I am a 68-year-old native Texas poet who has lived many different lives. I have resided in Texas most of my adult life, but for some years I made my home in the great states of Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, California, and Arizona. I grew up in a small, conservative community in East Texas in the 1960s and was greatly influenced by the Anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements. I attempted college in 1972 but dropped out after a year with very few credits to show for my time. I re-entered college on three other occasions and eventually accumulated enough credits over the course of ten years to earn two associate’s degrees, both in Applied Science. Each time I went back to college to retool, I reinvented myself whenever it become necessary to survive life as it came at me.
There was a point in 1977 when I began to pursue a career as an artist, practicing my drawing in pen and ink and painting with both oils and acrylics. I realized that I was not very good at these when my pictures didn’t sell, so I turned instead to earning a decent amount of money as a welder. In early 1983 when making a living became difficult, even for a person with great craft skills like myself, I tried my hand at several other occupations, got married, and eventually ended up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, driving a taxi cab. My relationship with my former wife was fraught with problems and I left her in New Jersey and moved back to Texas in 1991, where I have mostly lived ever since.
I have been married to the same lovely person for the last 27 years and when I found myself retired and looking at a new and even more difficult challenge of teaching high school students, while at the same time trying to promote my second book of poetry. I have earned a double major in the school of hard knocks, but change has always been good to me when I let things happen and refrain from interfering with the outcomes of those events which are not in my power to control. I welcome the future and look forward to an exciting and prolific writing career.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
Grief and Her Three Sisters is partly made up of poetry I had left over from writing my first book, Other Worlds, in Other Words, as well as a bunch of new poetry I did not expect to coalesce into a book so quickly. I had compiled a mass of poetry under another working title, Crowded Wormhole and Other Bleak Passages. As a collection it seemed rather dark and I toyed with the idea of making a whole book of dark poetry. I had forty-one poems to work with at first and began revising my poems to make them less depressing. After I broke them up into five separate groups I noticed that there was an underlying theme about grieving and overcoming difficult events in life which plainly connected the titles. This was exciting, so I began to further refine my selections for the book and renamed it Dark Offerings.
I had the book almost put together, but after some more research into existing titles I discovered that Dark Offerings had already been taken by an author in another genre. I was at a loss in naming my new book and wracked my brain: what might go with the subject of grief? The Five Stages of Grief (TM), according to the undisputed expert on grief, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book, On Death and Dying, are denial, anger, bargaining with God, depression, and acceptance. I read her original book about loss in 1990 and many of her thoughts have remained with me ever since.
A few days passed and I was taking a break from writing, enjoying a cup of coffee on my back porch, when some small birds flitting around in the branches of a short tree caught my attention. The sight of them happily hopping from limb to limb, chirping up a storm, brought back memories of a trip my wife and I made to Hawai’i, Hawaii several years earlier. We were sitting outside a cafe in the shade of a large umbrella, dining and enjoying the warm weather, when I noticed several sparrows hopping around under the tables, searching for scraps. They were cheerfully chirping, dodging the waiter, keeping out from underfoot while they searched for crumbs. I remember thinking how unfair it seemed that they were so destitute, having to vie for food while we tourists were lazily lounging about getting fatter.
I also remembered that years later, in both Paris and Rome, we encountered similar sparrows scrapping around under the tables at all of the outdoor restaurants. In Paris I had felt sorry for the little birds and had fed them some scraps of bread from our table, only to be admonished by the waiter, who called them pests. This last memory brought me to the idea that I had grieved for the birds for years without knowing it and a title for my book, Grief and Her Four Sisters, popped into my mind! I excitedly wrote down the new title and continued to compile the book.
In most poetry books I have read over the years there almost always seems to be a poem in the collection that corresponds directly to the book’s title. I had no poem to go with my title, so I began composing one based off the hungry little sparrows and my idea of what grief should look like. I came up with a grieving widow and her four sisters standing by consoling her. They needed names if I was going to personify them, so I named them Memory, Vain Hope, False Pride, and Justified Anger. Once I wrote parts for all the players I knew that the poem was going to be too long, so I shortened it to Grief and Her Three Sisters and tucked it away in the last section of the book to make it a bit harder for people to find.
How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?
