Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Denise Duhamel Interview

1. Your work often varies between the traditional poem utilizing line breaks and stanzas and he prose poem, which focuses more on the use of the sentence. What guides you in choosing the format for the piece? You seem to write more in prose format. You’ve called yourself a hybrid poet. Can you explain what that means to those who may be unfamiliar with the concept?

DD: When I know what I am setting out to say, I tend to write in prose or narrative (sentences with line breaks). I may not wind up saying what I thought I was going to say, but if I do have a “story” of some sort, that’s the way it goes. There are many kinds of prose poems, including meditative, surrealist, fabulist etc. I like the form because it is so inclusive. If I am in more unfamiliar territory, subject-wise (that is, what seems to me unfamiliar), I like to work in forms, traditional and those I make up. In other words, I give myself a project.

2. Who are some of your favorite non-Anglo American writers?

DD: Marjorie Agosin, Pablo Neruda, Ocatavio Paz, Ioana Ieronim, Wisława Szymborska

Any new writers that you are watching to see where they go?

DD: Stacey Waite is absolutely fantastic! She has a couple of chapbooks out and I can’t wait for her first book.

3. How does feminist criticism influence your poetry?

DD: Tremendously. I am a child of the Women’s Movement…It was actually COOL to be a feminist when I was in 6th grade—that is, in 1973. So I embrace the movement and read a lot of feminist criticism and theory.

To elaborate on this, you have called yourself a feminist poet. What does that mean to you?

DD: I want to make women the subjects, not the objects, of my poems.

4. A two-part question:

It has been said that you push the “proverbial envelope.” You yourself have said that you like to break taboos in your work. With strong feminine voices like yourself discussing the role of gender, sex, money, etc do you feel there are still taboos out there to be broken?

DD: Yes!

Funny females were once taboo, think Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl. But you have been called witty, freewheeling, a writer with zany humor. I personally have been brought to tears by your hilarious humor. Do you find the world of poetry less accepting of funny female writers than male writers? What do you feel is humor’s role in poetry today and to come?

DD: As an undergrad, I was told that only “ugly” women can be funny. That is, women who don’t fit into the dominant culture have more to work with. Think fat, loud, etc. When I was in my twenties, I was intimidated by that statement. I didn’t want to have to exaggerate what was “wrong” with me, what was culturally unacceptable. But now I think that idea is changing—with people like Chelsea Lately who fits the norm of who is “pretty” and also hilarious. I think she’s opened up who can get a laugh. In poetry, we are not “seen” exactly on the page. But still, I think the idea of humor’s role in poetry is quite large, especially in terms of socio-political poetry. Satire and absurdity are important.

5. Your poetry so often speaks to bigger picture discussions like in Kinky and the poems Hispanic Barbie and Black Barbie History, in $600,000 from Ka-Ching!, and Why on a Bad Day I can Relate to the Manatee. Do you consider yourself a political poet? What do you see as poetry’s role in American politics, in creating change in American society?

DD: Yes. I do see myself as a political poet. Why not? I think poets should write about everything they want to write about. I think poetry is about making readers see the world differently and opening it up. Having said that, I don’t have an inflated idea of what poetry can “do.” I’m a realist.

6. Your work is candidly honest from relationship poems in Star Spangled Banner and especially in Ka-Ching where you discuss the tragic accident your parents were involved in when an escalator collapsed in 2003. I believe this seemingly open access into your life is why your work is so easy for readers to connect to. What influenced you to be so open with your readers especially in a world today when we are encouraged to be distant in order to protect ourselves?

DD: I was open and honest in my work from the beginning because, in all seriousness, I never thought anyone would really read it. I certainly never thought I’d be published. So now that people have read what I’ve written and no one throws tomatoes or boos, I feel emboldened to continue on that path.

7. In your interview with Karla Huston you discussed that at one point you had to get away from the “I poems.” In much of your latest book, Ka-Ching!, you revert back to the “I perspective.” What brought you back to this “personal narrative” as you called it like that in Smile and Star Spangled Banner?

DD: It was simply time, I think. I don’t think one way of writing is better than the other. I think it’s just a process—you reach the end of one road and turn down another. Then you make two lefts and you are back where you started.

8. After you received your MFA at Sarah Lawrence you have said that you decided that you were “in poetry” for the long haul. Do you think you will ever stop writing? What keeps you going?

