Open Alphabet welcomes Howard Faerstein and his new book Dreaming of the Rain in Brooklyn,
published by Press 53 in the Silver Concho Poetry Series (ISBN 978-1-935708-77-3).

Howard Faerstein

The poems of Howard Faerstein have been published in numerous literary journals over the last four decades, but more recently in Nimrod (Pablo Neruda Poetry Contest finalist), Great River Review, Common Ground Review, and Comstock Review. He is a three time Pushcart Prize nominee. His chapbook, Play a Song on the Drums he said was published in 1977.

Howard is assistant poetry editor for Cutthroat, A Journal of the Arts. He is also a playwright. No Sweat and other plays have been produced at The Westbeth Theatre in Manhatten. As evidenced in his poems, he has travelled extensively, but he currently resides in western Massachussets, where he is adjunct professor at Westfield State University.

And the poets, too, how facile
when they write of thrushes
gaunt, arthritic, or especially terrible.
Don't believe them. It's only a flourish.
-- from Even the Dog Took on Vulnerability

Open Alphabet: Some of these poems are from years ago and some are more recent. What prompted you to gather them into a book? Dreaming of the Rain in Brooklyn

Howard Faerstein: I had been trying to get my work published for at least a decade before I was successful. So the original collection kept expanding. Unlike many other collections of poems, Dreaming of the Rain in Brooklyn wasn't built around a particular theme. Rather it was constructed from my life, the whole of my life and I thought the recent work fit together with the older work. My book is one writer’s take on a way of being and surviving as a human being in a beautiful, terrifying and absurd world.

OA: The title comes from the poem Missionary Ridge. How did you come to choose that particular line?

HF: I lived in Brooklyn for fifty years before finally leaving. I have very few regrets on doing so but in my heart I'll always be '"Brooklyn." I do go back there in my head, in my dreams, as referenced in Missionary Ridge, a piece that travels quite a distance and one that I'd say is a key poem in the collection.

OA: Did your creative process change during (or after) the assembly of this book?

HF: Not sure…during the assembly , those frantic weeks before sending it on to the publisher, I did very little except that. And since the publication I've experimented more with a hybrid approach, melding prose and poetry together. But I've also continued to write straight-up poems…I did get energized once my book came out though right now I seem to be in a quieter period.

I still look at poetry as an assemblage. I’m doing carpentry, taking separate pieces and building something whole. One of my favorite writers, Gabriel García Márquez, once said, ‘All literature is carpentry,’ and I think that’s right.

OA: Were there any challenges for you during the publication process?

HF: One of the two editors who chose my book for their Silver Concho Poetry Series became seriously ill. I had planned to work with the two of them but that opportunity then vanished. And so I stepped up and did a final reworking by myself. I rearranged the order for the 100th time, cut a few pieces and added 4 poems, including the introductory Taking a Chance on Love which sets up what follows. The publisher urged me on, bless him.

OA: You mention Lorca specifically in one poem. Who else do see as your poetic ancestors?

HF: There are references to Creeley and Ginsberg and Bly as well as Lorca in some of the poems. The Beats were an influence in my younger days. (I do go back.) Gerald Stern and Larry Levis have been important poets to me over the past fifteen years. Of course, there are many others.

OA: Many of your poems are about place, but the places are all over, in the wilderness and in the cities. Is Brooklyn the center of your world? Were you always dreaming of the rain in Brooklyn?

HF: It doesn't matter what particular place I find myself in, whether Taos, Santa Fe, Durango, Berkshire County…Wherever that place is (Western Massachusetts now, the Connecticut River Valley to be precise) is the present center…And all the other locations stay with me and color the work as they have colored my life.

OA: Political figures occasionally enter your poems. What is the role of politics in your work?

HF: My work is quite political…perhaps not always so overtly though there are a few poems in the collection that don't mince words…but politics shows its head in almost all of my writing, whether love poems, poems of place or poems of memory. Politics is unavoidable.

OA: The book is divided into three sections. What is the significance of the sections?

HF: I spent quite a lot of time trying to find an order to the 56 poems in the book. The first section contains some of the earliest compositions and has a chronological flow for the most part. The second section continues to follow chronology. Many of those poems deal with my time in the American Southwest. The final section has a smattering of both time periods and also contains some more recent expansive work that doesn't belong to a particular time.

OA: What is on your desk right now? Who are you reading?

HF: Lately I've been reading a mix of fiction and poetry. I've been rereading William Matthews' Collected Poems -- he's definitely one of the greatest 20th century American poets…There's also The Comedians, a novel by Graham Greene, another masterful writer.

OA: Was there anything left behind that we can expect to emerge in your future work? Is there another project in the works?

HF: I packed quite a bit into my "debut" collection. (Actually, I did have a chapbook come out way back in 1977!) Since Dreaming came out I've written about 30 pages of poetry…And I've just begun to think about putting together a chapbook…There was also a time in my life when I wrote stage and screenplays. I'm itching to do that again. All I need is an idea.