An Interview with Allen Guest

Welcome to SPLASH! Today’s featured author interview is with HWP Contributor Allen Guest. Allen's poem Crushed Ice, August 1977 wowed readers in the 2019 issue of From the Depths. Another favorite, Tin Roof with Turkey Sandwiches, recently appeared in SPLASH! Enjoy!

Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
I have been teaching math for almost thirty years – the last fifteen at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, where I am a Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematical Sciences. I live in Clemson with my wife Suzette and our cats Daisy and Dolly.

Tell us about your writing process.
I don’t have a lot of free time, so I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go. I try to jot down ideas and lines whenever I get a chance. I’ve written several poems in the waiting room at my allergist’s office.

How do you handle writer's block?
Just start with “I have nothing to write about except…….”
This usually gets me going.

I enjoy words as much as I do numbers, and at some point I decided to put real effort into arranging them in ways that rang true, at least to my ear.


Where do you draw inspiration from? What was the inspiration behind this particular piece?
It varies, but there seems to be two common themes. One of them is just stumbling onto a phrase that I like, and then trying to build a poem around it – almost like working from the middle outward. The second theme is simple image/moment recreation – trying to find words that capture an experience that has stayed with me and etched itself into my memory. Later I try to recreate the image/experience with words. That’s the kind of thing I was getting at in “Crushed Ice, August 1977.”

Did you face any challenges writing this piece?
Not really. I got a writing prompt at a workshop, and once I started, it flowed out very easily. Its final form is not much different from the first draft, which took me about 90 minutes.

What do you hope your readers take away from this piece?
This poem is about the sanctity of a moment, the type of moments that seem to come with ease when we are young and impulsive and less burdened by adult expectations. I hope readers are reminded of a similar moment from their past.

Was there a defining moment that led you down this writerly path or a person who encouraged or helped shape you as a writer?
I don’t think there is defining moment for me. My parents were accountants, so it’s not surprising that I ended up working in mathematics, but they also filled our house with books and magazines. My mother hauled me and my brother to the local library countless times when we were too young to drive ourselves. I suppose I enjoy words as much as I do numbers, and at some point I decided to put real effort into arranging them in ways that rang true, at least to my ear.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Do it, do it now – write, edit, submit, and move on.

What is your favorite childhood book?
That’s a tough one, but I’ll say The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I think I read it three times before I finished high school.

What are you reading right now?
The Secret of Terror Castle, by Robert Arthur. It’s the first title in a series of teenage detective books that I gobbled up as a kid. I just found a first edition (1964) in a thrift store.

What words do you live by? Do you have a personal motto?
Nothing in particular, but I often return to Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.”

What’s next? Do you have anything special that you’ll be focusing on in 2020?
I have two manuscripts that I’ll be shopping around in 2020.

If you could share any advice for aspiring writers, what would it be?
Don’t wait for inspiration. Just sit down and start pushing words around on the page. Sooner or later, something interesting will happen.


About the Author

I am a Senior Lecturer in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Clemson University, where I teach courses in the calculus sequence for science and engineering majors. I try to bring the exactness of mathematics to my poetry, but I invariably fail. I hope the attempt, however, brings a certain clarity of image to my work. I’ve been writing for about four years, and my poetry has appeared in Tilde, Flying South, The Petigru Review, The Esthetic Apostle, Cathexis Northwest Press (online), and Running with Water. Three of my poems have been nominated for the 2020 Pushcart Prize.


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