Thursday, February 7, 2013

Author Insides - Ben Heins

Ben Heins is currently teaching accelerated composition at Rosemont College, putting the finishing touches on his thesis, and will be graduating this spring with an M.F.A. in poetry. He holds a B.A. in professional writing with a minor in English literature from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. Though he currently resides in Greater Philadelphia, Ben was born and raised in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he studied under the late Dr. Len Roberts.

Ben's work has appeared in several local and national journals, including Lehigh Valley Literary Review, Wild Violet, White Pelican Review, and The Battered Suitcase, among others. His poem, "Stone's Weight," won first place the Lindsay R. Hannah Poetry Contest in 2007. He also has been meeting bi-weekly with his close-knit poetry group, the Winged Poets, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, since 2005.

 
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I started writing around third grade, but did not catch the poetry bug until 2005, when I was a freshman in college. There, I met Len Roberts and realized, "Hey, I can do this!" After my baccalaureate years, I went on to study poetry more seriously at Rosemont College. Now, this is my ultimate hobby.

Why do you write?

I write because I believe there are many things in this world that cannot be fully understood. So poetry, for me, helps to cut through all the calamity of the outside world and come to terms with the honest truth of the matter. It is a compressed form, and therefore, can contain infinite meaning in very few words. To dig through every wonderful and terrible moment I have experienced would take weeks of thinking, so instead of just sitting silently, I sit silently and let my mind talk through writing.

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

Being a poet is by far the best occupation. Start-up costs? An idea and a laptop! Hours of operation? Any time! Labor-intensive? Maybe mentally taxing, at times. Really, the only setback I find with being a poet is not having enough time to write. However, after graduation I plan to create the time I need to write more.

What do you think makes a good story?

A good story takes a gripping, coherent plot, fantastic characters, and a stellar beginning, middle, and end. A good poem, however, requires none of those. A good poem will effectively tell the full story from a small moment in the middle. Alternatively, a good poem could abandon any element of story and narrative and sing forever. Really, that is what I love about poetry: its "otherness."

What's your favorite genre to read?

My favorite genre is poetry, without a doubt. A close second is compressed prose – mostly short fiction and creative non-fiction.

Who is your favorite author or poet?

My poet-of-the-moment is Andrew Hudgins. The things he can do with a poem simply amaze me. Reading his collected works, American Rendering, one could turn to any page in the book and be wowed.

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

The book that influenced me most as a writer was The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss. At age four, this was the first book I read, and the one that has the most memories attached to it. When I started writing in elementary school, I would mimic Seuss’s rhythm and it let my imagination run wild. Reading it now, it reminds me that those are two qualities a poet should never forget: rhythm and imagination.

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

The single defining moment of my life occurred when I finished Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. After reading that play straight through and studying it, I realized I could not live the "American Dream" – or even the dream that my parents had for me. I will forever forfeit excessive amounts of money if I can have personal and spiritual satisfaction.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

Most of my inspiration comes from new experiences or new revelations. So, if the creative well is running dry, I stop writing for a few months and force myself into new experiences. If a memory sits in my head for a few days straight, I know there is enough inspiration swelling to start a poem.

What does your family think of your writing?

Most of my family could care less about poetry; however, they love me unconditionally and will read anything I write. I remember I brought my first publication credit to my father’s house and he stood in the kitchen, reciting it like he was quoting the Bible.

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

I find that most of my writing is done between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., and can go on for hours, depending upon how much I dig the material. The poem has to keep my interest, and when it does, I am hooked. If it does not, I shut off the computer and try again a different day.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

A quirk about my writing process is that I cannot read anything for at least 48 hours before writing. Also, I cannot listen to any type of music while writing – even if it is in the next room. Both of these quirks speak to my need to have my own internal rhythm when I sit down at the keyboard. Oh, and that’s another quirk – I can only write a poem in its entirety at a computer.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

My biggest challenge is that I am nowhere near being a prolific poet. In fact, I may only write one poem every few weeks. This was previously something I tried to repair, and the more I tried to nestle into some sort of regimen, the more I realized that this is my natural pace. It just happens to be slower at this point in my life.

What are your current projects?

Currently, I am putting the finishing touches on my thesis, which will ideally morph into my next chapbook of poems. Also, my poetry group is working on an anthology – our very own Greatest Hits, so to speak – and I am tremendously excited about both of those endeavors.

What are you planning for future projects?

In the future, I would like to try to write a book-length manuscript, though I have no idea where to begin. Some poets suggest writing with a book in mind; some say it should be a compilation of your best individual poems. But really, in the end, I just want to continue writing poetry and try experimenting with the "accepted" poem, pushing my own limits, exploring the world through writing. Then, if a book emerges, fantastic. In the meantime, though, I have to keep picking at my ideas and diving deeper into my work.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

In a word, honesty. Be honest with yourself, your subject matter, your form, your peers. Be honest and spare no details. If there is that one burning spot in the back of your brain that is too difficult to write about – write about that and see what comes out. Artistic honesty is hard to achieve, but infinitely rewarding.

Where can we find your work?

You can find my work here, at Vagabondage Press, and elsewhere on the Internet.