Sunday, January 23, 2011

Author Insides - Jacob Russell

Jacob Russell lives in South Philly, grows tomatoes and herbs in the little strip of a garden in front of his apartment, and reads his poems in the subway concourse with his Spirit Stick, Inihiti. He's currently working to complete a second novel and seeking a publisher for a MS of poetry. He manages the literary blog, Jacob Russell's Barking Dog at work has been performed by InterAct Theatre and appeared in Criiphoria 2, Conversational Magazine, BlazeVox, Scythe, Salmagundi, dcomP Mag, Pindeldeyboz, Pedestal, Philadelphia Stories, Apiary and other literary venues.
Jacob appeared in the Autumn 2010 issue of The Battered Suitcase.
Jacob, When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

A simple question, so complicated in so many ways. I’ve always written: poetry, journals, attempts at essays, fiction. There was a time in adolescence when I thought in those terms—about ‘being a writer,’ but I was always more involved with other things: painting, ten years working as a potter, sporadic attempts at scholarship and many wasted years pursuing a skewed idea of respectability (never to the slightest degree of success!). My decision to put my writing first wasn’t about ‘being a writer;’ it was like a personal conversion to a task of a lifetime. I had begun to exchange poems with someone on a BBS (this was 1986), and it all came together: that this is what I was going to do from that moment to the end. I was almost 50, but told myself that 20 or 30 years of concentrated effort would be enough to make a body of work. The emphasis was on doing. The ‘Being’ would have to take care of itself. Twenty-three years later, over the course of the last year, poetry has begun to bleed into my sense of identity. I find that I am writing myself into a new life, that “being a poet” and making poetry are interdependent and inseparable. The feather and sash I attached this past May Day in Baltimore to the walking stick I carry for my half ruined leg, the stick which has evolved into my Spirit Staff, marked that second turning point: becoming a poet. If I live another 20 years, I might just make it.

Why do you write?

What else am I to do with my time? What else could serve to draw up and set to account almost 70 years of living?

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

I never imagined that this would require so many hours managing the task, preparing and keeping track of submissions, archiving my works-in-progress in a way that I could find and use, and sometimes complete them, working on performance skills, choosing my reading to advance my understanding and feed my curiosity and passions. So much in writing that involves other stuff—so much thought and preparation—this I couldn’t possibly have imagined.

What do you think makes a good story?

I’m not interested in ‘good stories,’ I’m interested in how to subvert received ideas about what makes a good story, and avoiding the traps.

What's your favorite genre to read?

Anything that makes me rethink and re-evaluate my assumptions about reality, and about the conventions that constitute any genre.

Who is your favorite author or poet?

Who or whatever makes me want to rush from what I’m reading and begin writing myself.

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

I’m almost 70. I’ve been reading like an addict since I was four.

A question impossible to answer. I’d have to go back to particular turning points in my life, from childhood to the present.

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

Many philosophers, from Plato to Levi Bryant. Whitman and Dickinson, The 20th C Modernists: Wolfe, Joyce, Svevo, Gombrovicz, Kafka, Oppen, Rider… so many more.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?

Philadelphia has in recent years nurtured an amazingly vibrant and varied world of poets and poetry. It’s been one the great privileges of my life to have lived long enough, and to be a part of the rich creative endlessly stimulating and inspiring community of poets here. I’ve heard more than 150 poets at readings over the last year and a half alone, local, national, and a few international voices. There are more readings each week than it’s possible to attend. I’m moved and humbled beyond words—being so much older than most, and such a late bloomer, at how graciously I’ve been accepted into this wonderful circle of Philly poets.

What does your family think of your writing?

I come from a family of many artists. Those few who are left except my life as normal.

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

I try to begin each day with a quarter to half an hour meditation, than read poetry for another half hour or so. I write down things I want to do during the course of the day (I’ve learned not to assign amounts of time or arrange things in any particular order). Then I do my best to work all these things into the day: several hours of reading, writing, study, transcribing journal entries, managing submissions.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

I find that adherence to routine leads only to a need for longer and longer naps

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Learning not to scold myself for procrastination… that the work of writing mostly takes place away from the desk.

What are your current projects?

Ha! I can’t hear that word without thinking of Dorothea Laskey! “Poetry Is Not a Project!”

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I don’t believe in generic advice of this sort… how could anyone give advice to someone they don’t know?

Where can we find your work?

I have links to my published poems on my blog: Jacob Russell’s Barking Dog, and regularly post works-in-progress. I find that revising and editing in public, ‘stimulating,’ … like, come look at this dirty old man open his coat and show you his naked poems!

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