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Coffee with Gene McCormick

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

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

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




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




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

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

Understood! Those early typewriters were something…

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

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

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

Thank you, and that’s wonderful news!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Just Knows A Gift Pen
Should Be In Sterling

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

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

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

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



***************
“Self-Portrait,” “Big City Nighttime Stories,” and “Obsessions” art by Gene McCormick.
His titles can be purchased through Amazon, and signed copies are available directly from the author. He donates all money from sales of his books and art to area no-kill animal shelters.
Email: genebiz@att.net
Website: www.donbob.com/GeneBooks/Books.htm
Postal address: Gene McCormick, PO Box 51, Wayne, IL 60184

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Posted by on October 9, 2017 in News & Reviews

 

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Obsessions: A Novel by Gene McCormick

mccormick-obsessions-cover-jpegObsessions (“A cup of coffee and a walk in the park through the feral cityscapes of daily life”) is a novel written in poetic form and is the latest work of Illinois poet and author Gene McCormick. This is his second title published by Middle Island Press this year.

From the Middle Island Press website:

Obsessions of daily life including passion, mystery, and even a minute or two of off-center romance provide emotional heft to a highly nuanced, uniquely evocative exploitation of minutes and hours ticking by in a multi-layered, thought-provoking, genteel insanity. Obsessions is, on the surface, accessible to the brink of literal transparency but a walk in a forest preserve, being parked in a shopping mall in a thunderstorm, going fishing, rubbing on lotion prove not so routine. As Neil Gaiman has said “Things can mean more than they literally mean.” 

McCormick’s titles are available via Amazon.com and elsewhere online. I recommend Obsessions to people who are naturally curious about humanity and enjoy the humor that abounds through observing the nuances of others. It’s an intriguing read!

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2016 in News & Reviews

 

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Big City Nighttime Stories: Book Review

We’re happy to have received word of a review of Big City Nighttime Stories (ISBN 978-0-6926-12682) in the Winter-Spring 2016 edition of The Rockford Review, published by the Rockford Writer’s Guild. The reviewer is editor Connie Kunst.

McCormick Cover JPEGBig City Nighttime Stories (Middle Island Press, 103 pages, $16)  by Gene McCormick is a collection of poetry available on Amazon or directly through the author.  Email: genebiz@att.net for more information or mail check/money order for $16 to PO Box 51, Wayne, IL 60184.

Gene McCormick captures the “ugh” moments of places and people a little too well.  I’ll just say it:  his writing makes me uncomfortable. What is he going to unveil next? What dysfunction is he going to uncover?  What underdog is he going to reveal?  He’s unpredictable.  I’ll just say it:  his writing is fascinating.  In this collection, we are reintroduced to “Ed” who is a regular in McCormick’s poetry.  Ed sleeps with prostitutes, drinks too much, has a terrible diet, and regularly judges others, but I like the guy anyway.  Sure, Ed is a loner and goes to all the dark places, but he does it all so colorfully.  Ed and all of McCormick’s poems make for delightfully dark reading.

Thank You, Connie, from Middle Island Press!

 

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2016 in News & Reviews

 

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Big City Nighttime Stories by Gene McCormick

McCormick Cover JPEGThe first Middle Island Press book to have been published in the year 2016 is Big City Nighttime Stories by Illinois poet Gene McCormick. The back cover contains some commentaries that I’d like to share:

“The language of the poems [In Tanya, Queen Of The Greasy Spoon] is sometimes conventionally attractive, but more often than not many things are ugly, grotesque, or simply commonplace. Whatever the subject, however, the clarity, crispness, and aptness of the language elevates the subject matter to the level of true poetry. This is a quality much rarer in English and American poetry than in French, and especially so at the turn of the 21st century when   the language of even many admired poets is flat and turgid. …Aside from the language, this collection is rich in humanity. The author moves with seeming effortlessness into the minds and souls of people of both sexes, of old and young, and of widely varying social situations. The author never moralizes, and never slips into the false superiority of gratuitous irony. The result is one of the most readable collections I have come across for a long time.”  —Jack Hart, editor, Ship of Fools.

“Hand-hewn poems of the America behind the headlines, away from the glitz and glamour, far from the tall buildings and high finance. Mr. McCormick is   the anti-Norman Rockwell, painting not the ideal, but the dirty bricks and stone, the flat tires and lives, and the one for the road that goes nowhere. The poet has no agenda but to depict the plain truth of observable reality. The 99% we seldom see outside of crime blotters and obituaries.”  —Phil Wagner, editor, The Iconoclast, reviewing An Ice Ax At Dusk.

“Probes the height and/or depth of mankind. That’s the stuff that separates distinguished poets from wannabees. The way McCormick weaves poetic   insight and imagery into prose format is a gift.”  —David Ross, Rockford Writer’s Guild.

“McCormick’s poetic prose hits no false notes, and he sketches the story out as quickly as we can follow it. Read straight through, the narrative is heady, taking us in just a few minutes from the “primordial days” of childhood to the world as it appears after death. Each piece also stands on its own and entices the reader to look long and look again, as with a set of installations, souls built word by word.”  —Leslie Bary, University of Louisiana, reviewing Lives of Passion for Cybersoleil.

…and Gene McCormick’s own words:

Big City Nighttime Stories is my world, the world as I know it, spelled out with nuanced, evocative writing that is at once accessible while encouraging interpretations.”

I, personally, find McCormick’s style of writing relaxed and readable, edgy yet sophisticated, and was amused and entertained at his perceptions and analyses in poems such as “An Average Woman In McDonalds” in which I found myself wondering how often I’ve been stared at and analyzed without knowing it!

Big City Nighttime Stories is available at Amazon.com and the Middle Island Press website. We encourage readers to leave a kind review at Amazon.

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2016 in News & Reviews

 

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