Treasure the Trash
An Interview with Justin Groppuso-Cook
Thank you for joining us for another Haunted Waters Press Featured Author Interview. In this series, we sit down with contributors to chat about their craft and explore the experiences that have shaped their writing.
Today's interview is with HWP Contributor Justin Groppuso-Cook, recipient of the 2021 Haunted Waters Press Award for Poetry. Justin's work Memories of the Fall, a Fugue is showcased in the 2021 issue of From the Depths. Enjoy!
I distinctly remember "In a Station of the Metro" by Ezra Pound being THAT poem for me; it was so haunting in such a beautiful way, saying so much with so little. But I also cannot deny how influential the Beats were on my early writing. I tended to dig Corso's poetry a little more than Ginsberg, but of course, "Howl" is well, "Howl".
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 didn't truly unlock my voice till I went to Michigan State University. For a long time, my poetry was dense, esoteric images—all show, no tell. Then I began studying under Diane Wakoski, who cracked these images open into flowing lyrical passages. I started to actually write poetry instead of these strange, symbolic pieces that sounded poetic.
Treasure the trash of your most terrible lines—they are getting you to where you one day will be.
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 stare at candles. I fast and isolate. I take long walks with a pocket notebook. Meditate. Writing is so intertwined with many of my spiritual disciplines it's hard to tell them apart. First drafts are usually transmissions in particularly potent moments—the flow—while my revision process is an intense, regimented process that can take years. I also write and revise a lot in my head—thanks to a strong sense of memory—and birth the poem after it's gestated long enough in my imagination.
Do you find your poetry driven more by truth or fiction? How much personal experience completes its way into your writing?
My poetry is driven by truth. Almost all my work is autobiographical, or at the very least, informed by personal experiences with a splash of magic and embellishment. Diane Wakoski calls it "creating a personal mythology". I do my best to extract the mystic from the mundane, the supernatural from everyday reality.
What advice do you have for the self-conscious aspiring poet?
Just do it! Write, write, write. Then write some more. Treasure the trash of your most terrible lines—they are getting you to where you one day will be. What you think is really bad, others might see the light in. Cultivate that light. Cherish it. Love it. As Tupac once said: "All good things come to those that stay true".
Poet, musician, & practitioner of the healing arts—give us a glimpse into a day in the life of Justin Groppuso-Cook.
I wake early—hopefully. Breakfast. Cacao, not coffee. Take my tinctures & tonics. Then work, which can be a number of things: teaching poetry to Detroit youth, delivering for my friend's pizzeria, trimming medical marijuana (though I don't smoke these days), fixing up my old house, creating some kind of art, etc. I like a good balance of structure and flexibility. Nights are spent in my studio—composing music or poetry—out 'n about in the city, or sitting in ceremony with plants and ancestors.
Tell us a little about the Mesmerism Collective.
Mesmerism Collective is a dream my brothers and I are slowly making a reality. We are all artists and started to put together events around Detroit—revolving primarily around music. Then, as I started to deepen my studies of "alternative" medicine, it branched out in a different direction. Very soon, we will be an official LLC whose main goal is to bridge together the art and healing cultures of Metro Detroit.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished "Rainforest Medicine: Preserving Indigenous Science & Biodiversity in the Upper Amazon" by Jonathon Miller Weisberger—such a beautiful book for any plant nerd. Now I am reading "The Overstory" by Richard Powers. If you couldn't tell, I'm a big fan of trees.
What words do you live by? Do you have a personal motto?
I like to say: "The universe is always winking at you". The fabric of reality is inherently magic; it's subtle, but it is indeed there. Make space for this magic as well as joy and gratitude. Life can be cruel but is also incredibly beautiful. Worry less—one day, it will all make sense.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
You are the poet you believe yourself to be. It's all coming in due time. Don't be afraid to experiment. You are doing way better than you think you are. Breathe lil' homie.
Lightning Round with
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Justin Groppuso-Cook is a Writer-in-Residence for InsideOut Literary Arts Project as well as a Teaching Artist for Living Arts Detroit. His poems are forthcoming in The Tiger Moth Review & Luna Luna Magazine. He has been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize. In 2022, he will be a resident at Carve Magazine’s Writing Workshops Paris. More information can be found on his website, www.sunnimani.com.
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