[Issue 12 / 1 Feb 15]
ENGLISH GHAZALS, ROCK ART & WRITING AN INTIMATE POEM
By Nalini Priyadarshni
D Russel Micnhimer, an American poet and rock art (pictographs and petroglyphs) expert, was born in New York on June 26, 1948 to Dwight and Carolyn Micnhimer. He has authored numerous books including novels, novellas, several poetry collections including Lotus Mirage, Leaves and Pebbles and a Guidebook to Rock Art locations. His book Notes to Be Left with the Gatekeeper by Global Fraternity of Poets, India, won him the title of Poet Laureate at the Dr. Yayati Madan Gandhi International Poetry Awards.
Presently, he lives in a secluded cabin with a two hundred mile view of the snow capped Cascade Mountains out the front window in Central Oregon and approximately seven thousand volume library he has acquired through the years. He leads a semi-retired life pursuing his archaeological interests along with spending an increasing amount of time writing new poetry and retrieving poems from the hundreds of notebooks he kept over the years.
This interview was conducted over e mail.
Nalini Priyadarshni: Your poetry in your book Notes to be left with the Gatekeeper has been described as an eclectic mix of sacred and profane whereas Lotus Mirage is a collection of English ghazals. What inspires you to write poetry?
D Russel Micnhimer: To me the inspiration for a poem can come from anywhere—a person, an idea, a situation, nature, inside my own mind, an established poetical form. I have what might be called an eclectic mind; there is little that doesn’t interest me and I have an innate curiosity to know about anything new or anything about the familiar that I don’t already know. This means that I can be inspired by anything from the loftiest of human thoughts and emotions to the smallest details in nature. Then there is the whole gamut of human emotions both in myself and others and the unending interplay of those emotions with each other and the world. So I guess the observations of a perpetually curious mind might be said to be the driving forces behind my poetry.
NP: You have been a globe trotter and continue to travel around the US. How does traveling affect your writing?
DRM: I think the thing that travel does is expand one’s ideas about what is the norm. I have lived in jungles with only a hammock for a bed and flown in jets to some of the most highly populated cities in the world. Each culture and the people in it are unique. I guess experiencing different cultures and ways of life opens me up to a broader range of ideas and language usage and meanings that invariably percolates down into my poetry. Each language has its own rhythms and even if I don’t know the language, by being immersed in that culture those patterns are automatically incorporated into my language producing engines and sooner or later appear, usually well incorporated into my poetry.
NP: Rock art is another subject very close to your heart. You have written books on the topic and your website (www.oregonrockart.com ) has one of the largest collections of photographs of various rock art sites on the internet. Poetry and petroglyphs seem to be rather odd bedfellows.
DRM: I have had a deep and abiding interest in archaeology all my life and visiting ruins of ancient civilizations has been much of the force behind many of my travels. It inspires me to walk where I know ancients walked thousands of years ago. How they lived and what they thought is often subject to much speculation. The marks they have left behind as rock art, petroglyphs and pictographs, almost assuredly had meaning for those who made them. To discover that meaning is the driving force behind my studies. They are quite fragile, in spite of their antiquity which makes recording them photographically a very important mission. Most ancient markings give up their secrets, sooner or later. I have just as much chance of discovering those as the next person. So am I a poet with an interest in archaeology or an archaeologist with an interest in poetry? Well, both and neither. I do not define myself by my interests. Those are two very strong components of who I am and as far as I know there is little direct connection between the two.
NP: Your poetry is deeply personal with many references to people and incidents of your life and yet has a universal appeal. What does writing an intimate poem means to you?
DRM: It is usually an attempt to convey precisely my feelings toward that person or people. Many of my poems are occasional poems; birthdays, weddings, births, deaths etc. In many ways that is what poetry is about—expressing the universal through the use of particular. At the base, there are only so many human emotions and they have predicable steps as they mutate into others. If one pays attention, then in one’s writing those mutations can be orchestrated so they reflect real life. That gives the feeling of universality to the particular. Many of my poems seek to explore those universal ideas and their variations; to display the veracity of them in new and exciting ways.
NP: As an aficionado of strict form- poetry, you have written, Sestina, glosa, Alba, ghazals, kinuginu, sedoka. In fact, the list is too long to recount here. How do you choose the form of your poem?
DRM: Sometimes I am simply trying out a new form. Other times the subject matter is closely fitted to, or even dictated by the form. For example, let’s say I want to write a poem for someone, maybe it’s their birthday. Acrostics are always fun for that, so the first thing I do is see how many letters are in their name. I delight if it turns out to be, say, fourteen. That is the number of lines in a sonnet. So I end up with a sonnet that is also an acrostic.
Now of course the more forms one is familiar with, the more likely it is there may be a form that will work. Many forms involve rhyme patterns which some find discouraging. The trick is to not let such things about a form deter you from trying them, rather they should be seen as an adventure. Some adventures turn out better than others. Every poem can’t be a masterpiece, though it helps as you write to think it might be. I just try to get it all down first, not that I don’t agonize over some words as I write, but it is during the revision that one polishes and hones the words and form. I prefer to do the entire process in a single sitting. Others prefer a resting period between drafts.
I might also mention that if one is using a form effectively, it does not call attention to itself but is like a nearly invisible support structure.
NP: Which poets or writers influenced you/ your writing?
DRM: There are so many; one might even go far as to say each one that I’ve ever read. But to narrow that down a bit I would have to say that the Beat Poets such as Ferlinghetti and Ginsburg are probably the ones that I enjoy listening to or reading the most.
If I run across a poet whom I either like or whom is held in wide esteem, I try to read enough of their work and enough about them to get some understanding of what they were doing and their methods. I find it great fun many times to attempt to write a poem or two of my own using what I can gather of their style. My favorite poem of all time I suppose would have to be The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
NP: Anything you want to share with poetry lovers and budding poets.
DRM: Poets, the first requirement for success is to keep writing it. Find people to share it with and listen to their reactions. Study it when and where ever you can. Never stop learning about it. Try to find venues where you can hear it read out loud; it is a verbal art and involves the spoken word as well as the written. Most poets I know started out writing from their own angst. But if you continue to wonder about the meaning of life even in your thirties or forties then perhaps you need to read a bunch of poetry to figure out how you can move beyond.
Poetry lovers, support your favorite poets at every chance you get by listening to or reading them. If they get a book out, try and buy a copy or at least buy the poet a cup of coffee and they may give you a copy.
Nalini Priyadarshni is a poet, writer, editor and amateur photographer. Her work has appeared at Up the Staircase Weekly, eFiction India, Mad Swirl, Crescent Magazine, The Riveter Review, Writes & Lovers Café, The Gambler, Camel Saloon, Earl of Plaid, CUIB-NEST-NIDO, and The Open Road Review, Phoenix Photo and Fiction, Undertow Tanka besides numerous anthologies including I Am Woman, Awakening of She, Art of Being Human etc. Her forthcoming publications include 52 Loves and I Am Waiting series by Silver Birch Press. She lives in India with her husband and two feisty kids.