Author Interview with Allen Guest

An Interview with Allen Guest

Welcome! Today we sit down with HWP Contributor Allen Guest. Allen's poem The Circular Movements of 1973 is featured in the 2020 issue of From the Depths, Crushed Ice, August 1977 appeared in the previous year's issue, and Tin Roof, with Turkey Sandwiches can be found in the pages of SPLASH! Enjoy!

Do you recall the first poem that really spoke to you or sparked your interest in writing your own?
I can't really say what the first one was, but one that I have returned to many times over the years is Robert Frost's "After Apple Picking." I also had a poem published in the late-seventies in a state-wide poetry anthology for high school students. I suppose I had some aspirations back then, but set them aside. Probably for the better—the poem remains forgettable.

How long did it take you to find your voice in your poetry? Do you look back on your early writing and see the ways in which you have grown as a writer?
I started writing seriously about five years ago. I would say some of my early poems were wider, more ambitious. I've moved a bit toward more specificity—poems that try to capture the essence of a moment without whacking the reader over the head with a message. Both of my poems that have appeared in From the Depths (Crushed Ice, August 1977 and The Circular Movements of 1973) have that quality, I think.

Life is too short for cheap beer and weak coffee. Share it when you get it.

—Allen Guest

We’d love to know more about your process for writing poetry. Do you sit down to write on a schedule, or rush for a pen and paper when an idea strikes?
I do both, but lately, I have more success with a deliberate process. I sit down and try to make myself write something, anything. Sometimes I grab random words from a book or a magazine and try to piece them together into something meaningful. Several of my recently published poems were created this way, including the one in the current issue of From the Depths. I guess my writing philosophy has become "the act of writing precedes inspiration."

Do you find your poetry driven more by truth or fiction? How much personal experience makes its way into your writing?
Nearly always truth. I teach math, and my parents were accountants. Everything needs to be concrete and rational, but there's still plenty of room for fun in there between the numbers.

What advice do you have for the self-conscious aspiring poet?
Stop thinking, start writing. Join a writing group and share. Let them destroy your work—you will survive. Go back, let them do it again. Submit, over and over. Get rejected over and over. It will be OK. Mainly, learn to love your own personal process of writing, the way it can take you away for an hour or two. This is time well-spent, and everything else is a bonus.

Writing is already a fairly solitary endeavor. How would you say the pandemic has affected you as a writer?
I've been teaching 100% online since March 2020. I had never done so before, so it was all new, and thus very time-consuming. Twice the work for half the fun, as I came to realize. The pandemic and the shutdown actually led to less writing time for me in 2020. Every day has seemed like a fight for some "butt-in-chair" time. I did get some publications, but my output was certainly down, and I missed a conference that has always been a source of inspiration. I think I will come away from all of this with an increased appreciation for everything, including the time to write. One would hope this leads to more things to write about, more examination of the world around me, more inspiration, and maybe a more disciplined approach to my writing.

When you’re not writing poetry, what might we find you doing?
First, there's my job teaching math at Clemson. After that, my limited free time not devoted to writing is usually spent reading, running, and listening to music. I resurrected my turntable a few years ago, the one I bought as a music-obsessed teenager in 1977 (a Technics SL-1800 for those into vintage stereo equipment). I know it's a rather pedestrian nostalgia, but for me, there is something special about the deliberate act of listening to music on vinyl. As for genres, about anything, but I lean heavily toward the NYC jazz scene of the late fifties.

What are you reading right now?
For months now I've been carrying around The Portable Beat Reader, edited by Ann Charters. I never tire of that stuff. And I recently finished Birth of the Cool, by Lewis MacAdams. Lots of fascinating overlap between these two books and the characters therein.

What words do you live by? Do you have a personal motto?
Life is too short for cheap beer and weak coffee. Share it when you get it.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
You have stories to tell. Get started.

Lightning Round with


Allen Guest is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Clemson University, where he mostly teaches courses in the calculus sequence for science and engineering majors. His poetry has appeared in Tilde, Flying South, The Petigru Review, Running with Water, The Esthetic Apostle, Cathexis Northwest Press, and Pine Row Press. Four of his poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and those same four have failed to win anything.

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