Saturday, January 30, 2010

Self-Interview by David Blaine

Q: So, you’ve written a book of poetry, and what, now you think you’re a poet?

A: No, I’ve written closer to a thousand poems, many of them published, including three chapbooks. The first two books were self-published, and I sold two printings of each. That doesn’t make me a poet though; it makes me an entrepreneur. The readers who bought the books would have to tell you if I was a poet or not. It’s always about the reader, not the writer.

Q: Well, in your reviews, at least one writer, Mel Bosworth, stepped up and said he wasn’t sure you were a poet.

A: Right, he said he wasn’t sure the moniker, poet, fit. But he thought I was a damn good writer. I’ll take that any day. I really don’t care about titles. I want to know if my work is reaching an audience. If it is, I don’t care what they call me.

Q: So you’re a poet who doesn’t care if people say you’re not a poet?

A: I guess so. One of my inspirations as a youngster was Carl Sandberg. And I’ll never forget what Robert Frost said about him: “Writing poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis without a net.” And Robert and Carl were friends. That may have been where the phrase was coined, “With friends like these, who needs enemies?”

Q: But you think Sandburg was a poet?

A: Oh, sure, but what I think doesn’t matter. Just like what Frost thought doesn’t matter. Carl earned the title “People’s Poet.” He also won a few awards. I met his daughter, Helga, online. She’s feisty, but she’s proud of her father.

Q: You met Helga Sandburg?

A: Yes. I was researching her father and found a newspaper clipping about a reading she’d done. Figuring she was elderly, and figuring she wouldn’t travel far to do a reading, I checked the phone book for that city. She was listed.

Q: Did you call her?

A: No, I didn’t think I should just call her. But I mailed a letter to her, snail mail. I asked her about her father.

Q: And she answered, obviously?

A: Oh, yes. She told me anything I would want to know could be found in her books.

Q: Ouch!

A: Exactly! So I read several of her books and found out that when she was her dad’s secretary, he had a lot of canned reply letters, and they were numbered. One of them was a letter saying, roughly, “Anything you could want to know would be found in my books.” So I wrote back and said, “I see I got number sixteen,” or whatever number it was. We got along well after that, but I started asking questions about her, not Carl.

Q: Any special reason you were inspired by Sandburg?

A: Well, I did enjoy his poetry. I think all Midwestern school kids read “Chicago” and “Fog” in school. And he lived in Michigan for a time. With Helga’s instructions, I was able to locate their home on Lake Michigan. Standing on their old front porch, facing the water, was tantamount to a religious experience for me.

Q: Did the owners run you off?

A: No. I’m sure they would have if they’d been there, but I went in the off-season, October.

Q: Well, tell me some living poets you enjoy.

A: That’s not hard, but I don’t now if you’d have heard of them. There is Matthew Dickman, out of Portland. His book, All American Poem, won the Honickman last year. There is Susan Yount, from Chicago. Her first book is coming out this year. There are so many deserving authors, and so few people who buy books. It’s a miracle when someone gets published, no matter how good his work is.

Q: Do you have an answer for that problem, too few people buying books?

A: Sure, write better books. But I’m not sure if that’s an answer that will make a difference!

Q: Who would buy your book?

A: You mean besides my mother?

Q: Yes, of course, besides your mother.

A: I think that people who don’t usually read poetry would enjoy my book. Whether they want to call it poetry, prosody, prose poems, or vignettes. Like I said earlier, titles don’t do anything for me. I think people who are open minded and intelligent will enjoy what’s laid out in my lines.

Q: Your book, Antisocial, why that title?

A: Well, there is a Canadian band called The Tragically Hip, and they’ve got a song called “Poets” that reads, “Don’t tell me what the poets are doing, don’t tell me that they’re talking tough. Don’t tell me that they’re antisocial. Somehow not antisocial enough.” That’s one reason. The subject matter is another. Poems that touch on things like teenage pregnancy, auto theft, bestiality, and war, well, what are you going to call a collection like that? Plus, we aren’t supposed to talk about those things in polite conversation, which is really an antisocial stance itself.

Q: Do you think of yourself as antisocial?

A: No, I love mankind, but I really prefer to spend my time alone. If there is a contradiction there, well, I can live with it. I can live alone with it.

Q: Would you like it if this book made you famous?

A: God no! I look at celebrities, like Oprah, and wonder what the hell they want. I would like my work to become popular, but I don’t want people coming to my door asking for interviews or autographs, ever.

Q: What advice would you have for people trying to publish their first book?

A: When you think your work is ready, and your readers will tell you that, do everything you can to help other writers. It may seem counter intuitive, but you can’t bull your way into print. You need to get a lot of people behind you. Critique, review, mentor, and cross your fingers.

Antisocial by David Blaine

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