DD: I love writing—I love the act of sitting down with a pad of paper or a journal or a laptop. It’s a way for me to connect with myself and with the world. I’ll stop, I suppose when I’m dead. Unless the dead are able to write.

9. Many of your books have a theme to them like with Kinky being about Barbie, (which I love by the way), Ka-Ching! focusing on money and your parents’ accident. Do you find that this way of compiling a book makes it easier to focus on the material or does it jut happen that way because of whatever is going on in your life or society at the time?

DD: I write a lot of poems and when I put a book together, I look back and see the themes—or try to see the themes. I didn’t set out to write a book about money, but when putting together Ka-Ching! I could see that had been an obsession. I knew I was going to write a book of Barbie poems at some point—I guess when I had twenty or so and wanted to keep going.

10. Many of the blog’s readers are active writers always looking for new ways to find inspiration. As a teacher of poetry and a successful writer with 10 books under her belt, would you mind sharing one or more of your favorite exercises to get those juices flowing?

DD: Get your hands on a copy of Joe Brainard’s I Remember and write your own list of “I remembers….” It almost always works

11. The final and toughest question: Would you mind sharing a poem or two with Formaldehyde’s readers?

DD: Sure! As you may know, I’m a big proponent of collaboration. Here is a poem my friend Haya Pomrenze

and I just finished. Coincidentally, it’s called HYBRID.


The day we napped, I felt like a letter in an envelope—

an old-fashioned letter, pre text messages and the pillows

were not too hard, not too soft—just right.

The sleep lines on our faces made us look like lions

and tigers and bears chased our dreams

right through the snooze button. We woke up hungry,

clawed at the oranges we’d packed, the pith

of which reminded us of childhood when

it stuck in our teeth as we didn't know when to stop.

Oh bitter seeds of adulthood. We had two choices—

to believe in the tooth fairy and Santa

or Frank Sinatra and his throaty oath

though he wore a bowtie to hide his huge Adam's apple.

In kindergarten I relished naptime, the sticky plastic mat

smelled of juice, Crayolas and Sister Anne's breath.

In college your lumpy futon held you as you fantasized

about the Italian exchange student with suspenders, fiddled

with a yellow dildo you found on a rack at the Goodwill.

It was fruitless, reminding you of Ken who went

into the priesthood to avoid coming out. What I needed

was a guy who wrestled but romanced me with love letters

and garden vegetables he grew in his backyard. What did I know

then of ripe love, the kind when two people share a worn blanket

and post coital drool? You have slept in 276 beds (counting hotels)

and not once have you forgotten to say the Shema prayer, your hands

clicking rosary beads. You became to be a religious hybrid

when your housekeeper took you to Church of God on Palm Sunday, waving

her dusters like pompoms. In the pew, you read the forbidden missal

but there was no Amazing Grace or food after services.

I drew two triangles to make a Star of David, two lines to make a cross,

thought of Tiger Woods and his Buddhist roots.

Your paternal great-grandmother, you’re told, lived in Thailand

where she sold curried Challah, opened the first fusion

synagogue for Friday night meditation and matzo balls,

light as nirvana, personified. My maternal great-grandfather practiced voodoo

in Kenya poking dolls of his mother-in-law, a moled witch

known for her sour love potions of tree bark and umeboshi plums

she had long ago placed in her vagina for birth control.

The men in the village scorned her for her prunes of deceit, but the women

deified Mamachia. They came to her thatched home bearing gifts

of seashells that foretold the future. The women in our families have always napped,

with eyes wide open or wide shut. They summoned ancestral spirits

through feathers or foam, Craftmatic, Lazy Boys, hammocks—

their fingers brailing wisdom, like a Pillow Book.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

John Murillo's Up Jump the Boogie

“And the Cap/Don’t really tell what’s inside the can. Kinda like the soul,/Que no?

