Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Author Insides - Kent Leatham

Kent Leatham's poetry was featured in the Summer 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase. Two weeks ago, we managed to talk him out of the tree long enough to answer a few questions.

Kent, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

In second or third grade, essentially as soon as I learned to spell. Putting words together was like building doorways: if you joined them well, and hung a solid idea or image on the hinges, you could pass through to infinite worlds. I think my first short story was about a dragon and my first poem was about a cricket. I grew up as an only child in the countryside of central California, with no television or neighborhood friends. Our house was built in the basin of a prehistoric sea, however, and the rocks along the roadside were filled with fossils—crabs, clams, fish, even once the skeleton of a whale. It would have been hard not to let my imagination run away with itself.

Why do you write?

Because otherwise the words get all cramped up in my fingertips, then my hands, then my wrists…. I get terrible tendonitis whenever I stop writing.

To be honest, I don’t actually know why I write. I have no agenda, no currently articulable ars poetica. The poems arrive, by force or fancy. They make me laugh. They make me wonder. What more can one ask?

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?

The only published writer I knew growing up was the poet, novelist, translator, and jazz journalist William Minor (www.bminor.org). Bill speaks five languages, creates visual art in multiple mediums, plays the piano, drums, and guitar, composes music, sings, is happily married and retired, and recently wrote an erotic poem about Q-Tips. In contrast, I speak English, play the clarinet, and find Q-Tips untrustworthy. I’d say my writing life has a long way to go.

What do you think makes a good story?

“Reminds me of that fellow back home that fell off a ten-story building. As he was falling, people on each floor kept hearing him say, ‘So far, so good.’” (Steve McQueen, The Magnificent Seven)

What's your favorite genre to read?

Poetry, which, coupled with the internet, has ruined my attention span for the Russian classics. But I’m an omnivore—novels, short stories, biographies, belles lettres, lit crit, random trivia, whatever I can find the time to consume. Highway signs, horoscopes, emergency warnings in languages I don’t speak. Poorly translated instruction labels for chopsticks.

Who is your favorite author or poet?

Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes. He captured the entirety of the human condition in four small boxes (or a full page on Sundays) every day for ten years, and then retired. Would that I could be half as prolific, brilliant, and wise.

What books or authors have influenced you the most as a writer?

John Steinbeck and Ray Bradbury top the list of writers I most admired and desired to imitate at an early age, though I don’t know how much influence they’ve had on my poetry. More noticeable formative impressions? The Bible for substance. The Fireside Book of Folk Songs for style. Reading-wise, I started out with Rilke, Rumi, and Mary Oliver: ponderance and ecstasy. Graduated to Hass, Levis, Kinnell: meditation and elegy. Lately it’s been Koch and O’Hara: innovation and celebration.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?

The Phantom Tollbooth. The Hobbit. Stories of outrageous possibilities waiting just beyond one’s sense of expectation.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

From reading. Foraging, hunting/gathering. An author may repeat the same word twice in a sentence, quite unintentionally, and suddenly I’m thinking about that word, turning it upside-down, pulling it inside-out, holding it up to my own mind to see if it catches any reflections or sheds any light. I’m like a raccoon that’s been let loose in a jewelry store. When someone says we “share” a language, I take it literally. The same with ideas. Writers talk about swiping and stealing, but that implies original ownership. As long as a word or image takes you somewhere new, it’s public domain. (And god, I’ll probably regret saying that ten minutes from now.)

What does your family think of your writing?

“It’s a shame he didn’t become a musician.”

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I don’t have any regularized routines or procedures for writing—it just happens when it happens—so my work schedule is largely irrelevant. And, at the moment, largely nonexistent. I write more when unemployed; I eat more when employed. I prefer love and fame, but usually end up with light and air.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

Recently the letter “P” popped off the keyboard on my geriatric laptop, so it’s been interesting trying to write poems that don’t require it. Otherwise, no, no deliberate quirks or rituals. I write a lot, but never on command. If the well dries up someday, then so be it. I am “only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all.”

Do you have any advice for other writers?

“If it ain’t broke, break it.” (Meat Loaf)
“There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen)

Where can we find your work?

Floating in the ether of the World Wide Web, hoping someday to settle between the real pages of a real book.

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