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Pete: Jenn, it's been almost half a lifetime since we last hung out. What have you done with yourself since 1986?
Jenn: Salzburg; San Antonio; Houston; Bar Harbor, Maine; Houston; Portland, Maine; Houston
Pete: How do you approach writing poetry? What's your focus or intention?
Jenn: It seems to be fairly spontaneous - a word, sound, sometimes a phrase. I never sit down to write without having at least a line in mind. I figure that things that need to be said find their own time. I often don't know what the poem will be about until I'm about halfway finished. No intention beyond some sort of release.
Pete: Who do you feel about the idea that, if you continue writing, your future readers aren't even born yet?
Jenn: I never thought of this in exactly that way. I imagine they'll use the words, "fin de siecle" or "millenial" at some point.
Pete: Who are your favorite poets?
Jenn: I like Mina Loy, Muriel Rukeyser, Yeats, T.S. Eliot, Don Marquis, Lorrine Neidecker, some Whitman, some Frost,ee cummings, Adrienne Rich, Dorothy Parker, Marianne Moore
Pete: What do you like to do while you're writing your work, i.e. listen to music or what-not? Any favorite writing locations/times/moods/settings?
Jenn: I drink wine and smoke heavily. I try to carry a notebook because there doesn't seem to be any favorite setting.
Pete: Yeah, I do that too, except I don’t smoke. I guess you read a lot. Who do you think is an awful poet?
Jenn: I can be! You should see some of the drivel I produce! I can't pinpoint any particular poet and some of my favorites have written stuff I can't get over. Maybe anyone who can still write about a sunset?
Pete: I like writing about sunsets. No, just kidding. But maybe I’ll try to some time. Who, besides myself, has ever read any of your poems?
Jenn: Several friends have read quite a bit of it. My friend Melissa has read most. I started dating someone recently and he's read a lot. It saves time with biographical details, I find.
Pete: What kind of images do you like?
Jenn: Borders, peripheries, light, anything that implies movement within a boundary. Not sure if I use these enough to be noticeable, though.
Pete: What are your goals with writing?
Jenn: To continue to avoid expensive therapy! Once I write about something, it's been dealt with.
Pete: Ideas are therapeutic, though, aren’t they? What do you think the line "the owls are not what they seem" from Twin Peaks means? This has been haunting me since the series ended...
Jenn: I always thought it was "the awls are not what they seem" perhaps implying some sort of carpentry mix up.
Pete: I don’t know. I can’t remember any carpentry themes being touched upon in Twin Peaks. Maybe the idea that those trees you see swishing get turned into luscious interiors like at the hotel, where people corrupt their souls and chart their entries into the Dark Lodge, etc. etc., yadda yadda yadda. It’s probably part of David Lynch’s mind that he never even enters himself. I remember those owls always being shown transitionally to build up a spooky mood, but there was never any attempt made to expand on their presence, was there? And then the series ended… But onto other subjects, do you think there's a point to subtle word play if nobody can pick it up?
Jenn: Sure, somebody will at some point.
Pete: Maybe I’m always suspicious of myself, that I write so subliminally and self-referentially that I wonder if I’m really just writing for myself. Like Lynch’s owls or awls. You seem to write a lot about characters - how many of these are real people you know well, and how many of them are extrapolated from images of people you see around you, or pass by briefly?
Jenn: That varies. Some are obviously based on people I know well-but may only express one limited aspect of them. Some that may seem very familiar or written in the first person may be about someone I saw on a subway once.
Pete: In this collection, a lot of my poems are untitled, but I hate the title "(Untitled 1)" "(Untitled 2)", "(Untitled Quarter Past My Crank"), so the first line is usually the title. Do you have a policy on chosing titles or anything like that?
Jenn: Not really, some seem to need a title to focus on a particular point or emphasize a line. Not all do.
Pete: How seriously do you take yourself as a writer?
Jenn: Not particularly seriously. I have no serious aspirations to publish, but would very much like to develop. I'll know when I get there. Maybe.
Pete: I'm fascinated with words and their meanings, especially new words with bizarre meanings. How do you feel about new words? Have you learned any great new words? Remember Mr. Gillette and his Grade 10 word builder? That's when and where I picked up words like “moot” and “dilettante” and “pusillanimous,” I guess it's been like that ever since and because of that bizarre individual...
Jenn: I guess I'm more fascinated with sounds. I drive by The Nasa Church
of the Nazarene a lot just to see and say the word "Nazarene". Makes me
shiver. I used to like those word lists, though. I remember "groak"-to
rub up against a stranger in a public place for sexual purposes. I've seen
this in subways and
always want to yell, "Stop fucking groaking me!" at someone, but never had the balls.
Pete: Speaking of teachers, have you had any really great, inspiring teachers? What about truly awful, woeful teachers?
Jenn: Both… Mr. Gillette wasn't half bad. Mr. Davidson had a spark to him as well. Lots of bad ones, but I just snuck in books to read during class.
Pete: Read any good books recently? Read any good poetry lately?
