Interview With Poet Michael Graves

In my own opinion, I don’t believe we take enough time to celebrate the art of poetry. I agonized over writing a post or doing an interview. Finally, I decided that an interview with a poet would be beneficial to all of us.

So, I tracked down my friend and asked him if he could do an interview and after a few days of playing email tag, I was happy to see he’d replied, yes.

Thank you, Michael.

During my research for this interview, I learned four things.

A.) Instead of writing retreats, the majority of poets enjoy going to Poetry Jams.

B.) During the month of April, poets celebrate National Poetry Month.

C.) There are many resources for poets. One is called The Academy of American Poets. You can also find them on Twitter @Poetsorg

 D.) My hometown Celebrates National Poetry Month throughout the year.

Here’s Michael Graves

**Unfortunately, due to his busy schedule he was not able to answer all of the questions.**

Q.  When did you discover you enjoyed writing poetry?

A.  I started writing poetry in high school in order to survive geometry class.  It happened that my geometry instructor was a great guy who was cursed with a droning, monotone speaking voice that just knocked me out.  I actually enjoyed the subject, but I needed something to keep me from passing out during class; so I started writing poetry in order to stay awake.  It wasn’t good poetry.  In hindsight, it was probably some of the worst poetry you would ever hope to avoid reading.  Teenage idealism, angst, various tempests in their tiny teapots.  It was filled with lack of perspective and life experience; but it had rhythm and it rhymed, and fortunately for me, at the time, I was oblivious to the lack of quality.

It wasn’t until I took a poetry class with James Doyle at the University of Northern Colorado, that I finally began to get a handle on quality as it relates to poetry.  He was kind enough to rip a few of my pieces to shreds, while at the same time telling me – in words that made sense – exactly where their shortcomings lay; and more importantly, why.

I can’t say that I enjoyed his critique, not possessing the perspective which was to come later.  In fact I got my nose quite sophomorically bent out of joint.  But in the re-reading, I found that everything he had said, and was to say in future notes on my poetry, was exactly spot-on. And at that point I began the process of growing up as a poet.  I owe Jim a lot in that regard.

After college, my career lead away from poetry and in the direction of journalism.  For awhile I worked as a public relations professional, then as a writer for a very small magazine; and then back into PR again, writing press releases, cover letters, bio’s and all of the things that PR and marketing people churn out.  Along the way I learned more about writing, from writers who had worked their craft longer than I had; and I continued to hone my skills.  I just stopped being a poet for a couple of decades; and wrote and edited mainly prose.

Then, a few years ago a friend and accomplished poet in her own right, Carole Tobias Eddington, asked me – in response to a statement that I’d made – if I was a poet. It was like I woke up at that point and remembered that “Yes, I am a poet.”  And I just started writing poetry again.  I have Carole to thank for asking that question.  I also have Lois P. Jones, truly a stunning poet, to thank for various suggestions and a dash or two of sparkling inspiration along the way; and many others.

Q. When writing your poems, do you use verse or free verse? Can you explain the difference?

A. Verse vs. free verse.  Traditional vs. innovation.  Always an interesting point for discussion in poetry.  Traditional verse employs metric feet — a recognizable pattern.  It involves patterns of rhyme somewhere internally in the line of verse or more commonly at the end of the line.  It employs patterns of rhyme that repeat at some point in the piece.

Free verse is like an impressionist painting.  The poet is creating an effect on the reader without the use of metric feet or rhyme — although sometimes this gets intentionally violated and the form may be employed here or there within the piece. 

I’ve found that the contrivance of rhyme and meter in the form of traditional poetry can sometimes get in the way of the emotional tone or carving of the phrase that I am trying to communicate to the reader.  There are some gifted poets who can do this quite cleverly, but for me the form has got to enhance the poem and not detract nor distract from the communication to the reader.  The communication is senior to the form of the communication.

Free verse employs pacing, in the use of word form, spacing, type of word usage (emphatic or subdued – active or passive – violently emotional or quietly conducive) to direct and effect the reader.  It incites or subdues emotion either in the way that it presents its subject matter:  How the subject is used in the piece.  Against what is it positioned or to what it is compared in the piece.  In what way is it presented:  is it acceptable, is it outrageous?  Is it presented in raw, gory, dripping detail?  Or is it presented in euphemistic whitewash (which can also be used to evoke rage in the reader).

I’ve written in both forms.  It really depends on the subject of the piece.  Some pieces lend themselves to a metric pattern and rhyme, and others require free verse to frame the message that I’m trying to convey.