~Santayana, The Muralist from Up Jump the Boogie, John Murillo

Up Jump the Boogie, John Murillo’s first collection of poetry, is a musical exploration of memory, childhood, and of all the drumbeats we hear along the way. His poetry takes the heart and soul of Los Angeles and composes his own symphony of the rhythms around him: the hissing of low-riders as they let out their air bags, the thump of bass, mariachis, the enmeshing of one language into another. Murillo’s orchestration of language, not just as words, but as rhythm, brings the music of the line to an entirely new plain. He creates his own musical California landscape by mixing the rolling drumbeats of our hills, the snare drums of our waves, the bass of a ball bouncing on the court, and booming it over the loudspeakers of the page. To feel the emotion in not only his narratives, but in the sounds he creates telling them makes this collection a unique exploration of what poetry can do on and off the page. The lines are his records, the page his turntable, and the readers, just his humble listeners to the mixes he compiles.

“Between breakbeats and bad breaks, broken homes

And flat broke, caught but never crushed. The stars

We knew we were, who recognized the shine

Despite the shade. We renegade in rhyme…”

-from Renegades of Funk, VII

Monday, July 12, 2010

Denise Duhamel Bio and Question Forum

I am excited to announce that the question forum is now open for one of my all time favorite poets, Denise Duhamel. She is an extraordinary poet, sincere and vulnerable with an uncanny ability to make her reader laugh out loud one minute and be in literal tears the next, or at least that is the affect she has on this poet. With every poem, I feel like I am sitting down in her living room chatting over a glass of wine. There is no distance between her and her reader. She is right there, opening the door into her life.

Her bio is as follows from Here you can also find links to her poetry. 2 poems follow her bio. Post your questions for Denise as a comment to this blog and look for the answers to come from the poetess herself!!!

Denise Duhamel was born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, in 1961. She received a B.F.A. degree from Emerson College and a M.F.A. degree from Sarah Lawrence College.

She is the author of numerous books and chapbooks of poetry, most recentlyKa-Ching! (University of Pittsburgh, 2009), Two and Two (2005), and Mille et un sentiments (Firewheel Editions, 2005).

Her other books currently in print areQueen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh, 2001),The Star-Spangled Banner, winner of the Crab Orchard Poetry Prize (1999); Kinky (1997); Girl Soldier(1996); and How the Sky Fell (1996). Duhamel has also collaborated with Maureen Seaton on three volumes: Little Novels (Pearl Editions, 2002), Oyl (2000), and Exquisite Politics (Tia Chucha Press, 1997).

In response to Duhamel's collection Smile!, Edward Field says, "More than any other poet I know, Denise Duhamel, for all the witty, polished surface of her poems, communicates the ache of human existence."

A winner of an National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, she has been anthologized widely, including four volumes of The Best American Poetry (2000, 1998, 1994, and 1993).

Duhamel teaches creative writing and literature at Florida International University and lives in Hollywood, Florida.

From Kinky

Buddhist Barbie

In the 5th century B.C. 
an Indian philosopher
Gautama teaches "All is emptiness"
and "There is no self."
In the 20th century A.D.
Barbie agrees, but wonders how a man
with such a belly could pose,
smiling, and without a shirt.

Why, On a Bad Day, I Can Relate to the Manatee

The manatee tries a diet of only sea grass, but still stays fat.
Mistaking her for a mermaid from afar,
sailors of long ago lost interest when they got too close,
openly making fun of her chubbiness. She knows Rodney Dangerfield
would write jokes about her if she were more popular.
She's ashamed of her crooked teeth, her two big molars
that leave her sucking and grinding
with bad table manners. She swims towards danger
over and over, scars from motor boats on her back
reminders of her slow stupidness. She resents being
called a sea-cow. She hopes her whiskers don't show
in the light. She is the mammal who knows
about low self-esteem. I first met her on my honeymoon
in southern Florida. I was on a cruise in my one piece bathing suit.
The women in bikinis squealed and pointed to the nearby dolphins,
clapping so their sleek gray backs would come to the water's surface.
In the shadow of her prettier ocean sister, the manatee swam by also.
No one but I paid her much attention. I wanted to lend her
my make-up, massage her spine, lend a girlfriend-ear
and listen to her underwater troubles. I dreamt of her
as I slept in the warmth of my new husband. I dreamt of her
as he slept in the warmth of me. On a good day, too,
I can relate to the manatee, who knows
on some level that she is endangered
and believes in mating for life.
copied from and where more Denise Duhamel poems can be found:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Anthony Seidman's Where Thirsts Intersect

