gazing bright star. How do you define poetry, and who or what inspired you to understand what poetry is, what makes it poetry?

MKB: Poetry is an overflow, and hence it begins from some kind of containment of what is within. And because it is within and accumulating, it has a certain impetus to come out. At the same time it is fluid, liquefied and must be solidified. I believe, in this process something is always lost, something is gained and something is revealed. So poetry is in many ways is a discovery of the self, society and the universe. A discovery also of a certain type of emotion that I think poets only experience when they are writing. I believe that it is an emotion that feels like some form of saturation and then slowly it begins to disappear and when it is finally lost, there is nothing more to write. It is like playing hide-and-seek. First you face the wall and count (one faces the commonplace); then you begin your search (which is the challenge, the looking about and looking for) and the search involves some chemical secretions in the body, maybe a little bit of adrenaline too (and you are enjoying the whole process). It is a process that involves the head and the heart that ultimately lead to some hidden acumen and acuteness. And the whole time that you are writing, you are also being insightful and imaginative, and the hidden is being revealed one by one, coming out of the hiding place it inhabits, into the scorching heat of the summer holidays that are past with childhood.

To the second part of the question, I think I’ve been writing poetry since a very long time, since I was a teenager, but in the beginning it was not even perception, it was merely a rhyming of lines and a collection of images. But I store my poetry in diaries and on the computer and therefore I remember the poems I wrote as a twelve year old. One was about birds, another one was written after I saw the movie Titanic, and another one was about a scary night in a palace. So as a child, what inspired me to write poetry were my childhood whims, all the things that somehow caught my imagination and loaded me with their immensity. The inspirations have been the same ever since- things that are massive and mysterious, things that I must understand. The inner inspirations, however are never all intrinsic, there is always another side to them- the overt, the things we catch from the outside like birds who later want to break open their cages. The external inspirations are events and people. There must be a long list of people who inspired me. My parents firstly, because they were always the first ones I took my poems to and the fact that they were excited and overwhelmed by my obscure, childish attempts at poetry, they encouraged me to write on. Then, when I met my husband he and our family became the driving force. His patience motivates my pen and my second collection is about what I feel about him and what turns my life took after meeting him…he dives into my work, he takes it on his tongue and plays with the sweet sour lollipop that my poems are. Metaphorically, it’s as if we plant seeds together, not in the soil but grafting them in the roots themselves. Inspiration comes from observing the spontaneity in people, their venerations for different things and an acceptance of their idiosyncrasies. Then there are so many friends and mentors who’ve motivated me. That is all how I get spontaneous, involuntary inspiration. But poetry is also a conscious process and hence I must look for inspiration. This I find in the environment and other poets. I search for it, by being open to observation and discovering new poetries. I have been inspired by the unfussy depth of Wislawa Szymborska, Sylvia Plath’s immense heart and the metaphoric life of her poetry related to painful realities, poems by Siegfried Sassoon, A.K. Ramanujan, R. M. Rilke, Pablo Neruda, and most recently I am discovering the German expressionistic poets like Gottfried Benn and Else Lasker-Schuler. These poetries are like riding a giant wheel, like going up and coming down in a circle, dangling your feet that won’t touch the ground and being awed by the enthusiasm of these poets.

I must say I find your poetry awe-inspiring! When do you feel that you write your best poetry?

MKB: My most satisfying poems come from phases when I’m vexed. I think it is because we usually indulge in masking our emotions. When I experience strong emotions that have not had an outlet, I sometimes write poetry. My most cherished poems ironically belong to such phases. It might be because at that time I’m true to myself, or maybe because my brain is working in a different way. But emotions alone cannot generate poetry. There has to be something in store in ones perceptual space and philosophical core for the poem to shape up. When I write a poem under the influence of emotions, I usually don’t know what I’m writing about. The first few lines are spontaneous jottings and then the poem automatically begins to shape up into a more or less coherent whole. Then, I come to understand what is within me and after the initial spurting beginning, I get a middle and end that I can use to shape my poem. It is here that I understand what is most prior in my thinking. Talking of a poem, we usually don’t divide it into a beginning, middle and end. These categories have been traditionally reserved for drama and sometimes prose too. Poetry is a breaking of barriers. It is free and hence it should not have structural constraints. The beginning, middle and end in a poem for me, does not mean a sort of structural division, but a division in the change of mindset when one is writing. The workings of one’s psyche shift and reshape as one writes a poem. This reshaping has a flow and hence the allusion to Aristotle’s dramatic beginning, middle and end.

Excellent. We could go in a hundred directions with that. Would you care to share one of your own favorite poems?

Lives of My LoveAlone

A door in a frame lies by the roadside,
Twisted at an angle, like a convex glass,
Only, it is too full for the sun rays to pass
But somehow the air focuses its lens on it
And burns it from the inside
People see and think that it is termites eating wood
This door is sans house, or hands to open
It, or footsteps to walk through it
Now and then some wind comes
And opens a crack between the door
A smile twisted into smoke
Comes out and the wind mourns
Dust collects on it, it endures rains and
No one comes to fix it back
Because it is skin shed from
Muscles and bones
But there is always something left behind
Here is a door with its eyes waiting to
Thread dreams walking through itself

Very nice selection from Lives of My Love. Something unique about this particular collection is that you included a few of your own bright symbolic watercolor paintings to accompany some of your poems. Do you find it more likely that your poetry inspires you to create visual art, or is it more likely that your art inspires a poem as you paint it, and why do you think that is?

"Deprivation" by Mohineet Kaur Boparai

“Deprivation” by Mohineet Kaur Boparai

MKB: I think in my case my poetry usually inspires art, rather than the other way round. I paint the image in the environment that triggered the poem and at the same time try to bring in the thrust of the poem into it. When I paint an image after writing a poem, I have dwelt on it, given it a linguistic form and solidified it; then only the space and colors need to be consciously thought of.

Your poetry is alive and blossoming with imagery. What do you consider most inspiring visually or otherwise, what sprouts your imagination?

MKB: In writing my poems I lay a lot of emphases on figures of speech. It’s probably to do with my painting; because when one paints one begins to observe. Somehow I think we derive pleasure from beauty. In the case of poetry this pleasure is extended to the not so apparently beautiful. One begins to see beauty in many ordinary things. I incidentally find some works of literature very inspiring simply because of the beauty they infuse into the images. To name a few that come to the mind: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Toni Morrison’s novels- especially Tar Baby and Sula, T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “The Wasteland”, Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, the expressionistic poets etc. Images whether in literature, movies, paintings and most commonly in day to day life, are very inspiring for me; they somehow infuse me with imagination because as a poet suddenly I’m reading new meanings into things that were not even in my creative radar.

What I respect about your poetry, even beyond your fine natural balance of heart, mind and soul, is that it contains genuine depth – it rings true to your truth with nothing hollow. (I trust that you can elaborate on this; choose your angle.)

MKB: Poetry cannot be shallow, because then it will lose its strength. It is jam packed and heavy but has lightness enclosed in its heaviness as its other Janus face. I think the natural balance we are talking about in my poetry comes from spontaneity, from scribbling the first draft completely from within, without much second thought; and yet it’s not like free association. Then, when I read what I have written, I understand it from several perspectives- from the original perspective, but also from several other viewpoints that have unconsciously propped themselves in the poem. This makes up for one truth leading to another. And because the truths are mine, they are interrelated. The truth, and the voice in poetry go together. And since the truth is so difficult to comprehend, since it is always transforming, evasive, its immensity engrained in minuteness, it is deep. When I tap immensity or the minuteness that carries it, the poetry automatically gets its depth.

