Rick Campbell

Because a few direct questions can lead to endless insight, I'm happy to present Fast Five — short interviews with my favorite writers, and chances to win great books.

You can win a free copy of Dixmont by Rick Campbell. Simply post your name in the comment section below by Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. The winner will be announced  the following day.

Rick Campbell is the director of Anhinga Press, teaches English at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, and helps to run Other Words, an annual writing conference held at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. He's written four poetry books: Dixmont, The Traveler’s Companion, Setting The World In Order, and A Day’s Work. He’s won a Pushcart Prize, an NEA Fellowship, and two fellowships from the Florida Arts Council. Born in Pittsburgh, he now lives in Gadsden County, Florida, with his wife and daughter.

You make good friends in the strangest places. Rick and I met at a high school reunion in which our spouses were reliving their adolescence. Desperate for conversation that traveled beyond the 1970s, Rick and I found common ground in poetry. Since then, we've enjoyed an ongoing conversation about writing, publishing and poems. 

We often talk about the music of poetry. Please, tell me, what makes a poem work?

For me, for most I guess, there are a lot of things that make the poem work. Music — whether it’s rhythm, a more traditional idea of beat or meter, or maybe some larger sense of sound, as in composing a song, a symphony maybe — it’s hard for me to define “music” in a poem. It’s like that saying I know it when I hear it. But music isn’t all that’s important; I think a poem needs to make a statement. It needs to say something about the world we live in. It has to tell us, maybe not a truth, but some sort of revelation. When I read a poem I want to say “yes,” that’s how it is, and it’s even better if the poem reveals something to me that I did not know, or that I had not seen before in the way it’s revealed to me. If a poem is going to work, then lots of things, maybe everything has to work. And, for me, not many poems really “work.”  
You are an accomplished poet, professor and publisher. What do you know now that you didn't know when you were first writing poems?

In the beginning, when I was 25, I didn’t know anything about poetry. I wanted to write songs. It took me a long time to become even a pretty good poet.  I could see what was good in what I was reading, and I read a lot of poetry, maybe 15 or 20 books a week in those first few years.  But that does not answer the question.   I guess the most important thing that I have learned is to trust the words, to let them come out and then see what happens. In the beginning I tried to force the words into the idea of the poem. Now I know that the words create the poem and the ideas.

Some people say "first thought best thought." Others edit a poem into place. What is your writing process?

I usually write the entire poem during the first draft. Then, if the poem seems worth it, worth hanging on to, I edit and rewrite it until it seems finished. There’s a poem in Setting the World in Order, “The Poem in the River” that I started in 1978 and finished in 1996. I worked on it in three different towns over 2000 miles apart. That’s pretty extreme, but I write and I rewrite. I think it’s sort of combination of first though best thought and think and think again. That phrase is a pretty dangerous thing for a teacher for a teacher to tell a young student. Beginning poets need to work poems for a long time, and take a careful look at each word, each step of the poem’s composition.

Finish this sentence: If not a poet, I'd be . . .

a centerfielder, an itinerant fisherman? I don’t know what I would I have been. I’m not sure I would even have gone to college if I didn’t want to write. I didn’t start college until I was 25; my first major was in anthropology, but I don’t know what it would be like to be one. And I was never good enough to play pro baseball, so I would have starved as a centerfielder.

What is your favorite poem in Dixmont, and why?

Tough one. But I think it’s Intelligent Design and the Click Beetle

. . . The beetle clicks, leaps, falls, assesses its heads
or tails state, then either crawls off somewhere
or begins again. If grand design
were measured by a success ratio, wouldn't
a simple rollover mechanism be a better idea?
The universe is full of little jokes and games
of chance. I had only a minute chance of getting
throat cancer and I got it. Then I had a 90% chance
of being cured, and maybe I am. The
odds were so slim that the drunk
who hit my wife's car that afternoon
on a lonely country road
would be speeding east as she drove west
on a blue May day . . .

I like the way it moves, how it gets so many things into one poem. I hope everything in it works. When I was first trying to write poems I was often told that I had too many things in one poem. I probably did back then, but I also believed that if I could do it right, then I could make a lot of things hang together and get the poem to leap and then land with grace.  I think that poem does it, and that’s why I like it best. In truth though, the poem I like best is always the one I just wrote.

Bonus Question: I'm a word collector. What are your favorite words?

I like provenance, epiphany, redemption, but I don’t know if I have a favorite. A friend and I counted how many times river appears in Setting the World in Order and it was like 33 times or something, but I love rivers far more than the word river.  I like “B Flat,” but only when I’m playing that harp.

