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Interview with Ryan Stone, Winner of Poetry Nook's 101st Weekly Poetry Contest

By Simona Grigorova

Ryan Stone is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Australia. His works appeared in the Writers’ ForumBlack Poppy ReviewNapalm And NovocainThe Ekphrastic Review, Poppy Road ReviewHouseboatEunoia Review and Pyrokinection. He won the Goodreads Newsletter Contest in August this year.
You can follow him in here.

Can you tell me about your background and how you ended up where you are today?

I'm from Melbourne, Australia. Although I have no real love of uniforms, I've worn a few in my life so far: the combat fatigues of a soldier in the field and driving a battle tank, the turnout gear of a fire-fighter; I've been a rank-and-file cop, a detective, a Police K9 handler and a member of a plain-clothes special duties team. When all the uniforms are stripped off, I like to think it is the writer who remains.

I have no formal credentials, just an observer's eye and an insatiable appetite for books. I'm rough around the edges but the right turn of phrase will stop me dead in my tracks every time. I love Metallica and Ted Kooser with equal passion and my closest friend in the world is my German Shepherd (just don't tell my wife).

What influences your poetry? Is there a particular author or a book that has had an impact on your writing? Do you have non-literary sources of creative influence?

Originally, my love of poetry was nurtured by Maya Angelou, Kenneth Slessor, Jim Morrison (The Doors) and Jewel. When I first discovered Ted Kooser a few years ago, I think my poetry took a huge leap forwards. His book, "The Poetry Home Repair Manual" was full of 'Aha!' moments for me. Most recently, I've lost myself in the brilliant Buddy Wakefield and Richard Hugo's "The Triggering Town".

Music is also a huge source of inspiration for me. I play electric guitar and listen to a broad range of artists and bands. Songs and lyrics often generate moods that will become ideas and eventually lead to a poem or two.

What publication experience do you have and what are your goals for the future?

I'm fortunate enough to have had quite a few poems published in a number of online journals, print anthologies and poetry magazines. Some of my favourites include Eunoia Review, Writers' Forum Magazine, Black Poppy Review, Napalm and Novocain, Silver Birch Press, The Ekphrastic Review, Houseboat, Poppy Road Review and Pyrokinection. I have some poetry forthcoming in Algebra of Owls and was also lucky enough to win the Goodreads Newsletter Contest in August this year.

I never thought anyone other than my mum would enjoy my writing and rarely submitted it anywhere until recently. Then, a year or two ago, I wrote a poem called Unburied Hatchet and submitted it to a couple of places...and was rejected each time. On a whim, I sent it to the monthly competition in Writers' Forum Magazine and was blown away when it won first prize and £100 (quite a lot of money with the Australian exchange rate what it is). That win gave my confidence a much-needed boost and I've been submitting ever since.

Right now, my biggest writing goal is to get through another NaNoWriMo and finish my short story collection. I have so many writing ventures currently underway - a fantasy novel that is well over 100,000 words and in desperate need of revision, a poetry ebook that is almost ready for publication, a blog that requires constant love - all juggled around my day job and raising two beautiful, energetic ragamuffins.

Your poem “Coal Town” won the 101st Poetry Nook Weekly Contest. It feels dark, but peaceful, which reminds me of the town in Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot.” What influenced you to write this poem?

I was so excited when Coal Town was selected - Poetry Nook receives a great many excellent submissions each week, it was quite an honour to be chosen from amongst them all. I can't remember exactly what the trigger for it was, but I was reading short story collections very heavily at the time. Stuff like "Knockemstiff", "Dead Boys", "I'm Not Supposed to be Here and Neither Are You" - all of which have similar dark themes and are centred around decaying people and towns. I was discussing them with a close friend and she put me onto the movie "The Last Picture Show" based on the book by Larry McMurtry. I think a lot of these influences combined to produce Coal Town.  Being trapped in a place or a time is a recurring theme in much of my writing.

“Leaving Violet Town” paints a different landscape, but has similar themes. Is there a relationship between the two poems? Do you view your poetry as a way to express thoughts on the changes in American towns?

Violet Town is a much older poem but the towns in both certainly have a similar feel and symbolism. I live in Australia but I have a deep fascination with American towns, particularly those off the beaten track, which undoubtedly influences a lot of what I write. This one came from a time I lived and worked in a border town, many hours from family and friends. During infrequent trips home, I passed the boredom of the train ride by watching other travellers and guessing at their stories.  At some point it dawned on me that a train ride through the night shares similarities with the transition from childhood into adulthood and I tried to incorporate this idea into the poem.