You’re right, and your response brings a few thoughts to mind: Firstly, some of your poetry sounds dream-inspired. Do you pen your dreams into poetry? If yes, then how important do you feel this is, and why?

MKB: I feel poetry is inter-textual and like other literature, it is connected to other disciplines, because it is related holistically to our experience. Your question reminds me of psychoanalysis, especially Freud’s dream interpretation. There have been several studies I believe on the coexistence and relation of art to dreams. I do pen my dreams into poetry, parts of them, if not the complete dream. In my poem, “The Years without You”, from the book Lives of My Love, I remember a dream from early childhood that I could not forget because it was almost like living paradise:

There is a fairyland, in a dream I have not forgotten
Flowing slow fountains on its body
Where flowers suspend from the sky in a rain
The grass is blue and there is a tinge of pink in the sky
Every monsoon I relived the dream
Until your eyes blinked open in its sky
And the colours came back to their place

I feel myself lucky if I remember my dreams and if they are emotionally intense; but that is occasional. My poetry is dream-like because maybe it has a lot of symbolization and that makes it like a collection of anecdotes which is also true for dreams. Also, my poems are somewhat less than natural. They aren’t what reality is to our usually busy senses. Windows to the OceanRather, they are like an unconscious delving into the superficiality of what we take to be reality. Beneath the superficial, reality has another life. It is almost like delving into the unconscious that is deep-seated and like an iceberg, is beneath the surface and only a tip of it is available to sight. What lies beneath the ocean is massive and that is what poetry should fathom. This reminds me of my first collection with Middle Island Press, Windows to the Ocean; maybe that is where my poetry follows dream and trance.

Responding to the second part of your question, I think all poetry essentially requires mazes and incompleteness, a middle of the road termination too, so that we are almost always ready to relive it. Like dreams, our poetry is spontaneous and effortless. It just comes to us, sometimes, we feel, from nowhere. This birth from nowhere is like a seed hibernating in the soil. We don’t see it unless it props up like a shoot. Also, if a poem speaks too directly, either without symbolism, imagery, metaphors or such devices, it loses an essential part of its suggestiveness. Thus dreaming literally or metaphorically is at the core of good poetry.

Exquisite, Mohineet! Thank you. Secondly (back up a few paragraphs), I am drawn to your statement “…because the truths are mine, they are interrelated.” My mind sees a web with you at the center, reminding me of the creative arachnid symbol, and I feel that you have justified yourself as a poet in the most beautiful subjective way in what you so naturally stated. Your poetry is a solidified matrix of you. Would you mind sharing another poem?

MKB: Thank you for the wonderful observation Christina. That’s true I believe. The self, establishes my poems on a plinth of the external. Thus what is within and what is without come together when a poem is being written. The ‘I’ can never really exit completely in a poem, and some amount of deep role playing while writing a poem happens. It is like drama; you play a role but every actor would play the same role with idiosyncratic stamps. Coming to truths, I believe that there is no single truth over time and space that is true for all human race. The truths of a poet while writing are much different from the truths we carry with us in routine lives. This is because, as I have mentioned earlier, the truth of poetry is very intrinsic and deep-seated. I would love to share a poem with you:

A Love Story

You birthed me an organ from your arms
You endured the pain of the sky pushing its way out
-The infinite- that once hibernated under my tongue
Now wishfully enfolds me into a fire ball
You carried the heat on your back
To rejuvenate the dying winter
Its juices seeped into your spine and
Collected into an ocean
From where a story may emerge
Suddenly, in a whirlwind
And sweep the city clean
But we’ll always be in its single monster eye,
Rooted; while the city floats, cracks like a dream
In its gorilla embrace
All stories come glowing out of your sun
With you, my shadow widens into a shade
Then into a dream with no ends

The dream of sunburnt soil begins from the feet
And now we realize, only to forget again,
“The garden is never grown from above,
It is always waiting below with closed eyes”

Your imagination is like a child who knows no boundaries, sees only possibility. It’s so very inspiring. You have a list of honors and awards to your credit that is no less than astounding. What do you feel has been your greatest academic or literary achievement?

MKB: Thank you Christina for the wonderful applauds for my literary achievements. I believe there is still a long way to go and my achievements are merely a brushing of some archaeological pits in me. The big achievements are still to come as (I hope) my poetic side is slowly and continuously revealed to me. I am always extremely happy on publishing a book. I published my first when I was 21; and though it was highly experimental, I was so enthused by it that I slept with a copy under my pillow for several days.

What are your long-term literary aspirations?

MKB: In the coming years, I plan to publish more books of poetry and get some more strength and sound into my poems. I want my poems to be enthused in a reflexive, relaxed way. At present I feel my poetry has more pace than I love. I also plan to complete my PhD in the next four years; it would make me more critical and give me a wider evaluative space to understand poetry.

Certainly, and I wish you the strongest wings for your developments. Your ambition is incredible and I am certain that you will arrive where you wish to be, that you will continue to dream your dreams into reality.

MKB: Thank you Christina, it was such an insightful talk.


[Christina raises her mug to Mohineet who takes her cappuccino “…with extra chocolate powder on top.”]

The poetry of Mohineet Kaur Boparai is available through and the Middle Island Press website. Her first collection is, unfortunately, unavailable.

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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Coffee with the Poets


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Coffee With Gloria (McGowan) Wimberley

Wimberley PhotoHaving lived in Miami, Washington, DC, and other cosmopolitan locales for decades, Gloria (McGowan) Wimberley, M.A., a Pushcart Prize nominee (2013), now lives in the woodsy warmth of her West Virginia hometown in serene Appalachia. Published in BlazeVOX of New York and Red Fez magazine of Los Angeles, Gloria’s poetry also appears in various other print and online publications in the U.S. as well as abroad in England, New Zealand, Scotland, and Canada. A college professor for many years, she is also a freelance book-editor, and contributor to several works including the Amazon BestSeller, In The Company of Women: An Anthology of Sass & Class, Wit & Wisdom (Edgar & Lenore’s Publishing House, Los Angeles), Mistletoe Madness anthology (Kind of a Hurricane Press), and Potters Wheel Anthology–Vol.1. Her forthcoming publications include The Digital Dulcimer anthology (Raven Publishing) , Potters Wheel Anthology–Vol. 2 (J. Benson Publishing, Canada), Mapping Me: A Landscape of Women’s Stories (New Zealand), Poems From The Panty Drawer (Edgar & Lenore’s Publishing House), and Return to Rural America: A West Virginia Anthology (S. Ferrell Productions). An unabashed chocoholic and passionate fan of David Lynch movies, she is the author of the Amazon BestSeller, Dialect of Dahlias, a darkly delicious 102-page poetry collection published by Edgar & Lenore’s Publishing House of California.


(“Coffee With the Poets” interviews
are conducted by Christina.)

Greetings, Gloria! I am gratified to enter spring of 2013 in the company of one of West Virginia’s brightest poetic gems. You know I like to begin by asking, “How do you take your coffee?”