To win Dixmont by Rick Campbell, simply add your name in the comment section below by Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. Feeling shy? Email me:

Your name will be entered in a random drawing. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011.




Ce Rosenow


a bit of sea foam

in my open hands

Because a few direct questions can lead to endless insight, I'm happy to present Fast Five — short interviews with my favorite writers.  Sure, life is short but who doesn't have time for five questions — and a chance to win a great book? (To win, simply post your name and contact info in the comments section below. Your name will be entered in a random drawing to win Pacific by Ce Rosenow). 

Our first Fast Five is with Ce Rosenow, president of the Haiku Society of America and the publisher of Mountains and Rivers Press. She lives in Eugene, Oregon where she teaches writing and literature at Lane Community College and the University of Oregon. Pacific is her fifth poetry collection.  

In the introduction to Pacific, Michael Dylan Welch says, “The greatness of the ocean is at once calming and frightening, repelling and attractive, and these poems dwell in such tensions.” What influences or inspirations led you to poetry?

I think the primary reason I was drawn to poetry was a combined love of language and realization that some kinds of knowledge and understanding are beyond the scope of language. Poetry not only accommodates those two responses to language but embraces them.

Why haiku?  What is it about this form that interests you?

Reading and writing haiku has the potential to become a life philosophy or a life practice. Haiku focus on a single moment and draw our attention to very specific happenings within that moment. So much of my work outside of haiku involves analysis. Recognizing haiku moments and writing haiku to convey them offer a balance to my analytical work by encouraging me to stay present and attentive to the individual moments I experience. 

so many stars

so much I don't know —

winter night

When we met at the Poets’ Concord in Newport, Oregon, we briefly discussed the haiku. Modern haiku is not constrained to the traditional 5-7-5 syllable format. Would you share more about what makes a poem a haiku?

There are so many different approaches to writing haiku in English. Personally, I am drawn to haiku that use images of two simultaneously-occurring events and suggest the interconnectedness of things. At least one of the images is of nature. The internal comparison, or the relationship between the two events, is also central for me in haiku. The poems can either follow a fixed syllable count or, more commonly, no syllable count at all, and I appreciate haiku that effectively utilize a pivot line so that there is some sense of surprise at the end of the poem. There are several books that explain in varying degrees of detail the different approaches to haiku, but I’ll just mention two: The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson (now available in the 20th anniversary edition) and Haiku: A Poet’s Guide by Lee Gurga.

What poets and writers would you like to emulate? 

I’m afraid I could produce an endless list of writers whose work includes things I admire. I do know that I am particularly drawn to writers who combine their interests in writing, editing, and translating, as well as in publishing the work of other poets. Cid Corman is a wonderful example of someone who dedicated his life to poetry. He wrote poems on a daily basis and engaged for decades in editing, translating, and publishing, as well.


on the windy beach . . .

sand in my teeth

You are an accomplished poet, teacher and publisher, and have taken part in numerous readings and interviews. What question hasn’t been asked that you’d like to answer?

What a great question! My answer relates to my previous comments about writers I would like to emulate. I think it would be interesting to be asked about the relationship between writing, researching, teaching, editing, translating, and publishing. All of these things are in conversation with one another. They allow me to come at ideas and the expression of ideas through language from so many different perspectives, and those perspectives inform the ways in which I make poems.

To win Pacific, poems by Ce Rosenow, add your name and contact info in the comments section below. Feeling shy? Email me!:

Your name will be entered in a random drawing. The winner will be announced on Wednesday, June 23, 2010.



Susan Rich

Lately, I am capable of small things.

Peeling an orange.
Drawing a bath.
Throwing the cat's tinsel balls.

Believe me, this is not unhappiness.

Only one question—
why this layering on of abeyance?

Though it is winter inside of me —

  there is also spring and fall.

Yellow tulips in need of planting

root in a basket by the door. 

— an excerpt from Letter to the End of the Year
from The Alchemist's Kitchen by Susan Rich


An Interview with Susan Rich

Susan Rich is a poet, activist and educator. The author of three poetry collections, her latest book The Alchemist's Kitchen was published in April 2010. She has worked on staff for Amnesty International, as an electoral supervisor in Bosnia Herzegovina, and as a human rights trainer in Gaza and the West Bank. Rich lived in the Republic of Niger, West Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, later moving to South Africa to teach at the University of Cape Town on a Fulbright Fellowship. She now lives in Seattle, Washington and teaches at Highline Community College.