I found the idea behind your comment that "a train ride through the night shares similarities with the transition from childhood into adulthood" interesting. What other experiences or processes in life do you find meaning in terms of poetic thoughts and metaphors? 

I write a lot of haiku and senryu and I think that process has trained my brain to a certain way of observing the world around me. Seasons feature strongly in haiku and also lend themselves beautifully as a metaphor for different stages of life.  

The Ash Wednesday bushfires (Australia 1983) had a big impact on my childhood. Fire features often in my writing and I'm fascinated by how it is both a destroyer and a creator. Bushfires are a common part of the Australian summer and much of our flora and fauna rely on them for regrowth and survival. I'm always struck by the way the colours associated with destruction are identical to the colours of rebirth and life as the cycle continues.

Your poetry evokes so many emotions. I just read “Mother’s Hands”. It feels very intimate. Is there something behind it?

Mother's Hands was written in response to a photo prompt at The Ekphrastic Review as part of the 20 Poem Challenge in September this year. It is part biographical and part musing. While I lucked out in the father department, I was blessed with a loving, caring mother who has more than compensated for any short comings. Hands strike me as a particularly good way to convey how a mother can offer strength when strength is needed, or nurturing, teaching, caring or shaping as each is required. I'm glad to hear it comes across as an intimate portrait, it is based on a very special lady.

“If I had been brave.”  This poem has been, as you told Silver Birch Press, buried for years. Why?

This one focusses quite closely on the most painful event of my young adult life. The world I lived in at the time required me to 'be a man' and to repress my feelings and emotions. It was only much later that I was able to go back and examine things from a safer place without shattering into tiny pieces. I often find that - I'll start writing about one thing and end up in a totally different place. Poetry can sometimes be quite a therapeutic process for me and provide a window into how I'm feeling, even when I'm concealing those feelings from my conscious self.

“Unburied Hatchet” is a poignant story of self-reflection. What inspired it?

I have two amazing sons - Jude and Luca. When I became a father myself, it forced me to confront a lot of issues from my own troubled relationship with my dad. Things that I'd kept buried for too long. Poetry was a great way for me to deal with some of those issues and Unburied Hatchet is one of the results. It is a mostly-biographical poem and was literally born in a late-night bar after visiting my dad in hospital, having not seen him for ten years prior. I caught my reflection in a mirror and it started me thinking how we look kind of similar and yet our ideas of what makes a father are worlds apart.

How do you start writing? Do you have any particular rituals to start the process or you just sit and start writing?

Nearly all of my poetry starts while I’m running with my dog through the forest beside my home. Usually a thought, a memory or an observation takes root and nags at me until I manage to jot it down. Sometimes an unusual word or phrase will catch me the same way. My dog has developed his very own ‘here we go again’ face that he pulls each time a run pauses so I can tap out a note or two on my phone.

Do you prefer writing on a computer/laptop or are you more of a pen and paper type of person?

I'm probably going to upset a lot of puritans here, but I write exclusively on my iPad and MacBook. Writing environment is incredibly important to me and the Mac/iPad writing program, Ulysses, puts me in an excellent creative headspace. I tend to write a first draft very quickly once an idea forms and then I'll put it aside for a week or two before returning and revising over and over and...

How do you shape your poems?

The shaping is predominantly done at night, when my boys are asleep and the house is quiet. I am frequently awake into the small hours and find my 2am mind is quite adept at slipping the shackles that my daytime mind imposes. This is the time I can most effectively explore and develop the notes I jot down during the day.

I don't edit my first draft as I write, I just get it all down and worry about cleaning it up later. If I'm only editing a word or two, then I'll delete and replace. If I'm editing a whole line or large section, I cut and paste into a new version - v1, v2, v3, etc - and keep each version in the same document. I find it is much easier to revise without the fear of losing things I may want to later reinstate. 

I am incredibly fortunate to have found a brilliant first reader. She is a talented poet in her own right and has no qualms in calling a spade a spade. For some reason I'm yet to understand, she seems to enjoy my writing and conversation and has nurtured and developed my poetry no end. Her input is a huge part of my process in developing a poem from idea to finished piece.

You have mentioned a venomous Australian Tiger Snake in one of your poems, “Dragonflies & Raindrops.” How does nature influence your writing?

Nature plays a big part in my poetry. The wind, clouds, the moon - all are constants in my writing. I'm lucky enough to live right beside an enormous National Park and to run through it most days. Some of my happiest moments are spent sitting outside in the peace and quiet of midnight, watching day break over the hills or smelling the new rain while I run through the forest. Those are the moments I remember I'm alive.