Thursday, 17 December 2009

Interview with Todd Heldt

Todd Heldt
Some years ago (more than six, because it was before The Hiss Quarterly) I was perusing the net reading poetry. I don't recall where it was that I stumbled across Todd.
I read.
Then I read some more. And I continued to read. In fact, I read everything he had available on line and then I purchased his chap book. I sent it to him and told him to sign it because, "Dude, you're going to be famous." We began a correspondence based on what I believed to be some of the finest word wizardry I'd had the good fortune to find in a very long time.

If you're interested in sending me poetry for publication, please read this first. And carefully.

Make me angry with your first line. Make me laugh with your first line. Make me cry with your first line. Make me feel something solid beyond a wrist cutting desire with your first line. Please. Do not puzzle me. Do not cause my face to wince or my eyes to roll. Make your first, second and following stanzas grab me by my gut and then throw me across the room. For the love of God, let your words be words that can be read out loud. Poetry was meant to be read with the voice. Not the voice in your heart or your head - - which is just as valid as what trips out the throat but makes for lousy poetry in my not so humble opinion - - use the voice you have behind your pen. Your poetry should be heard, even if it is only you who listens. Even if it is just you and your mirror in your bathroom. Read your poems out loud. Experience your words. Listen to them.

- - -

I am very angry at the person who five fingered my copy of Todd's latest book "Card Tricks for the Starving" at the California Orange County John Wayne airport in October. One minute it was there, and the next it was not.

I hope the thief is at least appreciative of good poetry. I hope that the thief pays it forward and gives the book to a friend who will then give it to another friend and the story will go something like this, "So and so found *cough cough* this at some airport and it's terrific! Read this!"

Also, if you are the person who hijacked my copy, you can always redeem your soul at Amazon(dot)Com and send me one. You don't have to identify yourself as the stealer of words. Look, I've even given you a direct link!

- - -

Four times a year I will hunt down a poet and demand answers. The Hiss Quarterly asked the "same seven questions" - - I've decided to ask those same seven here at the Rear View and then throw in a few more.

I caught up with Todd recently at a gallery opening in Chicago, plied him with the free booze then pulled him away from his adoring public to ask him a few questions. He gazed at me through crossed eyes and shook his head a few times, handed me his business card and told me to call his agent.

Not really.
Thank you for reading and enjoy our first quarterly poet interview!
~Sydney Nash

- - -

The title of the book, Card Tricks for the Starving, suggests that poetry should do more than entertain, right?

I think I would be walking down a pretty dangerous path to state that poetry should aspire to do something. If I said something like that, a lot of really smart people would tell me I was wrong, and they would probably be right. Even if the world is broken, poetry doesn’t have much choice but to be poetry, otherwise it would be an essay or a sermon or something. I think the title is more a reminder to myself to try to be more meaningfully involved in the world.

Who is your Muse? May we borrow or rent her/him/them/it?

There was this great article written in the 1800s by a German philosopher named Strauss about how the ancient Greeks used mythological language to describe ordinary events. They might have said quite truthfully that pain was the daughter of fire, yet that same statement would not have been true to a rational mind of the 1800s because the two things bore no familial relationship. And yeah, sure, just give it back when you’re done with it.

Have you written something, crumpled it up and tossed it across the room, then rescued it and smoothed it out - - only to spill coffee/tea/Koolaid on it? (If so, did you write about that?)

In order: yes, sure, probably, maybe coffee, and definitely not.

Seriously, what is your writing process like? Do you edit your work?

I have the worst process of any poet I know. I only write when I have something pressing on me, and then it is very difficult for me to say a poem is done. I think it usually takes me a couple of years to get a poem into its final shape. I write lots of rough drafts, and re-read them often. Sometimes I find a better image or a more concise way to say something…and then sometimes the poem reveals itself over time to be about something entirely different than I had first thought, which is what happened with Saying Grace among the Rocks. And even after all that, I will sometimes overlook a typo for years. In any case, I think writers should try to write every day, even when they have nothing pressing down on them. Sometimes you can create words out of nothing at all.

How does your daily life affect your writing, and vice versa?

Being dead would probably prohibit my writing. In that sense my daily life has a profound effect on my writing. But actually, for some time when I was younger I had this idea that I wanted things I experienced to be poems and poems to be things I could experience. I thought that I could overcome the bifurcation between object and poem if I found the right words and those words were read by the right reader, but I have kind of accepted my limitations as a writer since then. Still, once a guy at a reading said my poems felt like being punched in the stomach, and I thought that was a pretty good compliment.

Your poems have been described as “accessible.” How do you feel about that?

[laughs] This interview is OVER! Uhm, I used to take that as a back-handed compliment. I learned around a lot of poets who wanted to be challenging, and I believe the thinking was that if just anyone could get it, it was not really worth sharing. But I was always afraid that I was turning my poems into obstacle courses…and it seemed counter-intuitive to do that. They will have their readers, and I will have mine…and I doubt anyone will ever get into a barroom brawl over which style of poetics he prefers, so for now I content myself to imagine a waitress, a punker, an accountant and a one-legged nun all sitting around a table reading poems that they can relate to.