Jenn: As a librarian, I actually have little time to read right now! It's very sad. I have a long list of things to catch up on. I really like Don Marquis', "Archy and Mehitabel" stuff.
Pete: What are your thoughts about sexual themes, coarse language in writing and poetry?
Jenn: I fucking love it!
Pete: Have you ever written a poem about me?
Jenn: I have tried, but never got very far. To address your other email
where you asked me about "Diamond Pete" and if it’s about you since you
live near Osaka, I did write that just after I had tried to write something
about you, and it can be called residual, perhaps. It quickly became something
else beyond your name and locale, though and this SF thing just happened
and other characters came into it. If I ever do write anything that captures
the "Essence of Peter" I will send it to you! I'll keep trying.
Jenn: Pete, it's been almost half a lifetime since we last hung out. What have you done with yourself since 1986?
Pete: I’ve lived a million lifetimes, but maybe I’ve just been boring. I’ve been all over the place. Since we went to school together in Salzburg, I had a boring high school existence in Canada, went to a boring university in Canada, then struck out. Got to Taiwan, traveled in Asia a bunch, learned Chinese, got married, honeymooned around Asia and Europe for nine months, and have settled in Japan. My life is boring again, since I barely travel anymore, but then again I’ve always been a boring person. I’ve done a lot of traveling and a lot of studying, reading, listening, movies, books, something else…
Jenn: How do you approach writing poetry? What's your focus or intention?
Pete: I write subliminally, so I can’t consider that I have an approach. I hope to always have a connection to what I’ve written, though, where I can look at a jumble of words and think “oh, yeah, I remember what was happening in my life when I wrote that”, or “those words fit together, I don’t understand how.” I hope to never cringe at what I have written. I can’t speak for anyone else. For some reason I seem to like most of what I have written, as long as it’s doesn’t involve someone else. Then I wanna throw it away. I guess my focus is to translate a mind full of daily images, a fascinating representation of the mundane.
Jenn: Who do you feel about the idea that, if you continue writing, your future readers aren't even born yet?
Pete: I can only imagine that this is true, I don’t know why. I mean, I look at my students and I remember how I was, and I feel old. All we can do at this point is transmit the knowledge that we have achieved, as useless as it is.
Jenn: Who are your favorite poets?
Pete: I rarely read poetry now, since I am nowhere near a university library. When I was in university, I always had over fifteen non-curriculum books next to my bed, four or five of which were books of poetry. I’m sure that my favorite poet is Leonard Cohen, although I haven’t read him for years. I really like Kenneth Patchen, his poems, and how he turns his great poems into great paintings. It’s a name you never hear people talking about I find. Some Irving Layton. T.S. Eliot. Allen Ginsberg. I don’t know anybody else who likes poetry, so I never get turned on to anything new.
Jenn: What do you like to do while you're writing your work, i.e. listen to music or whatnot? Any favorite writing locations/times/moods/settings?
Pete: When I was in university it was my habit to write great stuff when I was drunk, it was always so nice to wake up the next day and see a little present from myself on the desk from the night before. These days I just empty my thoughts and write something. Often it’s when I’m trapped in public transportation, I slip on my walkman and write. Sometimes I have irresistible urges to write stuff and it doesn’t matter where I am. I can’t control the environment. Often I write when I’m in the classroom waiting for my habitually tardy students to show. They’re really good, they usually show up just when I’ve achieved closure, and I jump right into my lesson. It’s really satisfying.
Jenn: Who do you think is an awful poet?
Pete: I think most people who publish are awful poets. The newspapers
are the worst of course. I don’t understand how those few people
who publish poetry can publish such awful stuff. I mean, it goes
through so much scrutiny too. I probably sound like I’m saying “I
could do better than that” time after time, but that’s not really the case.
I wonder where the good poetry is? I guess our Norton anthologies
are the end results of a sifting process that lasts a generation.
Most of my friends hate poetry. I don’t want to show them my stuff,
that’s for sure.
Jenn: Who, besides myself, has ever read any of your poems?
Pete: You have, I think maybe my parents have come across it. I gave my earlier stuff to some close friends, but nobody else has read any since 1992, I think.
Jenn: What kind of images do you like?
Pete: I used to like drug images, angels, things like that. Nowadays I like golden sunlight, scaffolding, travel locations, and the though of the “dislocated meeting,” or the broken serendipity, unnatural twists of fate, fortune over-ruled, aberration, etc. Like stupid situations where your meeting with the person who will change your life doesn’t occur, for some reason. I like astronomy and math a lot more these days than I used to , too, I think.
Jenn: What are your goals with writing?
Pete: My goals with writing are certainly to get people to read more. I’d like to get people who only read novels to read more short fiction and poetry. I’d like to kill junk journalism. I’d like a wide spectrum of people to read one form or another of my writing. Of course, this is not realistic. Maybe my only true goal with writing is to produce something that somebody else can relate to, but not in a conventional way.
Jenn: Do you think there's a point to subtle word play if nobody can pick it up?
Pete: I think it’s self-indulgent, and I do it a lot. But if I didn’t have word play, I’d be writing for other people and this is not the goal of poetry exactly. If someone can pick it up and reinterpret it in their own way, I wouldn’t care that they “missed my point.”