Christina, thank you for having me; it’s a genuine thrill to be here… I take my coffee with organic half & half and TruVia. When at Starbuck’s, I’m a sucker for Caramel Macchiato or Mocha Cappuccino, being that I’m an unapologetic chocoholic with Godiva, Lindt, or Andes Candies chocolate brands on the brain…during the merrymaking holidays–or any time of year, really.

[smiling broadly, understandingly…] Christina is going to assume that you’ve plopped a Lindor truffle or two into your coffee! Truffle?

Yum! You know me too well. 🙂

…Now there is poetry that falls flat to the ear, and there is poetry that is music to the ear, and I hear the music of words when I read your poetry. Do you have experience rhapsodizing, and have you considered audio recordings?

I’m glad that you hear musicality in my verse; I strive to eschew tin-ear clunkiness in my writing as much as possible. Being an uber-nerd, I often will rhapsodize in the [college] classroom during the Poetry component of the English courses I teach. My students seem to enjoy the passion and soul-bearing sincerity that goes into rhapsodizing for an audience, and then to feel more comfortable to openly rhapsodize their own poetic creations during PeerShare…Hearing my students’ confidence when rhapsodizing their own poetry is truly gratifying for me as an educator.

How wonderful.

Positive exposure via audio recordings is a brilliant idea; thank you for suggesting it a while ago to me…In the interest of sharing my poetry with a vast global audience, I now have poetry readings on YouTube…hopefully my accent, (which has been pegged by others as originating from Georgia or Tennessee, is actually an accent rooted in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia and nearby Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), isn’t distracting or (eek!) irritating to viewers/listeners.

“Sequoias” (dedicated to my friend Sheenagh) is my first YT video, in fact. All Likes and Comments by viewers are sincerely appreciated. 🙂 Make sure to press “Show More” to read all of the pertinent information listed there.

I didn’t notice your accent (I wonder why that is?) 😉 but what I did notice alongside the gorgeous setting is how pleasant your voice is for reading. Very nice, both video readings!

My YouTube poetry readings are pure Nature–in all seasons, even the dead of winter. In fact, I do much of my writing while sitting in my “woodland office” in the woods. As my rustic “desk” and “chair” are fashioned from sturdy Maple logs, and a herd of deer is literally 20 feet away from me in a spacious meadow, I’m thankful to be able to pen poetry, musings, etc. in my humble cornflower-blue leather-bound journal, all in the midst of this peaceful sylvan setting.

It does sound like a blissful melange of creature comforts: decadent chocolates, woody surrounds, deer-watching…let’s daydream for a minute. Tell us what your ideal vacation setting would be if you were to go with the expectation of feeling inspired to write. What one poetry book would you take along?

My ideal vacation setting would be the sublimely ethereal Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. …Two poetry books are better than one, so…I’d bring along Georg Trakl’s Autumn Sonata poetry collection and the collected poems of Emily Dickinson for inspiration.

Many poets and readers – women in particular – can relate to Emily Dickinson, but I am assuming that most people are unfamiliar with Georg Trakl. What is it about him and/or his work that you find so engaging?

Trakl’s use of vibrant visuals, surrealist imagery, and brooding tone as a poet resonate with me…also, his keen introspection and most-commonly explored themes seem very contemporary. Secondly, Trakl in his personal life is believed to have suffered from schizophrenia, and a cherished life-long friend of mine, now-deceased, suffered from the inexpressible horrors of schizophrenia. Some of Trakl’s most disconcerting, eerie, and haunting imagery remind me of my friend’s daily trials of the mind, that she courageously shared with me.

That’s a beautiful testament of how personal each reader’s preferences can be, how poetry isn’t about what’s fashionable. Just curious, so back to your poetry, I witness careful crafting beyond rules but with alliteration, assonance, all major qualities applied. Share with us your thoughts/feelings on the importance of expressing yourself freely without restrictions of formal structure.

I genuinely love this question because conscious wordplay is one my strengths as a writer. For me, looking through a narrative or surrealistic lens, is a challenge that compels me to respect the unfettered brain-space afforded by Free Verse, as well as the reverberating and resonant power of literary devices. Creating neo-logisms like “wordwhip”, “greenswanic”, wombwalls”, “slugslump”, “roseruddy”, “rootright”, “pearlsticky” et al. is my favorite because they marry two worlds of disparate associations for different readers with equally-different filtering processes.

I see your analytical process at play here!

Engaging readers in the satiating act of multiplicitous interpretation is the hope and goal of my poetic efforts. And careful crafting through important writerly tools such as assonance, alliteration, neo-logism, metaphor, enjambment, slant rhyme, pregnant pauses via ellipses, etc. is a huge part of my creative process. If a poem I’ve written doesn’t contain at least one literary device, then I’ve not succeeded as a capable wordsmith.

It’s good that you realize your responsibility in what you do – and that you take it to a professional level!

As a poet, I feel that it’s my responsibility to infuse my content with a vibrant soi-disant style marked by what my editor Apryl Skies of Edgar & Lenore’s Publishing House of Los Angeles, and I refer to as “intentional idiosyncratic sway.” It’s my job to be as fresh and electrifyingly original as I can be in the ever-widening sea of poetic voices extant in the world today.

Good! Some time back, I read a review of your Dialect of Dahlias. I found the “sure-footed” description to be most fitting (no pun intended). How did such a level of confidence come about in your poetry?

Truth be told, I am surefooted in writing poetry because I am so woefully untalented at everything else. I discovered and accepted early on in life when I was diagnosed with learning disabilities (dyscalculia and dysgraphia) that due to these limitations, I probably would not be suited to most professions. So I focused/focus my energy and dedication onto two things that I’d been told by others that I do well–write poetry and teach English.

Excellent! The mind finds ways to express its brilliance.

Also, I am forever inspired by the long-held idea that who I am as an artist is my truest self; Who-I-Am on paper via my distinctly different love & light “Lily” poems and dark & gritty “Leper” poems is really Who I Am. As an albeit-proud eccentric who is decidedly more interesting on paper than in person, I figuratively open a proverbial vein and bleed my best onto the page and hope that my Personal will be someone else’s universal…universal life-experiences that readers can identify with and make their own, hearts-&-minds-wise. My poetry must be of some value to readers or it does not succeed, in my opinion.

You do set high standards, and I love that you can admit to both light and dark aspects of yourself. Which (“Lily” or “Leper”) do you find your readership most drawn to, most responsive to, and why do you think that is?

Readers who are drawn to the figuratively-termed “lilies” seek cut & dried, love & light, life-affirming, family-themed poems with a narrative hook. Due to these aspects, fans of the lilies have told me that these poems are quite accessible. Many non-artists favor the lily poems. In contrast, readers–artists, especially—seek ambiguity, ambivalence, and explorations of dark, gritty life-experiences written in a surrealistic poetic style typified by enigma and intensity; they are the biggest fans of my Leper poems. Lily poems have the effect of lighting a candle of hope in the face of Chaos, whereas Leper poems have the effect of snuffing out that metaphorical candle with one monstrous exhalation.

Would you care to share one of each from your book?

