Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A guy asked to interview me for his blog. I said yes. Why not use it for my bog?

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Hello,Many thanks for accepting to be interviewed. Please see the interview questions below. I would be happy if you could answer all the questions. However, you're at liberty to ignore questions you do not want to answer. Please let me know if you want further explanation on any of the questions. All best, Geosi.

Interview

GG: Could you share with us your beginnings as a writer?

I don’t remember a time before the conviction that I was going to be an artist. In junior high those aspiration began to settle around writing, and when I was fifteen I began writing poetry, daily and obsessively. That never quite stopped (except the daily part) 

GG: You are an accomplished poet, playwright, professor of Literature and Language and visual artist. I am wondering how you manage all these works?

People do ask me how I manage all that, and I have nothing to say except that it doesn’t seem like such an achievement when you’re actually doing it. In my own mind I’m goofing off much too often. I suppose my social life has taken a hit down through the years. Plus, I get up at 4:30 in the morning.  I have no apps on my cell phone. 

GG: How different is the art of playwriting from poetry?

The best training for a playwright is to be an actor. The second best training is to be a poet, for poetry instills a sense of directness and conciseness, a sense of proper image that are all priceless in the writing of the play. The pitfall, though, is to write “poetic” plays, which are a temptation and nearly always dreadful. The poetry of playwriting is radically different from (though related to) the poetry of poetry. Playwriting is collaborative and poetry isn’t. You have to worry about what an actor can conceivably say, about what objects and effects can conceivably appear on stage. Ultimately, you have almost no control over the interpretation of your piece in the theater, and when you try to exert control, you look like a jackass. Only in bad plays are all the voices associated with the author; in poetry, that is pretty much the default. The actual FEEL of composing a play is very much like the feel of composing a poem. I can’t say much more about that other than to exhort your readers to put it to the test. 

GGi: Tell us about your work as a visual artist?

My work as a visual artist has to main modes: heavily textured and inventive abstracts, with mixed mediums and unusual supports. This is play for me. The second mode is what I suppose you’d call neo-Symbolic– recognizable objects organized in ways and combinations which are immediately meaningful and symbolic in my world. All are welcome in, though sometimes it takes some explaining. 

GG : Do you read lots of poetry?

No. Not really. Most very recent poetry is a waste of time. When I pick up good poetry it almost always sparks me to put down THAT book and go back to working on my own.

GG: Your plays have won some important awards including the North Carolina New Play Project as well as the Siena Playwriting competition. How long does it take you to write a play?

I have written some plays in six days. Other plays have taken a year or so, not of constant work, but of picking a failed or incomplete piece where I threw it down at some earlier session. The thing I keep from my students is that work is the best (for me) which came out swiftest and easiest. This is not supposed to be the case, but it is. If it’s hard, you’re doing it wrong. No that is should be easy, exactly, but I have not found that frustration is a useful part of the creative process, though it is part of barking up the wrong tree. When the play gets to a director or a producer, there is new work to do, but you can hardly anticipate that on your own. Again, the word is “collaborative.” 

GG: Do you think poems are easy to write than plays?

Poems are easier to write than anything. Not easy effortless, but easy joyful.

GG: What makes your poems and plays unique?

dear God, I don’t know. The fact that I rather than someone else have written them? I know I have a particular music, but so do others.  I am a Platonist and believe that some things are true and important while other things are not, and I would be surprised if this did not set me apart in some ways from my peers and inheritors. 

GG: What inspired your book, “A Dream of Adonis”?

A Dream of Adonis was the effort to take account of and hallow a series of love affairs in the 70's and 80's. I will never see those men again. Many of them are dead. But I wrote so they should not go wordless and unremembered into the void. 

GG: Do you write for a living?

I guess not. I got my job because I was a writer, but only a few months in my entire lifetime has income from writing been enough to sustain even my modest needs. 

GG: How long did it take you to write “The Sun in Splendor”?

A couple of years. I couldn’t get the beginning right. It started out while I was watching that movie “Moulon Rouge” where Nicole Kidman lives in a house on the roof. That became a mysterious figure on the roof, and that was the start of the book.

GG: Have you ever been rejected for a piece of work?

Oh boy, have I ever. I think in my own mind that I have 50 rejections for every acceptance. That might be an exaggeration; it might not.  I have four finished unpublished novels. That should tell you.

GG: Who reads your books?

I never know unless they get in touch with me somehow. If I look at my royalty checks I’d say “practically no one.” 

GG: Who are your literary influences?

Yeats, Pound, Keats, Edna St. Vincent Millay, James Stephens

GG: Do you think of style when you write?

My ear does. It’s all music to me. If the line doesn’t sound right, I change it.  That might not be “style” at all, but beyond that I never worry if I’m writing in “my” style or any style at all. 

GG: What are your main interests as a writer?

Wow. To tell the truth. To change people’s lives. To discover my own life.  To find my work, once, in an airport book shop. 

G G: From where did you scoop the term “Ailanthus”?

I made my living for a while as an interpretive naturalist, and have two books of nature essays. Ailanthus is the tree of heaven, a junk tree living in waste place in most northern cities. 

GG: Do you foresee the death of poetry anytime soon? In other sense, do you think the readership for poetry is dwindling?

Everyone I know is interested enough in poetry at least to lament (or gloat over) its “death.” People write essays about the irrelevance of poetry to make a name for themselves, or to justify why their poetry has failed.  No, it will not die soon or ever. Questions about the number of people reading poetry are silly. Far fewer people prepare inoculations than read poetry, and yet we would never say those people’s work is irrelevant. They both save lives. The humanity instilled in you by knowing poetry may save another without their ever crediting the true source.

