The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?
Los Angeles has a lot of great independent bookstores—Skylight, Vroman’s, Stories, Book Soup—I buy at those as much as possible. When I’m at work, up in Santa Barbara, I love Chaucer’s. I do also use Amazon, but mostly when I have a gift certificate or something along those lines.
Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?
I'm terrible with numbers, but we have four bookcases full in our place. Optimistically, I'd say I've read about 50% cover-to-cover; the rest, I've at least read some...none are entirely untouched.
Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)
Any time I have a moment and/or the mood strikes, really. Often I will read before I go to bed. I also like to read between classes—UCSB is on the beach, so it is a perfect setting.
Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?
A friend loaned me The Courtesy, by Alan Shapiro, which I’m really liking. Also, I’ve been reading a new (to me) Tu Fu collection my brother sent my way. I’ve also been re-reading some recent books that tend to get me worked up and wanting to write, like Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s Book of Accident and Matt Hart’s Who’s Who Vivid.
Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?
It seems like every summer I find myself going through Philip K. Dick again; I’m partial to his collected nonfiction writings. I’ve got a book about the Songlines in Australia on the nightstand. Online, I’ve been catching up on a lot of journals. And I just read a great article about the 25th anniversary of Purple Rain.
Q: When, where, how do you write, and why?(i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)
Most frequently, in the early, early morning. On work days, I leave for school at 4:30 am, so I’m up before just about the rest of the world and everything is quiet. I may write before even getting in the car, but usually, after driving along the Pacific Ocean for an hour (I take the 101 from LA to Santa Barbara), I’m ready to write when I get to my office. This is not always the rule, though—last month I was in jury duty and wrote three drafts (of wildly varying quality) sitting in the courthouse lobby.
Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?
It varies pretty drastically. I’d love to say seven in a week—one a day, but that’s not realistic. I have some weeks where I might surprise myself with eight or nine, and some where I don’t hit two. I think the norm is 3-4. I should point out that I’m using “draft” loosely here—those 3-4 are not always formed poems as much as starts, sketches, images, and such.
Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?
Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?
I don’t believe in eternal revision, but at the same time, I do tend to revise up until someone takes it away from me.
Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?
Sure. Now that I have a somewhat more regimented writing routine, though, the two don’t tend to intersect as much. No one’s calling to go out at 4:30 in the morning…
Q: What is your system for sending out work?
I try my best to be organized, using a single document to track submissions. I always have a list of places I’d like to send, and/or have been encouraging in the past.
Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?
Most recently, I was asked to send in some poems for a new online journal, which looks like it will be an exciting one. Aside from that, I received a rejection in the mail the same week.
Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?
A mix. I really have no preference…like a lot of people, I still love holding a book/journal in my hands, but there are so many great online journals out there that I just see it all as ways to get work out in the world. Back in 2003 when Blackbird published Norman Dubie’s The Spirit Tablets at Goa Lake, a long poem serialized over two issues, the power and possibility of online journals became really clear to me, as a reader.
Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)
I’ll just focus on “best” experiences…I’ve had a couple of journals that really went out of their way to work with me through a series of submissions to find the exact right piece for their pages, sometimes through a number of encouraging correspondences. The Mid-American Review comes to mind, as does the previously mentioned Blackbird.
And, of course, I have had a great experience with BlazeVOX Books, which chose to publish my book. It’s such a huge undertaking to get everything in place—anyone who takes that publishing path has an immense love of poetry.
Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?
A couple of years ago, one of my poems was posted on a stranger’s MySpace page. I got a kick out of that.
Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?
I teach at the University of California at Santa Barbara, in the Writing Program. Even though teaching has so many responsibilities, I do find that it affords me an opportunity to fit in writing in a way that a 9-5 job would not. And, I really do love teaching, and working with students.
Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?
My significant other is an actress, so we both work in the arts—even if they are very different forms, we have a mutual understanding of the attempt to create something. As a fringe benefit, she is a hilarious comedic actress, and that helps keep me (sometimes) from taking myself too seriously. On the most recent season of the show she’s on, her character read an “emo” poem, which I thought was the perfect crossover of our artistic lives.
Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?
Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?
I don’t really think about it, to be honest. If things are financially lean for a bit, I might cut back on books or submissions, but rarely. Back when I was sending my manuscript out, I sent to a lot of contests, which adds up, of course. I’m grateful that so many journals (and even some book contests) are now taking submissions online, which reduces cost so much, and, of course, saves some trees.
Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)
I’m not sure I’d use the word “suffering”—I’ve obsessed over a line, labored over a piece, etc. but even in those moments, it doesn’t really feel like suffering as much as the overall process of putting a poem together. As for other people, I hope I haven’t caused any suffering…inconvenience at times, surely, but hopefully not suffering.
Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)
I can drive for extraordinarily long periods of time—I’ve driven across the country a number of times. One of those times, I drove for 21 hours straight, through the heat of New Mexico, past thunderstorms in Texas, and into the humidity of Louisiana.
Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:
a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address
b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed
c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)
d.) Do none of the above; instead you...
laugh that the only “scathing” thing you could say about your wonderful mother is that she hasn’t learned a way to ship a tray of lasagna across the country.
Q: If the best medical specialists in the world told you that if you didn’t give up your poetry habit today you would die in six months, would you get your affairs in order or would you leave that up to your family?
In the corner of that room, there’s a nurse no one’s talking to. While everyone else is discussing the prognosis, she calls me over, hands me a vial with an antidote and I sneak out the back after writing a haiku on the paper towel dispenser.
Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?
Q: Finally write a couplet for a collaborative ghazal using the following kaafiyaa and radif: “said the poet”.
Love echoes—graffiti on an empty apple crate—
I won’t make this a poem, said the poet.
Robert Krut is the author of The Spider Sermons (BlazeVOX, 2009). His work has appeared in Blackbird, Barrow Street, The Mid-American Review, and more. He has been a poemeleon contributor twice, in the Form and Humor issues. More information can be found at his website.