Wimberley - Dialect of Dahlias Cover

“Sepia & Song” (Lily poem)

Sepia seeping
into the Perfect Picture
but there’s no camera around
to capture
our gentle swaying
in the kitchen
or her baby head lying
warmly on my shoulder
or my arms enveloping her lovingly
as I mint
in my weary mind
this mother-daughter moment
(Plaintive Scottish fiddle-song on the radio)
hugs us parenthetically
as we continue swaying
silently as one
her tears long since dried,
her eyes long since closed;
her long, dark eyelashes are doll perfection…
as the song lilts to an end,
my own eyes are moist;
I’m wishing
with a mother’s wistfulness
that the permanence of sepia
could seep in…
seal us
bond us
in wordless bliss
for a lifetime
of refrains,
not bridges

“Cotillion Eye Glinting Down” (Leper poem)

The scythe of earth
hangs like a hammock
between cenicitas (“little ashes”)
to shimmy like a shark
lithe phallic symbol: Breathing
inside the tapestry-rose
lining of the executioner’s mask
he filled the guillotine
with bloodblisters of stars
until a Spanish galleon
of “Blue Gato Delong”
ghostly lit
the spectral trail
of Packard-Mustang-Chevy

Singing trees
like rain
dredge the air
with leaf-lyrics
and unchidden children
like parrots:
Where are their piratical parents
to Jolly Roger
them into a sirensong
of silence?
To chatter, nay,
like a Fauvist parrot,
but to float sirenly and serenely
on a patina-pond
as a Monet waterlily
sprouting from Gala’s
unsevered, unbloodied
eye socket
of Emporda

Remarkable contrast with equally exquisite signature craftsmanship! Who or what inspired you to achieve the level of accomplishment that you have arrived at?

It would be remiss of me not to credit an early influence in my life, an inspirational middle school teacher in West Virginia, James Brandolino, for believing in my writing abilities and encouraging me to pursue Writing as a life-goal. His generosity of spirit and keen guidance helped me to believe that I could actually succeed at writing, and his steadfast support helped me to overcome debilitating shyness at that angsty adolescent time of life.

How fortunate you are that you accepted Mr. Brandolino’s influence. A little side-step here: Because of your shyness (I can relate to that), did you find yourself realizing that a pen can impart a certain social grace and give you an advantage in the world?

Yes…Writing always has helped me to spiritually soar above an earth-bound reality painfully punctuated by shyness and social awkwardness…People in general, are friendlier and kinder to me in various social situations when they learn that I’m a writer; it’s a boon, definitely. 🙂

Everyone loves artists, literary and otherwise! Back to your influences…

…Among other influences, the work of the Modernists, Symbolists, Imagists, the Beats to an extent, and Confessional poets galvanize me to create. Specifically, I am inspired by eminent Georg Trakl, Emily Dickinson, Pete Winslow, Sylvia Plath, Rita Dove, Gertrude Stein, Cathy Song, e.e. cummings, Judith Ortiz-Cofer, Joy Harjo, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Taylor Mali, and talented poet-contemporaries Apryl Skies, R. L. Jones, Juliet Wilson, D. M. Aderibigbe, Aliciia Winski, Alice Shapiro, Gillian Prew, and Petra Whitely, etc. Like all scribes, an eclectic collection of artists and ideas have shaped my worldview. The following spring to mind: The Plathian “private blitzkrieg”, Lynn Truss–with respect to respecting the 21st century relevance and sublimity of punctuation in prose–and poetry. “Poetry is language at its most distilled and powerful”–Rita Dove; “Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash”–Leonard Cohen; “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant”–Emily Dickinson; and most viscerally for daily inspiration: “Get black on white” –Guy de Maupassant.

That’s a great note to conclude on, an illustrious flash of your learning that has earned you the title of professor in this literary realm, and of course your full-length book, Dialect of Dahlias, is the icing, the cream of your experience and influence. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to get to know you, and I look forward to reading more of your poetry.

~~Happy Spring to you, Christina!

Likewise, Gloria.

Visit Gloria’s Edgar Allen Poet page.
Check out Dialect of Dahlias at


Posted by on March 29, 2013 in Coffee with the Poets


Tags: , ,

Coffee with My Husband, R. N. Taylor

Robert Taylor is an artist, poet, musician, husband and father, and one of the key founders of the Asatru spiritual movement. Everyone who knows Robert knows that he is a man of many words, a constant flow of consciousness. I have read the interviews that he has participated in over the past few decades, and what I find missing as a topic of discussion is poetry (though some might consider him to be first and foremost a poet). I wanted him to have the opportunity to pontificate for a literary audience as it has been my privilege to be a receptive listener over the past nine years.


(“Coffee With the Poets” interviews
are conducted by Christina.)

[My Sweet Robert takes his coffee with one spoon of sugar and just enough Half & Half to make it caramel-colored. This is an exact art of which there are consequences for deviations, and only his double-sized Barnes & Noble mug with the faces of famous authors will suffice for serving!]

Like planets,
Seldom collide,
But when they do,
A new world is born.

(R. N. Taylor, 2003)

Robert, I know that you have salient insights into so many subjects, including poetry, so here we are at the hub of our mutual respite. We speak of the magic of poetry, and you are remarkably seasoned with your testament on this subject. Share to your heart’s content.

I have for a long time tried to understand what it is about poetry that can create a sort of magic. It is not a simple thing, to be sure. The question of how and why is sort of like the long-standing question of what exactly poetry is. The final word is never in on that. So many have tried and in the end only wrote their own subjective thoughts on the subject, so here are mine added to it all.

The magic of poetry is that one’s words can affect another even in a physical sense in a remote-control way, particularly when poetry is recited as opposed to simply being read off a page. The very same can be said for music.

I recall in the autumn of 1999, I was the keynote speaker at a gathering known as the Death Equinox Convention in Denver. I was asked to give a talk on the Millennium and wanted to try something just a little different than is the usual faire, so I decided to do my talk and follow it with a poetry reading. I chose something that would tie in with the theme of the talk. After the reading, on cue, my friend Bob Ferbrache and I did a mini concert of songs to conclude the event. He had practiced a number of songs for the purpose. When we finished, the audience was cheering for us to do an encore. Unfortunately, we had not even thought of the possibility of having to do an extra song. I felt a bit cornered at that moment but sang a song a capella. When the song ended, I saw tears rolling down the cheeks of a few ladies in attendance. I had not performed in about thirty years on stage and it took me by surprise that I had touched someone deeply enough to elicit tears of emotion. That was a magic moment for me. Previous to this, I have on many occasions played a guitar and sung one of my ballads for guests at a party and have been told by people that chills ran up their spines. That established for myself how powerful music and poetry can be. The same has happened on occasion when I was rhapsodizing a poem around a campfire or parlor. I’m sure many poets and musicians have experienced similar reactions from others they were performing for.

It is not just relegated to sentimental things, either. It can rouse people to a fighting fury such as martial songs and revolutionary ballads and poems. Erotic poems can titillate. The entire palette of human emotions is subject to the magic of poetry and music. They are as such, or can be, powerful magic incantations that echo and resonate long after they are finished. Real poetry comes out of the crucible of the poet’s soul and for it to speak to another person’s subconscious mind is a magical event, a form of telepathic communication: one soul speaking and resonating with another soul.

Robert Graves, the Welsh poet, defined real poetry as having the effect of making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck (in other words, a physical reaction to words and thoughts, images and metaphor).

