When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
My first real encounter with poetry was in the 8th grade when, one day, I was called upon to stand next to my desk and read out loud to the rest of the class Part Two of The Highwayman by Alfred Lord Noyes.
I began writing fiction when I was 13 or 14 years old. I penned my own scripts for popular television shows of the day, like The Fugitive and The Man from U.N.C.L.E., in black and white speckled composition books. I discovered that I wanted to write poetry rather than fiction when I was 16 or 17 years old and learned that girls were more interested in poetry than scripts for television shows. However, I found that I needed to write poetry when I was 20 after having the American poet John Matthias as my professor for a few poetry classes at the University of Notre Dame. He was a mentor then and continues to provide encouragement today.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
Yes. I’m usually up at 5AM when the house is quiet. I arm myself with a starter cup of coffee and, for the next two or three hours, pick up where I last left off with a poem or I start on something new. Then, I go out for a walk, weather permitting. When I return, I refill my coffee cup for the third or fourth time, and continue writing for another two hours or so. Although I might write during the course of the afternoon, I usually don’t. Ordinarily, I like to let the words marinate on the page for a while as I leave late afternoon/early evening solely for revision.
I have both [a favorite time and place to write]. Early morning hours as to time and the Greek island of Hydra as to place. I have been going there regularly each year (except, of course, for 2020) since 1995 (I first visited in 1970) and the periods of time living there have simply gotten longer and longer. Fortuitously, many of the poems I have written there have been published in small literary journals, both print and online. There are a number of them in Convictions of the Heart which is divided into two sections: “Hydra” and “Other Places, Other People.” “Hydra” contains only poems that were written there. I’ve been asked more than once “Why Hydra? Why go there?” In response, I cite the answer of American poet George Slater when he was asked the same questions: “It’s just the place. It’s just the place. It gets into your bones. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just the place.” I could not agree more.
Where do your poems most often “come from”—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
All of the above are possible sources of inspiration for me. The title poem for my second book, Unnecessary Tattoo and Other Stains on a Stainless Steel Heart, came from watching a friend, a young woman, draw on a napkin for me the design she was going to have as her very first tattoo. However, it is difficult for me to say which of these sources “most often” results in a good poem—a poem that says what you want to say in the way you want to say it. To paraphrase what the late Canadian poet Leonard Cohen once said: “If I knew where the good poems come from, I would go there more often.”
Which writers (living or dead) have influenced you the most?
Great question! The hard part of it lies with the words “the most” as there have been many writers who have influenced me and my work in a lot of different ways. This is in no particular order and it is not exhaustive: John Matthias, W.B. Yeats, Leonard Cohen, Pablo Neruda, Charles Bukowski, W. Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene, Truman Capote, Stephen King, Lee Child, Lord Byron, William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Robert Browning, Robert Frost, Mary Oliver, Tennyson, Emily Dickinson and, of course, Alfred Lord Noyes.
What excites you most about your new collection?
I would have to say it is how well the combination of theme and title work. The title summarizes the theme that runs through almost all of the poems in the book. As Howard Firkin, the editor at In Case of Emergency Press who accepted my manuscript for publication, told me: “What unites the whole collection is… [the] exploration of a fascination with memory, time, and experience and the shifting perspective that comes with arrival, leaving, recalling, returning.”
Hydra, April 2019
–for Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
I stood outside
your old home today
as I’ve done in years past.
Tangled ivy vines from the roof
terrace stretched down the wall
toward me, a thin green leafy rope,
inviting me to grab its strands with
both hands and pull myself up.
If I was a younger man perhaps;
but my wall scaling days ceased long ago.
Instead, I looked for the wire and the bird.
I saw the former: a tightrope, taut and thin,
pole-tied between red-roofed white houses.
There was no sparrow, but I’m still here
listening for what cannot be heard.
I put my hand on the wall of your house
hoping the lingering remnant of a once
strummed guitar riff or the clickety-clack of
your old, olive green Olivetti would course
through my fingertips, run the maze of
jagged lines on my smooth palm, up my
willing arm to the area of the brain, or
whatever part of the soul, sends messages to
the Muse assigned to a scribbler of verse.
But it doesn’t work that way does it, Leonard?
That singular Muse here for you then isn’t mine.
Although I’d like to think they may be sisters
or, more likely, cousins once or twice removed.
At Douskos Taverna, I dined on fresh xiphias
under the huge old pine tree where, once
upon a time before fame and fortune fell
upon you, you sat, sang and played guitar
for Marianna and all your Hydriot friends.
I’ll come by tomorrow. You never know,
someone or something may be at home.
Purchase Convictions of the Heart
John L. Holgerson is the author of three books of poetry, Convictions of the Heart (In Case of Emergency Press 2021), Unnecessary Tattoo and Other Stains on a Stainless
Steel Heart (Finishing Line Press 2016) and Broken Borders (Wasteland Press 2012). He has published poems in small literary journals, both in print (Modern English Tanka; Shadow Quill Poetry; Popt Art among others) and online (Page & Spine; Vincent van Gogh Gallery; MassPoetry; The Poetry Porch among others). He also produced, moderated and read at the 2016 MassPoetry Festival presentation of Poets at the Bar: Five Practicing Massachusetts Attorneys Who Are Published Poets. He is listed in Poets & Writers’ Directory of Poets and Writers; is one of three MassPoetry representatives for Bristol County, Massachusetts; and is the founder of the Poetry as Verdict project providing a public venue for high school student-poets to read their work. Since 1995, he resides part of the year on the Greek island of Hydra.
For more information, visit his website: www.johnlholgerson.com