Tag Archives: William Carlos Williams

A Virtual Interview with Jim LaVilla-Havelin

Jim LaVilla-Havelin will be the featured reader Thursday, June 14, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Jim LaVilla-Havelin is an educator, arts administrator, community arts advocate, consultant, critic and poet. His fifth book of poems, WEST, POEMS OF A PLACE is recently out from Wings Press. LaVilla-Havelin is the Poetry Editor for the San Antonio Express-News and the Coordinator for National Poetry Month in San Antonio.

LaVilla-Havelin retired in 2013 after seventeen years as the Director of the Young Artist Programs at the Southwest School of Art, to write, teach, and consult. He teaches Creative Writing in the Go Arts Program of Bihl Haus Art, in the Writers in Communities program at Gemini Ink, where he teaches at the Cyndi Taylor Krier Juvenile Correctional Treatment Center, and in the BFA program at the Southwest School of Art, where he teaches The Image of the Artist in Literature and Cinema.

He has offered workshops, classes, and public programs for the McNay, San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio Independent School District, Georgetown Poetry Festival, Gemini Ink, and many other sites . He lives in Lytle, Texas, (the “place”,of  “poems of a place” with his wife, artist, Lucia LaVilla-Havelin.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? How did you become interested in writing?

JL-H: My mother read me Robert Louis Stevenson’s A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES and Mother Goose rhymes, Burl Ives and Belafonte/Odetta/Makeba  and Lenya/Weill poem songs, and Odgen Nash and of course, Dr. Seuss. (That I’m not writing doggerel is a testament to William Carlos Williams and Walt Whitman.)

I was writing stories and puppet plays in third grade, and from there, never looked back.

CH: When did you begin to identify yourself as a writer? as a poet?

JL-H: Consciously, or probably self-consciously, in high school. It was kind of an affectation,  except I was writing, reading voraciously, listening to Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsberg. And wrote a novel when I was in high school (that is, thankfully lost forever). Went off to college as an anti-war radical and a writer (pretentious).

CH: I’ve recently been reading your collection, Counting (Pecan Grove Press, 2010). I was struck by the way these poems engage with the larger world, their social consciousness. How has the theme of social consciousness developed in your work over time?

JL-H: Social consciousness has been part of the work forever. Levertov and Piercy, Merton, Gandhi, Whitman, the Beats, Dan Berrigan, Grace Paley – they were all a significant part of my writing life, shaping my sense of the engaged, committed, writer. And while that has changed some over the years – as radicalism has shifted,too. My work is always political.

CH: Tell us a little about your newest collection, West: Poems of a Place. What got you started on this project? How does this book differ from other work you’ve done?

JL-H: WEST, poems of a place, is a book by a city poet who now lives (and has done for fourteen years now in the country. It is about adjusting my eyes. It is different from other work I’ve done in the way that country life is different from city life. It Is much more about the space of the West, the look of a place, the time of it. I think my earlier work was grounded in place and places, and in multi-sensory observation, but I think the country has cleansed my palate (or is it the palette that it cleansed?)

CH: You’ve long been involved in the community as a teacher and an arts advocate, and you’ve been very active as a “literary citizen.” How has this public commitment to arts and to poetry informed your own work?

JL-H: I hear new work. I find great energy and inspiration in teaching, workshops, students of all ages. I listen closely to the sounds of the poems of others and am amazed at how many ways there really are to look at a blackbird. The work gives me hope, sound, courage and often outrage to keep working at my own writing. (It isn’t so different from the social consciousness – in fact it may be my 21st century version of social consciousness.)

CH: What are some of the things you have learned from your students?

JL-H: Given that I work with students across the lifespan – and in a variety of settings, the lessons are varied and rich – from my Golden’s (senior citizens) to my Juvenile Detention kids to Young Women’s Leadership Academy girls, to fellow writers in many workshops I’ve taught –so just a few of the lessons

  • rage and loss fit on the page with the joy in letting them loose
  • memory is a sharpen-able tool
  • every writer will crack it open when they’re ready
  • there are ways to help folks get ready
  • my voice, my poems, my solutions to problems posed in work are generally only about half-right for most students
  • that half is good enough

CH: Thinking back to your early work as a poet—perhaps to your first book, or earlier—what’s changed in your writing? What threads are constant?

JL-H: I love language, words, the sound of words banging against one another. I love the look of a poem on the page.

What’s changed? The scene, my sense of time (both the local-rural time, and aging time). I think I’m more playful now (though that’s up for argument. Probably my definition of the “meditative quality of writing” has shifted some. (again that’s about time.)

CH: What are you working on now?

JL-H: Many projects – a double-chapbook called Will Be a House / Will Be a Book –

dedicated to my father (house) and my mother (book) is done, looking for someone to love it; PLAYLIST a ten year project, finished, in the hands of two very good readers – a narrative poem about jazz; the second book of a five book sequence of narrative poems which started with SIMON’S MASTERPIECE. So I’m onward to the third book (hoping it doesn’t take 10 years)

CH: Who are some of the poets to whose work you turn, time and again, for inspiration?