Q. What is a chapbook?

A. A chapbook is a booklet – usually inexpensively (but not always) produced – in which a poet offers a collection of pieces for sale, often at a poetry reading.  Historically, chapbooks have been on the literary scene for a few hundred years as relatively cheap reading material for the masses.  As opposed to more expensively produced books.

Q. Do you have a process for writing poetry?

A. For the past three years or so I’ve been publishing a piece of poetry every week on Facebook.  I like the production schedule, as it gives me some discipline for composing pieces.  I have to either come up with a new piece every Friday, or post a re-run.

Sometimes an entire piece will come out in a half an hour and I’ll spend a few minutes polishing it a couple of times during the week prior to posting, and that will be it.  Or, in other cases, like “Messages in a Bottle  (Gaia Keeps Secrets)” the piece was hanging around for three or four months before it finally came together.

Posting poetry is always an interesting experience for me, in that I never really know how a piece will be received.  I’ve posted pieces which – though they really spoke to me on an emotional or intellectual level – received what I considered was a relatively tepid response from readers.

On the other hand, I’ve posted pieces which at the time of posting I thought, “Well, I just hope that somebody reads it, and the response is not embarrassingly lackluster,”  that have gotten extremely enthusiastic reviews.  It’s a bit of a mystery to me, sometimes.  It’s put me in a frame of mind that it’s better finish a piece and post it, than to work it to death.

I’ve got a list of about 120 people who have requested to be tagged on my weekly poetry weekly postings, and I’m always happy to add more readers to the list.

Q. What influences your work?

A. Most often, I’ll get an idea that connects with me, and from that – it might be a phrase, it might be a concept, it might be a few lines, I’ll pull out a poem. You have to be merciless in the editing or everything suffers.  I think that is one of the things that I first learned from Jim Doyle. 

A poet has to be willing to write until the piece says what he wants it to say in the way that he wants it said.  Never be afraid to cut and re-create.  Bad poetry often comes from a turn of phrase or wording that the poet falls in love with and just can’t bear to cut.

I’ve had pieces in draft form that ran for pages and after I’d let them sit for a while I’ve gone back to them and cut everything except a few lines, or a verse or two, and then taken them off in a completely different – and far more satisfying – direction.

Q. Which one is your favorite that you’ve written?

A. I don’t have a favorite piece.  This is a little bit like asking me which of my kids I love the most.  Each piece is its own communication.  Some are angry pieces that say what I felt needed to be said, like: “Night Must Fall on the Regime”  or “Maniac (for Syria)”

Others are pieces that wax erotic: “The River”  “The Buoy.”  Others are humorous “On the Use of the Phrase ‘You Bastards’”.  Some are more personal “Love Match”  “This Morning I Stayed in Bed” Others are written on a little broader scale “Gaia (Clues to Existence)”  “Messages in a Bottle (Gaia Keeps Secrets)”.

There are the three pieces in my series about Vincent Van Gogh which touched me very deeply in the writing.  There is “Beatitudes” and “Watch Me”, both of which I find personally inspirational from time to time.  There are pieces about the trials and hazards of writing: “Dancing with the Muse” and “Today it is Difficult to Write.”

There are pieces on the subject of time, like “Breathing”  which were fun to write, and which were written on a subject (time – theoretical physics) that I’ve never seen covered in poetry.

If I had to pick a favorite piece by another poet, it would be extremely difficult, there are so many pieces out there by so many, that are so humblingly good.  T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding V” is one of my favorites.  Ezra Pound’s “Dance Figure” is another.  Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is a masterpiece of imagery.  One that has stuck with me for years is a piece by James Doyle, which he wrote about his divorce, a phrase in which he writes of the ending of his relationship, “the blade slides…”  and at the end he writes something like.  “I said we are done/ we can go now.”  I originally the piece in mimeograph form, and I would pay money to find a copy of that piece.  Because in that reading, I saw for the first time (and this was back in the 1970’s) that a blade could do something other than cut or chop or stab or slice.  The implied sound, sensation, feel and movement in the phrase “the blade slides”, when tied in with the rest of the piece, has never left me.

Q. Are any of your poems published?

A. Aside from my weekly posting on my own and other sites, I wrote a piece for the Indian chess magazine “Black and White” a few years back, called “Love Match.” 

To read more about Michael and his poetry, please visit Michael Graves – Poet located on Facebook.

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