Greetings, dear readers! Today's interview is with frequent HWP Contributor David Anthony Sam. David's poem Treehouse Summer appeared in the 2015 issue From the Depths followed by Climbing the Red Dog Road in 2019 and Severance in 2020. Enjoy!
Wow! I began wanting to write poetry when I was about 13 and cannot recall a particular poem that sparked me then. But "I heard a Fly buzz - when I died" and Shakespeare's Sonnet 29 are two of the poems I met early on that still vibrate for me.
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 made a commitment to write and/or rewrite daily and work on my craft in February 1968. By 1970 I had grown into a voice that has continued to evolve. I would say that I have about three distinct voices. I look back on early work and often mine some of it.
When you write enough for long enough, your voice will find you.
—David Anthony Sam
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 write in my journal/commonplace book every night just before sleep. This may be a few lines to a poem or two in very rough draft. I rewrite at a PC several days a week. I do not wait for inspiration, but it does surprise me once in a while. Normally, the rewriting is where the magic happens. From time to time, I have written the first draft on an iPad or into a voice recorder.
Do you find your poetry driven more by truth or fiction? How much personal experience makes its way into your writing?
Yes. Often when writing my personal experience, I will use the third person and make myself a character. I give myself permission to stray from the facts to tell a larger "truth." Getting some distance from the self helps me write a better poem. But I also like to write in the voice of an Other, trying to feel my way into understanding and giving voice to them. In this case, I use the first person, sometimes in dramatic monologue or personal lyric.
What advice do you have for the self-conscious aspiring poet?
First, read widely, especially poems and poets you think you do not like. Steal from everyone. Copy styles and techniques. Don't worry about "finding your own voice." When you write enough for long enough, your voice will find you. Find good, honest readers and start using them for feedback. Gather with other poets and share. Read your stuff aloud, even if you hate doing it. Become a craftsperson and stop trying to be a poetic personality.
Writing is already a fairly solitary endeavor. How would you say the pandemic has affected you as a writer?
The pandemic has not changed how I work, but it has drained me of some energy that has affected how often I get to it. Self-discipline sometimes is the only thing that gets me writing or submitting.
When you’re not writing poetry, what might we find you doing?
Reading, walking, exercising, listening to music (all sorts), watching good movies or TV, working in the yard, reading.
What are you reading right now?
Just finished Laurie King's The Beekeeper's Apprentice. Currently reading: Robert Alter's The Hebrew Bible: A Translation with Commentary; rereading Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales; Robert Hass' A Little Book on Form: An Exploration Into the Formal Imagination of Poetry; Bernd Heinrich's Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds; Robert Grace's The Greek Myths: The Complete and Definitive Edition; rereading The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway; Shaw's Pygmalion and Three Other Plays.
What words do you live by? Do you have a personal motto?
“We Will Be Known Forever by the Tracks We Leave” –Santee Sioux Tribe "The only sustaining loyalty is loyalty to the truth." –Peter Senge “I'm not crazy about reality, but it's still the only place to get a decent meal.” –Groucho Marx
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
You got this.
Lightning Round with David Anthony Sam
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Anthony Sam lives in Virginia with his wife and life partner, Linda. His poetry has appeared in over 90 journals, and his poem “First and Last” won the 2018 Rebecca Lard Award. Six of his collections are in print, including Final Inventory (Prolific Press 2018), Finite to Fail: Poems after Dickinson, 2016 Grand Prize winner of the GFT Press Chapbook Contest, and Dark Fathers (Kelsay Books 2019). He teaches creative writing at Germanna Community College, from where he retired as President in 2017 and serves as the Regional VP on the Board of the Virginia Poetry Society.
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