Anthony Seidman’s Where Thirsts Intersect published by Bitter Oleander Press, is not a book meant to be strolled through lightly with a margarita in hand and the ocean waves lapping at your feet. This is a collection meant to be taken seriously, each word acknowledged with consideration. Seidman’s complex diction and sprawling narratives spin the reader into new worlds with each new poem. He does not hand over his images on a silver platter, but instead asks his reader to put the same effort into each poem as he has put into writing them. By doing so there becomes a mutual respect of effort from both writer and reader alike. Seidman utilizes sound and language to explore belonging and place as he transports his readers to new realms. In For Ti Jean, For Kerouac this attention to sound becomes acutely prevalent as I find myself in the car of a train, the rhythm of the line chugging and gaining momentum as the poem progresses drifting off into the morning “dew.” In Cabal, Seidman carries us to another world as he does in so much of his work. In the end, I feel as though I am in a place beyond my own existence, “raincoat dripping on mat, fist offering a coin to the cupped hands of another man praying?”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

David Hernandez Interview and Poem from his upcoming book, Hoodwinked

1. Are you a mentor at Antioch this semester? I'm in the program, and live in Long Beach too. It would be cool to have a mentor so local. -Daniel Romo

Hi, Daniel. Yes, I’ll be a mentor at Antioch this upcoming semester. Swing by my office after the Meet the Mentors panel and say hello.

2. I love the imagery of your work; it's always just right and adeptly illustrated. How long do you live with a poem before it's ready for the world? -Joey

Hello, Joey. It depends on the poem, really. I often work on a single poem for two weeks, maybe three, chiseling away at it until I think it’s complete. I don’t ever ask myself, “Is this poem ready for the world?” The question is more like, “Am I happy with where the poem is now? Can I walk away from it?” Sometimes the answer is “Yes,” but months later I find myself making additional edits. Which is to say I rarely feel like a poem is just right.

3. You opted to not jump into an MFA program but rather inundated your life with reading every poet you could get your hands on, or so that's how your wife, Lisa Glatt, describes it. Can you discuss why the MFA wasn't the right course of action for you? How did your internalization of your development help you as a writer?

I decided not to pursue an MFA right after Cal State Long Beach because I felt like I had been trolling around campus for a decade. I was an art major, had almost completed my degree (I believe I only needed 6 more units), when I decided to switch my major to creative writing. I was basically starting over again, so by the time I received my BA I needed a break from school. So I decided I’d just work and write on my own. And read, of course. I was a voracious reader back then. Not just poetry collections, but literary magazines as well. I was also writing a lot during this time, and whoever I read definitely informed my writing. Simic, Sexton, Hass, Boruch, Hicok. I learned a great deal from all of them simply by immersing myself in their work.

4. Your last book of poetry, Always Danger, is an extraordinary book filled with glorious, dark, astounding imagery that is so uniquely yours. I can't tell you how many lines and images I have underlined throughout! For me personally, it has been a book that deeply inspires a darkness in my own work. Can you talk about how you access these dark images?

I think we have to talk first about the modern world, which—despite being beautiful—is cruel and violent. One would have to be a hermit in a cave or drunkenly optimistic not to recognize this. Perhaps the things we read about or see on the nightly news affect my psyche more than others. I don’t know. Or maybe all the HP Lovecraft and Stephen King I read at an early age contributed to my dark sensibilities. But truthfully, it’s all a mystery as to how and why I come up with the images that I do. I’m thinking maybe it’s the other way around: the dark images access me.

5. Your upcoming book, Hoodwinked, is expected out in 2011. How does this differ from Always Danger? How has your writing style changed, if at all?

Well, I don’t think it’s as dark as Always Danger. I made a conscious decision to shift from writing about violence or death so much. It wasn’t a 180 shift—more of an acute angle. There are more whimsical poems in the new collection, and perhaps more sonically rich poems. I learned some valuable lessons on crafting a poem at UCI, and I think that’s evident in Hoodwinked.

6. Can you talk about your writing method? What's your process? This could even be talking about what elements you need or time of day, what works for you? Does the poem all spit out at once or is it a slow process? I know this is a generic question that so many writers are asked, but as a blog dedicated to the preservation of the art form, I think it is important that we continually analyze our methods especially from those who are successful writers like yourself, a platform many of us strive to be atop of.

