by Pamme Boutselis
Damon Marbut has been writing poetry since he was in junior high, not that he knew quite what he was doing back then. Damon talked with us about his influences, his poetry and what he wishes he’d known when he started writing.
How did you get started writing poetry?
It was as far back as sixth grade. I think I mentioned in a recent interview the encouragement one gets, or is fortunate to get, when he or she is young when it comes to creative expression in art beyond the general mechanics of imagination. I didn’t know what I was doing then, not in a sense of control at least, but I felt then the exact same compulsion toward spending my time on page rather than on the soccer fields or baseball mounds. I did much of the latter, but I wasn’t fully connected with it as with poetry and writing overall.
When it comes to poetry, who or what influences your writing?
I still struggle with how to answer this effectively. But I also understand the answer is unique to the person, subjective sometimes, and always evolving. In the past it was forever “the moment, the goddamn moment is right now and this is what’s happening and it must be documented!” But lately, and even over the past four years I’ve lived and worked in New Orleans, that’s abated somewhat. I let go of the moment, but tend to be calculating in how much I discard and how much I keep in terms of observation.
Musicians I meet here in town turn me on to fresh thought, because I see their work through sound, if that makes sense. But writers I’ve never met turn me on in ways no lover can. I’ll spend a half-hour with Dorianne Laux or Sharon Olds or Pablo Neruda, maybe reading very carefully and slowly a poem or three of theirs, savor and process it, and then sleep the best sleep of my week. I’m not sure what or who really influences my writing. Honestly, everything I come in contact with is an opportunity to be empowered creatively. So maybe it’s just people. This country is full of nuts, but if one learns how to see them just right, it’s gorgeous.
Is poetry for everyone? Is it simply a matter of connecting to the right poet?
Poetry is for everyone. And of course it has attached to it a stigma, but I think that’s all nonsense now. In the modern publishing era anyone can say they’re anything they want to be, or be perceived as, so it comes down to study, practice, and then backing all of this up with talent and instinct which can not be taught. I laugh at myself sometimes when I reflect on conversations and interviews where an agreement was created and reached that poetry is seen as dead but isn’t. Of course it isn’t dead. And it IS for everyone. I don’t think it’s necessarily about connecting to the right poet inasmuch as it is about finding the right style. Some people like cursing, some like rhymes, some like themes of love, some want grit and cruelty, and so on.
How would you describe your poetry to others?
That’s a funny question. From this end, at least. I go shy and pretty much cringe at discussing my poems as what they are, or what I think they are. I’m pretty confident in small spaces. I can talk for hours about what I think my poetry does and aspires to do. For this purpose, I can say I write so honestly about what happens in my life—honest to the point it’s vulgar or terrifying—that I evolve into different styles for the sake of saying similar things quite differently. My book, Little Human Accidents, is being called “raw” by many reviewers, as well as unapologetic. But I see that as just one thing. My new collection is with publishers now, trying to find a home, and it’s got more of a vapor blowing across it, some sort of distance between the reader and poetic “voice” unlike the other book. I chatted with an editor who said she felt she didn’t know me after reading the new book. The same week a publisher asked me for 50 more pages of the same stuff.
What do you know now about writing that you wish you knew when you started?
I subscribe to the notion that I’ll never know anything. I get glimpses of things that work for me creatively, and alternatively they can come up short. I have learned over the years that being patient with the self is crucial. We can’t just write everything at once. I tried for years. But it was because I was thrilled at the process and I knew I was getting close to slowing down and finding out how I work. It takes years to figure out the direction to take. So, patience and trust in the self. Those are good things. And what I will say to any poets developing their own styles and senses of the world: be kind to everyone around you. If you’re a pretentious jerk you’re not going to make it. Not ever. Be sweet and love what you do. You’ll drown in the goodness that comes back to you.
When it comes time to unwind with a collection of poetry, who do you turn to?
That’s a revolving door for me. I do poetry book reviews for The Rumpus, so I get books sent all the time to my home. As mentioned before, Laux and Olds and Neruda kill me in terrific ways, but there are also real surprises. Andrew Faulkner had a work published by Coach House Books in Canada called Need Machine. That collection of poems resurrected my faith in modern poetry. He’s so good, and I told him so.
You can read one of Damon’s poems, “Flight,” here on The Penmen Review!