Interview with Poet Steve Klepetar

Steve Klepetar

Steve Klepetar

GR: Thanks for agreeing to let us interview you for Gyroscope Review. We’re pleased that you are one of our contributing poets. Will you please begin by telling us where you’re from, where you write, and why poetry?

SK: Thanks for inviting me to participate. I grew up in New York City, but I was actually born in Shanghai, China. My parents were Holocaust survivors (my mother is still alive at 98) and were part of a group of refugees who ended up in China. I came to the U.S. as an infant. I went to college in Binghamton, NY, and graduate school at the University of Chicago. I spent my teaching career in the Midwest, first at a small college in Wisconsin, then at The College of Saint Catherine (now St. Catherine University) in Saint Paul, MN, and finally, for thirty-one years at Saint Cloud State University. I live and write in Saint Cloud. I was drawn to lyric poetry early because of the compression, the challenge of saying much (or trying to) in a short space, and because of the music inherent in language.

GR: Who, or what, are your poetical influences?

SK: William Blake has been an influence, though my world view is not religious and I don’t write either in fixed forms or in long epics. What appeals to me about Blake is his openness to the strangeness of the world. I find that in Emily Dickinson as well. Paul Celan and Rilke have also influenced me toward poems that often follow a non-linear “logic” or cohesion.

GR: How do you decide what ‘form’ a poem should take?

SK: The poem decides most of the time. I have done some Tanka in the last couple of years and I’ve written a few parodies and villanelles, but mostly I write free verse. I never (almost never) decide on a form ahead of time, and the poem tends to shape itself as it spools out across the page.

GR: What is your writing process like?

SK: I mostly write in the mornings after a four mile walk and a shower. To prime the pump, I usually read some poetry – on my desk now are Neruda’s late and posthumous poems, Agha Shahid Ali’s A Nostalgist’s Map of America, and the Summer/Fall issue of the I-70 Review. I like to read online journals and Best of the Net as well. Then I just sit at my computer and wait as an opening line occurs to me, and follow it where it leads. Sometimes it goes somewhere I like and I find a voice and a form that works for me. I must say that I enjoy this process immensely; I think I get a similar effect that some enjoy through meditation.

GR: Do you belong to any writer’s groups – face-to-face or online? If so, are they part of your process?

SK: I am a proud member of the Verse-Virtual online poetry community and a contributing writer to that journal. Through the V-V Facebook page, I communicate with other writers, and I get to share their work and successes. The editor, Firestone Feinstein, is a fine gentleman, and has created something special with this community.

GR: What do you look for in the poetry you like to read? Any favorite poets?

SK: I like a great many poets – my academic field was the Romantics, so I love them, but also the whole range of British and American poetry, and increasingly all poetry written in English. I love the work of my good friend Joseph Lisowski, and my Facebook friend Laura Kaminsky. I feel the power of Audre Lord’s work, and the elegance of Rita Dove’s. I love Yeats and Frost, shorter Stevens, not to mention Shakespeare….

GR: What is the most important role for poets today?

SK: I think that poetry, like many other human activities, appeals to certain people. Anyone who pays attention to poetry – like your readers, I’m sure – knows that many people around the world are writing verse. The plethora of little magazines, print and online, receive many submissions, and it is plain to see that there is a lively interest in the ancient art. In a large world population, even a small minority constitutes a great many individuals. Poets may not be the legislators of the world, as Shelley would have it, but they express not only many individual states of mind and being, but, taken as a whole, the joys and fears of humankind. What poetry does best is to examine small moments of experience, memory, emotion which resonate outward in wave after wave to create meaning.

GR: Which poets have you had the opportunity to hear read? Alternatively, what is the most recent book you’ve read?

SK: I have been lucky enough to have heard Anne Sexton, Robert Bly, Alan Ginsberg, Robert Creely (he was very drunk), Doris Lessing, Lucile Clifton, and others.

GR: Any future plans for your work that you’d like to talk about?

SK: I’ve been working on two sets of poems. One deals with women (or a woman who represents them all) who, despite her own considerable talents, has devoted herself to a man she considers to be a genius – think of Dorothy Wordsworth or Caroline Herschel, say. The poems try to get at the acid blend of worship and resentment at the heart of such a relationship. The other is a group of poems using the central figure of Li Bo, the great Tang dynasty Chinese poet. I have a lot of uncollected work from 2014 and 2015 that would be enough for several books if I ever get around to organizing them. I am really looking forward to pulling some of that work together. I’m thinking of a collection focused on the physical. The working title is Body Language.

GR: What other interests do you have beyond literature?

