Write a bio about yourself.
I think this is the question I am most reluctant to answer. In the formal setting of an interview, I would rather
write or talk about literary interests and experiences, but I will try to provide some information that might be
interesting and useful. I come from a troubled background. My father, whose approval I wanted desperately was a
non-commissioned officer in the army, a musician, his instrument was the clarinet, and alcoholic. My mother worked
in middle age as a para-professional for The New York City Board of Education. I attended Catholic schools until the
end of my freshman year of high school when I openly rebelled. As a grammar school student, I had vague hopes of
entering a seminary, but if I remember accurately, I gave them up without a violent struggle.
I discovered creative writing towards the end of high school. Due to the kindness of Leonard Albert, that I have never
adequately repaid, to say the least, I met and studied with James Wright. It took me seven years to finish college,
mostly, if not completely, due to wild rebellion. Since then, most of my life has been spent teaching. First as a graduate
student at Temple University where I earned my M.A. and then at several different yearly renewable full-time posts.
Since 1988, I have been an adjunct for various branches of The City University of New York on an almost continuous basis.
In 1988, I entered family therapy with a practioner of the Contextualist School of family therapy founded by
Ivan Borszomnenyi-Nagy. The experience has benefited me immeasurably and I am still in therapy with the same practitioner.
Describe the room you write in.
I am reluctant to say I have only one room I write in, for I have written much in many different places.
I don't consider it essential to approach writing in a ritualistic way in a special place devoted exclusively to it,
but perhaps the primary one is the room I have set up as an office in my apartment. It is a small room that my
landlord's son occupied as a child. I have a computer on a workstation and three bookcases. I believe I prefer
to compose with pen and small notebook (7 ¾ xs 5 inches, spiral bound), but I have long periods when I sit down
in front of the computer and revise and new poems get started at the computer also.
Do you write everyday? How do you find writing material?
I don't write every day, but I do something connected with writing everyday, and I have long periods that last for
months when I do write everyday. Most of my writing seems to have come out of my own personal internal conflicts or
my conflicts complicated by encounters in my daily life. However, I wouldn't want to neglect the importance of reading.
It is essential, a sine qua non, and it is a form of experience as T. S. Eliot said, in Tradition and the Individual Talent,
if I am not mistaken. Leonard Albert and James Wright turned out to be invaluable sources of suggestions for my reading.
From Albert, I was put on to Joyce, Hopkins, Yeats and Eliot, and I have read most every author James Wright ever mentioned
in print or in person. I am still devoted to Joyce and have published thirteen poems in the James Joyce Quarterly, five in
the last issue Robert Spoo edited, and at the generous invitation of Nick Fargnoli (A. Nicholas Fargnoli). I read a selection
of my poems to a meeting of the James Joyce Society at the Gotham Book Mart in NYC.
You studied under James Wright. What was that experience like?
What do you keep with you from that experience?
As you know, I've given a partial answer to this question in my answer to the preceding one. I studied with James Wright
in at least two of the undergraduate courses he offered at Hunter College, Introduction to Poetry and the Comic Novel, and
he directed two semesters of Independent Study in Creative Writing for me during the academic year 1975-76. This involved
meeting with him weekly in his office and completing exercises he assigned. I have spent much of my life deepening my
understanding of his achievements as a poet. I used to feel a sense of embarrassment at how little I understood of his
greatness at the time I studied with him. I think perhaps his greatest gift to me was his patience and kindness and the
example of devotion to literature he set. Amazingly enough, he gave some of my work high praise. In response to a spot in a
wild rant, he wrote "Jesus Christ! What a line. It's almost insane." But he went on to add that in the deeper sense I was a
poet and conclude, "I'll help you in any way I can." Some of the writers he admired that come easily to mind are Seamus Heaney,
Hopkins, Yeats, Louis Simpson, H. Phelps Putnam W. D. Snodgrass and Etheridge Knight. But that is only a first brief listing.
