Where and when were you born?
Vincennes, Indiana (USA). 23rd February 1943
Could you tell us something about your background?
My father was a pro golfer and a golf instructor at a local country club, until a serious back injury ended his promising career in his early thirties. He spent most of the rest of his life working at a glass factory. My mother passed away when I was three; she was a piano teacher.
Were either of your parents or grandparents (or any other relatives) writers? If not, were any of your relatives actively interested in literature?
I had a cousin, Arthur Milton Pope, who was a poet and novelist; he also performed as a magician around the Chicago area in the 1940’s and fifties. My grandmother, Edna Milton Lynch, read me Paradise Lost when I was around 12 and she loved poetry. She told me John Milton was an ancestor of mine.
Are any of your siblings writers or involved in a creative profession?
What was the first poem (or who was the first poet) that turned you on to poetry?
Dylan Thomas’s poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into The Good Night", had a tremendous affect on me when I read it as a kid. In fact, it still does. And it opened up to me the reality of art per se, as a vital and liberating force in the world. I started writing because I wanted to write something as beautiful and as powerful as that poem. I am still trying.
What age were you when you first began writing poetry, and did you receive any encouragement?
Around 13 or 14. No, there was no encouragement, really. And that never changed much in terms of my family. The first real encouragement I ever got was from my first wife when I was in my mid twenties after I moved to Los Angeles. She was a singer, painter, and poet.
When you started writing poetry did you have dreams about becoming a "professional" poet? If so, did anyone advise you against this course of action?
I was writing a lot of things, not only poems. Song lyrics, short stories, attempts at novels…all kinds of stuff. I didn’t think about being a “professional” anything. I only knew writing was what I had to do, that I must do, that there was really no other choice for me. Yeah, of course, family members wanted me to do “normal” things like being a lawyer, a businessman; a teacher; pump gas at a gas station, anything but something creative. I had also wanted to be a film actor, which freaked everyone out, as well.
Did you ever get a poem published in your school magazine? (If so, please tell us the title and the year of publication).
No, I hated school and was in and out of jail from various assaults on society. I was mainly writing rock ‘n roll lyrics when I was in high school and not a lot of “poems”. And I quit high school at 16 and graduated (with honors) a year before I normally would have, through a correspondence course (The American School) And I much preferred that way of formal education. If I would have stayed in regular high school, I would have probably ended up in “reform school” or prison.
Did you go to university, and if so, which subject(s) did you study?
I consider myself primarily self educated, but I did attend Chicago University (night school) for a semester or two, where I studied Philosophy, Creative Writing, and Speech. The longest I ever went to any “formal” school after high school, was the Fine Arts Academy in Chicago, where I studied with a drama a coach named Clarence Shapiro for about a year and a half. I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 1967 to pursue an acting career, and in the early 70’s I went a little over a semester to Los Angeles City College, on the G.I. Bill, where I studied Filmmaking and Anthropology.
When did you first start submitting to poetry magazines? And can you tell us how many rejections you received before having something accepted for publication? (And if you received many rejections, was this off-putting?)
I started submitting poetry to magazines in 1962. Yes, tons of rejection slips. It was about six years before I had anything published. I had submitted a book of poems for consideration to a publisher, and when it was rejected, it was so overwhelming that I took the manuscript down in a grocery bag to the Michigan Avenue bridge and threw the thing - along with everything else I had written - into the Chicago river and vowed never to write another word. That vow lasted about two months. I went through this process for years. I have thrown away more writing than most mature writers have written in their entire lives.
What was the worst rejection you ever received?
Every rejection is the worst. No matter how long you’ve been at it, rejection is always like being kicked in the balls. I am always surprised, shocked, and think anyone who rejects my writing is somehow mentally deranged. And any mature writer who says that rejection no longer bother him or her, is lying through their teeth.
What was your first published poem? Which poetry magazine published it? And what year was it published?
It was actually three poetry magazines at the same time, published by Prairie Press Books in Charlestons, Illinois. The magazines were The American Poet, Prairie Poetry, and United Poets. The poems were: “Alone And Distant”, “Lovers At Dawn”, and “The Insanity Of War”. The year was 1968.
Round about the time that you started seriously writing poetry, who were your literary heroes? And would you say they had an influence on your writing style?