Jenn: How seriously do you take yourself as a writer?
Pete: I’d like to be able to write full time, and to be able to work with co-operative editors. I guess I want to find my outlet, since I certainly haven’t found it yet. But I do take myself seriously as a writer and am always looking for ways to improve myself. I wonder if I write too little about developed characters. You write a lot about characters and think about developing them, whereas they seem to be intrinsic to me. I mean, it’s fine to stop at the first person, and to people the narrator’s world with flat characters, but this is also rather limiting.
Jenn: I'm fascinated with words and their meanings, especially new words with bizarre meanings. How do you feel about new words? Have you learned any great new words?
Pete: Funny you should ask… I’ve been interested in words for a while, perhaps since I learned that “thespian” and “masticate” weren’t bad words, or that there was a word for what I thought I was: “dilettante.” I later found out that that word had bad connotations. Hey, the sophists, stoics, and cynics once belonged to the popular schools of their days! I came across the word “syzygy” in a Robertson Davies book, and I thought “hey, great, a three-letter word with three “y”s.” It teaches its meaning by example. I’m always writing down words I come across. Like Vanity Fair taught me that “ecdyciast” is another word for stripper. Great. I was reading Donald Barthelme and saw that he plays with words like “endoarchy”, “melanicity”, and “encropatomy”, but I think that he made those up. Mayb layer today I’ll check out the meaning of “limned” and “harridan”, I came across them today and don’t know what they mean. Sometimes I feel like I’m becoming a vocabulary smartass, but I love words. I know a few words in Chinese and Japanese that native speakers of those languages don’t know… which is when I begin to question my own educational motives, actually.
Jenn: Have you had any really great, inspiring teachers? What about truly awful, woeful teachers?
Pete: I had a high school English teacher who took herself very seriously. She always talked about Margaret Atwood like she was a living goddess or something. She also talked a lot about “technical writing” or something, business writing, that sort of thing. She was also awful to look at and had a droning voice. I liked Gillette and Davidson too, even though they were polar opposites. Davidson gave us thought-provoking magazine articles in class and opened us up to new concepts of society, Gillette terrified us into thinking that there was another world beyond those pages. These were amazing people. I also had a really great grade four teacher, Mr. Godfrey. He treated us like human beings, even though we were only 10 years old or something. I think he was the first. Some people, like my parents, have only recently been treating me like a human being.
Jenn: Read any good books recently? Read any good poetry lately?
Pete: I guess I have read some good books recently. Things like Obasan by Joy Kogawa, the Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, Botchan by Natsume Soseki, one of the early modern Japanese novelists from last century. I read a good biography of Wittgenstein, as well as Wittgenstein for Beginners. For fun, I also read Hawkings for Beginners, and it blew my mind. On the other hand, I also read some Star Wars inspired short stories too, and they blew my mind. Like that guy in the bar with the Scottish accent who tries to assault Luke, do you know who he was? Poetry, I haven’t read any good poetry lately.
Jenn: What are your thoughts about sexual themes, coarse language in writing and poetry?
Pete: I think that in our age, sexual themes are perhaps one of the only things we can be poetic about, which is maybe a shame. Sex and death are the only frontiers, hence the fascination, yet nobody can (by definition) write with any certainty about the latter.
Jenn: How, when and why did you start writing in the first place?
Pete: I started writing just for the heck of it. Or maybe some little gremlin voice inside me said I should, I can’t remember. I guess writing poetry can be instinctual, but the process of collecting, transcribing, editing, self-publishing – that requires motives and a conscious decision that it’s worth the time.
Jenn: Discuss the poetry vs. prose angle (any aspect (s) you'd like).
Pete: I like poetry and I like prose. Sometimes I wonder while I’m struggling with a story if it wouldn’t just make a better poem, or if I should flush out prose ideas in poetry instead. I think that prose begins with intent and planning and is cerebral, whereas poetry has a mind of its own – or no mind! I hate to use words like Zen, which I don’t understand, but…
Jenn: Which pieces of yours are you particularly proud of in this collection?
Pete: I like the India pieces, because they happened at an interesting time in my life. I was seeing new color, and it made me think and get out of my head and I was alone in a new place, that really helped the juices flow. I think India could help anyone write poetry.
Jenn: What have you struggled with in your writing? Where do you feel
you fall short
of your potential?
Pete: I don’t know what potential I have. I think I need to get some readers to fulfill any potential. Maybe I’ve struggled with finding an objective eye, and self-editing. In this is probably sounds like I’m admitting defeat: here, look at these poems, they’ve never been edited because I can’t touch them.
Jenn: Where do you think you're very good?
Pete: I think I’m good at recreating a dream-like state, playing with hallucinatory images for lack of a better word. I think I’ve used the word druggy, but no drugs are needed. I think I’m okay with brevity too. Brevity is important.
Jenn: Have you ever written a poem about me?
Pete: No, but maybe I’ll write one tonight. Actually, I think
I started one the other day…
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