I felt endorsed as a writer by him and still have manuscripts with his penciled comments on them. As for specific memories,
he had me over to dinner and I heard Galway Kinnell recite "The Bear" with him and Annie Wright at the 92nd Street Y. It was tremendous.
What writers inspire you? Who do you read over and over?
I attend Nick Fargnoli's Ulysses Reading Group at the Gotham Book Mart in NYC. We meet once a month and sometimes are
lucky if we finish a page. Sometimes I go long stretches without reading Joyce, but I always return to him, and I read
a lot of Joyce criticism. Most recently, Jackson I. Cope's Joyce's Cities, which I think is excellent. In 2004, I organized
a conference on James Wright, so I was very deeply immersed in Wright's work then. English is the only language I read in,
but I read Flaubert's Madame Bovary about two years ago-why it took so long to find a translation that held me, God only
knows, but it gripped me. I plan to return to it. Other favorites include Seamus Heaney, Hopkins, Yeats, Richard Hugo, but
lately it's Joyce. About six months ago, I spent a lot of time re-reading translations of Georg Trakl and felt I came to a
deeper appreciation of Trakl's achievement.
You are one of the founders of RATTAPALLAX, a literary journal of poetry and fiction.
How did this start and how long has the journal been publishing?
There are different versions of the birth of Rattapallax, so I might be entering disputed territory, though I have no wish
to stir up controversy. As I remember it, I was running the Phoenix Reading Series at the Chuck Levitan Gallery in SOHO in
the summer of 1998-it might have been 1997. The series was very sparsely attended and appeared to be dying. George Dickerson,
a fine poet and fiction writer, who went on to edit Rattapallax and Matthew Laufer, a fine poet and Marlene Vidibor, a dear
friend and poet and artist and I were the only regulars. One night Ram Devineni showed up, told me how impressed he was and
that he wanted to start a magazine. The original staff was Ram, George Dickerson, me and a friend of mine Robert Harding,
whom I consider a great artist. Some of his work is on the web and I urge your readers to check his stuff out at
and at http://artlink.org. Artlink's list is non-alphabetical and the works Harding has posted
there are works on paper.
RATTAPALLAX PRESS just re-issued your book, "Outside St. Jude's" (R.E.M. Press, 1990) as an e-book.
This book is amazing. The language so dense and to the point with images that literally make you feel the emotion of your voice.
Many psychological and mythological ways of looking at this book. Discuss "Outside St. Jude's."
Outside St. Jude's is indebted to what I understood of Joyce's sexualizing of religious themes and imagery from Dubliners
to Finnegans Wake. I think that is the main key to the collection, if one is needed. I was also much taken with my
limited understanding of polysemousnesss in literary texts when I was writing the Meditations. Eve Speaks came last because
Molly Bloom's voice came after Stephen's and Bloom's in Ulysses. I was particularly interested in finding a way to write
cathartic confessional poetry in the Meditations that would satirize self and Catholicism and in Eve Speaks I wanted to view
things from a woman's perspective and explore what I imagined were the human feelings Eve would have had, with an emphasis on
human. Somewhere obscurely behind the non-discursive order of the sequences is probably an early attempt to use the mysteries
of the rosary as an organizing principle, though I don't believe it was conscious at the time of composition. What was conscious
was the stations of the cross. And the idea of identification with Christ which has come under such attack as a cliché.
Perhaps the poems succeed, if they do, to the extent that the persona both identifies with Christ and falls so far short of him.
Your new book, "Adam and Cain" was just published by BLACK BUZZARD PRESS. Talk about your new book.