In fact, the earliest poetry was mystical and religious incantation. It was an integral part of ritual and rite—i.e., the hymns of the Rig Veda from India which extend far back in origin to primordial times. So also was music and drama. They probably share the same origins as poetry. I have often thought that the first poets in a sense were those who articulated language itself. The first poet would be the individual who spoke the first word.

Much of poetry’s archaic magic has been lost to repetition and the loss of techniques which developed over a very long time of oral literature. There were proscribed forms for every occasion. Lyric was one thing, lament and dirge another form, epic another and so forth. Poetry has often reached so sophisticated a level that the perfect form of expression was codified. Welsh poetry is a fine example. There are so many forms that come down from their oral tradition. This was the technics of poetry that bards and skalds and others who pursued poetry as a profession were required to learn in their studies and pursuit of poetic idioms. The Irish also had a highly formalized system of poetic training. If I recall, it took about twelve years to win your spurs as a real and accepted bard. That gives you an idea of the importance of poetry to archaic oral cultures. The poets were the historians and memory of the tribe. Without them, the tribe no longer had a known history of the past and probably no real future as a group, either.

Poetry as so formalized an institution (as existed in pre-written times and for a long time afterwards) was only possible through royal patronage. We have seen the age of kings and queens pass, and this needed patronage. There has never been great profit in being a poet since then. In a sense, poets are the last vestige of the aristocracy of the human race. That they still exist is a bit of a miracle, I think. It must be some primal and innate calling or vocation in the spectrum of man, one that will always be with us in the same manner as all the other twelve archetypes: the healer, the warrior, etc..

The use of meter as such can have a hypnotizing effect and also reach into the subconscious as rhythm as well as by way of a medium of thoughts. I recall reading something from Poe aloud to my father and cousin one evening. Afterwards we went to sleep. I awoke several hours later with the verse form rolling along in my mind and just about every thought that came to me was in that meter. It obviously had reached me under the radar of thought and resonated with me subconsciously (another aspect of the magic of poetry).

And poetry has served me in certain ways throughout my life to a positive effect in almost a magical sort of way. Many of my love affairs began with poems scripted to ladies. Poetry was the arrow that found their hearts. One short couplet won me my second wife. And as for you, Christina, you know yourself the power of poetry in the realm of love. It was our mutual poems that brought us together. I have another story concerning the magic of poetry that I will save till later in this interview since I see a question that pertains to it.

So, due to some quirk in me as a person as well as subjective experiences, I have always stayed on the path of poetry. It has nearly been like a religious avocation throughout my life, the crux of who I am. Most other things have played second to it for better and for worse.

When we got together in 2003, the first thing we did was paint the receiving room red and name it “The Red Salon.” It is now our poetry library, and the concept that gave birth to our website and private micro-press. This is a prime example of your weaving poetry into all aspects of your life. Explain the value of such.

Yes, that was one of the first things we did on your first visit here as I recall. I put you to the task of helping me with it. I was doing the roller brush and you were trimming with the paint brush. Of course your being a woman and I a man, we didn’t always see eye to eye on the décor. You didn’t like the metallic geometric shapes I had displayed. Far too masculine, you said. So I made the small concession of removing them in favor of more flowery feminine accoutrements. Yes, we did weave our love of poetry into that project. But being an artist (graphic and fine) as well as a musician, I have applied art to so many facets of my life. It just goes with the territory—everything from décor to fashion, to structuring the day, to ambiance and love-making. All of daily life is thus hallowed much more greatly by the deft application of art and artfulness.

I have always had many books. I bought my first book when I was twelve years old and the process never stopped. It only got worse until I had so many books that I have never as yet had them all up on shelves (despite the fact that we have a fifteen-room Victorian house). The books always exceed the available space. But most dear and important to me are my poetry books. They always have been my foremost treasure. So it was good to get the thousand-plus poetry volumes all together on shelves in one distinct room—a sepulcher of the soul, for poems are the language of the soul. Whenever I sit in The Red Salon, I am always aware that I am surrounded by the souls of all of these poets, past and present. In this small room, life makes the metamorphosis from prose to poetry. Like when we have our Red Hour, which implies coffee, conversation on poetry and reading. In those moments, the world seems perfect to me. I am altogether contented and fulfilled by way of the conversation, the setting and of course the company of another who feels the same as I do.

Ah, thank you. You reiterate Ezra Pound’s stating that poets are the antennas of the human race. Would you care to elaborate?

That is a quote from his ABCs of Reading. It implies that poets, being the most sensitive and receptive members of the society, have a built-in or innate talent for being the first to intuitively anticipate the coming future. I would have to agree in the main with this. I suppose it would, however, vary from one poet to another. Even poets are not absolutely of one persuasion. There is a wide variance of personalities and natural predilections in that sense. Some poets are avant-garde in making things new. Others, however, are staid traditionalists who never wish to break the rules of form and style. Both are of value to poetry. One maintains the past and the other forges into the unknown and sometimes finds new pathways to pursue.

Some poets get pretty arrogant from their side of the fence in debates of avant-garde versus traditional poetry. You say that poetry is the language of the gods, that articulation in itself is the employment of the vehicle of sound for divine communication through the flesh. This, in my opinion, supports the theory of right hemisphere brain activity (namely, inspiration and its offspring, creativity) being the most direct and potent manifestation of divine thought. The right hemisphere in the moment, “in the now” as you would say, would be the avant-garde poetry as opposed to traditional which concerns itself with timelines and metrics, with order; the avant-garde with chaos, right? So are the gods telling us to relax when we speak and let chaos make way for others to order it as they will, or to relax and then structuralize?

The earliest extant poetry is that which is considered sacred and of God or the Gods. Of course Gods did not write books but instead were believed to inspire them in the minds and souls of men. That being the case, then poetry would in fact be the language of the Gods (at least within the context of sacred texts, most of which are written in poetic form).

The right lobe of course is the creative and imaginative side of the brain. However, without the left lobe it would probably be mostly chaos. Meter itself would have to be the structuring process to inspiration, that which would give form to the content in a coherent way. So it is a combination of the two. If the structure becomes too proscribed and rigid, then I would suppose it would inhibit the visionary element of the poetry. If poetry were but the visionary side of creativity, then it would lean towards incomprehensibility. One could picture an oracle spouting off his divine message in the way Rimbaud did in his poetry. It might have style. It might also have a way of conjuring images through its symbolism, but it would certainly not be altogether coherent. Symbolism is largely a case of this. It would seem that a balancing of intelligence with inspiration would be the best manner to communicate. An endless barrage of metaphors and images without context leads to obscurity in communication, or communication on the most rudimentary level. Many poets (past and present) have done just that as a reaction to overly formalized poetry which is in some sense robbed of the élan vital of inspiration. Finding that optimum point would be a part of the poet’s craft. The power of a poem would have something to do with how well the crafting is executed.

Getting back to the beginning of your question and statement, I do not believe that all that is written either in poetic form or claiming to be poetry is the voice of higher inspiration speaking through the writer. Some poetry is simply a human contrivance. That varies from one poem to another, from one writer to the next. In all cases, poetry comes out of what seems to be nowhere. It is, therefore, the ultimate blank canvas before it exists.

I never cease to learn from you! That’s why you have the pedestal. Now, many of us see the same oceanic effect of the Internet on poetry. Do you think there is any hope of the centuries-old standard being reclaimed, or might you say that Western poetry is dead or declining? Why or why not?