SK: I have an amateur interest in science. I attended Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, and got a good grounding in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. I don’t have the math to understand it, but I find the weirdness of Quantum Mechanics fascinating, and I love reading about Astrophysics. I’m very interested in the period around the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, so I read about that as well. I try to keep up with politics, and I love classical music (and some folk as well). I’ve recently developed an interest in Australia, as I plan to spend a semester there in 2017. I have a soft spot for old time baseball, and revel in the statistics of players who were active before I was born or when I was a kid.

GR: Thank you for sharing your thoughts and creative process with us. Please let our readers know where they can find more information about you or your work.

SK: Your readers can find more of my work in Verse-Virtual (http://www.verse-virtual.com/) from April 2015 to the present. My chapbook, Return of the Bride of Frankenstein, is available free of charge here: http://barometricpressures.blogspot.com/2014/05/return-of-bride-of-frankenstein-steve.html

You can find two of Steve Klepetar’s poems, The Starving Wind (p. 7) and July: Saint Cloud (p. 32) in the fall 2015 issue of Gyroscope Review. His work also appeared in the spring 2015 inaugural issue.

 

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Issue 15-3, Fall 2015, is here!

We are proud to announce our fall 2015 issue of Gyroscope Review.

Gyroscope Review 15-3

 

Thank you to all our contributing poets!

If you are viewing this on a smart phone or tablet, here is the PDF version.

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INTERVIEW WITH POET TIM TOMLINSON

Tim Tomlinson

Tim Tomlinson

GR: Thanks for agreeing to let us interview you for Gyroscope Review. We’re pleased that you are one of our contributing poets. Will you please begin by telling us where you’re from, where you write, and why poetry?

TT: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, in the section that’s recently gone hipster: Bushwick. When I was one, my family moved to suburban/development Long Island. I escaped from that asylum when I was sixteen.

I returned to Brooklyn two years ago. I live (and write) in the hipster-free zone of Bay Ridge, in a little cubbyhole office in the apartment I share with my wife. The office has two large windows that look out over green backyards, white garages, and, in the distance, red brick apartment buildings that in late afternoon sunlight look like Edward Hopper paintings.

Why poetry? The music and devices of poetry sink their hooks in you very early, don’t they? Blake, Poe, “Tyger tyger, burning bright,” “napping/tapping/ rapping/rapping…” I had those rhythms in my head when I was eight, nine, ten. Then, the music of my adolescence—Beatles, Dylan, Joni Mitchell—highlighted dexterity with language. Irony, paradox, interiority. “I think a no, I mean a yes,” “noon/spoon/ balloon/moon/soon,” “greens/jeans/roses/scenes/discloses…” You start to repeat, you start to imitate. You can’t help it, it just happens in your head. Then it starts to become your own. Sometimes I wonder why everyone isn’t writing poetry—maybe they are. They must be hearing it, thinking it.

GR: Who, or what, are your poetical influences?

TT: I found Jason Shinder’s posthumously published book, Stupid Hope, influential. The frankness, the simplicity, both of which generate depth. And the shapes of the poems—often single lines mingled with couplets in irregular patterns. Charles Wright, too. The space on the page, the drop lines. His poems feel as if they’re happening the way clouds drift across the sky.

GR: How do you decide what ‘form’ a poem should take?

TT: Sometimes the form appears straight out, draft one. But I always test it – I try it this way, that way, any way, print it out, look at the hard copy, before I decide. If I’m lost, if I’m not really seeing it on the page, I count syllables. “Mescaline” and “Broken Things” happened (forgive me if that sounds pretentious) on the same morning, out of the same mood, and their final form is very close to their first drafts. I knew it as soon as I saw them. Others—the “Chris Lunn” poem, for instance, in Gyroscope—literally required many years, numerous attempts, and multiple drafts before it resolved.

GR: What is your writing process like? 

TT: When we’re home, generally very disciplined, but not in a martinet kind of way. I have a sense of what I want to work on on a given day. I look at e-mail, scan a few headlines, make breakfast. These days, I have the laptop with me while I eat and have coffee, but I don’t get to the poems or fiction until I’m back in the office. When we travel, I try to recreate the home practice, but with necessarily irregular success. And when classes are in session (I teach in NYU’s Global Liberal Studies program), I struggle, especially around times when student work comes due.

GR: Do you belong to any writer’s groups – face-to-face or online? If so, are they part of your process?