GG: Are you currently working on any play(s)?

I’m working on the play Washington Place (about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1911) to get it ready for a local production

GG: Having written half a dozen books of poetry, do you think you’ve not yet written what you may consider as the best poetry book?

The one I just finished and am now shopping around is called In the CafĂ© of Comedy and Tragedy.  It is the best work I’ve yet done.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


October 21, 2014

Starting the day exhausted. Great. First dress for Macbeth. The costumes they sent are 400 years off (very Renaissance-y) so we are trying to medieval them back a little. I like my costume, which needs to be taken in and belted, but that will not happen, so I’ll be a floppy baggy king for my ten minutes on stage. Lady M has a meltdown during our scene. I want to say, “just shut up and let me cover.”  Not ready even for one class today. White camellias in the back yard almost make it better.

Monday, October 20, 2014


October 20, 2014

Woke with one of those convictions of physical well-being. Hope it carries me through at least part of the day.

Worked Sunday in the studio, happily and productively. Framed a piece to celebrate Steve’s marriage to Daniel. They are silly happy to be married. We should be more amazed than we are that this should have happened in our time. If you’d have told me when I was a kid that I might marry a man someday I’d have doubled over laughing.

Went to Cantaria rehearsal ready to make a scene about everybody’s making a scene, but no provocation was offered, alas.

A stream of Facebook communications from Bruce and Jack about their incredible triumphs, The Scottsboro Boys in London, On the Town in New York. It’s hard to credit having known them in the context which was, and the resources they put into my comparatively modest plays. Bruce looks so happy in the photos; he has one of those faces which registers emotions pretty clearly, and his emotion during Lincoln was worry, that everything was costing too much. I can’t imagine there was much outlay compared with On the Town, but who knows? Maybe that was simply his producer face. I wish that these triumphs were coming with new works, but one is told time and again that’s not how it happens on contemporary Broadway. May they get stinking rich and decide to experiment again.

Roses in frantic bloom.

Facing what will be a hellish week without an ounce of dread. For the moment.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


October 19, 2014

Cold. I wear a watch cap on my head. I hate winter. I stand with my hands arched over the little oil heater in my study. I hate when people chirp, “Oh, don’t you love this brisk fall weather!” No, I do not.  It is late in the morning and still dark. I don’t like this.

Worked rather brilliantly at the studio yesterday morning, left as other began to appear. That is not my intention. I would rather work with everyone chatting in a full house. That seemed to happen when Jason was there.

Revised Tavistock Square, adding Maud Gonne where she should have been since the beginning.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


October 18, 2014

Brilliant morning, fat grin of the moon, a few collections of stars bright and sharp as diamonds.  Troubadours on the CD.

While I was mulching yesterday, my mind fell on many things, one of them being recent politics at the university. When the former Provost announced her resignation, I was surprised mostly because it seemed to be voluntary. She had, so far as I knew, not been asked to leave or persuaded that it was the right thing for her. This surprised me because she had been a disaster, widely loathed, and what people who liked her usually did in her defense was to point out certain things she had NOT gotten wrong, as though burning down the house and poisoning the well were OK so long as you kept a neat garden. Yet she moved on to a position at least as prestigious as the one she left. This pattern is a repeat of what happened to certain of her predecessors, some of whom, unlike her, left under an acknowledged cloud. I thought then that college administrators –maybe executives in general-- are like nomads, fouling one space and then moving on to another, under a charm whereby their previous misdeeds go unreported, or are forgiven by some magic extended only to administrators. The positions they fill are designed to give them income, not actually to give the institutions service.  Our former Chancellor, I heard, left with a retirement gift of over $200,000. When challenged, she said it was part of the plan, not to blame her, but to blame the system. And so I do.

Dinner with DJ at Avenue M. It was crowded, and we were mashed in with two men clearly straight but also clearly infatuated with one another. Fascinating to watch is the affection of straight men toward each other, singular and beautiful,  in some part because of its awkwardness. One of them was a stonemason specializing in waterfalls. He said that talking with his son (I gathered) was like talking to a demon out of hell. The other spilled a beer, and for some reason the waitress declined to clean it up, so we did.

Maud crawls onto my lap, demanding attention. She is so modest in her demands that when they come, they are met.

Friday, October 17, 2014


October 17, 2014

Brilliant afternoon. I bought all the mulch I thought I was ever going to need, fertilized the soil and then overlay the mulch in anticipation of everybody’s long winter’s nap. Ironically, the day is fine and warm and not wintry at all. I fell asleep in my walled garden in the big white chair, and when I woke, peridot-green cuckoo wasps were hovering like jewels in the air, and sunning on the white slats. It was blessed. Almost too exhausted by the week to remember exactly what I did. Must look forward, then, and not back. Rehearsal in Marshall more enervating than the first time. I guess the charm of novelty had worn off. Forgot how otherworldly the drive along the river is. Lady M tries to register the complex of emotions she feels she must be feeling in our scene, which results in a kind of facial rictus where laborious indications of these emotions are displayed one after the other. I can’t look at her. I must re-block myself so as to look plausibly at something else. The white camellia is blooming, modestly and low to the ground. All the new roses are blooming.

Found in a drawer an envelope containing photographs of Titus and Conrad when they were kittens, before they came to me. The photos were taken by Cindy Ho. All of them are gone now.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


October 15, 2014

Impressive deluge yesterday. The rain against the streetlight looked like, first, a silver curtain, and then a black curtain shot with lights. Despite the storm, whimpering with gratitude for a night at home. Cooked a meal for myself for the very first time at 51. The act of cooking and eating uses up an evening in a remarkable way.