Well, it is certainly not a dead art. There are so many people writing poetry these days. I am sure that the internet has induced more poetry to be written because suddenly there is this large worldwide audience to write for. With an avalanche of poetry on the Internet, one simply has to sort the wheat from the chaff. All of it is not worthy or good, but there will be sparkling examples of that which is very good and worthy of the name of poetry. The Internet is sort of like satellite television insomuch as if you do not like something, then you turn the channel to something else. On the Internet, you simply click on something else. Same process. Then again, the value of a given poem has something to do with the audience. One person’s preference may not be another’s. Same with art of any kind.

That’s why I don’t hold poetry contests. The opinion of one “judge” means next to nothing, really.

My own preference for poetry is to hear it read by someone capable of reading it well or of it being rhapsodized in a dramatic manner that brings the words to life. That is what helps to make the poetry of Shakespeare resonate so well with people. As a result, I write for the voice and ear. If it doesn’t sound right to me, then it isn’t right to me. That’s my own litmus test or criteria. I think I read well, at least my own words, and have done a lot of spoken-word recordings with music for a background. Overall, I have been satisfied with the results.

I’ll share just a few links at the bottom of this interview.

Unfortunately, not every poet is a good reader or rhapsodist. I once began to form a group of poets to be named “Wordsmiths.” It was for the purpose of bringing poetry back to the spoken word. My slogan was “That words might live.” The project did not go very far, but several years on, what became known as Poetry Slams did. Generally, it consisted of poets reading from a stage in a barroom. I did quite a number of slams when I lived in Chicago and it was a new thing. It certainly helped me in doing spoken-word poetry. It honed my abilities. I have often been amused when someone reads a poem by me in script form and it does little for them as such. Then they hear me do a dramatic reading and they are awed by it. It always is a confirmation that poetry reduced to the printed page alone is weak in effect compared to when it is dramatized and made vibrant by the human voice. After all, that is where it began, long before the advent of the quill and vellum.

In relation to oral poetry, we also have the listener. The listener is another side to the equation. Unfortunately, people today overall have little capacity to listen acutely. To fully appreciate and to extract the meaning from a poem requires that the listener have focus. Thirty-second spot commercials on television and all the other non-interactive things out there that provide lazy entertainment do not prepare people for this ability to focus.

I have often thought that the riddle (which must go back as far as poetry) was a device for teaching youngsters how to focus and to listen while at the same time providing some entertainment insomuch as using imaginations and analytical abilities.

The riddle demands by its very nature that the listener concentrate and center with their mind, taking note of every word and its relative weight within each phrase transmitted, for each phrase is a part of a verbal puzzle which helps to compositively provide the key to the solution. As a result, it prompts the listener to concentrate in the same way or degree as is required of the listener in understanding and appreciating poetry. It forces the mind to creatively imagine how the fragments fit and form a composite picture. In this sense, it may well have been consciously employed as a vehicle by the listening and learning within a tradition based upon oral transmission and memorization. The riddle would have the effect of inducing the young to acquire these skills while at the same time having fun, something that the young most always have a genius for. It would additionally enable them to develop their problem-solving/analytical facilities. The solving of a riddle or any problem that demands mental labor on our own behalf become the lessons and knowledge that we remember best.

As for poetry being dead as an art form, I would have to point out that it has taken refuge within the lyrics of songs and in the thirty-second commercial and jingle (the latter being the worst fate of poetry and word craft—worst insomuch as its goal being to sell some material thing and also because it fulfills whatever need people have for poetry in their lives in a bastardized form). Even the larger amount of top forty music is little more than repetitious extended commercial jingles.

Interesting. On that corrupted note, let’s get into academic poetry.

It seems to be a sort of poetry mafia in a sense. There is this “inner circle” that sets the standards and keeps all within the academic community. They usually get grants to publish thick journals. Poetry as taught in schools becomes somewhat all the same in approach. When I read some of these thick journals, after a while I get the feeling that they were all written by one individual. Of course maybe many of these poets would not even be writing poetry save for what they have learned in school. This is not, however, to say that all of it is bland or less than great. There are gems at times. I have nothing against academia per se’. It often turns into mutual admiration societies of people giving awards back and forth. As for government-sponsored endowments to the arts, I am against that altogether. I don’t think people who work and pay taxes should support art that they may never even experience or see, let alone like. It also creates more bureaucrats to administer these grants and so forth. I’d think if you want to be an artist, swim or sink on the merits of your work.

I agree, and what comes to mind is an anthology titled Best New Poets (2008 series) edited by no less than Mark Strand. The editing of course is flawless and the work is well executed but primarily crude in subject, seemingly emphasizing the degeneration of society and allowing this crudeness to define modern poetry. Anyway, back to you: describe your own poetic style, your approach to poetry.

I began writing prose poetry. Then I was living with a friend who was a lyricist for a band, and eventually I tried lyric writing for music. Music seemed like one of the few places that poetry could have a context or much of an audience today. Not that all lyrics are poetry; much of music lyrics are little more than repetitious jingles as I said before.

One of the problems from a poet’s side is that people today have short-term attention or focus—no patience. Everything is brief and simplified for them so they seldom develop the focus necessary to really listen to poetry or even read it. My own father seemed very concerned when I announced that I wanted to be a poet. He immediately told me that no one can make a living at it and that I would spend my life starving as a result. Later when my poetry was set to music, it suddenly became accessible to him and he was one of my greatest fans afterwards. For music, the basic English ballad form is best. End rhyme. It is not sophisticated in any way, but it works. If I innovated in any manner, it was with my long ballad poems like “Legends” and “The Ballad of Robert de Bruce” which attempted to capture epic poetry in miniature. Also, some of my poems that were never intended for music ended up as music and worked out well. My music collaborator, Nicholas Tesluk, has a real talent for that. Outside of being a guitar virtuoso, he is for me the perfect collaborator. I have chiefly been the lyricist and he the composer of the music, but not absolutely. We have both done music as well as lyrics for our musical duo, Changes.

In addition to this, I have also done spoken-word poetry in collaboration with a number of other bands as well as solo projects. Though my musical collaborations are what I am best known for and have the widest following, I do continue to write poems not intended for music. I am very satisfied with that which I have done in collaboration with bands and individuals like Allerseelen in Austria, Der Blutharsch, another Austrian band, as well as Werkraum in Berlin with Axel Frank. In fact, Changes’ album Lament may possibly be the first music album to have spoken poetry between the songs. Axel Frank, a talented musician, provided the musical scores that accompanied my readings. In that album we took poetry off the printed page, so to speak, and made it an integral part of our presentation. I presently have about six collaborations for readings on various forthcoming albums by other bands as well: metal, industrial and folk. In doing these, I feel that I am helping to move poetry out to a larger audience and possibility. Nevertheless, I continue to release chapbook collections in printed format as well.

I enjoy making these for you, but I miss the old charm of your early editions. A few lucky readers will know what I am talking about (string binding, jackets, layered bands, thick fonts, etc.).

Another approach I have used sporadically has been the pattern poem of calligramme. These are poems in which the typography forms a pattern or picture in some way reinforcing the message of the poem. This came about where I would see a pattern in my mind at the same time I was writing some thought or poem. These are essentially typographical devices. I have always had an interest in typography. Generally, the poems I have done in this manner are brief thoughts.