TT: Here’s a variation on one of my favorite Raymond Carver answers: no, and yes. No, in that I rarely show any one any work in process, ever. Most often, I arrive at a point where I’m OK with the work, and I send it out. Feedback comes in the form of rejections, and the occasional acceptance. But … if I’m working on something new and different, if I need a shake-up, or just a shot of validation, I’m happy to participate in some kind of group work, get some feedback, fresh eyes and ideas, and maybe generate some new stuff. So in that sense, yes, in that over last six or seven years, I’ve taken Master Classes at Poet’s House with Dorianne Laux, Carol Muske-Dukes, and Alison Hawthorne Deming. And I did private sessions with Kim Addonizio. These are all great poets, they put together rosters of great participants, and I got so much from each of the sessions.

GR: What do you look for in the poetry you like to read? Any favorite poets?

TT: I love the work of the poets I just mentioned. The writers I value the most are the ones who make me want to write, and in that sense, I find Kim Addonizio invaluable, particularly her short stories. I read an Addonizio story, I write two of my own, that kind of thing. The great Filipino poet Merlie Alunan said, “Poetry isn’t about the words. Poetry is about the silence after the explosion that the words cause.” I look for poetry that explodes, then leaves me in that silence. Joseph Legaspi, Marjorie Evasco, J. Neil Garcia, Krip Yuson (Filipino poets, all), they do that for me. Larry Levis, Franz Wright, Joy Harjo, Mary Oliver … Leonard Cohen, the Kenneth Rexroth translations of Chinese and Japanese poets. I could go on.

GR: What is the most important role for poets today?

TT: To bear witness. And these days, in order to do that meaningfully, I think it’s necessary to travel, to complicate your perspective by living in someone else’s. And then to tell the truth, but tell it slant. It occurs to me that Emily Dickinson did not hop around the globe, and she was able to bear witness… In workshops I tell my students that everything I say is right, but it’s also wrong. This might be one of those cases.

GR: Which poets have you had the opportunity to hear read? Alternatively, what is the most recent book you’ve read?

TT: Ricky de Ungria is a great reader, animated and implicated. Chris Abani. Kwame Dawes. Michael Dickman shows you the power of silence. Jacqueline Bishop is an excellent reader. Donna Masini.

Novels: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and Omar Musa’s Here Come the Dogs—these really grabbed me. Poems: Breakable Things by Loren Kleinman got me tapping the keyboard.

GR: Any future plans for your work that you’d like to talk about?

TT: In October 2015, my chapbook Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse (Finishing Line Press) appears. It’s unlike anything I’ve done before, kind of a hybrid of immersion journalism, oral history, and found poem. It chronicles, in their own words, the experiences of survivors of Super-tyhpoon Yolanda, which devastated the islands of Leyte and Samar, Philippines. In Fall 2016 Winter Goose Publishing will bring out my first poetry collection, Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire. Currently, I’m nearing the finish line of a novel-in-stories.

GR: What other interests do you have beyond literature?

TT: I’m an avid scuba diver. I do most of my diving these days in the Philippines, where my wife is from. I maintain a regular yoga practice, which keeps my head on straight, if upside down. I’m a slave to music: Tammy Wynette, Duke Ellington, Pet Sounds, Brahms’ Symphony No. 3. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the not-for-profit organization I helped co-found and currently direct: New York Writers Workshop. We’re a collective of New York-based writers who teach here, there, and anywhere. We’ve been in Australia, Europe, all over Asia, and quite a few places here in the US. Our slogan: coming soon to a continent near you.

GR: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Please let our readers know where they can find more information about you or your work.

TT: Here’s a link to an interview concerning Yolanda, on Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/loren-kleinman/tim-tomlinson-talks-about_b_7771346.html

Some recent poems in Lunch Ticket’s Amuse-Bouche, all of which draw from the Philippines. http://lunchticket.org/the-koreans-terminal-3-farewell-in-the-eel-grass/

A piece of fiction from my novel-in-progress: “Gun.” http://thecoachellareview.com/fiction/gun_timtomlinson.html

New York Writers Workshop: http://www.newyorkwritersworkshop.com/

You can also find Tim Tomlinson’s poems, “The Goldfish,” and, “For Chris Lunn, Who Became a Paraplegic at the Age of Twenty, in an Automobile Accident Near Setauket, October 1974,” on pages 10-11 of Issue 15-2 of Gyroscope Review.

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Welcome to September!

Here at Gyroscope Review, we are busy reading poems for our fall issue, which we expect to publish on October 1. You still have a few days to send us something (we’ll read at least until September 15). Please have a look at our guidelines first.

We are excited to be working on our third issue. It’s hard to believe that just one year ago, we were merely in the planning stages for this poetry journal. But here we are, enjoying a variety of submissions from some wonderful poets.

Did you know you can subscribe to Gyroscope Review? If you never want to miss an issue, simply visit this link and sign up. It’s free. And you can revisit our past issues while you’re there.

Pass it on!

 

 

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