yarrow-phootoBill Yarrow is the author of Wrench (erbacce-press, 2009) and Wound Jewelry (new aesthetic, 2010). His poems have appeared in Poetry International, PANK, DIAGRAM, blossombones, Arsenic Lobster, Pif Magazine, The Centrifugal Eye, Rio Grande Review, BLIP, Ramshackle Review, and other literary magazines. He twice won 1st place in The Academy of American Poets Prize competition at Swarthmore College, his poem “After the Shark” was cited as an “outstanding poem” in Pushcart Prize VIII: Best of the Small Presses, and his poem “Andalusia” was nominated by Up the Staircase for a 2010 Best of the Net award. He teaches film, writing, and literature at Joliet Junior College.

What poetry or book of poetry/or prose do you feel closest to?

Poetry: Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” that agent provocateur of poetry, for the profundity of its conceit, for its aphoristic brilliance, for its brave mixing of genres, for its messianic earnestness, for its rhetorical lunacy, for its invincible mission.

Prose: Henry Miller’s The Rosy Crucifixion, wait, I mean Beckett’s Watt, no change that–Hamsun’s Mysteries, that is to say, Machado de Assis’s Epitaph of a Small Winner, not forgetting Byron’s “Detached Thoughts”, not ignoring Babel’s Red Cavalry and Odessa Stories nor Kawabata’s House of Sleeping Beauties, all the while remaining a huge fan of Barthelme’s City Life, how could I forget Robbe-Grillet’s Project for a Revolution in New York? I’m beginning to suspect that I don’t have one answer to this part of the question, Meg. Maybe you noticed.

Do you have a mentor/do you mentor?

Well, I’m a teacher. Teaching is or at least seems inseparable from mentoring. At least one definition of a mentor is a teacher. Perhaps a better way to say this is that a teacher becomes the mentor to those students who stay students after the course is over. I maintain and treasure my relationships with many of my former students.

I don’t have and never had a formal mentor (thought I studied with a number of famous poets), just friends whose opinions I value and to whom I send my work. I guess I’m a mentor for those who send me their work and value my opinion. Fictionaut itself, if we look at in a certain way, is one gigantic mentor network. Maybe your question is really about who pushed me, who prodded me, who turned me into a writer. I guess my answer to your first question is also my answer to your second question.

How do you stay creative? What are your tricks for getting unstuck?

Creativity is a habit. You have to make it habitual. I don’t mean writing everyday; I mean being creative every day. I rarely get stuck. I like the idea of creativity expounded in Henry Miller’s “The Angel is My Watermark” in Black Spring and in these lines from “Jabberwhorl Cronstadt” in the same volume: “The poem is the present which you can’t define. You live it. Anything is a poem if it has time in it. You don’t have to take a ferry-boat or go to China to write a poem. The finest poem I ever lived was a kitchen sink.” I mean creativity in that expanded sense.

In terms of how to get unstuck, well, I think you have the right idea with your writing prompts being a string of unrelated words. Create a puzzle like that or of any kind and the drive to find a solution starts the engine which takes the car of imagining pretty far down the road of production. I am also a proponent of Rimbaud’s derangement of the senses though for me it’s not the cliché of drugs or alcohol; it’s exhaustion. When I literally can’t think straight, often it’s then I’m best able to write. The key is getting to an altered state and there are a million ways to get to one. Balzac used coffee (so much it killed him.) Schiller used the smell of moldy apples in his desk to get himself going. Hemingway always stopped before he was ready to stop and thus insured his ability to pick up where he left off. I don’t advocate the use of drugs or alcohol, particularly not to stimulate creativity — anyway I don’t find the “creativity” produced by alcohol or drugs very interesting. Another way to get unstuck — read Rimbaud!

What are your favorite literary websites?

Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive, UbuWeb — I know that’s not exactly what you meant, but I derive a lot of literary pleasure from my visits there. I visit many literary websites (I don’t want to name some and through oversight slight others) and they’re all interesting, but the volume of admirable work, when taken as a whole, is overwhelming and unceasing. I can’t keep up. I visit promiscuously whenever I can.

How has being part of Fictionaut affected you as a reader/writer?

Being at Fictionaut, I’ve come to love flash, feel plugged in to what is happening NOW in writing, have discovered new wonderful writing, writers, and PEOPLE (I think Fictionaut is more about people than it is about writing), have sharpened my taste, have enlarged my capacity for appreciation, and have been humbled by the honest infectious generosity of the Fictionaut community. As a writer, I mostly post, as Sam Rasnake does, only what I’ve had published, so I don’t feel the venue has affected the kinds of things I write. I do, however, look forward to sharing my work on Fictionaut and seeing which pieces swim and which sink and trying to understand why.