I will provide a link to your typographical devices at the bottom of this interview.

I have also written haiku. Haiku has helped me to tighten my other poetry and make it more compact. I always strive to be succinct. In written poetry, I favor a mix of rhyme and non-rhyme, often in a staggered pattern. I feel that this keeps it from getting trite or too predictable. Where my poetry will go from here is a case of following my Muse. I may continue to loop around in the same manner or find new ways to expression—only time will tell. I do feel that I have developed my own idiom and signature to my work, which is always one of the goals of modern poetry and writing in general.

My working method often is to take a group of poems and to work them over. Usually I find that the best time to do so is after waking up when I still have a clear mind and am in an alpha wave state. I have done some every day for a month and generally I find something to change: a word, the sequence of lines and so forth. Other times I write something with minor corrections on the spot and leave it as such, but it is those poems which I consciously craft that I like best.

And where does your Muse fit into all of this?

For most, the term Muse is a metaphor for inspiration. I can understand that and accept that metaphor. However, I think somewhat beyond that definition due to experiences I have had in relation to it. Well you have heard this story many times. I will try to spare you of the longer version and keep the embellishments to a minimum. But you did ask for it. LOL.

I like what story I know is coming, and that’s why I ask.

This experience occurred in the late sixties or early seventies. It was a time of a truly dark night of the soul for me. I had recently divorced and was out of work and facing the inevitable bills and rent. I had no idea where I would get these monies. So with these problems and marital disappointment I was as close to suicide as I have ever been in my life. It was my habit at the time to be up usually at least till dawn and sometimes later working on oil paintings and writing poetry. These occupations were my harbor in the storm at the time.

Usually while I painted I would have music, the radio or even TV on in the background. I used to watch the first UHF station in Chicago which went off the air at midnight. The final program was called “Heart of the News” and featured a beautiful lady who re-capped the news and weather of the day while dressed in a negligee as she reclined on a heart-shaped satin bed. At the very end of her show, she would read a poem (usually by Byron or Keats or someone of that type). One evening, she solicited poems from her viewers, so I sent her about twenty of my poems. She seemed delighted with them and said she would spread them out over the month so as to give me maximum exposure for my work.

One night, I worked on an oil painting straight through from drawing to completed painting, about a thirty-six or so-hour stint. I was exhausted and very depressed about life. I laid down and at some point I had a vision. The most beautiful Goddess-like woman came to me and caressed my brow and told me that everything would be alright. She admonished me to always be true to myself, and I have been. I suppose this vision came in what is termed a hypnogogic state, that twilight between sleep and wakefulness. Her beauty transcended all words of description: her eyes as blue as the sky; her hair, golden yellow; and all around, her aura of rainbow colors. A few hours later the phone awakened me. It was the lady from the TV show who told me how much she liked my poems and that a friend who did some advertising for the station had read some of my poems and said that they were very concise. She said he wanted to offer me a job as a copywriter for print and television commercials, and that even if I wasn’t interested in the position, he would still like to meet the person who had written the poems. A few days later, I was hired at a very large salary and all of my economic problems instantly were solved.

“Fate favors the bold,” as you say!

Poets often have a talent for script and commercial writing. Another area poets tend to be good at is cryptography. I guess both of these professions utilize the same neuro-tracks in the mind.

Later I was to read descriptions of the Muse by other poets—namely, Robert Graves’ book, The White Goddess. Both his and the other poets he quotes described precisely the lady in the vision I had. So I do believe in the Triple Muse as she is often referred to as something much more than a metaphor.

And thirdly, you, Christina, are my muse in this sensate reality.

Now, having fully answered your many questions here, I think I deserve a warm-up of my coffee, and don’t forget the sugar. I think I earned it.

Yes, you did. We love your sagacious breadth of understanding, and I love you. My pleasure; my privilege.

[Christina pours the coffee and raises her matching mug from across the little round table.]

Here are a few links to some of R. N. Taylor’s words set to music, and when words inspire music, how beautifully they marry!

But a Spark in the Night (Allerseelen)
La Fee Verte (Werkraum)
Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Regret (Der Blutharsch)

Here is a link to some of Robert’s poetry as typographical devices.

Robert’s chapbooks can be purchased by contacting us through The Red Salon.


Posted by on November 18, 2012 in Coffee with the Poets


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Coffee with Robert Bates Graber

Robert Bates Graber, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology in residence at Truman State University, continues to write anthropology but recently has begun publishing poetry as well. His anthropological corpus includes the very readable books Plunging to Leviathan? (Paradigm Publishers, 2006) and Valuing Useless Knowledge (Truman State U Press, 1995, 2012). With a longstanding love of English literature, he has been influenced as a poet especially by Shakespeare, Tennyson, Robert Frost, and Richard Wilbur. When a friend innocently asked, following Pluto’s provocative demotion in 2006, “Is plutonium an element?” Graber was inspired to write Plutonic Sonnets, a 165-poem sonnet cycle around and about the discovery and naming of planets and elements. The sonnets, mostly of the incomparable “Shakespearean” form (evidently created by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey), are full of history, myth, science, and romance.

Graber lives with his wife, Rose, in Kirksville, Missouri where he enjoys bicycle racing, backyard astronomy, and classical guitar.


(“Coffee With the Poets” interviews
are conducted by Christina.)

[Highly intelligent, sophisticated and multi-talented, I couldn’t pass up Coffee with Robert Bates Graber: a man whose time is of value, a man of literary merit.]

Hi, Rob! And how do you take your coffee?

Hi, Christina! Thanks for having me, and for the nice intro. Since Real Men like their coffee black, I am sorry to admit that I prefer mine with cream, or a hazelnut-flavored cream substitute. (Even the Coffee-mate powder variety suits me fine—which is what I use at home.)

Sounds perfectly delish. Between anthropology, bicycling, classic guitar, of course literary pursuits, when do you find the time to muse, and what kindles your creative flame?

My interests seem mostly not to compete on a day-to-day basis. Rather, something happens to give one or the other precedence for a period of days, weeks, months, or even years. To take a recent and painful example: two weeks ago I scraped myself up pretty good in a bicycle spill, and that is keeping me off the road for the time being. My stargazing interests wax and wane, depending partly on the weather and the air—how good the “seeing” is, as we say. Playing classical guitar, and especially writing anthropology, are my most abiding interests. The only thing that has ever seriously displaced anthropology from the top spot, I think, in my adult life was the writing of Plutonic Sonnets. And since its completion, my writing of poetry has quickly diminished to occasional folk-wisdom type aphorisms I attribute to an alter-ego, “Uncle Ikey.” For some months I have been engrossed in research and writing about the statistical analysis of culture, in chimpanzees as well as in humans. What seems to kindle my creative flame? Oh, I don’t know. Who can explain the motions of the Muse?

Well, you are practically famous for your lively epic sonnet sequence, Plutonic Sonnets. Would you describe it for us?

Now there is an easier question! It is a sprawling sequence of sonnets, mostly Shakespearean, inspired when a friend “innocently” asked, back in 2006 when Pluto was reduced to dwarf-planet status, “Is plutonium an element?” I was amused, then intrigued, then inspired. Suddenly a vast and lofty subject opened up before me: the discovery and naming of the planets and the elements, and especially their interrelatedness.