In recommending your latest collection of poems, poet Jane Hirshfield praises your “kaleidoscopic curiosity” and your “powerfully kinesthetic language.”  What influences or inspirations led you to poetry, and to your “powerful and compassionate” poems? 

As an undergraduate, I was lucky enough to study with Madeline DeFrees and she introduced me to the work of Carolyn Forche. The Country Between Us was a pivotal book for me. Here was a woman, a young woman, who had traveled outside of the United States to El Salvador and who had come back to write poems concerning things that mattered — life in extremity. I had just returned from two years living outside the United States as well and wanted to believe that I, too, had permission to write about my life.

The Alchemist’s Kitchen is a wonderful blend of the everyday and the ethereal, and includes many poems inspired by paintings and photographs. What is your favorite poem in this collection? Why?

Oh dear. My favorite? Isn’t that a bit like asking a parent to choose their favorite child? I can’t do it. But what I can do is choose several favorites with the caveat that these “favorite” categories are fluid.  If you were to ask me tomorrow, the choices I’d make would be different. Given that I am in the throws of planning a reading for tomorrow night, I can focus on poems that are fun to read — that are meant for the air. One of these is “Mr. Myra Wiggins Recalls Their Arrangement.” It’s a persona poem in the voice of Myra Wiggins’ husband. I had never written from a man’s point of view before and I found it oddly liberating. “The 4 O’ Clock News @ House of Sky” is a poem that I like to read aloud. This poem is dedicated to my very dear friend, the poet Kelli Russell Agodon. I wrote it while in Spain but it concerns our friendship and goes off in some strange directions. The most personal poem in the book might be “The Never Born Becomes of Age” and what I like about it is that I did not want to write it, yet it persisted. I like to write poems that I don’t want to write. 

Can you tell us about the title of your book? Where it came from? What it means to you?

The title of this collection came to me far more easily than the titles of either of my past books. I was re-reading Denise Levertov’s New and  Selected Essays – many of which were written I believe — during her time in Seattle. In her essay Biography and the Poet (1992), Levertov  takes up the question of literary biography of poets (and by extension, she expands, all biographies) as to whether we need to know about the drugs and dalliances of the life or if they are “the chaff which the the imagination has discarded.” For the most part, she rallies against being too inquisitive regarding the facts of the poets life. But the essay is balanced with praise for certain biographies such as Walter Jackson Bates Life of Keats, where the biography is in service to the poems or to essays or journal pages some poets had published.  Sometimes, Levertov says, understanding the life of the poet  “one is grateful for a glimpse into the alchemist’s kitchen.” I immediately felt myself drawn to the phrase. 

I’ve re-interpreted Levertov’s original sense of looking at a poet’s memoir or biography being the alchemist’s kitchen to the poems themselves being the material of alchemy — the ordinary objects turned to gold. In researching more on the nature of alchemist– in its original meaning – I learned that Alchemy has a double origin in Greek philosophy and Egyptian texts. That the origins of the word itself is thought to be Arabic. But what fascinated me the most was that the alchemists were not merely interested in turning base metals into gold but that there was a spiritual discipline and that the transformation of metals was secondary to the wisdom that the alchemist would himself attain through their work. One of my favorite quotes by the poet Stanley Kunitz goes like this: “the first task of the poet is to create the person who will write the poems.” So to answer your question, I’ve used the term “alchemist’s kitchen” as a metaphor for the process of writing poems. That said, I also am a great lover of food — growing it, preparing it, bringing friends together to enjoy it. 

You teach community college students. How do you balance your work teaching and encouraging students with your own writing and book promotion? 

Your question implies that there is balance in my life. Hmm. Most of my own writing happens during the summer, over winter break and on sabbaticals. I think that’s why I’ve embraced the technology of the blog. I began the blog this past November as an experiment. I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed the blogosphere — and I suspect it is because I can maintain a small handhold on my creative life even during term time. My teaching life is also creative, but in a different way. 

Your book was recently published and you’ve embarked on a tour that includes both the traditional (bookstore readings, print interviews, etc) and non-traditional (in-home ‘salon’ readings, virtual readings and interactive readings, etc). Where is your ideal reading?  


My ideal reading? I would like to read in a really wonderful restaurant. A place that uses as much locally grown food as possible and that’s housed in an old building. Maybe the building is made of stone and was once a dance hall or flour mill. After a scrumptious meal and perhaps a bit of live music — while the guests tapped the tops of their crème brulee, I would read my poems. I would read food poems about “glazed florentines and praline hearts” or “tiramisu and lemon tarts.” I’ve read my poems in a variety of venues, but I’m still waiting to be asked to read in a restaurant. I would like that.

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