Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?
I grew up in Northeast Philadelphia in a densely populated blue-collar neighborhood call Oxford Circle, playing stickball, half ball, touch football and other makeshift sports that were played on the streets and alleyways. Like most childhood Philadelphians, I fell in love with the Phillies, Eagles, and 76ers.
My first job was working in a corner store located across the street from my row home. There doled out Breyer’s ice cream cones and made cheesesteaks and Italian hoagies for neighborhood customers. I attended Saint Martin of Tours, a catholic grade school, Cardinal Dougherty High School, and La Salle College. My Roman Catholic education has strongly influenced my memoir writing and poetry. This fact has surprised me to no end.
During summers, my family usually vacationed for one week in the Pocono Mountains or one week “down the shore” in southern New Jersey. A one-week stay was all my family could afford. Some years we stayed home because we could not afford to take a vacation. Once or twice per summer my dad would take me flounder fishing on a head boat, which I loved. I still fish to this day and now own my own small boat. Life is good. The Jersey Cape, where I now live year-round, also influences my poetry.
My graduate degrees are from Temple University, where I began take my writing more seriously and received a good deal of “private” recognition from my professors.
Having taught at La Salle University for 30 years, most of my writing had been academic in nature and expository/analytical in form. I worked closely with two colleagues in my department and learned a great deal from both. My scholarly writing and professional expertise dealt with the fields of rhetoric, composition, the writing process, linguistics, educational technology, child and adolescent development, educational psychology, and methods of teaching and learning.
Do you remember what was your first memoir or poem about and when did you write it?
My first “real start” in creative writing—memoirs and poetry— began after I retired. Attending writing workshops sponsored by local libraries, I discovered I had a talent for making others smile as I read chapters of Breathing Through a Straw which dealt exclusively with memories gleaned from my childhood and adolescent years. When I turned to writing poetry and read my work aloud in workshops with other writers, I found I earned ever greater amounts of acceptance and positive feedback. The first few poems I sent to an online poetry journal located in England were accepted and published. The first one was entitled “Septal Defects” which was published in November of 2014. This greatly boosted my confidence, so I decided to focus more on writing verse instead of prose.
As I continued to audit other writing workshops, I also began attending individual lectures, learning more about “how to get your work published” and “what is an editor looking for.” In addition, I started to attend virtually free online courses sponsored by the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
Simultaneously, I began to attend and read my work at monthly “open mic” poetry readings sponsored by regional poetry societies, such as South Jersey Poets, Beach Bards, and Jersey Cape Writers. As a member of these societies I listened to other poets—some good and some not so good—read their work aloud and began comparing their work to mine.
What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?
My most recent work, Untethered Balloons, is my first book of poetry. No single person or event inspired it really. I believed in my work and thought it was as good as much of the poetry I was reading daily from online’s Rattle and Poem of the Day. I had up until this time self-published my memoir, Breathing through a Straw, on an online blog and refined my memoir writing, trying to make it “more literary,” learning as I was going along on my own. I later created Faith Genes for the Blue-jean Generation, which I published online myself through Amazon’s Kindle Direct. At that point I decided that I no longer wanted to merely “self-publish.” So, I sought out a publishing house. Since I had some poems accepted and published by Adelaide Literary Journal and received some modest recognition from them, I inquired about getting my first book of 60 or so poems published.
How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?
I am presently working on my second book of poetry which has taken me about two years to accomplish. Since I am retired and not really earning a living wage for my poetry or memoir writing, I am in no rush. I do respond to deadlines, however. Every two weeks I meet virtually with a fellow poet online using a social media platform. I always have a new poem ready for her to read and critique. If I were being paid, I could probably meet any deadline. I believe in the power of deadlines. Seldom, if ever, do I experience writers’ block. I rely a great deal on being ready to write at any time, always jotting down the “seeds” of my poems on post-it notes. Readiness is all.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I do not think my writing habits are unusual in any way. I do rely, however, on what I call writing prosthetics: the use of an online thesaurus, dictionary, and rhyming dictionary. I research as I write, especially when I need to know more about a topic or person or place or thing I am writing about. My initial thought, as I indicated before, are often ideas I jot down by hand on post-it notes; however, I use the computer for all other writing. I constantly revise, both during and after drafting my work.
I am surprised, however, upon my increasing reliance upon intuition, which I use throughout my writing process, from the inspiration to completion of a poem. I believe that my best work—me best uses of imagery, metaphor, and sound—are intuition driven. Again, I am surprised by this discovery.
Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?
Although I am not a musician, I listen to a good deal of music and find myself singing aloud as I move about the house during the day (to my wife’s chagrin). Lyrics to old tunes pop into my head and exit from my mouth; sometimes those lyrics find their way into my poetry. I believe humor is a form of artistic expression as well.
Authors and books that have influenced your writings?
