Tell us about your poems that won the 2013 Fellowship competition for poetry. How did these particular poems come about?
Several years ago, I found a copy of Isaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler on the free bookshelf at Denison University where I was teaching at the time. I began reading it and marking what seemed to me to be fantastic passages. I carried it around with me for several years, always keeping it in view of my writer’s desk. I was going to do something with it sometime, but I didn’t know what. I didn’t think about it. Then one day I took it down and began a series of poems with Walton passages, lists, really, as front matter. The whole endeavor felt good. The fish were biting.
How much impact does your childhood have on your writing?
Children have good eyes and ears. And they see everything, not just what they plan to see. When I began fiction writing in my middle age, I began with childhood experiences. I wrote about the animals that populated my childhood. Now that I think about it, those animals were largely turtles and fish.
What do you find most useful in improving your writing?
What are some day jobs you have held? How did any of them influence your writing?
I have had fewer day jobs than most. I was trained to be a professional musician and that’s how I made my living: playing in a symphony orchestra. So my day job was a night job. When I wasn’t working, I was practicing or reading. I got tired of conductors telling me what to do at about the same time I started writing fiction. My first collection of short fiction gave me an opportunity to quit orchestra playing and teach. (I still play the flute every day. I’m an amateur musician now. ) And music is the subject matter of a great deal of my writing.
What inspires you? What motivates you to write?
I like the ritual of sitting down to write each day. I think it comes from practicing the flute. Practicing has always been as much fun as performing. And when it’s not fun, I’m willing to keep practicing until it is again.
How do you know when a piece of writing is complete?
I have a much better sense of revising fiction than poetry. When I’m doing nothing but punctuation, I have pushed as far as I can with poems. But lately, I have been turning prose into poetry and poetry into prose. As far as I can tell, there’s no end to it.
What books are you reading now?
Borges, Collected Fictions. Tales of Henry James. British Outlaws of Literature and History: Essays on Medieval and Early Modern Figures from Robin Hood to Twm Shon Catty. Matthew & Michael Dickman, 50 American Plays.
What is a book by another that you wish you had written?
Ron Hanson’s Mariette in Ecstasy.
When are you happiest as a writer?
When I look at what I wrote yesterday and can think, “This is not half bad.”
What do you think is the future of writing? How will technology change literature?
Maybe I’m too old to answer this question. I like reading books on my iPad, but I prefer holding books in my hands. Maybe we should wonder about the future of reading.
Writers @ Work is holding its annual writers conference at Alta Lodge in Alta, Utah, from June 5-9. See our conference page for all the details and register today!