Open Alphabet welcomes Robert Eastwood and his book Snare,
published by Broadstone Books (ISBN 978-1-937968-27-4).

Robert Eastwood

Robert Eastwood's poetry has appeared in The Kentucky Review, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Steel Toe Review, Up The Staircase Quarterly, The Legendary, The Bird's Thumb, and elsewhere. His chapbooks are Over Plainsong, The Welkin Gate, and Night of the Moth. His works have twice received Pushcart nominations.

Robert has been a soda jerk, engineer, gardener, soldier, executive, statistician, and English teacher. He lives with his wife in San Ramon, California.

His theory: deer see shimmers,

veiled disguises, just as do poets.
        With poets, it's interiors they scan.
Deer see threat lurking in the leaves.

Poets spy their own wild selves,
        and the savage must be tamed.

— from "Disguises"

Open Alphabet: Do you remember when you started writing poetry? Do you remember what (or who) drew you to it? Snare

Robert Eastwood: If memory serves me, I started writing poetry in high school. I was the editor of the Fremont High School Pathfinder, and filled my columns with quasi-heaviness (totally uninteresting to my teen readers I’m sure) influenced by what I was then reading… mostly Emerson’s and Stevenson’s essays… but on my own, I wrote poetry: the usual adolescent angst, with mooning over girls, and lonesome stuff. In college I got a poem published in the college literary journal, a sonnet filled with classical allusions, and proud of itself for using the word caesura in a line with a caesura.

OA: The poems in Snare form an historical narrative. Why did you choose the poetic form rather than fiction?

RE: Rather that lyric poetry, I seem to write a lot of narrative poetry, something that tells a story in as compressed a way as possible, using figurative (and hopefully fresh) language. I do write lyric poetry, and also fiction, but with the theme I chose for Snare, the narrative, persona poem seemed right. As Dickinson says, "Tell all the truth but tell it slant/ success in circuit lies," so indirection is intentional in what I write, leaving elbow room for the reader to draw interpretations and associations. Fiction is discursive, more apt to fill in all the chinks, and nudge the reader more directly toward what he/she should feel or think.

OA: Snare is presented in four sections. In the first, each poem has a tone and voice that presents a time in history from a particular vantage point, often in first person. The second is one long poem in the voice of a man reflecting on the day he turned fourteen and the scars he carries from that day. The third is almost a hundred years later and the short fourth is the present. How did this structure come about? The title of your book is also the title of the last poem. Which came first?

RE: The foundation theme for Snare is refuge and revenge. Indeed, that was the working title of the first effort… "The Book of Refuge and Revenge." The progress of the narrative arc through the book, from 19th century historical figures and events to the 20th century, with its threat of atomic annihilation, and ultimately to an attempt by one individual to resurrect memory, came like cause and effect, like the linearity of one’s own life. After showing the manuscript to several poet friends and getting their reactions I realized that my initial title "told" too much, and that, in essence, the polarities of refuge and revenge are "snares" for humankind not only in our history, but in our holy books, mythology and literature, and also the daily news. My last poem, "Snare," thereby became the title of the book in which, as the last poem, it is a coda to all before it.

OA: What was most challenging for you about publication? Did you have many surprises?

GM: Getting published was of course a challenge. I sent the manuscript to many presses and contests. I wanted it independently published, not self-published, and that involved attracting a press that had, not only an ear for my voice, but the stomach to take on a marketing burden. Saying poetry is no easy sell in our society is an understatement. Luckily, after circulating Snare for at least a year and a half, I came upon Broadstone Books, a small press in Frankfort, Kentucky, and a very generous editor and publisher, Larry Moore, who believed in the book and was willing to introduce Snare to the world. Larry’s press produces very high quality books, and is often willing to take on voices and projects that represent alternative perspectives, but which he and his team believe worthy of being disseminated.

OA: You are a poet, but in your life you have worn many other hats. What profession has most affected your writing? In what way?

RE: Strange, the occupation that consumed most of my life… thirty-four years to be exact… has had the least effect upon my writing; maybe because I was writing throughout that period as a sideline, and that remoteness from the daily give and take of work became an impenetrable wall. I would have to say that living itself has had the greatest effect on my writing: awareness, mindfulness, emotional experience amplified by reading. When I was teaching I was able to expose teenagers to the language and art in literature, and the life-experience and beauty that writing embodied. I was most at home as a writer when I was teaching, and some of my poetry reflects that experience, though I depend on my childhood and young adult experiences most, as well as the range of my reading.

