In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.
Each writer of the blog tour is asked the following questions. Here’s what I had to say:
1) What am I working on?
Right now, I’m trying to get my manuscript, Point Blank, published. Some of the poems were written before I started the Stonecoast MFA program. Once I started grad school, Point Blank took on a life of its own — exploring race through various Black male archetypes.
The characters that populate these narrative poems exist between urban and suburban areas. The imagery in Point Blank is influenced by natural landscapes, hip hop, and the urban scene. It’s my hope that Point Blank also speaks to injustices committed by or against people left in the margins as a result of racism, classism, and related economic disparities, while showing their humanity in a way that invites the reader to reconsider what s/he thought s/he knew.
I was honored that my mentors, Joy Harjo and Tim Seibles, helped me shape this manuscript. Tim showed me how sensory and psychological details intensified a reader’s experience of each poem. I added details to earlier drafts that not only make the reader feel like they’re inside the poem and experience, but also takes them inside the head of the speaker.
When I struggled during my first semester with how detailed I wanted to be in my poems, Tim offered this bit of advice: “We love soloists for what they give us, not what they hold back.” That’s become my mantra whenever I approach the page.
I owe just as much to Joy Harjo, who, with my title poem “Point Blank”, had me consider the age of my speaker and his friend, both 12-year-olds, which Harjo noted was the age most guys are at the edge of puberty. Adding those extra details helped make the poem richer. Harjo also had me consider alternate time (what’s happening in another time that connects to the moment in the poem).
“A poem is an energetic system,” she once told me. Because of her suggestions, I now consider various levels on which my poems work. Because of Joy and Tim, I’d like to think the poems in Point Blank pose like bodybuilders, showing off their new muscles. Seibles and Harjo forced my poems to do extra bench presses despite them being tired and wanting to relax.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
My work differs the same way we’re all different. I can only bring my point of view, which is shaped by personal experiences, to a subject. While I’m not the only writer to explore certain issues through persona — Peter Parker, an earth-bound angel, Hulk and others — I do bring my own insights, which are going to be unique to other writers the same way their insights differ from mine.
3) Why do I write what I do?
The late John Wooden, basketball player and coach, once said: “Be true to yourself…make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books…”
With that said, being true to myself requires me to write what I’m passionate about, what inspires me after drinking deeply from life.
Most of my work is autobiographical because I pull from my own experiences. Being true to myself requires me to bear witness to my life while I hope my experiences speak to someone else’s. Tim Seibles said it best during my interview with him for BOMB magazine:
What I’m trying to do, as a poet, is to bear witness to my life because I believe my life is like other lives. What I mean is that my problems, my anxieties, my passions, my loves, my disappointments link up pretty readily with those of other people.
…[I]f I talk explicitly about sexual desire, I’m not the first man in the world to look at a woman and feel that burn in the gut…
With my poems, whether they be explicitly erotic or explicitly political, I hope I am simply putting language to something that many people feel.
That’s what I strive to do in all of my poems: speak truth to power.
4) How does my writing process work?
I am not productive away from people. I need the sounds of life as my backdrop — overheard conversations in a restaurant or coffee house, the squealing bus brakes, car horns, the loud scrape of a chair leg sliding across floor tile, etc. I need something happening in the background while I write.
I also don’t do good carrying a pen and pad. The expectation of writing turns off my creativity. That’s why I love my EVERNOTE app, which I’ve installed on my android phone and my laptop. So when I’m hit with an image or a few lines, I whip out my phone and start typing in that app. When I get to my laptop, I can flesh out the ideas and keep going.
I’m often inspired by people-watching. The conversation of things unsaid between strangers. I’m big on body language and the narrative therein.
Let’s keep the blog tour rolling with these next two bloggers:
Robert Hookey is an author and a bellman at a hotel on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. He grew from a “stereotypical shy, retiring kid” to a wonderful storyteller, who’s days as a bellman aren’t short of funny and awkward adventures. He’s the personality behind the blog, You’ve Been Hooked. The funniest story he told me was the situation with him and Min. Louis Farrakhan. You have to read his profile here to find out the rest.
Next up is Ned Hickson, an editor and humor columnist for the Siuslaw News, a small Oregon newspaper where the motto is: Your dependable source for local news. Twice weekly. Unless we lose count. He’s the personality behind the blog, Ned’s Blog: Humor at the Speed of Life.