Adam and Cain (Black Buzzard, 2006) has twenty five (25) poems in Adam's voice, a short story "Cain in Exile,"
and and forty-seven poems in Cain's voice divided into seven sections, Cain's Agon with God, Cain to Abel, Cain to Adam,
Cain and Aklia, Cain Alone, Cain to Eve, Return. The book is influenced by my understanding of midrash and the Jewish concept
of the Bible as a living, growing text. As in Outside St. Jude's, I was particularly interested in imagining the human feelings
of the Biblical characters. I like to think there is a Shakespearean and Blakean complexity in their development, that, for example,
Adam is both dreadful and great. The book was written slowly over many years. The initial impulse came to me during Leonard Albert's
course Religious Ideas in Modern Fiction, and I think the style of the poems might be indebted to Auerbach's discussion of Biblical
style in Mimesis. Both Leonard Albert and James Wright saw the story which originally was simply titled Cain and commented on it
extensively. My Shakespeare Professor from Temple William Rossky served as editor of most of the poems in Adam's and Cain's voices
during his retirement. I regret that he didn't live to see the work come together and be published. He was an invaluable help and
a great friend of my poetry. In the first conference I had with him as a graduate student he revealed that he liked to help things
grow. The sequences, made up of dramatic lyrics and monologues, are non-discursive in the high modernist manner, as I understand it,
and the reader is forced to participate in the construction of the narrative. I like to think it has an indeterminancy reminiscent of
Joyce's narrative strategies and D. M. Thomas's The White Hotel. It has blurbs from Maurice Beebe, the founding editor of the Journal
of Modern Literature, though his remarks are about my early work, and A. Nicholas Fargnoli, President of the James Joyce Society,
among others. I understand from Bradley Strahan, the publisher, that a highly favorable review will be forthcoming in the Small Press Review.
It retails for $15.95 plus tax and the ISBN is 0-938872-29-X. It's available at the Gotham Book Mart, Left Bank and
St. Mark's Books in NYC (St. Mark's took it on consignment and its stay might have expired--I haven't checked) and it
should soon be at Micawber's in Princeton, New Jersey. It is also available directly from me, P.O. BOX 84,
Dyker Heights Station, 8320 13th Avenue, Bklyn, NY.
In the late 1990's, you started the "Phoenix Reading Series" in NYC. Discuss some of your most memorable times.
The readings at the Chuck Levitan Gallery were intimate. George Dickerson, Matthew Laufer, Marlene Vidibor and I shared
a special camaraderie. And Chuck Levitan was a sweet guy, who had an interesting series of paintings on Lincoln. One
of them seemed very beautiful to me. I think I enjoyed the series most at Space Untitled in Soho during the first years
of Rattapallax. There was a group of 6 or 7 of us who socialized together and supported the series on a regular basis.
Sharon Girard who hosted a reading group at her apartment, Charles Pierre, a fine poet whom I had many meetings with to
critique each other's poems and Sica Thompson, an artist whom I think is great, who is known by her first name alone in
the art world were wonderful additions to George Dickerson, Marlene Vidibor and Matthew Laufer. The possibility of getting
published in Rattapallax swelled the audience and open reading and there were many fine writers who featured in the series.
Among others, I especially liked having Maureen Holm, Robert Kramer, Suzanne Noguere, Sybil Kollar, Robert Mitchell,
Charles Pierre, Bob Viscusi, Rick Pernod and D. Nurkse, though some of them may have read when Phoenix was at different
venues. And George, Marlene, Matthew and I got to read, too. Robert Mitchell read with me and Charles Pierre at Space Untitled
and mostly because of him we drew more than forty people.
You have taught for many years. What are some of the things you try to get across to your students?
Well, I try to inspire them with my love of reading and respect for writing as an instrument of precision and truth,
but most of the courses I teach are composition and remedial writing at a technical college, and I'm afraid most of
the students aren't filled with enthusiasm for literature or good writing when the semester ends, though I have gotten
a couple of highly motivated and sweet natured groups. They were a gift and a joy. In general, the great majority of
the students are good people trying hard to get ahead.
Any last comments.
Thank you very much for interviewing me. It's great to have the opportunity to present myself to a wider public.