Tuesday, March 11, 2008

An Interview With Lee Herrick

Lee Herrick in Laos

Lee Herrick is the author of This Many Miles from Desire (WordTech Editions, 2007). His poems have been published in the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, Berkeley Poetry Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Many Mountains Moving, The Bloomsbury Review, MiPOesias, and others, including anthologies such as Seeds from a Silent Tree: Writings by Korean Adoptees, Hurricane Blues: Poems About Katrina and Rita, and the 2nd edition of Highway 99: A Literary Journey Through California's Great Central Valley. He is the founding editor of the literary magazine In the Grove and teaches at Fresno City College in Fresno, California.

What are you working on these days, artistically?
Lee Herrick: I am working on a second book of poems, which is untitled at this point. It may include poems I began a few years ago in Honduras, and I hope to have a focused period of writing this summer while I am in Korea and China. I will be researching Panmunjeom (where the Korean War armistice occurred) and the DMZ, as well as some of the political history of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. I also just finished a new poem with which I am pleased. It’s called “My California.”

How did you first get into writing?
LH: From the standpoint of my earliest moments of joy with the written word, I would go all the way back to the time I lived in the East Bay area in California, as a boy, when my mother would spend time in the mornings doing crossword puzzles or playing Scrabble with my grandmother. I loved how words, depending on their arrangement, had importance and even value.

On a more recent level, I had good models who inspired me indirectly to write. One of the first poets I met when I moved to Fresno was the late Chicano poet Andrés Montoya, who won the American Book Award posthumously. He was instrumental, as were many other poets. I also started a literary magazine called In the Grove that helped me get a sense of the (often unpleasant) business side of it all. And, I should say that when I entered poetry and when I have re-discovered it again and again, music is almost always at the center. Music and poetry have the ability to mitigate despair and remind us of the beauty everywhere, despite the violence and trauma of the human experience.

What's the biggest challenge for you as a writer?
LH: It’s all a challenge, isn’t it? I’ve never known how to answer this question because truth be told it’s all a struggle---finding the time to write, the fact that I often just want to read and walk through the mountains or on the beach---but as much as these can obstruct writing, they are conversely very important and necessary to my writing process. I need the distractions, the challenges. The best things in life involve some time and work, right? A poem is no different, so I really don’t think in terms of “challeges.”

Has your family been supportive of your writing?
LH: They’ve always been extremely supportive. My wife is often the person I will read a poem to first when I think it’s done. She has a very good ear.

My daughter is only two and a half, but I read poems to her sometimes, and she says, “por-tree!” My sister and father were always supportive and come to a lot of my readings, and my mother was a big inspiration. She is an award-wining painter, so I’ve been around great art all my life.

What role has music played in your creative process?
LH: Music has been integral. Nietzsche said “Life without music would be a mistake,” and I agree. There are many poems in my book about music---Sarah Chang the violinist, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, and poems like “A Thousand Saxophones,” “Adoption Music,” and “The Violinist” all circulate around music.

There is not much more in life I enjoy than good live music, and I often have my iPod going when I work on early drafts of poems. I also think it’s important to breathe in the music of our surroundings, the small sounds of the street, the kitchen, an angry bird, how water sounds.

Who's on your reading list these days?
These days I am reading and re-reading Kim Sunée, Sun Yung Shin, Junot Diaz, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Li-Young Lee, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Barbara Jane Reyes, Joseph Legaspi, Kevin Gonzalez, Ben Lerner, and Philip Levine.

Do you have any advice for emerging writers?
LH: Read as much as you can, both classic and contemporary, across cultures. As much you might think about publication, try to simply be free and enjoy poetry on a musical or visceral level. Be yourself. Be respectful. Work hard and have faith in your work. I would also encourage that person to get out of his or her comfort zone.

Take a trip to somewhere in the world you’ve never been—-or, and this is often just as fruitful---experience the beauty of your immediate surroundings in a new way, the bird yapping on the telephone wire, how the food from the kitchen reminds you of love, the shape of your hands. I imagine there’s poetry in it all.

As for the business side, try to find joy all the phases---pre-book things, book manuscript things, post-book things: press, readings, interviews, signings. Breathe well. Listen for the next song.

You can visit Lee Herrick at www.leeherrick.com

1 comment:

Pris said...

Excellent interview with one of my favorite poets!