JL-H This list is very long. It starts with William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman, Philip Levine,and Pablo Neruda. But includes local and regional poets, friends.

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

JL-H: THE LAST SHIFT by Philip Levine; VOICES IN THE AIR  by Naomi Shihab Nye and books or manuscripts by Charles Darnell, Linda Simone, Laura Quinn Guidry, and Michelle Hartman.

A Virtual Interview with Cyrus Cassells

Cyrus Cassells will be the featured reader Thursday, April 12, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Cyrus Cassells is the author of six books of poetry: The Mud Actor, Soul Make a Path through ShoutingBeautiful SignorMore Than Peace and CypressesThe Crossed-Out Swastika , and The Gospel according to Wild Indigo, just published in the Crab Orchard Poetry Series (SIU Press). Among his honors are a Lannan Literary Award, a William Carlos Williams Award, and a Lambda Literary Award.  He is a professor of English at Texas State University and lives in Austin.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of writing? Your first memory of poetry?  

CC: I was asked to write the class prophecy in fourth grade. My first memory of reading poems is rather blurry; I didn’t care for poetry much as a child; I was solely interested in fiction. The first book to interest me in poetry was Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, which I read as a teenager. I also read Ai, Audre Lorde, and Adrienne Rich shortly after.

CH: When did you begin to consider yourself a writer? A poet? 

CC: Only when my second book of poems, Soul Make a Path through Shouting, was published in 1994.

CH: Your first book, The Mud Actor, was a National Poetry Series selection. How was this collection conceived? Looking back, what factors helped you achieve that first success? 

CC: I conceived the book as a three-part meditation on the possibility of reincarnation. I was experimenting with hypnosis and past life regression therapy during the time I wrote the book. Poet and novelist Al Young heard from others who knew me that I was working on a manuscript. He asked me if I could complete it within a three-month period and submit it to him as a judge, and he ended up choosing my manuscript for the National Poetry Series.

CH: Your fourth book, Riders on the Back of Silence, is a novel in verse. What were your inspirations for that project? What are the particular challenges of that form?

CC: I never published the novel-in-verse, with the exception of seven poems that became part of The Crossed-Out Swastika. My main goal with the project was to explore the theme of family secrets. I viewed it, after the fact, as a kind of laboratory for creating characters in verse and as a preparation for my first novel, My Gingerbread Shakespeare, which I completed last fall.

CH: Now you’ve had your sixth book, The Gospel According to Wild Indigo, published. What has changed in your writing practice over time? What remains the same? 

CC: I’d say very little has changed in my writing practice over time—with the exception of working on and completing a novel, which requires a more sustained, even daily practice.

CH: Please tell us a little about The Gospel According to Wild Indigo. How did the poems for this book take shape?

CC: I was in Charleston and the Sea Islands doing research to play Eugene in Dael Orlandersmith’s drama, Yellowman, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; the production got canceled, but then poems about the area began to pour out of me. I visited South Carolina three more times before I completed the title sequence. The Gospel according to Wild Indigo, contains two song cycles. The book’s title sequence is an extended paean to the enduring strength and integrity of the dynamic Gullah culture of Charleston and the Sea Islands; the poems celebrate the legacy of resilient rice and indigo working slaves and their irrepressible descendants (“Who better to define freedom / than slave?”). They also praise the true-life triumph of Gullah people over the systematic repression of their once banned and imperiled language. The second sequence, “Lovers Borrowing the Language of Cicadas,” has a vivid Mediterranean backdrop and explores themes of pilgrimage, erotic and romantic love, classical history, the solace and majesty of the sea, reunion, regret, and loss; this European cycle concludes with elegies to my mother and to the countless men lost in the juggernaut of the AIDS crisis.

CH: You’ve often spoken of the importance of travel to your writing. How would you describe the relationship to place in your work?  

CC: Landscape and history are ever-important in my work—not only the physical but the psychic landscape, as I often write about historical trauma.

CH: How has your work as a creative writing professor influenced your writing?  

CC: It has spurred me, on occasion, to take more chances with my writing, in terms of subject matter and approach.

CH: Who are some of the poets to whom you turn, time and again, for inspiration? 

CC: From the past, Paul Celan, T. S. Eliot, Jean Follain, Robert Hayden, Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Boris Pasternak, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams; among contemporary poets, Frank Bidart, Martín Espada, Carolyn Forché, Suzanne Gardinier, Louise Glück, Jorie Graham, Ellen Hinsey, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Li-Young Lee, and Jean Valentine come to mind.

CH: What are you working on now? 

CC: Several things at once: a seventh volume of poetry, Dragon Shining With All Values Known, a book about spiritual quest, set partly in a desert monastery: a second novel called A Horse is a Very Big Dog, set in New York, New England, and Greenland between 1897-1918; and The Book of Spanish Mentors, about my experiences as translator of Spanish and Catalan poetry.

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.