Emily Dickinson’s Selected Poems and Letters, Billy Collins’ Whale Day, Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, Richard Wibur’s Collected Poems 1943-2004, e.e. cummings’ A Selection of Poems, Robert Frost’s Poems, among others. With respect to memoir writing, I have found Beth Kephart’s Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir enlightening.
What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?
I am presently working on my next book of poetry tentatively entitled, Untangling Knots. The topics and themes I seem to keep returning to in my poetry include life at the beach, family and culture, schooling—then and now, ars poetica, politics, world problems, the modern condition, illness, old age, and dying.
Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?
I must say honestly, I do not dwell upon the “profile” of my readers. Having said that, I do want to please, interest, entertain, and be remembered. I want my readers to respond positively to my work. I want to make them smile sometimes. I want them to ponder the big questions in life, on occasion. I want them to say things like, “Wow! Those were just the right combination of words!” and “Let me read that again” and “Thank you.” I respect, most of all, what my fellow poet and online writing partner thinks of my work, along with my wife’s views. I do not believe that all constructive criticism is equal.
Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?
I think most advice one can give new writers/authors is mostly generic: read often and write even more often, use multisensory imagery and metaphor, revise and proofread, send only your best work to literary editors, and so on. Any one of several books about writing share much the same advice; some say it a little more artistically, some less so. Serious poets who wish to publish should purchase the most recent edition of the invaluable reference book, Poet’s Market.
Having said that, here is one tip I think any new writer should “go to the bank on.” Find a writing partner, one who is as good a writer as you (or one who is a little better), a thoughtful friend who will take your feelings into account and give tactful feedback. Meet with your partner on a regular basis—face to face or virtually—and prove one another with thoughtful written and verbal feedback. I believe this works especially well.
What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?
Write every day. Read, read, read.
How many books do you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?
Presently I am reading Anthony Bourdain’s World Travel, An Irreverent Guide, and Maggie O’ Farrell’s Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague.
I typically read 3 or more online newspapers a day as well as the daily poems from Rattle and Poem of the Day.
I do not count the number of books I read annually. I spend that time writing or thinking about new things to write about.
What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers?
(Please read my response to question 15 below, Why do you write poetry?)
What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?
Today’s publishing industry is being challenged by the online world. Since time is money and competition is so stiff, you can best fit in and succeed if you—not the editors—do most if not all of the work yourself: the planning, the writing, the revising, the editing and proofreading, the idea for cover art, the promotion to a good degree, and so on. Be realistic: keep your day job. If you are lucky, you might make a few bucks. Write because you want to or need to.
Why do you write poetry?
Writing poetry gives me something productive and pleasurable to do during my retirement years and offers me plenty of opportunities for self-discovery. Because I write poetry for others as well as myself, I receive a good deal of feedback, usually positive, from a variety of audiences—friends, family members, editors, and former colleagues. I especially enjoy the camaraderie and critical response I receive from other like-minded poets who are part of a network of writers with whom I keep in touch.
Writing poetry provides me with a wide range of publishing opportunities—both online and off—which opens possibilities for my work to reach a wider and ever-increasing audience. Unlike longform novel or short story writers, poets typically have more frequent opportunities for closure, which I find especially reenforcing. I feel satisfied after finishing a poem.
I believe that writing poetry helps me improve as amemoirist and essayistas well bysharpening my knowledge and use of words. Writing poetry increases my working vocabulary and forces me to pay closer attention to the connotations, denotations, history, sound, and rhythm of words and phrases. In addition, it helps me uselanguage both economically and figuratively, saying more in fewer words, and making comparisons using sensory imagery and other tropes such as personification, paradox, etc.
Writing poetry helps me pay better attention to life’s small details, ones which I might otherwise overlook, while also helping me to reflect more deeply upon my emotions, which are often sublimated, helping me look inward as well as outward.
Writing poetry nurtures my curiosity. As I write, I often conduct research, exploring some fact or concept I am using in my work, often in a domain or discipline in which I may not necessarily have expertise.
Writing poetry helps foster originality, making me use my imagination, finding a new way to express an old idea or universal human emotion, often using an image or metaphor to concretize an abstract concept.
Writing poetry engenders both clarity of thought and introspection. It enables me to reflect more deeply upon my own thinking as well as the recurring themes and patterns in my life that hold significance for me—and perhaps others as well, themes such as existentialism, politics, nature, culture, death, virtue, nostalgia, human relationships and conflict, childhood and adolescence, war and poverty, poetry itself, the visual and musical arts, aesthetics, the importance of sharing, humor, the significance of place and context, mundane activities like shopping and praying, travel, health and illness, the role of religion in the world, spirituality, media and technology, remembrance, and the importance of honoring life’s heroes and role models.
I write poetry to be remembered, to connect with humanity and leave behind a legacy of work for others to consider when I have departed, realizing that in doing so I am nurturing a form of narcissism—hopefully, positive narcissism.