Why do you write?
I think I started writing because I was generally quiet and withdrawn as a kid, but pretty observant, a good listener and no one seemed to be talking about what I was thinking about and writing helped me organize my feelings, sort things through and figure out where I fit in the world. It is still the basic reason I write. Besides I am a much better writer than a talker.
What books do you read?
I read mostly contemporary fiction and some recent favorites were ALL INVOLVED/Ryan Gattis, THE MAGIC OF BLOOD/Dagoberto Gilb, THE DINNER/Herman Koch…All time favorites? THE THINGS THEY CARRIED/Tim O’Brien, GRAPES OF WRATH/Steinbeck, SONG OF SOLOMON/Morrison. I read the newspaper religiously. Start with sports and work my way to the front. When I need a mindless break I’ll read a baseball book or another book about Brian Wilson or Bruce Springsteen.
What inspires you?
Listening to music. Especially seeing it live is my favorite thing. It just lifts me, takes me to another place. Also I love being around the people I work with (developmentally challenged folks) and Joshua (an autistic young man I am close to) and watch as they make their way through the world. To quote Jason Isbell, they make my life look relatively easy. I am fascinated by their strength and consistent ingenuity as they intersect with the day to day world.
What moves me to write is situations I come across in my life that causes some kind of conflict in my thoughts. I’ll see something that sticks to me, haunts me and I’ll walk around with it and work it into the shape of a poem until I sit my ass down and finally write it out.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?
A combination of listening to people like Dylan, Joni Mitchell and reading THE GRAPES OF WRATH. Then in 1975 I got more serious when Blood On The Tracks, Born To Run and Jackson Browne’s Late For The Sky came out. I started thinking I wanted to write like a combination of them so I could move people the way they moved me. And yes, I still want to write like them.nPoets that first hit me and made me think I could write poetry were Richard Hugo, Ann Sexton (without the rhyme schemes) and Phillip Levine.
How do you deal with rejection?
Most of the time pretty well. I think I have a realistic idea of places that have no use for my type of writing and other places that will be happy to see my work and give me serious consideration. I will try on occasion to get into well known academic places even though I am probably just butting my head against a wall. Maybe I’ll get rejected a handful of times from academic journals and then to ensure I don’t get too down I’ll send to places I feel I have a good shot at an acceptance. I will say that the rejection that has annoyed the crap out of me most and really pisses me off is the many times I’ve been ignored by NYFA. I know I shouldn’t say it, but there’s no way that there are that many poets in NY better than me. Twenty to twenty five poets for seven to ten different years? No way…and I’ve seen the lists and so many of them just suck.
Who are some writers you admire?
While there are a number of writers whose work and work ethic I admire a great deal, there are people like my father, my Uncle Dom, Joshua and Larry (a guy who lives in the residence I manage) who I look up to much more because I know how they conduct their lives. I admire a good writer the way I admired Thurman Munson, Brian Wilson, Julius Erving, Bruce Springsteen, from a distance and focusing on their skills and gifts.
Is writing the only artistic medium you do?
No, I just write.
What would be some advice you would give to your younger self?
I know better than to waste my breath trying to tell my younger self anything. I never listened to anyone and I always had to figure things out on my own. Though I do wish I listened to my mom when she told me not to give up on my guitar lessons.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Well, read a whole lot and then write about stuff that you have a stake in, that matters to you, that keeps you awake at night, that walks around with you and haunts you until you get it down true and right. Otherwise, don’t bother. There are already way too many writers.
What is your writing process?
This can also be my advice on what not to do….I only sit down when I have something, some idea, that I have to write about. I’ll walk around with the idea, formulate a strategy, have an idea of an opening line, an arc, maybe even an ending so I won’t be sitting there staring at an empty page. I think this results in my not being very prolific and that there are extended periods when I don’t write at all, but I also tend to feel good about what I finish and I tell myself I have a high slugging percentage with a top WAR rating.