The book cover was my idea, as well. I described what I wanted to Ronaldo Alves and he and Kevin Stone came up with the perfect cover. I remember telling Ronaldo how happy that little sparrow looked with that piece of bread in its mouth. It was very exciting to see what we had all worked so hard for come to fruition. The cover was icing on the cake.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
Walt Whitman and other spiritualist poets have influenced me the most. I always liked reading poetry, but didn’t have much exposure to reading it in high school, and never writing it. I thought you either were a poet or you weren’t. You either had what it took or you didn’t, as if writing poetry was just another success or failure drama in my life. I never knew any poets personally other than my mother, who wrote in secrecy and refused to allow us to read her compositions, probably out of fear of being judged. I grew up thinking all poetry was private in nature, not meant to be read out loud until the poet had died. Then I heard the Beat Poets, but didn’t understand their style of writing, or anything about their motivations. It was probably when I read Robert Frost that I wished I could write poetry, several decades before I took up the challenge and began to write in earnest. In 2019 a heart attack almost took me out and I began to realize that if I did not seriously try to put down my poems in a collection and show them to the world I might not live to see them in print. That was the motivation I needed—a little death can go a long way in one’s life. With encouragement from my wife and a few other friends, I began writing books and have never looked back.
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
I have made a living as a grocery stock boy, a movie projectionist, a service station attendant, a hay bailer, a short order cook, a ditch digger, a paper boy, a hippie living in a commune, a plating lab technician, a race horse handler/groomer, a welder, a pots and pans peddler, a hands-on recycling specialist (I picked up cans along the roadside), a tree digger, a newspaper advertising salesman, a taxi cab driver, a car salesman, a pipe fitter in a refinery setting, a poet, and a high school English teacher—in that order, I think. If this reminds you of a résumé, it is, of a sort; it is a résumé on how flexible one’s life can become when necessary.
What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?
The most rewarding part of publishing my book has been getting comments and reviews from both professional and non-professional readers. I did a book reading on April 22 at my local library and had a good turnout, mostly people I knew. The praise and respect they heaped on me was wonderful. I am looking forward to several more such experiences in the near future.
Having people I do not know come out with praise for my writing is probably the most gratifying experience for me. Even more gratifying than writing the books is the reactions the writings have received. It makes me want to go on and on writing more, hoping to create a following for my ideas.
If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?
Within You, Without You / So Sad / All Things Must Pass – George Harrison
Skating Away / Living in the Past / A Song for Jeffrey – Jethro Tull
Morning Has Broken / Oh Very Young / Longer Boats – Cat Stevens
Wish You Were Here / On the Turning Away / Echoes – Pink Floyd
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
If readers can get their head wrapped around the idea that it is alright to fail, that this world is temporal, at most, that there is most likely more to life after we are gone, and the memories we leave behind will live on. If readers can envision for a moment that the earth is trying to communicate with us, that we are partners with the planet, not its rulers, that we don’t have to be heavy-handed or monotheistic in our beliefs and assertions with our brethren, that life triumphs beyond the grief, the death, and the suffering we see everywhere. That we can simplify our lives anytime we need to make changes; that we are not stuck with what we have now. That life is not a static, unchanging event we have to partake of gritting our teeth.
The perfect reader is spiritual, open-minded, willing to experience a wide variation of ideas and possibilities in this reality and other realities captured and represented in our own memories and experiences. The perfect reader is unafraid to critique, review, and reward the writer with their own personal comments and share their beliefs with all.
What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?
I am writing a third book of poetry and am about to start a memoir compilation I hope will become a novel, perhaps the next project coming up after my next book of poems. I don’t have a name for either of these yet. I also have an incomplete novelette or two that need finishing. Plenty to occupy me over the summer, beginning after school lets out at the end of May. One of the novelettes deals with a dystopian future in which the government battles drug addiction-based crime by locking up whole families of court-convicted drug addicts for the duration of their lives, harvesting their children to work in manufacturing industries across the United States.
How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?
It has been a pleasure working with Atmosphere Press on both of my books. When people ask me what I did to get my books published, I never fail to mention how much Atmosphere Press helped me, and the lengths they went through to see that my book made it to market in first-rate fashion. I always recommend Atmosphere Press to anyone who is thinking about self-publishing, in any genre.