On Context, Otherness and the Role of Poetry (an Interview from 2013)

For those of you who might care, I’m featured in an interview in Middle Gray.

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Originally posted in December 2013. Circumstances have changed a bit – I have more time to write these days, but somehow manage to constantly run behind…

Q&A with Poet Chip Dameron

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.

Website: https://www.cdameron.com

YouTube reading at Malvern Books with Larry D. Thomas

Youtube reading at Malvern Books

Reading at the Friendswood Public Library

Jim Harrison

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While browsing the Poetry Foundation’s articles, I uncovered this piece from 2016. Jim Harrison has long been one of my favorites. His success at prose has perhaps caused some to forget or disregard his poetry, but in my mind, he’s always been a poet first.

 

 

Celan, 1970

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Celan, 1970

From frame to door,
the obvious defers, denying

entry as if
an eye could reclaim

or separate

the fallen tear
and the river’s skin,

or return
those words to

thought, water to
stone, intent

to cold
reason,
now to before.

He stepped into release.

 

* * *

“Celan, 1970” first appeared in October 2015. One of the most influential (and difficult) European poets of the 20th century, Paul Celan survived the horror of World War II but never escaped its shadow. A brief biography may be found here.

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Earth’s Damp Mound

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Earth’s Damp Mound
for P.M.

I. February 1998.

That week it rained white petals
and loss completed its

turn, the words finding themselves
alone, without measure,

without force, and no body to compare.
Though strangers spoke I could not.

Is this destiny, an unopened
mouth filled with

pebbles, a pear tree
deflowered by the wind? The earth’s

damp mound settles among your bones.

 

II. Count the Almonds

What bitterness
preserves your sleep,

reflects the eye’s
task along the inward thread?

Not the unspoken, but the unsayable.

Curious path, curious seed.
A shadow separates

to join another, and in the darker
frame carries the uncertain

further, past silence, past touch,
leaving its hunger alert and unfed,

allowing us our own protections.

 

III. The Bowl of Flowering Shadows

Reconciled, and of particular
grace, they lean, placing emphasis on balance,

on layer and focus, on depth of angle
absorbing the elegant darkness,

a lip, an upturned glance, the mirror.

What light caresses, it may destroy.
Even the frailest may alter intent.

So which, of all those you might recall,
if your matter could reform

and place you back into yourself,
would you choose? Forgive me

my selfishness, but I must know.

 

IV. Requiem

Then, you said, the art of nothingness
requires nothing more

than your greatest effort.
And how, seeing yours, could we,

the remaining, reclaim our
space without encroaching on what

you’ve left? One eye closes, then
the other. One mouth moves and another

speaks. One hears, one listens, the eternal
continuation. Rest, my friend. After.

 

Prentiss Moore influenced my reading and writing more than he ever realized. We spent many hours talking, eating, arguing, drinking, laughing. Always laughing – he had one of those all-encompassing laughs that invited the world to join in. And it frequently did. Through Prentiss I met in person one of my literary heroes, Gustaf Sobin, whose work Prentiss had of course introduced me to. Those few hours spent with the two of them driving around in my pickup truck, discussing poetry, the Texas landscape, horticulture and the vagaries of the publishing world, are hours I’ll always hold close.

Earth’s Damp Mound first appeared in the anthology Terra Firma, and is included in my chapbook, If Your Matter Could Reform.

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