Well, they are not only poets, but novelist and non-fiction writers, as well. And yes, they all had an influences on my writing style. I believe every writer that you’re powerfully drawn to cannot help but affect your writing style, that’s a given. And here they are, not in any real order, but as the come to me. Mark Twain, Norman Mailer, James Joyce, Carson Mc Cullers, Dylan Thomas, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Kenneth Patchen, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Louis-Ferdinannd Celine, James Baldwin, Paramahansa Yogananada, Richard Wright, Eugene O’Neill, Bob Dylan, Edward Albee, Diane Di Prima, Ken Kesey, e.e. cummings, William S. Burroughs and Raymond Chandler. And in the 1970’s, Hunter Thompson, Charles Bukowski, Kate Braverman, and Steve Richmond.
Have you ever attended a creative writing course or been involved in a writers' group? If so, did you find it useful?
Well, I took a course in creative writing at the Chicago University and it was just dead in the water. My feeling about writing classes and writing groups is that they are pointless and merely focus on the ego and not on the creative process; they limit and suppress true inspiration. My advice to any would be writer is stay the hell sway from them.
When did you put together your first collection of poetry?
The first collection I put together was around 1963 and the title was “Poems Of Protest And Love”. It was never published; I drowned it.
How long did it take to get it accepted for publication? And, if appropriate, how many times was it rejected?
I put a few more collection together and when they were rejected I’d throw everything I had written away and start over fresh. And when I didn’t have a collection of any kind published by 1977, or so, I decided to not bother anymore and just focus on getting published in magazines and newspapers as much as I could, hoping a publisher would look me up.
How long did you have to wait between acceptance and final publication?
After the death of my second wife in 1980, I move to Oregon shortly after, married again and spent most of the 1980’s raising three children, writing a play and novel, publishing in magazines, working at anything I could find to support my family, going through a divorce, homelessness, and so forth. Getting a poetry collection published was the last thing on my mind. But, I never stopped writing and sending stuff off to magazines, etc.
What sort of critical response did you receive?
My first collection, “Slaves Of The Harvest” was not published until 2002, I was 59. Yes, it got some very good reviews.
Would you say that your publisher actively promoted the book?
As well as he could, yes.
Did you do readings and signings at bookshops to help promote the book? If so, did you organise these yourself, or were they organised by your publisher? And would you say that they had a significant effect on sales figures?
How many copies of the book sold?
Is it still in print?
At the beginning of your writing career did you enter any poetry competitions? Did you enter a lot or just a few? Did you have any success? And, with hindsight, what are your thoughts about the relative merits or demerits of poetry competitions?
No, I don’t believe in them per se, unless there is no fee to enter. But, even at that, I rarely bother.
Which of your poetry books has been the most successful in terms of sales, and how many copies has it sold to date?
Probably “Spiders And Madmen” (Scintillating Publications, 2006)
Have you won any awards for your poetry?
Awarded Pen grants in 1987 and 1992.
Do you make a living out of poetry?
If not, do you make an adequate living through poetry related activities such as teaching creative writing workshops? Or do you have to supplement your income through unrelated activities?
I am “retired” from numerous and very pointless pursuits. I make some money from writing one liners, jokes, gags, etc, for bumper sticker, button and humour greeting card companies.
With the benefit of hindsight, are you glad that you pursued your dream of being a poet? Also, if you could turn the clock back, would you do anything different?
As I said earlier, I had no choice in the matter. No, I wouldn’t do anything different.
If a young would-be poet approached you, which poets would you recommend as vital reading?
Amiri Baraka, Kenneth Patchen, Charles Bukowski, John Milton, Dylan Thomas, e.e. cummings, and Diane Di Prima.
Which poetry magazines would you recommend him or her to subscribe to?
No idea. There are slews of them nowadays. Close your eyes and stick the tail on the donkey.
Assuming that this would-be poet showed some promise, would you advise him or her to pursue a "career" in poetry?
Certainly, talent must be expressed, or it withers up and dies.
If so, what further advice would you give him or her?
As I said earlier, stay away from “courses” or writing workshops, because they are deadly to the creative process. . Live life fully. Read, read, read, read., and then read some more.
Finally (and extremely hypothetically), you are selected to appear on the hit reality TV show, "Desert Island Poets", where you are marooned on a tropical island for three months with a typewriter and several reams of paper. You are provided with all necessary provisions, but you are only allowed to take three books with you. Your appearance fee is more than you could hope to earn in a decade and the show is so popular that all previous participants have become best-selling poets. So, would you participate? And if so, which three books would you take with you?
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