How did your interest in poetry begin?
I first began writing poetry at the age of 11. Before that, I wanted to write, but I was mostly a reader. The two go together so often. Ask most writers why they write and they tell you they tell you it all began with reading. Back to when I was 11, one of my English teachers actually died during the school year, and I remember writing a poem about it. So in part, my writing began with pain. I’m not sure that I was “interested” in poetry when my teacher died, but I certainly wrote about it and hurt for her. Poetry was my method of expressing that hurt.
What inspires you to write and keep writing?
That same expression, the desire or the necessity to put words on paper and put my thoughts in the form of poetry. I still have feelings, whether pain or joy or wonder, that need expression, just like in my 11 year old school room. Now, the people change and the experiences look different, but it’s still me and my feelings and that pen and paper and word.
I’m not sure I have some grand message that needs to be heard, so appealing to a “cause” has never attracted me to write. However, having readers does help, those who appreciate my writing inspire me to keep writing. I guess I also take a few issues with how many poets write. They want to occlude, to write obscure messages that require people to decipher them, but the poet finds some odd joy in knowing that people don’t really get what he or she is talking about. That sort of pomp inspires me to write clear poems with simple words about everyday events.
Can you comment more on the language that you use in your poems?
Sure. Overall, I think that poems should have simple ingredients organized or presented in a complex way. So, I use ordinary language, for example in “Warming Her Pearls.” Most any grade school student can read that poem and understand the words. There are no gigantic or advanced or foreign vocabulary for them to puzzle over. Instead, they get the words straight. This helps people to understand what I’m saying and allows them to construct an accurate picture of the story I’m telling.
You used the term “story.” How do you approach reality and fantasy in your work?
I am a realist. I do not write “stories” in the sense of fiction, though I have no problem with those who do. This world bears enough significance and interest for me, that it supplies more than enough material for my writing. If I were to approach my work as fantasy, I don’t know what would appear. That scares me.
That’s not to say I keep things predictable or totally in the sensory realm; I do blend a bit of “otherness” in my work. For example, again, in “Warming Her Pearls” the character imagines the lover coming home: “I see her every movement in my head.” That poem depends on the imagination of the speaker, but day or night dreaming is an act we all partake in. It is an activity that takes place in reality, despite is imaginary nature. Dreaming about a lover returning is not the same as saying, “I saw the dragon’s every movement in my head.”
How does your LGBT association affect your poetry?
Well, it’s changed over time. When my career began, it was much less acceptable to be openly gay. I would get odd looks from fans or others, and it even affected some of my work relations, with publishers and such. Now, I don’t know exactly what they thought, but certain comments in certain contexts, and the comments of others, leads me to think that it negatively influenced those relationships.
Today the case is much different. It probably positively affects my career now, rather than hurting it. There are so many more openly gay people, especially women, who need comfort and affirmation. While the world, even the United Kingdom, accepts people of different sexualities more than before, it still creates a hostile environment. Whether religious groups, or more traditional folks, or whoever, a lot of the population continues to threaten the gay community.
I include that identity in my work. My poems and plays include gay characters and themes of same-sex love. So for one thing, the LGBT issue instills me with courage. I have to ask, am I willing to address this issue and write about it? Or, do I fear the objectors so much that I must remain silent? The more I face the challenge and write, the more courage the practice instills in me. If I cower, I think that fear would slowly overtake me into silence.
In the end, I hope my work gives others courage and acceptance. I want men and women who are gay to know that they can and should love the people they feel affection towards, regardless of what others think. My poetry, I hope, says, “There are others like you!” and also, “I’m for you; don’t be afraid.” It will be interesting to see how the world changes, whether or not that acceptance increases, decreases, or becomes a non-issue. All the same, I will keep writing.