Discuss briefly the good and/or bad aspects of being a writer in the internet era.

It’s all good. Easy access to publishing information, a proliferation of magazine and journal websites, no more printing, no more envelopes, no more stamps, email submissions, submission managers, Submishmash, notification records, publisher promotion on the web of writers, broad or coterie dissemination of one’s work, rubbing shoulders with everyone. Big tent by the big river. It’s all good.

What are you working on now?

I write about 3 poems per week. At any one time I have between 60-80 poems out at magazines, often with long return times, six months to a year. I’m not in a hurry. When I hear, I hear. If I get rejected, I take the rejection as an opportunity for revision. When a piece comes back to me, I look at it with ruthless (and I mean ruthless!) objectivity. Nothing in it is sacrosanct. Anything can change and change radically. Tear down and build back up. “First dirty, then clean,” said Beckett. I’m constantly tinkering-even with my published pieces. I’m shopping (but then who of us isn’t?) for a publisher for a volume of my poems. Current title: Florid Psychosis.

I wrote a work about ten years ago called The Distillation. It was a collection of 986 original aphorisms. I’ve been raiding it for my Twitter project-distilling The Distillation (as it were) into Twitter-sized saying and posting one a day. I’m coming up on two years now.

I also do a lot with film and create my own film stills from public domain films. I have two film blogs (“Bill Yarrow Film Blog: All Things Cinema” and “Close Encounters of the Noir Kind“) so some of my creative energy is expended there.

I also do scholarly work. But that’s another story!

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.

  1. James Lloyd Davis

    Great interview. Though poetry is not my weapon of choice, I read poetry constantly. Bill’s work is always unique and often arresting in terms of it’s aftermath, the moments that follow the reading thereof, moments where we think about his words, the concepts. We would all do well to follow him consistently where he leads us.

    I remember hearing a radio transmission from a Naval group that was deployed off the coast of Vietnam for many months. They were ordered to return to homeport in Japan after long delays and operation without rest. The lead ship in the squadron sent out the following message on voice transmission, “Make white water and follow me.” White water meant ‘full speed ahead.’ A joyful leap.

    I heard, later, that the CO of that ship was told that, due to economic concerns by the Defense Department about the cost of the war, the making of white water was inappropriate.

    Bill consistently makes white water in his approach to the written word, often broaching the limits of orthodoxy. We would all do well to follow him and to ignore the voice of anyone who says we should approach our art in any other manner.

    Love this series.

  2. Jerry Ratch

    Bill is great. He’s sort of been my mentor on these new “Voice of the Past” pieces I’ve been writing these past 3 months. Also entitled: Adult(e)rated Memoirs. I honestly don’t think I would have gotten as far as I have without his encouragement!

    Jerry Ratch

  3. Bill Yarrow

    What particularly struck me about your extremely generous and kind comment and something you could not possibly know was that my first experiment with prose poetry when I was 18 was a long piece I wrote entitled “White Water Canoeing.” So to see you invoke that metaphor now about my writing absolutely floored me. Anyway, thank you. I’m humbled by and grateful for your always artisan words.

  4. Ray Fahrner

    Bill is not only an accomplished poet with his own voice, he’s a hellava guy! His poetry, and this interview, reflect his joy in words, and their power to flicker a light on daily mysteries. Humor, joy and bizarre juxtaposition are always near the surface. I recommend his work strongly.

  5. luda

    Bill,you are genius of the first water !
    You must muck the English poetry field by your lovely poems and irrigate it by your tears as long as your tear ducts are not bankrupt :)

  6. Quenby Larsen

    I enjoyed reading this interview and look forward to reading more of Mr. Yarrow’s work on Fictionaut. I love the poem “Florid Psychosis.” I’m happy to hear there’s a collection coming out with this self-same title. I look forward to reading them all.

  7. J. Mykell Collinz

    Yes, great interview. I could take what you say about Blake and apply it to you, agent provocateur of poetry, for the profundity of your conceit, for your aphoristic brilliance, for your brave mixing of genres, for your messianic earnestness, for your rhetorical lunacy, for your invincible mission. Thanks.

  8. Bill Yarrow

    Thank you, Jerry, Ray, Luda, Quenby, and J.

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