[Photo courtesy of the author]
An Interview with Wade Stevenson
First off, congrats on the success of Flutes and Tomatoes, one of Kirkus Review’s Best Indie Books of 2015. What an honor.
I read Dear You and Flutes and Tomatoes in relatively short order. There is such a full blown range of longing, despair, grief, and, dare I say, an exhilaration in the expression of it all, maybe more emotion packed into two slim volumes than many would experience in a lifetime. So — are you reconciled with the events that took you to such a dark place, maybe at peace, and if so, how did the writing help you to get there?
Writing for me has always been an act of catharsis, of purification, of healing. The stories described in Flutes and Tomatoes and Dear You did indeed take me to dark, difficult places. No one would want to stay for a long time in that kind of emotional cell, and the only path I could find to free myself went through words. The words that make up the fabric of those poems became me. I lived them as if they were real. The events that caused the original pain happened again, in real time. Holding those two books in my hand, I can say, “You are the proof of that love that was lived and lost.” That feeling is one of wonderful release, it creates peace.
Both books were published in 2015. How much time passed between the events and the writing of the books? Did you find yourself agonizing anew as you wrote them?
Both books were published in 2015 because they’re related in terms of their emotional context and impact. Flutes and Tomatoes grew out of an experience I had in Paris when I was in my early twenties. That was in the late 1960s. I still have the notebooks that formed the basis of the book. The story narrated in Dear Youtook place in 1992. I started writing about it then but I couldn’t finish it. It hurt me to finish it, and in one way I didn’t want to finish it because that meant putting closure to it. And I felt I needed to keep the wound open. It’s strange how that happens, no? You don’t want to stop reliving in your memory something that hurt you very much.
Dear You is a very intimate exposé of your feelings at a specific time in your life, but also an intimate portrait of the mother of one your children. You share a daughter and shared a life, the details of which now are very public. I think it would be hard to be written about in such an intimate fashion. How does the Mlle. X. feel about your characterization of your relationship and particularly of her part in it?
I like to think that my poems are written from the center of my stomach, what the Japanese call “Hara”. You could also say: from the gut. You’re absolutely right: “Dear You” is a very intimate portrait. Extreme intimacy. I was afraid of showing it to Mlle. X, the mother of my child. But I also felt it would be wrong to publish it without first letting her read it. So I sent it to her and said, “If you don’t like it, or don’t approve, I’ll just keep it in my desk drawer.” She called me up a few days later and said, “It’s a beautiful book. I’m so sorry, I never realized I caused you so much pain.”
Do you think there are patterns in life and that people succumb to certain ones or that there’s much more of a randomness to the universe? For example, Greg Braden talks about something called Fractal Time and how, like the inside of a nautilus shell or the repeating patterns of a pine cone, life spirals out in ever-widening circles, but the pattern remains the same. Braden posits that there’s a precise mathematical formula to prove his theory and with certain bits of information such as the date of the inciting event, among other things, he can predict when the next event will occur, allowing you to prepare yourself for a disaster or maybe keep it from happening, or conversely, accept a blessing. I’m fascinated by this concept and wonder if you’ve heard of it and what your opinion of it may be.
Greg Braden’s idea is intriguing, but I deal in my texts with emotional time, not mathematical time. My own books, such as the memoir One Time in Paris, or the novel The Electric Affinities, or my prose poem, The Little Book of He and She, draw on such different experiences of life and love that it would be impossible to say they conform to any preset pattern. In your own book, Six Sisters, you write a passage about how nothing happens by chance. I agree, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying that people succumb to certain patterns that keep replicating themselves.
I’m sure your familiar with the work of Joseph Campbell and the power of myth and archetype throughout the ages. You have two stories of lost love, both of which might have shattered you, but you proved resilient. Do you think that we are all living our lives under the umbrella of a few archetypes developed early on in our childhoods, and if so, what archetypes resonate with you?
Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is one of my favorites, and I strongly believe in his mythological narratives. The archetype that resonates with me is that of the hero, the man who, assuming his own destiny, ventures out on a dangerous quest, meets several obstacles, overcomes them, and is victorious. There are many types of “quests” and the victory is always a spiritual one, symbolic, but it must be fought for and achieved. My books are all about a quest for love, or what happens in the aftermath of a broken love.
What’s your next project? Another hybrid book of memoir/poem or something completely different?
My next book is actually about the moon. It’s called Moon Talk. It will be published by BlazeVOX next month. It’s divided into three parts, a long poem, an essay, and some quotations. It’s a poetic, spiritual, and philosophical journey through all the phases of the lunar cycle. It’s a lyrical riff on the moon as myth and symbol. Joseph Campbell would have liked it.
Sounds wonderful. So what’s a regular writing day look like for you? Part time? Full time? Some time? Every day or only when the muse strikes?
I’m a nocturnal poet, I need the night to write. A certain solitude is essential. I don’t believe in the Muse. Writing comes from patience and discipline. For me, it’s almost like a Zen meditation. When I’m in it, I’m ready to kill any distraction.
I gather you are not a religious man, yet you write as though there is a real spirit of the divine in your work. Reconcile this for me.
I’m not religious in the sense of going to church or following any established ritual. But I went to a religious school (St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire), and at one time I even converted to Judaism. My forthcoming Moon Talk book is quite mystical. It talks about that “Name who, moving among darkness, sheds light”.
What is your greatest hope for the future of mankind?
If mankind as a whole read more poetry, the world would certainly be a greener, more peaceful place.
I know a few poets who would agree. Good luck with your next book. I look forward to reading and reviewing it.
Read the whole interview here