It’s a slow, slow process. That’s because I edit as I write, and do a lot of pondering with my hands resting lightly on the keyboard. Little finches perch on my fingers and I have to shake them off. For me, the poem never spits out all at once. I start in the morning (after coffee, of course), and if I’m lucky I get twenty lines in one sitting. It’s always a struggle. There are approximately 74 cogs and wheels that make a poem work, a half a dozen hairsprings and barrel drums, there are no directions or blueprints available, and you have to put the whole thing together with your mind, heart, and breath. It should be a struggle. Or else, why bother?

7. Do you find that there is a particular poet you are constantly turning to for inspiration, alive or dead? Is there anything else you generally do to get those juices flowing when they just aren't coming?

Wallace Stevens does it for me. My work is nothing like his, but there’s something about the strangeness and lyricism of his poems that fires me up. But that’s not always a guarantee. Sometimes nothing will bring the words to the page—and that’s okay. If I try to force something to happen, frustration will inevitably rear its ugly head. At that point, I would rather do anything else. Read, listen to music, tend to my tomatoes in my backyard. If Lisa’s stuck as well, we’ll go to the movies. I write because I enjoy writing, not because I feel like I have to do it all the time.

8. As I ask of all our writers, would you mind sharing some of your favorite exercises with us? Be as specific as you can if you don't mind. As beginning and continually learning artists, exercises can be some of the best advice we can get.

One exercise that I like to give my students is an exercise on repetition. It’s sort of like a sestina with training wheels:

• Write a poem that repeats the same 3 words
• The poem must be at least five tercets long
• Each line must contain a word that’s repeated in each successive stanza (abc, abc, abc…)
• The repeated words can appear anywhere in the line—beginning, middle, or end

What I like about this exercise is that it pushes my students to write poems that are not about actual experiences, which can sometimes eliminate some of the mystery of writing a poem. Your mind is already thinking, “Okay, this happened, then this happened, and then this happened. What parts should I write about? What should I leave out?” The nice thing about a writing exercise is that it makes you focus on the present tense. The mind at that point is thinking, “This is happening now. What next? Where to?” From my experience, that’s a more fruitful headspace to be in for writing a poem.

9. Many of your poems seem to directly connect to your personal life, such as your poem titled Lisa, which is the name of your wife. Without giving away too much about whether your poems are fact or fiction, how does your personal life influence your work? Do you find it better to safe guard fact from fiction or do you give your personal life free reign?

My personal life influences it a great deal, but I’m not just mining my life for material. If that were the case, I’d have a sequence of poems about cleaning the litter box.

Seriously though, whether or not a poem is fact or fiction shouldn’t matter. A piece of writing that is factual true can still sound inauthentic. In the end, the poem should resonate for the reader, regardless if the poet had written about an actual experience or not. It should feel true. That’s the litmus test.

10. Now for the toughest question of all... :) would you mind sharing a poem with us from your latest book? Can you discuss this piece like how it developed or it's inspiration, anything at all.

Sure. This one was published in Gulf Coast a few years ago. It was inspired by actual maggots and poor vision.


Because the plump bags of trash slumped
beside the house like black pumpkins.
Because eleven days passed and the bags
were still there, sun-baked, fly-mobbed.
Because they sighed as I dragged them
down the driveway. Because one was torn
by a crooked nail jutting from the fence.
Because the bag grew a mouth and yawned.

So dozens tumbled onto the concrete,
minute and white. So I thought, Rice.
So they wriggled over the pavement
and I thought, Not rice. So the knotted bag
of repulsion opened in my stomach.
So I uncoiled the green hose and made
a river with my thumb, made the water
push each one under the wooden gate

and into the flowerbeds. Where they writhed.
Where in the muddy earth their spongy
and pale bodies writhed. Where marigolds
nodded yes to every come-and-go wind.
Where brown-winged butterflies mingled
and ladybugs spotted yellow petals
like flicked paint. Where nature pulled
long satin gloves over her many warts.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

David Hernandez Interview Coming Soon!!!

Just wanted to let everyone know that the David Hernandez interview will be out within a week!!! Also, look forward to three book reviews, Anthony Seidman's Where thirsts intersect, John Murillo's Up Jump The Boogie, and the latest issue of Spot Literary Magazine.

And if you want to check out a segment I was recently interviewed for, go to The interview was conducted on June 3rd by Mende Smith on her weekly show Writing on Demand. Definitely check it out along with the other World Wide Word Radio Network and all of their great shows promoting writing!!!

