Sunday, February 11, 2007

Interview: Tim J Brennan

The second in what I hope will be an ongoing series of interviews with working poets features a regular contributer to Elegant Thorn Review, Tim Brennan. ETR is fortunate to have posted several of his poems over that last months, and he has been kind enough to answer my five questions. But first, a poem.

just questions

when the sun stops outside
her window, or at least seems to,
is how my mother now lives her life:
tuesday is wednesday
thursday is tuesday;
everyday is starched
like her white sheets

there are no prints in a hospital
even the ones on her fingers
were fading the last time i looked

mother always says just fine
when asked how things are going,
even though her life has been scarred by
are you feeling any better today? men
who actually go home to wives
wearing perfume, recently bathed,
and waiting on printed satin sheets,
offering candle light kisses, and whispering
questions other than will you comb my hair
one more time, russ? what day is it?

in the last one hundred days
i have often wondered
is this you? pinned
to the bed like some kind
of displayed butterfly

your voice when i don’t look
still my mother’s voice
when i was seven and
somehow a withered dandelion
was on our red checkered tablecloth:

will you put it in water,
timmy, before it dies?

* * * * *

1. How did you come to poetry, and how or when did you decide that you are a poet?

I’ve always been interested in writing. I used to rewrite horror stories when I was a kid, inserting my friends as characters in the stories. I loved writing. I had great teachers who exposed me to all kinds of writing. I didn’t find poetry serious until college where again I had great teachers who put good poetry in front of me and turned me loose. I was a voracious reader in those days and digested many poets. I wrote poetry in college, but it was mostly fluff stuff. I didn’t have the experience necessary to translate it to paper. After college, I didn’t write any poetry for twenty years. I didn’t write much of anything.

I guess I decided I was a poet when, on a whim, I sat down and wrote a poem about my mother and sent it off to a local calling for poems. I don’t even know what prompted me to do that. Anyway, the editor liked my poem, put it in her publication, and introduced me to her writing group. I’ve been with the writing group now for about 10 years and they’ve all been very helpful, especially with my poetry and my plays. Along with my poetry, I’ve had short plays produced in six states. Writing plays and writing poetry is very similar to me. They each need a voice. It’s up to me to find that voice when I feel I may have something to say that other people might be interested in hearing. Lines on a page become voice when read, be it a character in a play or a poetical voice.

2. Who are some of your favorite poets and why?

I like the poem more than the poet. If it’s good, it doesn’t matter who wrote it. It also depends on my mood...different strokes for different days...something like that. But to answer your question, I do appreciate a guy like ee cummings. When I was introduced to cummings, it was like a window opened. I’m not very conventional. I like to run thoughts into thoughts, not necessarily at random, but in ways to force the reader to make decisions in his or her reading. cummings was a master at that. I like Dave Etter. He’s a midwestern poet who I was lucky enough to have a beer with and talk to about poetry. He doesn’t waste words, and I like that. I like Charles Simic (who doesn’t?). I like Stafford, Levine, etc. There are soooo many really good poets. Like I said, give me a good poem before you give me a name. The poem should lead to the author, not vice-versa.

3. What is your process for writing?

I carry around a notebook with me all the time. I write things down, an image, a piece of conversations, a new word...whatever. I write much of my poetry in my head. That is to say, when I flash on something that I think is meaningful, I play with it in my head for quite awhile before trying to put it to paper...or I’ll jot it down in my notebook so I don’t forget the connection. Generally, I’m a sit down and write the poem kind of guy. Most of my stuff is generated in one sitting. I’ll play with it later. I’m constantly editing and revising. I also like looking at a stimulus. One of the internet poetry groups I belong to uses this method, and I like it. It helps get the juices flowing. A good golfer will head to the range with a bucket of range balls and practice for an hour...I don’t see why writing should be any different. I write many more bad poems than good ones, but the practice makes me appreciate the good ones more. One someone else likes something I've written, it's pure gravy.

4. How do you define "spiritual poetry," or what do you look for in a spiritual poet?

“Spiritual poetry” is real. It must say something, point out something, comment on something, and transfer that something in such a way that the reader benefits. But it must be real, and it must be from the heart. James Wright was a good example of a spiritual poet. His stuff was brutally honest. Poets like Carlos Williams, Brooks, Donald Hall (and his wife Jane Kenyon) are all spiritual poets. Bukowski was not a spiritual poet. He was a realist, but his poetry wasn’t real. Robert Bly is another. Great poet, but not a spiritual poet. Too self-centered. Too ego-centric. A spiritual poet doesn’t preach. He or she leads the reader to his or her truth, his or her reality, and lets the reader decide. I'm learning to do this, but it's hard (see above...practice. And more practice).

5. What are you reading these days in the area of poetry? Any books or poets you would like to recommend?

Any of the names I’ve already mentioned are worth reading. And if you have read them, but it’s been awhile, read them again. With the internet, any good poet is within reach. I like reading biographies (e.g. Wiesel, Vonnegut. Even Studs Turkel). For pure visual stimulation, Shakespeare is still hard to beat. Getting insight into how other people think is a great way to expand and understand one’s own philosphy.

~ Tim Brennan lives in Austin, MN.

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