What attracted you to sonnets, and how long did it take you to complete Plutonic Sonnets?

Hmmm. I’m going to have to think a minute or two about what first attracted me to sonnets. When I studied English literature (among other things) in college, I remember preferring prose rather than poetry. I did find Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella impressive, but hard to understand. I must have liked sonnets even then, because I wrote a few for my wife-to-be!

Ah, the power of poetry to enchant minds and soften hearts!

I believe I first experienced the power of a narrative sonnet cycle when, not many years ago, I was astonished to discover Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Epitaph for the Race of Man. In eighteen sonnets she condenses the whole history of our kind, from beginning to end. Maybe the fact that she uses the constellations to tie things together was significant; my overwhelming impression, though, was wonder that a tale of such grandeur could be told in an earthy and humorous way. I mean, she describes dinosaurs in the acts of defecation and copulation! As for the Shakespearean sonnet form (not especially favored, I believe, by Millay), I think I was drawn to it perhaps especially by how richly Keats used it; an exemplar is “When I have fears that I may cease to be.” The way in which this sonnet form (invented not by the Bard but by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, decades earlier) avoids adjacent rhyme until the final couplet came to have enormous appeal. I also came to appreciate the way the fourteen lines seem to provide just enough space to develop a point, to “make an argument,” if you like. I also enjoyed how the Elizabethan sonneteers would pose bogus little problems, on which they would then demonstrate their wit by “solving” them; and dress up this self-glorification as ridiculous exaggeration of their ladies’ virtues.

Yes, poetry is both virtue and vice to vanity; Millay and countless others attempted the art of self-selling through poetry, for better or for worse!

I inserted a few of my own efforts of this kind for “punctuation” in Plutonic Sonnets. I tried for an astronomical connection even here, to keep within my theme. As you know, Christina, two of these serve as the prologue and epilogue of Pluto & Proserpina, on which Middle Island Press has done such a beautiful job.

Thanks, Rob, for nudging me into block lettering and Gothic fonts and all manner of decorous presentation that your words deserve.

But what I wanted to point out was how these exemplify the absurd exaggeration of the courtly love sonnet. “I’d think the Sun would be ashamed to shine,” begins sonnet 94. Same for the Moon; same for the stars. The only real merit of these heavenly bodies is to have brought his lover’s eyes to mind. Come on! Yet the game is fun, and Shakespeare gets entirely too much credit for “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the Sun.” Yes, it cleverly turns the tables on the game as usually played; but it is profoundly unromantic. Telling your beloved all the ways she is unattractive, because brutal honesty is the most romantic thing of all? Give me a break! So my sonnet 94 is saying, “Dammit Shakespeare, I am not just saying my lover’s eyes are something like the Sun; I am saying they are about a billion times BETTER!”

Hyperbole is one of the most impressive poetic qualities and you exercise it to your advantage, to be sure. I don’t see much of it in modern poetry, so you deserve some credit there.

It took me something like a year and half to write Plutonic Sonnets—I believe it was from autumn of 2006 through spring of 2008; so a sonnet took, on average, three days. It took quite a lot of research, much of which I did online; without Wikipedia, I’d probably still be working on the damn thing!

The world loves Wikipedia! Now we know that Plutonic Sonnets gave birth to your recent chapbook, Pluto & Proserpina. Can you tell us a bit more about it? (Please don’t be bashful about underlining its significance!)

Yes. Plutonic Sonnets naturally has major subcycles centering on Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. I decided to introduce these subcycles with mythological sonnets devoted to the gods for whom the planets are named. Now I must admit I had never cared for mythology at all; but after pulling down and dusting off my nearly-unused Bulfinch volume, I found myself really getting into it. The oedipal obscenity of sonnet 41 (introducing the Saturn section), and the extravagant imagery of 78 (introducing the Neptune section), reflect my growing enthusiasm for the subject. By the time I was ready to introduce the Pluto section, I decided Pluto’s place in the whole cycle merited introduction by more than a single sonnet; instead, I would compose as many sonnets as it took to tell the famous myth of Pluto and Proserpina in my own way. The number required turned out to be eighteen. From a dramatic standpoint, they clearly compose the climax of the work as a whole. It is a major “sub-subcycle” you might say. While I found sonnets challenging to compose, it also was great fun—and nowhere more than with these eighteen. They are full of jokes and allusions, of which I like to think all readers will pick up on some, but no reader will pick up on all. The story can be read, I would say, on at least three different levels. I realized at the time that this subcycle could stand on its own artistically, and as such might one day make a very nice little chapbook. Thanks to Middle Island Press, that dream has not only been realized, but realized beautifully!

Thanks! I must say I am beyond pleased with it as both a publisher and a reader. Now, temporarily switching subjects to you, personally: Like many poets and creative types in general, you admittedly tend toward eccentricity. Feel free to share something odd or humorous that would make you stand out in a crowd.

Well, in the poetic crowd, so to speak, I perhaps stand out for being a usually cheerful rather than a deeply intense, tragic, or depressive person. And this comes out in my poetry. Somebody said “I prefer to be an optimist; things are bad enough already.” I like that very much! Now, something I like that seems unusual is pipe-smoking. Nobody smokes a pipe anymore. Not in public anyway. I also enjoy pipe collecting. I have grown especially fond of a jaunty shape known as the bent Dublin. My e-mail correspondence is individualized by an emoticon of my own design:


See me smilingly puffing away on one of my several bent Dublins?

Yes, and what wonderful tobacco is scenting the air?

That wonderful scent probably would be Blender’s Gold Rich Vanilla, procured at very reasonable cost (as tobacco goes) from my local Walgreen’s; that is what I smoke in public. (Outdoors only of course, and even then not in a crowd. What nostalgia I feel for my undergraduate years at Indiana back in the early seventies, when I would pass a 50-minute class period filling the room with my aromatic Amphora fumes!). At home alone in my study, I prefer less aromatic tobaccos, including Sir Walter Raleigh, Captain Black, and now and then some more exotic Dutch blends.

Love it! Did I mention that you’re practically famous? That considered (she smiled), if you could leave a thought for the people of the world 100 years from 2012, what would it be?

I always find myself pleased, but moreso puzzled, when people say I am famous—or even “practically famous”!—because that is so far from my own impression. Anyway, as a thought for the future, let me defer to Uncle Ikey, who, moved partly by the current political discussion and debate, would like to say:

so here we all are
stuck to a little ball
sailin around a star
in the boondocks of the milky way

whatever people say
jist as sure as theres weather
we are all in this together

(More from Uncle Ikey #18)

Great! I look forward to reading more words of Uncle Ikey. I suspect he’s as bright and witty as Robert Bates Graber. I will also look forward to the completion of A Fancy of Formalities which will feature your “Joplin Sonnets.” In penning those following the tornado of 2011, you were speaking on behalf of the people, which is an important role of poets. All in all, you, Rob, have spoken from both heart and mind with equally significant force, and you are a force in the poetic realm worthy of respect as far as I am concerned. It’s been a pleasure!


Pluto & Proserpina can be ordered at the Middle Island Press website as well as where other titles by Robert Bates Graber can also be purchased.

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Posted by on November 10, 2012 in Coffee with the Poets


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