Stay Tuned!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

David Hernandez Interview Forum

The David Hernandez Interview Forum is now open!!!! David Hernandez is an amazing poet based in Long Beach who has been kind enough to offer his expertise and advise so here's your chance! Ask away! The forum will close June 1st!

David Hernandez's third poetry collection Hoodwinked recently won the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry and will be published by Sarabande Books in 2011. His other collections include Always Danger (SIU Press, 2006), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry, and A House Waiting for Music (Tupelo Press, 2003). His poems have appeared in FIELD, The Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, TriQuarterly, The Southern Review, and Poetry Daily. David is also the author of two YA novels, No More Us for You and Suckerpunch, both published by HarperCollins. David currently teaches at the University of CaIifornia, Irvine. He lives in Long Beach and is married to writer Lisa Glatt. (copied from

Links to David's work:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

POP ART: An Anthology of Southern California Poetry, a reading review

This evening, voices from all over Southern California gathered at the immaculate Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton to read from POP ART: An Anthology of Southern California Poetry published by Moon Tide Press. The former estate of orange grove tycoons, the Muckenthaler sprawls with rolling green lawns, airy courtyards, and spanish staircases that take us back to a time when poetry was read in front of fireplaces at Saturday evening cocktail parties, the perfect setting for such a wonderful group of readers. 10 Southern California poets were featured each reading two pieces from the book: Steve Goodyear, Jane Hilary, April Jones, Robert Lanphar, Heather Autumn Love, Gabriella Miotto, Danielle Mitchell, Edward Obuszewski, Jessica Patapoff, and Daniel Romo. What is especially unique about this book is that each poet was recommended by another Southern California poet. For instance, Eric Morago recommended Jessica Patapoff, a talented young poet who writes with an old world flair. She is receiving her MFA from Cal State Long Beach, also where Eric completed his MFA. Danielle Mitchell, who is making her way up quickly in the So Cal scene, was suggested by Ben Trigg of Two Idiots Peddling Poetry which features every Wednesday at the Ugly Mug in Orange. Daniel Romo was recommended by G. Murray Thomas and April Jones from Mindy Netiffee. Anyway, you get the idea. The collection is eclectic and diverse, each poet brining an element of our lovely metropolis to the table. These up and coming Southern California voices should be taken note of as each will be a name not soon lost in the shuffle.

Charles Harper Webb Interview/Advice

1. You have said that when you first write a poem, it's a mess. When you go back to rework it, do you take time before, or do you dive right in? What techniques do you use to make sense of your "first writes?"

I have an elaborate system of putting things in notebooks and pulling them out at random. Sometimes I cheat and work on a draft right away; other times it may take years to surface.

I look for what’s good in the draft, try to save that, get rid of the rest, and go from there. My goal, with every draft, is not to make it perfect—only to make it better than it was.

2. What role does pop culture play in your work and how does this comment on the role of pop culture in the poetry world?

Pop culture gets into my poetry the same way weather, flowers, news stories, my family, baseball, cheese graters, and nuclear physics does. If it interests me or obtrudes on me in any way, it may wind up in a poem.

The role of pop culture in the poetry world varies from poet to poet. I find that pop culture enters into my own poems quite a lot. What does that say about me?

3. You recently joined the world of Facebook. How do you see this and other technology based forums, like blogs, playing a role in the poetry community?

I like the fact that my poems can be read by many more people than could/would ever read them if they were only in printed books. I like that, if people are so inclined, they can find my upcoming readings on the web, or see me reading my work on Youtube. I want my work to give readers some of the pleasure and insight that other writers have given to me. The more, the merrier.

4. You recently gave a panel on the role of humor in poetry. For those of us not lucky enough to attend the AWP, can you share a few of your thoughts on the subject?

Here, lifted straight from my notes:

Hazards of using humor in poems
1) Not being funny.
2) Trying too hard. The best humor, like Shakespeare’s “quality of mercy,” is not strained. It rises naturally from the humorist’s view of the world. Better no humor than the forced kind.
3) Temptation to look for the joke in everything, becoming predictable, and false.
4)Temptation to go for the cheap laugh versus the valuable one. (Note, though, that the fart joke is always serious, in that it undercuts human pretentiousness.)
5) Facing an audience with no sense of humor.
6) Being devalued as a “serious” artist because I use humor. Humor, as that jokster T.S. Eliot said, is a way of saying something serious.

