A Virtual Interview with W. Joe Hoppe

W. Joe Hoppe will be the feature for the 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) on Thursday, April 14, 2016  from 7:15 to 9:00 p.m.

Background

Joe Hoppe has taught at Austin Community College since 1996. He has published two books of poetry, Galvanized, by Dalton Publications in 2007, and Diamond Plate by OBSOLETE! press in 2012, as well as many self-published chapbooks. He also hosts the monthly W. Joe’s Poetry Corner at Malvern Books. Most recently he has been working very hard (and with a lot of help) to get his hotrod ’51 Plymouth on a ’90 Dakota frame with a 60’s-era 318 engine on the road.

The Interview

CH: How did you first become interested in writing? When did you first begin to think of yourself as a writer?

I probably really began to think of myself as a writer during my first year in community college.  I thought I was going to be a rock and roll journalist, but liked Creative Writing, too.  Language has always been important, though.  I think I get some of that from my dad, who is an inveterate punster and likes to tell jokes that often hinge on language. He communicated with me through jokes during my orneriest years, so I am pretty comfortable with metaphor.  I was a very sickly kid and read a lot, too. I think I really started liking writing for how it was written as opposed to what it was about in junior high.  Clockwork Orange with its language and the charm of Alex, although he was a murderous little thug, was a revelation.

CH:  You’ve published two books of poetry. How would you describe your writing and your identity as a writer?

I would like to be thought of as someone who sees the beauty in things that aren’t traditionally beautiful and who makes a point of being accessible. I like to pose as someone who knows a lot about machinery and has pretensions towards the working class—which are things you don’t see much in poetry—another reason I like your work so much. Also, I have been concerned with teaching the last few years—so pointing things out and being a positive role model in that you can be both a regular person and a poet. Mainly I think my identity is “the bald guy with the big red beard” at this point.

CH: I know you have a strong connection to Albert Huffstickler, the “Poet Laureate of Hyde Park.” How did you meet Huffstickler? What is your strongest recollection of him? How has his poetry influenced yours?

I first met Huff when he was running a Sunday night poetry gathering out of his apartment at 43rd and Avenue H.  This was the spring of 1990.  I had met Larry Thoren and Gregg Gauntner at Chicago House open mikes (it was a wonderful scene with lots of folks doing great unpretentious and meaningful work) and they invited me to come over.  I was the youngest guy, and Huff wasn’t too sure about me at first.  Eventually we hit it off, and eventually I became his driver towards the end of his life.

We spent a little over a year with monthly readings at the Austin State Hospital, as well. Good sweet memories there. One of my strongest recollections comes from one time when we were doing some kind of everyday thing at Capitol Plaza and Huff suddenly announced “Now it’s time to write poetry.”  So we found a place where we could sit down and have coffee and wrote poetry.  I also have a beautiful memory of one of his Ruta Maya (when it was downtown) readings in the summer when the place was packed and he read for over an hour with incredible ebb and flow and keeping everyone in the place engaged. I haven’t been able to sit still that long for anyone else’s poetry. The openness, accessibility, and social concerns Huff addressed have influenced me philosophically/spiritually.  He had a lot of students, but nobody tried to emulate his style.  We all had our own things.

CH: What inspired you to become a college professor? What has your long experience at Austin Community College taught you as a writer?

In  the mid-80s when I lived in Minneapolis, I tried for several years to be helpful by working with homeless folks in the social service system. I peter principled my way out of that, as well as having serious doubts as to the implicit promises that were being made.  I still wanted to be helpful, and I love writing and literature and the great variety of students at community colleges (I have taken community college courses in Michigan, Minneapolis, and here in Austin) so I set up a long-term goal of being a community college professor in 1989. I started working at ACC as an adjunct in 1996, and became a full timer in 2007.  I’m playing the long con.  Maybe the most important thing I have learned about writing at ACC is the importance of accessibility, but at the same time that people are generally more than willing to rise to an occasion.  I could go on for a long time about what I have learned at ACC, but we will leave it at that.

CH: I know that cars and their restoration have long been some of your passions. It seems that car restoration has aspects that relate to the work of writing: patience, persistence, an interest in knowing how things work and a certain creative spark. How has working on cars influenced your writing?