The poems reflect a diverse palette of religious thought. Poems like The Word, Saying Grace among the Rocks, Transubstantiation, and The Rapture address belief and disbelief head-on, and in many of your other poems religion seems to be swimming just below the surface. Sometimes they seem at odds with one another.

Well, the poems in the book were written over the last 15 to 20 years, and I guess it is natural for one’s beliefs to change over time. I mean, I hope my 7th-grade Sunday school teacher eventually got over the historicity of figures. It will suck if I am wrong, but I just don’t think that ark story would have been feasible. But I wrote some of the poems as honest questions, some as praise of goodness, some because I just didn’t feel like the story I was told resonated with my own spiritual needs, and then I wrote The Rapture because I am sort of afraid that we may get the God we want instead of the God who wants us. Humanity demands violence and punishment, and it would be a shame if there were a giant, cosmic ball of love and energy that ended up being just as emotionally wrecked as we are.

You write a lot about wreckage.

Everything’s wreckage…and shifting states of seeming-permanence and loss and recovery. But that’s great, because every once in a while a pattern starts to emerge, or an image jumps out and attaches itself to a moment, or you get a glimpse of sense and order that almost feels transcendent.

Is that what Manic Prayer for Thursday is about?

That started out as a very small poem, and then I kept finding things I loved about my life--and that was kind of new territory for me--so I ran with it, and the title grew out of my self-consciousness about realizing that I was going on and on and on…and that being wrecked again and again had led me to this place where everything seems pretty good. Maybe it was a tip of the hat to Organized Innocence.

Is William Blake one of your influences?

I studied The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and his mythologies when I was an undergrad. Sometimes I would be up in my dorm room burning incense and candles and switching back and forth between William Blake and the Bible. I wanted to have those mystical experiences that he had. I could work myself into some pretty interesting mental spaces through prayer and meditation, but I never saw Jesus in a tree or anything. My RA was a big old Jesus freak named Brad, and now that I look back on it, I bet he thought I was burning all that incense so I could get high in my room. But every once in a while I would have a spiritual epiphany, and I would really feel like I got it, you know, IT, and I would pray and pray and pray to die in that moment because I knew that I needed to die before I lost my grip on it. Looking back, I realize that that was pretty weird, but I guess questions are only rewarding if they’re hard.

How has your own writing been affected by the "rules" (whichever list you use), and by teachers, programs, seminars, etc?

Very much so. I have had some wonderfully patient instructors and friends who taught me a lot, and when I write I am in a sort of silent dialogue with them. More fundamentally, it never would have even dawned on me to write a book of poetry if I had not ended up with the right teacher 20 years ago.

When did you start writing, and why?

I wrote my first short story when I was 10 or so because I wanted to make people laugh.

Best rumor about yourself?

I’m a librarian.

Where are the best and worst places you've ever been?

Here and there.

How was your experience with Ghost Road Press?

Great. They have published a lot of smart, innovative, and talented poets before me, so it was an honor to be chosen by them. Plus, they came up with the cover, which I love, which is of a young Joseph Grimaldi being hurled into an astonished crowd. Then, I had some last minute changes they were good to accommodate. I wanted the poem Again on page 89 for reasons that people who know me may guess, and then I added a last-minute epigraph for my friend David Gimelfarb who has been missing in Costa Rica for several months now. Everyone who reads this should go join the Help Find David Gimelfarb page on facebook. But yeah, Ghost Road is aces in my book.

How can we buy Card Tricks for the Starving?

Amazon is the best place to get it.

What advice do you have for young writers?

Studying poetry is no substitute for life experience, and life experience is no substitute for studying poetry. Give up sleeping, and don’t be afraid to fail.

Todd Heldt has published poetry and prose in dozens of journals, including Birmingham Poetry Review, Borderlands, Chattahoochee Review, Sycamore Review, and Laurel Review. In recent years, he won 2nd place in the 8th Annual Poetry Superhighway Poetry Contest, was a nominee for a Pushcart Prize, and was a finalist in the Cleveland State University first book competition.

When he's not feeding alligators at the Lincoln Park Zoo he's probably hanging out with his wife, Kelly, and flying kites.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

In The Beginning

... there was darkness, and a very large banana.
And a yellow VW Bug.

That was fun to look at for awhile, wasn't it?
Photograph by Julian Povey

Welcome to the Rearview section of The View From Here. We're going "live" with our poets and their work in our print version each month beginning in January of 2010 (less than a month from this posting). We'll list them here with the occasional sneak preview for your viewing and reading pleasure.

Four times a year, we'll interview a poet - - and we'll put their words online as well as in print. At some point mid December we'll be talking with Todd Heldt and discussing his latest book of poetry, "Card Tricks For The Starving."

This January we'll take our quasi maiden voyage with five extraordinary poets:
  • Cyndi Dawson
  • Joseph Goosey
  • Claudia Grinnell
  • Joseph Reich
  • Davide Trame

We invite you to check in often for those sneak previews - - better yet, subscribe to our weekly news feed and we'll update you.

If you're in to networking, find us on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter too! A scroll down the front page side bar of the main 'zine will give you all that linky goodness.

In the meantime, read some fiction over at The Frontview and have a wonderful, safe Holiday Season!

~Sydney Nash