Q&A with Chip Dameron, author of China Sketchbook
Would you mind sharing a bit about your background?
I started writing poems in college and have been been playing with language ever since. To support my family, for many years I taught writing and literature at UT Brownsville and held several administrative positions. Now I am writing full time.
Which three words best describe your poetry?
Precise. Vivid. Imagistic.
Tell us about China Sketchbook. What was its genesis?
A few years ago my wife and I took a month-long trip across China, which was a stunning experience. I’ve long admired Chinese poetry and knew a little Chinese history, so to observe how China is transforming itself and to meet many of its people made for an unforgettable journey. I began drafting poems along the way, and I continued after returning home. China Sketchbook contains 27 poems, and Virtual Artists Collective was kind enough to publish it under its Purple Flag imprint in December 2016.
I’m sure you’re frequently asked this question, but I can’t resist: What carries you from the blank page to a poem? What is your process?
Usually I sit down to explore something I’ve seen or heard or experienced or thought about. What images can I find to get the poem started? Where do they want or need to go? Which words support the movement of the poem and give it the energy it needs to become a language-object that others might enjoy experiencing? Through this process I hope to create poems that are authentic and original.
A few months ago you published At Paisano Ranch, a micro-chapbook, with Origami Poems Project. What can you tell us about this book?
In September 2016, I began a four-month stay as writer-in-residence at Paisano Ranch in Austin, once owned by the legendary Texas writer J. Frank Dobie. You and I met at the ranch several times and talked about poetry, and I was intrigued by the charming micro-chapbook that you had published through Origami Poems Project called You Break What Falls. So I took six poems I had written about my experiences at the ranch and sent them off to OPP, and the editors accepted the micro-manuscript and published At Paisano Ranch in early December. I encourage poets and readers to visit the website, https://origamipoems.com, and download for free any of the micro-chapbooks that interest them. Poets may also wish to submit their own micro-manuscripts of six short poems.
What advice do you have for new poets?
Don’t be in a great rush to publish your work. Work at the craft of creating your poems, read your drafts out loud, and don’t be afraid to tinker with your poems, and even make extensive changes. You are engaging in the process of finding your distinctive voice, your distinctive style. When you’ve found that voice and style, you are ready to go public. And when you experience rejection, as all poets do, keep submitting your poems, and keep writing new ones.
Which artists inspire you? Whose work do you read, listen to, gape at, admire, envy?
I’ve long admired the great American poets of the past, including Whitman, Dickinson, Frost, and Stevens. More recent sources of inspiration include Seamus Heaney, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Billy Collins. And even through translation, which can’t do full justice to the original language, I’ve been amazed at the power of the classical Chinese poets, such as Li Bai, Du Fu, and Tao Qian.
What are you working on now, what’s in the pipeline, and what can we look forward to in the coming months?
I’ve recently completed a collection of poems called Mornings with Dobie’s Ghost, which is scheduled for publication in 2018 by Wings Press. I wrote the 35 poems while living and working at Paisano Ranch. And I’m in the middle of drafting a novel—my first—which has been a most challenging but stimulating experience.
Bio: Chip Dameron is the author of nine collections of poetry and a travel book. His poems and essays on contemporary writers have appeared in the Mississippi Review, Southwestern American Literature, San Pedro River Review, Puerto del Sol, Hayden’s Ferry Review, New Orleans Review, Borderlands, and many other journals and anthologies, as well as publications in Canada, Ireland, Nigeria, India, China, Thailand, and New Zealand.