American poet and multiple Pushcart prize nominee Howie Good, recently took time out to speak to Scott Devon at neo:writers. See Howie’s previously unpublished poem and interview below.
The soprano’s mouth fills with the taste of blood. There are guardian angels lolling in bed, blast waves spreading out in circles, many fires flaring up at once. A murderer mounts the stairs without somehow appearing to ever get any closer. I raise my hand. New rules prevent me from simply yelling “Help!” Bored, the Buddha watches through half-closed eyes. The story the cosmos is finishing telling isn’t a story anyone asked to have told.
To listen to Opera Bouffe, please click below.
Howie Good, a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, is the author of five poetry collections, most recently Cryptic Endearments from Knives Forks & Spoons Press. He has had numerous chapbooks, including A Special Gun for Elephant Hunting from Dog on a Chain Press, Strange Roads from Puddles of Sky Press, and Death of Me from Pig Ear Press. His poetry has been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthology. He blogs at http://apocalypsemambo.blogspot.com.
SD. Hello, Howie. Thank you for joining us today here at neo:writers; it’s a pleasure to be talking to you.
SD. Let me start with this one. You are a Journalism professor and a poet. How did you come to be so heavily involved in two seemingly opposing mediums?
HG. I hope you aren’t offended if I challenge the assumption underlying your question. As far as I’m concerned, no one form of writing is opposed to any other form of writing. Rather, I think of the various forms – journalism, essays, fiction, plays, poetry – as lying at different points along the same axis. Or, to use another metaphor, I think of them as different flowers in a mixed bouquet. Writing is writing is writing. A writer avails him- or herself of whatever form – journalism or poetry or scholarship – suits his or her immediate purpose. To privilege one form over another is self-defeating. A good writer can turn journalism into a kind of poetry (consider Orwell or Agee). By the same token, poetry often provides the kind of urgent news we can ill afford to ignore. William Carlos Williams memorably made that point in his poem, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower.”
SD. No offence at all, l agree that writing is writing. But did you come to journalism first and then find poetry afterwards, or was it the other way around?
HG. Not being a trust-fund baby, I have had to earn a living, and journalism has helped pay the bills, first when I was a practitioner on daily newspapers and now that I am a professor. But I came to poetry first. I began writing it in my early teens.
SD. Who were the first poets you read? Any memorable lines?
HG. I read what was available in my high school library, with the result that my reading had absolutely no logic to it. I would just haphazardly reach for a book on the shelf. By pure chance, some of what I found was good, and I became acquainted with poets I would still be reading years later. These included Stephen Crane, Donald Justice, Robert Bly, Williams, Frost, Eliot. Back then, there were still independent bookstores. I prowled their shelves in a similarly chaotic fashion. I discovered Rexroth, Rimbaud, Neruda, the Beats. It wasn’t until college, where I was Lit major, that some semblance order was imposed on my reading. I’m not sure that was entirely a good thing. I got a heavy dose of Anglo-American tradition, but contemporary poetry was less well represented.
SD. One of the first things l noticed about your poems is they seem to have a non-linear sense to them. You don’t seem to be trying to tell a story like some poets, but instead it feels as if you’re giving snap shots of life in them? Would you agree with that?
HG. My poems may not tell coherent stories, but they do contain elements of stories – jagged bits of setting, character, plot, arranged in eccentric patterns. If I wanted to construct a traditional narrative, I wouldn’t write poetry. I’d write narrative history or, if I could muster sufficient stamina and imagination, a novel. But, most of the time, I don’t want to construct a traditional narrative. I want to summon a mystery, create a puzzle. I don’t think it’s my obligation as a poet to impose meaning, but to invite it in.
SD. Your work seems to have a very eclectic nature. I have seen you utilise prose poems, found poems and collage poem, in your writing. Does each poem shape itself as you write or do you select the method of delivery first before you begin?
HG. By and large, the poems take shape as I write. I did exercise forethought when I wrote a series of found poems called “Last Words,” based on famous last words. I approached it as I would one of my scholarly research projects. But that’s the exception. For the most part, I let the poem tell me what it wants to be.
SD. Do you write your poems to perform, or are you strictly a page poet?
HG. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. To write anything tolerable, you have to write with your “ear” – that is, you have to be conscious of how various combinations of words sound. Hearing what you have written is the only way I know to test whether what you’ve written is any good. I don’t necessarily mean declaiming it; I mean hearing it in your head the way readers might hear it in theirs.
SD. Have you found that performing your poems has changed the way you write at all?
HG. Not really. I do three or four readings a year, at bookstores or galleries or on campus, and they’re always ordeals for me. Most of my performing I do as a teacher. The poet part of me is more of an extrovert on the page than in public.
SD. You certainly have no shortage of work, l think you must have a new poem or collection or chapbook published every two to three months. With such a high work rate, do you find that each chapbook is inspired by the previous one, or is each a self-contained project?
HG. Everything is related to everything else, though just how I’m not always sure.
SD. And do you ever work in collaboration with others?
HG. Dale Wisely, founding editor-publisher of the literary journal Right Hand Pointing, and I are doing a chapbook together. I wrote the poems. He’s illustrating them with digital collages. We’re having fun. I have also collaborated with Cynthia Grey on poems for her Web site “The Writing Machine.”
SD. Wonderful. So are you working on anything at the moment?
HG. I am – a collection titled “The Phantom Museum.”
SD. Can you tell us anything about it at this early stage?
HG. It contains a mix of prose poetry and free verse. Some of the poems were inspired by a visit I made to Belgium and Britain in the fall. Others detail psychological states and crises. The collection also contains what might best be described as love poems, though I hope that they avoid the sentimentality associated with that genre.
SD. And lastly, any advice for young poets working on their first collection?
HG. Don’t try to write like anyone but who you are. The world already has a Bukowski, a Ginsberg, a Tzara, a Plath.
SD. Very true. Howie Good, thank you very much for speaking to us today.
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Next month neo:writers will be speaking to Faber and Bloodaxe published poet George Szirtes. Watch this space.