[First appeared in Poetry Nook, Vol. 5. --ed]
Many of you know Dave Read by his Twitter handle, Slym Being (@AsSlimAsImBeing). He is a talented poet, writing in a way that captures moments with often startling directness. This refreshingly direct, no-nonsense approach is reflected as well in his interview, which we had the honor of doing as we prepared this issue.
Where did you grow up? How did the local environment, your family, friends, and neighbors, influence your development?
I was born in Edmonton but moved to Calgary as a very little boy and have lived here since. While I enjoyed growing up in Calgary, I am more grateful for having been a kid when I was, as opposed to where. As a child of the 70s and early 80s, I enjoyed freedoms that parents (including me) simply do not grant their kids today. I think a crucial piece of my development came in being able to, free of adult care, explore the streets and parks and determine how broad my landscape would be. Many children of that era were like little pioneers - seeking new frontiers one block at a time.
My parents had a strong impact on my development. They were very good about providing my brother and me opportunities to pursue our interests (mostly sports) and about creating a variety of experiences that help make childhood richer. We travelled every summer, went camping and fishing, and frequently visited out of town relatives, fostering our extended sense of family.
I was also fortunate, as a child-book-worm, to have a Dad-book-worm. I have yet to meet someone with a larger collection of books than my father. As I grew into my mid-to-late teens, I dove into the worlds of Steinbeck, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Toni Morrison, W.O. Mitchell, and a wide variety of other authors. While I ultimately found poetry on my own, having a literary gold mine at my disposal certainly helped facilitate that discovery.
When did you first start writing? Is it something you always wanted to do or grew into? What prompted you to begin writing poetry? When did you first discover micropoetry?
I have always had a creative streak, even as a child. Growing up, I spent a fair amount of time drawing, making cartoons, or writing stories. By the time I was in University, I had developed a strong interest in literature which prompted me to try my hand at writing. The more I read, and grew to understand, poetry, the more it felt like the right engine for me. Consequently, I focused on it.
I wrote a great deal of poetry during my University days. After graduation, my commitment to writing faded to become an on-again, off-again hobby. It remained in the back of my mind as something I wanted to do, but, for one reason or another, was never something to which I would commit myself. I literally had stretches of years where I would not write a single line.
My desire to write poetry, in a consistent and dedicated manner, re-emerged quite by accident. Last summer, I began developing a health and fitness parody blog. The origin of the blog was in e-mails I had written to some co-workers to make fun of fitness-nuts and their extreme approaches to food and exercise. These e-mails received such surprisingly good responses that I decided to reformat them into a blog and put them online. To support and help promote it, I set up a Twitter account.
Within a couple of weeks on Twitter, I discovered micropoetry and abandoned the blog completely. All of the tiny poetic forms I was finding fit with and stimulated my imagination like no art form I had ever encountered. I was immediately hooked and knew I wanted to focus my writing efforts on micropoetry.
Do you write long-form poetry as well? If so, how are they different for you?
I have written longer form poetry in the past, but none since discovering micropoetry. The biggest difference between the two styles for me is pace. Longer forms can be more patient as they include opportunities for laying things out to set up where the poem is intended to go. Micropoems have a far greater sense of urgency and need to hit their target immediately. Most of my poems are five lines or less. There is no space or time to build a foundation into which the poem can flow.
To use an analogy from boxing, longer form poems are like Floyd Mayweather Jr. With foresight, thought and care, they look to out-slick you in winning a 12 round decision. Micropoems are like a prime Mike Tyson. They throw heavy leather seeking an early knockout.
Have you considered writing in other forms, such as short stories or novels?
I have no desire right now to write short stories or novels. (I have written short stories in the past.) I am fully engaged in writing poetry and continuing to improve as a poet.
Do you think micropoetry is more accessible to readers because of its availability through social media channels such as twitter?
Yes, absolutely. Along with social media, there are many online sites that publish various forms of micropoetry. There is lots of good reading for one who is willing to look.
The online world has increased poets’ exposure to different poetic forms as well. Prior to joining Twitter, I had not heard of micropoetry or many of the Japanese short forms like tanka, senryu and kyoka. (I have read comments from other poets who have likewise only been recently introduced to these styles.) I actually think social media, along with technology in general, is beginning to influence how poetry is written. Text messages, instant messages, Twitter posts, online gaming commentary, etc., all require brevity of expression. I think that people are becoming more accustomed to communicating in short bursts, and that this is influencing the types of poems individuals are interested in reading and writing.
What kind of books do you read? Who are your favorite authors, your favorite genres? Do any authors particularly inspire your work or your style?
The last five or six years I have mostly been reading poetry with the occasional novel thrown in. My favorite poets, and the ones who have had the biggest impact on my writing, are Billy Collins and Charles Bukowski. You would be hard pressed to find two writers whose subject matter differs more than these men. Even so, they have similarities in important areas. First, both are incredibly easy to read. And secondly, both consistently surprise with unexpected twists in their poems. The respect and admiration I have for both Collins and Bukowski makes me take these lessons seriously. I do my best to incorporate these learnings into my work.
A lot of your work is conceptual and more grounded in narrative than imagery. Do you do this intentionally?
No, it is not intentional. It is largely a reflection of how my thinking and imagination work. I can and do write poems that are grounded in imagery, but ideas for these poems come to me less frequently than do the conceptual ones.
Has writing micropoetry affected other areas of your life? Do you feel that it has made you more observant of your interactions?
