Poet Interview #9: Steve Klepetar

SteveLadysmithCan you tell us a little bit about yourself? At what age did you start writing? Have you always written poetry? Who/what first inspired you to start writing? Who are your favorite poets?

Your readers might find it interesting that I was born in Shanghai, China in 1949. My parents were refugees and Holocaust survivors. They took me to the U.S., where they both had relatives, when I was only two months old, so this fact has been, let us say, an inconvenient oddity in my life. I started writing poetry seriously in college, where I received enough praise from professors and fellow students to encourage me to continue. When I was a child, I wanted very much to be able to draw, but I was (and still am) pathetic at that (my eight year old granddaughter draws much better than I do). But I soon discovered that I could do something with words. I’m not very good at choosing favorites because I love so much poetry, past and present. Here I must confess that I am a recently retired English professor, so of courseI love Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, Wordsworth, Dickinson, Yeats (and that’s leaving out too much) but also Audre Lorde, Rita Dove, Seamus Heaney, my good friend Joseph Lisowski. There is so much great stuff out there.

How do you first start writing a poem? Does it come to you out of the blue, or do you have a set time where you meet with your Muse each day and let the words just … come? Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poetry?

I have a very pleasant writing space, a room with windows to the east and south, and I like to write in the mornings after I come back from a four mile walk. I shower, dress and sit down to read, reflect, and write. Sometimes, pretty rarely, I have something particular in mind, but usually I read to write. Mostly I read a particular poet (at the moment it’s Rita Dove’s Grace Notes). I start out by reading one poem, and I try to respond to that in some way. I might try to work with that poem’s form, say, but once I get started, my own poem grows its own form. Or I might find a line or two that sends me off into an idea or into the mind of a character who suddenly appears on the page to speak the poem. Once I get into rhythm, I can actually feel a calm and pleasant physical sensation. Could that be alpha waves or something? I don’t know, but I love the feeling and it is addictive. I write without worry, taking chances, getting words on the page. I leave editing and revising later. When I was younger, I thought I had to have a plan and I was much quicker to edit as I went, tearing up pages (and sometimes heaving them in frustration). My work has become more surreal, at least some of the time; I also write poems grounded in experience or imagined experience, anyway. I like to try different things – ekphrastic poems, myth poems, character poems, surrealist poems, haiku, tanka, prose poems. I am prone to series. If I write something that I like, I may work with that theme, character, or idea over a long period of time. At the moment I have about 20 Li Bo poems, in which that great Tang dynasty poet shows up in contemporary America as my odd poetry friend and alter ego.

Are you on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how?

I am on Facebook, not Twitter, and it has become an important part of my writing life. I post online publications and am thrilled to get responses and to make new FB friends, often with other writers whose work I can then follow as well.

Do you have a writing group or community of writers you share your work with? Who are they? What are you reading right now?

I am a staff writer for Verse-Virtual, edited by the wonderful Firestone Feinstein. V-V is more than a journal; it’s a community of some 70 poets, whose work I read and respond to. I also have fashioned connections with a number of poets, fiction writers, and editors who support and encourage one another.

I do a lot of reading – fiction (Dominion, by C. J. Sansom at the moment – recently read two Thomas Hardy novels, Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery, two novels by Marion Vargas Llosa); non-fiction (fascinating biographies of Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth; books on math, quantum mechanics, and most recently Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens and Michael Shermer’s The Moral Arc); and lots of poetry (many online journals, Best of the Net poems, books by many poets, including Audre Lorde’s The Black Unicorn, Seamus Heaney’s The Haw Lantern and Rita Dove’s Grace Notes).

What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are trying to get their work noticed?

In the immortal words of Bobby McFerrin, “Don’t Worry, be happy.” Seriously, writing poetry is a joyous activity, even if the occasion that prompts the writing is painful, even tragic. I writing doesn’t give you joy, find something else. Then send out your work, having steeled yourself for rejection. It isn’t personal; don’t rage against the editors, even to your friends; don’t get upset; and most importantly, don’t give up. Read a lot and write often, if you can’t write everyday. Try different things. You’ll get better, more in command, more confident in your voice. Soon you’ll have a group of editors who know you and your work and that helps a lot.

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