Contributor Interviews: Vol. 1 Issue 1

In anticipation of the Volume 2 Issue 1 prompt being released (soon, we promise!), we wanted to put the spotlight on our past contributors, namely the writers who made our inaugural issue pairing of Robert Frost and Sarah Orne Jewett  so great. Get to know their backgrounds, writing influences, and even their suggestions for a future issue of I&A. This is the first of two posts featuring interviews with those writers. Today, we share Michael Burch and Kenneth Nichols’ interviews. We recommend re-reading their contributions before you read their responses.

 

Michael Burch wrote “Late Frost.

1) How would you describe your writing education/background?

English was always my best and favorite subject, but I didn’t want to be a “starving writer,” so in college I majored in computer science, then dropped out to start a computer software company when microcomputers revolutionized the world in the early 1980s. But I have studied poetry and literature independently my entire adult life, and continue to do so. Having been published well over 1,000 times, I may be proof that writers can go a long way on their own.

2) What author/poet (s) would you say have most influenced your writing?

Robert Frost vacillated between skepticism and faith. I think my poem captures a bit of both.

3) How do you think your work relates to this issue’s poet/writer combination?

Robert Frost vacillated between skepticism and faith. I think my poem captures a bit of both.

4) If you could meet any poet (author), current or past, who would it be? (And why?)

I would like to meet William Blake and hear about his many conversations with angels and departed saints. What did they tell him?

5) What does your writing process look like? Initial/edits/revisions?

Words usually come to me from out of the blue, so I jot them down on paper, then figure out what to do with them. Some poems require no revisions or only minor revisions, but others start to look messy and confusing on paper, so I type them into a word processor. If a poem seems promising, I will continue to work on it. If it seems less promising, I save it for a rainy day, or my retirement years (when I hope to devote more time to writing).

6) What, if any, types of writing exercises do you like to use?

Mostly today, just reading, writing and revising. I used to do crosswords to improve my vocabulary. And in my younger years I read all sorts of “how to” books about writing, the history of poetry and literature, writer biographies, etc.

7) Are you working on any new projects? If so, could you elaborate on them?

I have several book projects in mind, but not enough time to bring them to fruition. One thing I like about writing lyric poetry is that the “jobs” are shorter and thus more likely to be completed.

8) If you were to choose the next I&A poet/writer pairing, who would you choose?

I like the idea of one poet who influenced another poet, so perhaps William Blake and Walt Whitman (who modeled his crypt after Blake’s “Death’s Door” engraving), or Percy Bysshe Shelley and Elinor Wylie (an underappreciated modern poet who wrote some killer poems).

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Kenneth Nichols wrote “Chain Armor.”

1) How would you describe your writing education/background?

I  suppose I’m like a lot of writers; I’ve been dedicated to the craft since I was a teenager.  I’ve been very lucky with respect to my formal education in writing.  My AP English teacher, Mrs. Iodice, gave me the gift of assigning a different classic to read every week.  After that, I  did some time in the Dramatic Writing Conservatory at SUNY Purchase before finding a wonderful home in the English Department at Oswego State.  I’ll always treasure the experience I had the MFA program at Ohio State; every Buckeye writer I’ve ever met has been as helpful as they are brilliant with the written word.

2) What author/poet (s) would you say have most influenced your writing?

Science fiction was my first literary love, I think.  Isaac Asimov taught me a lot about plot and concept and Harlan Ellison (briefly a Buckeye) showed me that prose can be as poetic as verse.  I’ve been most influenced by writers who are simultaneously entertaining and “literary.”  (Whatever that word really means.)  Tom Perrotta and T.C. Boyle mean a lot to me.  I discovered Denise Duhamel’s work at Oswego; I have tried to emulate her boundless curiosity and the way she challenges the reader with respect to what form a poem can take.  Billy Collins is an inspiration for his accessibility and playfulness.

3) How do you think your work relates to this issue’s poet/writer combination?

“Chain Armor” was a conscious attempt to put Frost and Jewett into conversation.  I took a look at the published version of Frost’s notebooks to see if he had mentioned Jewett, who was already an established member of the literary community when Frost was himself ascending that mountain.  Frost seems only to mention Jewett once, writing:

“The prejudice against the wedded wife and in favor of the Anne Rutledge or Jewett model[?] is a hang over from the days when people married for position and amused themselves with out-loves, and as a hang over stirs the romantics.  Chain armor.”

I borrowed Frost’s phrase for my title and used the poem to try and work out what I think Frost meant with his comment.  What, indeed, is the “chain armor” to which he is referring?

4) If you could meet any poet (author), current or past, who would it be? (And why?)

I’m sorry to have to be boring, but I have to go with William Shakespeare.  Why?  I would love to talk to him for all of the expected reasons and to ask him the expected questions.  I do have some interesting queries, mostly about the long-lost gossip that resulted in Measure for Measure.

5) What does your writing process look like? Initial/edits/revisions?

I generally compose poetry in longhand.  (Of late, I’ve been using a Parker 51 fountain pen.)  I’m not a superstitious guy, but there seems to be a kind of magic in “feeling” the words, particularly when writing poetry.  Many of my poems are written after I read something great and dare myself to try and out-do that work.  (Not that I ever succeed.)

6) What, if any, types of writing exercises do you like to use?

Other folks are perfectly welcome to decide what works best for them, but I generally operate in the same manner as Dr. Asimov, who said:

Someone once asked me if I had a fixed routine before I start, like setting up exercises, sharpening pencils, or having a drink of orange juice. I said, “No, the only thing I do before I start writing is to make sure that I’m close enough to the typewriter to reach the keys.”

7) Are you working on any new projects? If so, could you elaborate on them?

I’m currently trying to work up the gall to send out query letters for a novel whose narrative is unspooled through a collection of documents.  At the moment, I’m approximately half of the way through the first draft of a young adult novel that allows me to play around with another early love of mine: the lyrics of musical theater songs.  I’m hoping someone will publish or produce a blank verse short play that I dare say would have been right at home on an Elizabethan stage.  (Aside from the fact that it takes place in the present.)  Short stories.  More poems.

8) If you were to choose the next I&A poet/writer pairing, who would you choose?

Denise Duhamel and Franz Kafka? Ira Gershwin and Kurt Vonnegut? Emily Dickinson and Norman Mailer?

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