OA: The poets Whitman, Pound and Dickinson (but only slant, via her brother and her mentor) appear in your poems. Do you consider them personally influential? Are there others you’d care to mention?

RE: Whitman is of course a foundation for American free verse, as his broad embrace of personal experience. I’m not so much a fan of Pound’s poetry, though I admire his precepts on writing poetry, and his generous support of so many of our literary super stars. Emily Dickinson’s poems are jewels to me, but you will find few of my poems that emulate her work (if that’s possible). Poets that have affected me most are numerous: Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, D. H. Lawrence, Philip Larkin, Richard Wilbur, Amy Clampitt, William Matthews, W. H. Auden, Mark Doty, W. B. Yeats and Tony Hoagland.

OA: In the first section of Snare, there is a wonderful and varied assembly of voices. Each one brings with it an authentic sense of a location and moment in time. Can you say something about the importance of voice in your work? desk

RE: I remember being impressed by Robert Brownings’s dramatic monologues in a freshman literature class. Browning became the person he was imaginatively writing about. I remember "Fra Lippo Lippi" and "My Last Duchess" in particular. It seems to me that invading a persona, taking on an imagined voice in all its particularity, enlivens narrative poetry by intuiting the sensations and thoughts of another. You can make it as believable as your own experience, and avoid the self-centered, emotive baggage of confessional poetry. It is first-person singular, but still "other." The third-person, used in the last two sections of Snare (except for the last poem) is also an effort to place the voice at a distance, hopefully not losing vérité.

OA: Who are you currently reading? Why? What books are on your desk?

RE: I’ve usually got two or three (or sometimes half a dozen) books going at the same time. I am re-reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and several of James Ellroy’s books–– Tolstoy for the sheer enjoyment of character and expression, and Ellroy because of his L.A. settings and hard-boiled cops/PI’s (the same reason I like Raymond Chandler and Michael Connelly). As for poetry, I am going back through Neruda’s Winter Garden primarily to admire the translation by William O’Daly, and challenge my own Spanish. I’m reading Hoagland’s Application for Release from the Dream (because he’s one of my favorites), and my friend Lynne Knight’s The Persistence of Longing (a triple re-read), and also Eileen Malone’s I should have given them water. I’ve recently discovered Claire Bateman and her book, Coronology, then there’s Michael Blumenthal’s No Hurry, in which the poem "Be Kind" blew me away. The books on my desk are too numerous to list, to my wife’s dismay.

OA: Now that your book is published, what is next for you?

RE: I’ve had another book accepted, entitled Romer, which is to be published by Etruscan Press in 2018. I am particularly excited by this book in that it uses the schema of Dante’s Purgatorio (33 cantos, three-line stanzas) to tell the story of a man’s progress through life. I continue to write in some fashion every day (nulla dies sine linea).

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Seth Michelson Eyes Like Broken Windows

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Lynn Pedersen The Nomenclature of Small Things

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Karen Skolfield Frost in the Low Areas

Clicking on the author's picture will take you to their website, if they have one.

Purchase books by these poets either directly from the presses or from your local bookstore. Clicking on the book cover will transport you away to an on-line purchase site.

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About Open Alphabet

Open Alphabet spotlights poets who have recently published their first full-length book of poetry. Each of these poets open the language in a fresh, unique way and this I celebrate. The interviews are intentionally brief -- a glimpse of the poet's relationship with the language, poetry and other poets, their aesthetics, craft, methodology, and perhaps something of the nuts-and-bolts of bringing a poetry manuscript to release.

I find the places where poets work to be fascinating, so I often ask poets about their writing spaces and what is on their desk at the moment. Turn about is fair play, so here is where Open Alphabet lives during the winter months in Atlanta.

desk

Thanks go to the excellent faculty of the New England College MFA program, who sparked this project, as well as to those who continue to give me feedback. Special, special thanks go to Jeannette, who sometimes feels like a poetry widow.

I'd love to hear suggestions, comments, recommendations or complaints. I send an email blast whenever there is a new featured interview, which is usually every 2-5 weeks. To sign up or to remove your address, or to send a comment, feel free to email me at iamb@openalphabet.com . Please note that there is a real human being at that address, not a machine, and I will respond as soon as humanly possible. --maurice