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

Light and Dark and Light Again (crawlspace)

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Light and Dark and Light Again (crawlspace)

Not hopeless, but without hope. If I could
capture my shadow, would I
imprison it in a cell of light

or release it to roam free among the dense cedars,
knowing always that I might betray myself again?
And other repetitions. Doorways beyond other

doorways leading to more openings, like
mouths releasing words in the random
silence, awaiting their return.

What lives under the house but another
darkness, another tale of contrast

and spent energies? Answers move swiftly
from point to point, refusing to be
pinned down. The questions remain.

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This first appeared here in February 2015.

To the Lovely Green Beetles Who Carried My Notes into the Afternoon

To the Lovely Green Beetles Who Carried My Notes into the Afternoon

Such beauty should not be bound,
thus I tied loose knots,

knowing you would slip free
and shed my words

as they were meant,
across browned lawns,

just over the cedar fence
or at the curb’s edge,

never to be assembled,
and better for it.

* * *

This appeared in riverSedge Volume 29, Issue 1, released in October 2016. I first encountered riverSedge in 1983, and vowed that one day my poetry would be published in this journal. It took a while…

Recording of “In Praise of Rain”

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In Praise of Rain

Which is not to say lightning or hail.
Sometimes I forget to open the umbrella

until my glasses remind me: Wake up, you’re
wet! If scarcity breeds

value, what is a thunderhead worth
in July? A light shower in August?

Even spreadsheets can’t tell us.

***

“In Praise of Rain” has appeared here several times, but this is the recording’s debut.

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Recording of “Life among the Prickly Pear”

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* * *

A draft of this first appeared here in June 2015, with the finished piece following in May 2016. It rained yesterday, and I thought I’d record this with the sound of falling rain in the background.

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Poem Up at the “Such an Ugly Time” page of Rat’s Ass Review

My poem, “Sensing My Dismay at the Election Results, My Wife’s Dog Presses Against Me” is up at the “Such an Ugly Time” page of Rat’s Ass Review. The poem originally appeared here in November 2016, but has been given new life, thanks to editor Roderick Bates.

We Call the Neighbor’s Fat Burro Donkey Hotei, but His Name is Cantinflas

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We Call the Neighbor’s Fat Burro Donkey Hotei, but His Name is Cantinflas

Certainty grows in corners, away from light.
From his mouth issues the breath we take, the words we keep.

Enjoy the collusion of shape and sound.
We share the hummingbird’s taste for sweet, but not its fierceness.

Its heart beats 1,200 times a minute,
and you ask me how best to bury money.

Hotei’s name means cloth sack, and comes from the bag he carried;
a man of loving character, he possessed the Buddha nature.

What we own cannot be held.
Most plastics are organic polymers with spine-linked repeat units.

The space you’ve left expands exponentially.
Left in the rain, the bell grows.

Christen me at your own peril. Agaves flower once then die.
Fluency in silence.

I dropped my pants when the scorpion stung my thigh.
The wind takes nothing it does not want.

After vulcanization, thermosets remain solid.
The Cantinflas character was famous for his eloquent nonsense.

Vacuum wrap the bills in plastic, place them in pvc.
Having mastered imperfection, I turn to folly.

Not the thing itself, but the process laid bare and opened.
Hoping to hide, the scorpion scuttled under a boot.

Thought to action, whisper to knife: which is not a curse?
The wind wants nothing; the burro sings his loneliness.

 

This first appeared here in May 2015. My failures often lead to success. I’ve never quite completed this piece, and don’t know that I ever will. But the first draft (nearly five years ago) set me off on a new path, one that has served me well. What more can I ask?
 
 
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