Benefits of using humor.

1) The ability to see the humor in things is one of the great forces of redemption in human life. Monty Python’s song in Life of Brian, “Always look on the bright side of life,” as sung by convicts on the cross.
2) A clear, accurate, and appropriate way to deal with post-modern concerns, and not drive the audience catatonic.
3) Comedy is ideally suited to capture the absurdities enormities and pathos of modern life.
4) The ultimate subversion is to laugh.
5) Not to use humor would be to deny my own perceptions of the world, and to impoverish my understanding, and my voice.

5. You did not start out as a writer, you have a PhD in Psychology and you were a rock musician for years. Can you recall your "a-ha" moment when you knew you were a poet? Did your previous passions influence your turn to poetry? Was there a moment when you completely doubted yourself as poet?

Actually, I started writing (outside of school) about the time I started playing guitar in a band—something about the need to express strong adolescent emotions and to do whatever I could to impress girls.

I never had an “Aha, I’m a poet” moment. I never thought I’d be a poet, and would still be unconvinced except for the evidence of all those poems. I see myself as a writer whose favorite form, to his astonishment, turned out to be poetry.

This happened, I think, because I delight in language, and poetry attempts to use language to its maximum capacity—to get the most possible communication-per-word out of it.

6. What's the most important thing for you when you chose the title piece for a manuscript or book? Is it your best poem? Most intriguing title? What do you look for?

I look for a title that will interest readers, but that also has some sort of relevance to the poems in the book. I could call a book Sick Sexual Practices of All Your Friends, and get everyone interested. But, not knowing all those friends, I wouldn’t be able to deliver. Good writing makes a promise, and keeps it.

7. You have often said to your classes that you are a writer, not a scholar. How does this difference influence your writing and teaching style?

I’m interested in writing as Art, not as an opportunity for me to expound my ideas on social justice, politics, etc., profound and compelling as those may be. I’m interested in how writers do what they do, and how it works emotionally on me. Being stuck with only one (severely time-limited) life, I want to have as many interesting vicarious lives as I can. Literature lets me do that.

I’m at least as interested in making things up as in researching them. I have a poetic license, and I’m not afraid to use it. If facts don’t fit, I can change facts. If I can’t find a quote that says something I want to say, I can either say it myself, or say it myself and invent a fictional expert who “said” it.

I’d much rather read a poem and make sense of it myself than to rely on “secondary sources.”

If my students borrow from others, they have to cite their sources, but I don’t worry much about the form of their footnotes. I have to look up the right form myself.

8. After you have worked on a poem, toiled over it's syntax and diction, the line breaks and overall composition, how do you know when you are done? How do you know that you've got a great poem?

I agree with the saying, “A poem is never finished; it’s abandoned.” Any poem could always be better; I just don’t (for the moment) see how.

I’ll declare a poem—provisionally—finished (ready for abandonment) when I read it several times, over a period of a year or so, and I always like what I read, and never want to change anything. I’m completely willing to change a poem after it’s published, if I’m convinced that I can improve it.

No one can know if he or she has written a great poem. History determines that. And History keeps changing its mind.

9. Your latest book, Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems, is a fabulous collection from all of your books and most recent work. There is a wide range of styles and subjects. What is your favorite thing to write about and why?

I do admire your choice of words. “Fabulous,” in this context, has a very satisfying feel.

I don’t think I have a favorite thing to write about. Turtles come up a lot in my poems, but so do a lot of other things. I write about whatever interests me at the time, and try to let my poems go where they want to go. I also try to constantly expand my interests, so that I don’t become known as “that crazy turtle guy,”

10. Many of Formaldehyde's followers are just starting out in the world of poetry. In order to help inspire some of their work, can you share a few exercises that you use in order to get the poetic juices flowing?

I’ve got several exercises—and so have many other poets—in The Working Poet (edited by Scott Minar) from Autumn House Press.

A great thing to do is to act like a visual artist with a sketchpad. Just take a notebook and walk around, writing verbal sketches of anything that interests you. Good writers develop an inner Geiger counter that starts clicking in the presence of interesting things. The writer can then start digging, and see what turns up, being always aware that the best material is often buried, and requires a lot of skillful digging to bring it up.