Writing micropoetry has definitely made me more observant. I am noticing more about the world around me, what people are doing, and even how I am thinking or feeling than I did before. Subconsciously, it is like I am always “on”, looking for the next poem. Being more observant has helped me turn some fairly mundane things, like carrying too much change in my pocket, drinking coffee late in the day, or my fireplace’s pilot light, into poems. Having awareness of what is going on around you and the unusual moments that present themselves is invaluable for a writer.
How much of what you write is based on actual observations and real-life interactions? How much is “fictional?”
Almost everything I write starts in an observation, thought, interaction or experience. Almost nothing I write ends up representing those literal experiences. I am very conscious when writing poems that I work towards creating a sense of truth within the context of that poem. That often means, through the process of writing, that what gets described in the poem no longer represents the observation that triggered it. A poem ultimately needs to feel and read truly as its own experience. That isn’t to say my work is never reflective of my life. My intention, however, is to write a poem, not a journal entry. I will substitute “fiction” for “reality” whenever it improves the poem, which, I find, is most of the time.
How do you integrate the process of writing into your daily life? Do your friends and family know about your writing and support it? Or do you find stronger support online?
My wife, kids, parents and other family members all know about my writing and are very supportive and interested. I have shared some poems with people at work, who also got a kick out of them. (I made sure to share the funnier ones.) But, let’s face it; poetry is not a widespread interest. The latest work by a favorite local poet is never the spark that starts a conversation around the water cooler. In that regard, the online communities are extremely valuable. They provide a place to share your work with people who are genuinely interested in poetry. You can learn a great deal by reading, or participating, in the workshop-like conversations that evolve around a poem, a style of poetry, or a concept. And that environment gives a very strong sense of the trends and development of poetic movements now. If other poets are like me, and I suspect many are, they are posting their work moments after completion. Nothing is more current than that.
Do you have plans to publish a chapbook or a collection of your work?
That is something I would like to do, but I have no immediate plans. I may consider it over the next 6 months. I would like to continue to write more and build a larger collection of work from which a selection can be drawn.
Where do you get your inspiration? Do you set aside portions of the day to write or do you just write when the moment strikes you? How many hours per week or per day do you spend writing?
My inspiration generally comes from the joy of creating. Poems are like little puzzles the poet solves in writing. I take great satisfaction out of playing with words and ideas and arranging them in unique ways.
I often write at the end of the day but will write here and there as ideas for poems arrive. I would not say I spend a lot of time writing. My poems are typically so short that composing and arranging them comes quickly. What takes time is finding new ideas. To that end, I have noticed that ideas come more easily in non-routine days. Being in new environments or situations creates opportunities for observation that do not come when you are comfortable and know what to expect.
Do you revise your micropoems? If so, what is your approach to revisions?
I don’t have a formal approach to revising. When I review my work, I’ll fix mistakes as I find them. Strangely, the thing I end up changing the most is line breaks. Line breaks provide a natural pause and an ability to emphasize certain words or phrases when correctly done. I struggle sometimes synchronizing how a poem “sounds” in my head with how it looks on the page.
What are the criteria you use to determine what’s good and what’s not worth sharing with your followers?
For the most part, if I finish it, I share it. Twitter is my scratch pad, and every micropoem I write ends up on my account. When I began writing online, I was far more selective about what I posted. Over time, however, I have discovered that what I think is good and what my readers like can be very different. I learn a great deal from exploring and thinking about those differences. For example, I was initially so unhappy when I finished writing one of the poems in this issue, “He Could Not Stitch”, I nearly deleted it. I posted it on my account anyway and was surprised to see it received well by my followers. I reassessed it a few days later and grew to like it more than I had initially. Had I followed my gut instinct and deleted it, I would have robbed myself of what became a published poem. That is not to say reader response is the only criteria I use to assess my work. At the end of the day, my own judgment trumps all other considerations. It is good, however, to have other points of view to reflect on.
Do you write poems individually or in batches?
It varies somewhat, but usually individually. Once in a while I will get on a role and pound out a whole bunch at once, but this is not how it usually goes for me.
What advice do you have for someone just beginning to write micropoetry?
First, if it isn’t fun for you, don’t bother. Life is far too short to waste your time with anything that isn’t intrinsically motivating or required for survival. Some poets seem to get hung up on the idea of becoming an “immortal bard”. The chances that you will be one of the 2 or 3 poets this century still being read in 400 years are ridiculously small. What’s more, even if you are among those lucky ones, you are going to be too dead to enjoy it. Check your motivation.
Second, I would suggest all new micropoets set up a Twitter account. Twitter provides the micropoet access to reading and interacting with many terrific writers and editors. It lets you know what journals are accepting submissions. It provides you a readership much more quickly than traditional publications. And, technically, the 140 character limit is the new poet’s best friend. Squeezing your thoughts into such a small space is a very difficult task at first. Micropoetry has no room for excess, and that forced concision pushes you to be very precise in choosing the words you select for your poems.
Third, use simple language as much as possible. Nothing interrupts the flow and feel of a poem quite like setting it aside to consult a dictionary. If the poem absolutely demands that you use an uncommon, multi-syllabic word then do. It is, however, bad practice to do so as a matter of course. Being the smartest guy in the room will do you little good if nobody wants to read your work.
Finally, try to write poetry every day. Like anything else, continuity of practice sharpens your skills and keeps you open to and ready for your best work when it comes. You will have periods where everything you write is dogshit. Press through these times and do your best not to get discouraged. You will be surprised and elated when your best arrives again … and it will. Keep the faith that your efforts will pay off.