For a long time, I saw cars as somewhat inviolable—you could repair them, but the main goal was to restore them (or modify them, but even then)—within a set of parameters. Currently, I am putting together a 51 Plymouth body on a modified 90 Dakota truck frame with a mid-sixties 318 engine. The goal is a home-built cool daily driver.  The aesthetic is cool/fun/reasonable performance/affordable/and work within my own capability. I have learned a lot about fabrication, spent many hours working with skilled and generous friends whom I admire, and have kind of learned to weld, among other things.

So it has been very process oriented, and a more obvious externalization of skills, values, etc. I just over-extended my elbow so I am not going to be making an appearance with the car at the Lonestar Round-Up next week as I was planning to do. This is weighing heavy on my mind. But as you said, there are many, many parallels to poetry.  Some differences are that the car building can be cooperative—a good opportunity to hang out with friends, and I get props from another set of people.  Closer to the folks I grew up with. It has influenced my writing by reminding me that the process itself is one of the biggest points, and that things can be re-worked until they are the way that you want them to be.

CH: How did the publication of your first book, Galvanized, come about? How did you decide on what to include in the book?

Galvanized was my first full-length book of poetry. I have published a lot of chapbooks previously-I was deeply into the zine scene of the 80s—punk self publishing—and things progressed from there. Deltina Hay had published Ric Williams book The Secret Book of God, and Galvanized was the second book from Dalton Publishing. Ric was very supportive and encouraging, and Deltina liked my work. I included what I thought were some of my best poems, including a few about my son Max, and a few about my experiences working with homeless folks, along with poems that hadn’t been printed yet.  I had gotten kind of uppity about being published, and wasn’t sending stuff out to just anybody so I had a fair amount of unpublished poems by then. Dalton went on to publish probably eight other books. Then The Recession hit and that was that.

CH: How was the experience of publishing Diamond Plate different from that of Galvanized? How was it similar? How did your experience with Galvanized influence your decisions in putting together and publishing Diamond Plate?

Although I love the cover of Galvanized (the blue National Recovery Act eagle holding gears in one claw and lighting in the other, on white with red over and blue under), and it won an award for its designer, I think that people assume it is political due to the cover and the political connotations of the word galvanized. So, some might have thought it was kind of Rush Limbaugh/Glenn Beck—which is NOT the case at all. So there might be some unfortunate connotations there.

Diamond Plate was the first book of poetry from OBSOLETE! Press, whose editor, Rich Dana printed a magazine with a very, very similar worldview to my own. He was an old college friend of my wife Polly. Rich’s father, Robert Dana, was Iowa’s Poet Laureate, and had been part of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. So after I had corresponded with him for a while, I said “Hey, I’ve got this manuscript…”  He took the publishing very seriously, and had his dad’s widow, Peg Dana, go through and arrange things and give advice. She has her own small press. Since I was Rich’s only poet, I think I got more attention.  Also, we are pretty simpatico.  Dalton published a lot in a short time and got stretched a bit thin.  The contents for Diamond Plate were all more recent, as Galvanized had exhausted my slush pile.

CH: What are you working on now? Do you have another book on the horizon?

I am working on a chapbook called Hot Rod Golgotha after the phrase from Ginsberg’s Howl. It’s going to be more car and work stuff. Originally it was going to be a 20-poem chap for Raw Paw when David Jewell was editor. My real hot rod got in the way of finishing it. So it remains a bit far out on the horizon.

CH: Who are some of your favorite writers? How has their work influenced your writing?

Jack Kerouac was a huge influence early on. Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind made me want to write poetry. I get caught up with the masters: William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Rainer Maria Rilke, Walt Whitman, Randall Jarrell.  More recently Nick Flynn and Jim Harrison, who died just recently. I could go on and on. I think clear vision and relationships between the words—how they bang together and give off sparks– is what thrills me and I want to emulate.

CH: What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

I recently read Abe Louise Young’s Heaven to Me for when she was a guest at W. Joe’s Poetry Corner, which is an almost-monthly poetry reading I host at Malvern Books. I have also been delving in to Randall Jarrell’s collected poems and picked up a book of William Carlos Williams’ translations of Spanish poems. I am trying to get better at Spanish, and Williams’ translations, “in the American idiom” as he says, are absolutely exquisite.

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