Getting to Know Timothy Gager and His New Book Chief Jay Strongbow Is Real

Available now on Timothy Gager’s website

When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover you wanted to write poems?

More or less in High School. I was a big music listener as a kid—it drew me in and that was the age of the singer songwriter. Lyrics told stories, had meaning, were poetic. In college I joined a band and I wanted to write poetry just the opposite way I had listened to it. I wanted to write poetry so I could compose better lyrics.

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?

I’m a morning person now so I like to write before or just after lunch. I like to work at a desk, with limited distraction. When I was writing my novels I wrote and stopped at between 500-750 words a day, so that I could start fresh the next day without writing the idea dry. For poetry, I like to pick at it—write a draft, pick and have a much better draft by the end of the day. Then I’ll look at it in the future and with fresh eyes, and do a more serious revision.

Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?

All of the above, but most often, a feeling, or vamping off a word or phrase.

Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?

Dead. Seriously, at different points of my life different writers have influenced me. Influences or more subtle these days now I rely on my own voice, often using the cadence of other poets as influences.

Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what’s the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was it a project book? etc.

The book is in eight acts or sections. The first act starts with the titular Chief Jay Strongbow is Real. Strongbow was a Pro Wrestler who worked for Vincent J. McMahon’s World Wide Wrestling Federationfrom 1970-1985. He was 57 when he retired, and his persona of fierce warrior was all an act. An Italian named Joe Scarpa played the chief. 

That said, there are no wrestling poems in this collection. What I was attempting in this work was, in general, the question of what exactly is real.? What do we believe? What do the people in power tell the masses which influence us into believing that the lies are the truth. This began in America when America began. Unfortunately, it still happens today. Funny thing is I never wrote poems about social consciousness before, because I felt that beliefs are beliefs, mine are mine and yours are yours, and nobody cares or is swayed by any of it.  In today’s world, what is going on is something I just couldn’t avoid in my writing. It is important. I tried to not make the work preachy, and more observant from one person’s point of view. Then there are seven other acts dealing with the conflicts of being human: love, loss, family, recovery and food. Never forget food.

Methinks we Protest

For Hanna Arendt, Malcolm X, Stalin and Shakespeare

And Wake up
To the same day
Protest the same day

The most radical revolutions
Become conservative
The day after the revolution

Take that out of your vocabulary
If you’re not ready to perish
For expression, you must perish

So you must say, fuck you motherfucker
Confident so it won’t burn your lips
Mother country cannot kiss those lips

And We cannot do this
With silk gloves
Or an insulated waterproof ski glove

Make things warm and the peaceful
Possible, so that protests
Feel real, we really doth protest

Much to do about marching
and lighting candles
marching, and lighting candles

Complacent heroes seized by pepper spray
wilting like diurnal animals at night
Feel the darkness. Feel the opposite of light.

And Wake up
To the same day
Protest the same day

Timothy Gager is the author of thirteen books of short fiction and poetry.  Chief Jay Strongbow is Real (Big Table Publishing) is his first book of poetry in four years. He has had over 400 works of fiction and poetry published and of which eleven have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has been read on National Public Radio. Timothy is the Fiction Editor of The Wilderness House Literary Review. He’s hosted the successful Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts since 2001 and was the co-founder of Somerville News Writers Festival. His last two books, the novels, The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan/ and Grand Slams: A Coming of Eggs Story drew rave reviews.