Tom McCoy on Dr. Seuss and Junkies

 

 

Tom McCoy on Dr. Seuss and Junkies

 

Interviewed by Wendy Gist

Date of interview: January, 2015

Tom McCoy RSR

Photo: Tom McCoy

Tom McCoy lives in Silver City, New Mexico. His poems can be read in Red Savina Review’s Volume 2 Issue 2.

In person, RSR contributor Tom McCoy is playful and unpretentious. The interview began in the middle of January 2015 after a fog spell had cleared and the sky shone blue as an American lobster.

I arrive at the McCoy home on Chihuahua Hill in historic downtown Silver City, New Mexico. Known for its funky venue and art galleries, the neighborhood boasts a hippie vibe of a bygone era. I am greeted at the front door by Tom’s lovely wife, Carol, who offers a cup piñon coffee. Tom, like a kid with a new toy, escorts me into his freshly built writing studio. Pages of poems written in longhand and on Post-it notes are spread across an antique desk. The room smells of sawdust. Long windows with no curtains or blinds reach to a floor lined with potted cacti. The windows offer a view of La Capilla (a small chapel) on the top of a distant hill. We chat while watching the McCoy’s free-range chickens peck at the frozen ground in the backyard fenced in by a high adobe wall. The conversation takes place without a tape recorder.

sailor

i used to question what made me happy

is this adequate?
how can i maximize the air in this sentence?

now
when the chicken sighs
when the snail glistens
when the moth skitters
when the sky points up
i loiter lavishly in the space between spaces
slip like a skinny dolphin between the waves of want
sailing into the resonant sun
a sunset sailor who has never seen
an unhappy wave

-Tom McCoy

INTERVIEWER

Where do the sailors and sea come from in your poems?

Tom McCoy

I guess I know so little about either, they seem kind of mythy and mystical. Living in the desert seems to add to the contradiction. We are all Popeye at heart with tincture of Bluto and Olive Oyl. Shiver me timbers.

INTERVIEWER

Would you like to talk about your favorite place to write as well as your writing routine?

Tom McCoy

I like to write lying down (on my back—barely conscious is best, preferably with a beer close at hand, always in cursive, hopefully to be translated at a later date—use a pencil or a good pen that will write uphill)—stream of consciousness (or un), letting random feelings and words coalesce in the mind, then forcing them onto the page quickly and carefully, as they’re squirrelly little buggers, and then trying to forge a consensus among the rabble. Writing in tongues, if you will. One pure note to pierce the heart of nothingness. Or other bullshit.

INTERVIEWER

What attracted you to crafting poems?

Hard to say. Concision Impact. Bang for the buck. Singularity of moment. Intuitive inquisition. Captive consciousness. Arrested development. Vatic endeavors. Marginal intellect. Autism. Insanity. Easier to do than not. But I guess I’d have to say money. Definitely the money.

INTERVIEWER

Well, [laugh] as Robert Graves once said: “There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either.”

INTERVIEWER

Some of your poems, I want to say, are reminiscent of Dr. Seuss, while others have a beautiful sensitivity. Are you aware of the rhythm as you write?

Tom McCoy

Thank you. Theodore Seuss Geisel is one of my heroes (possibly the most heroic poet of the last century—take that, Eliot).

INTERVIEWER

You consider Dr. Seuss a poet? Why? Because he rhymes? What is your definition of a poet?

Tom McCoy

In what way is Seuss not a poet? He made money, lots of it (which is unlikely, but not illegal). He wrote for a vast, selective audience and knocked them to their knees (how about you?).

INTERVIEWER

When I was four, but I’m not four anymore [laugh].

Tom McCoy

He encouraged an interest in reading and open thinking and fed the imagination of millions of children with simple clever rhymes and delightfully whimsical drawings that still make me giggle. I just got a new (to me) Dr. Seuss book for Christmas. Life is good. Is he a poet because he rhymes? No. He is a poet in spite of it, because he reached so many people at a formative time and possibly made a difference in some or many of those lives. He said, “Yes. You can do this.” Exercise your brain, let it go there. Hell, it can be fun.

A poet? A poet is a junkie, someone consumed with the idea that the ineffable can be distilled and cast into the void and somehow meaning will ensue. The stars will grin and mountains will sigh. God will shake your hand. Or something like that.

I suppose I am attuned to rhythm on some level but not overtly, kind of like balancing, you know, when you’re leaning.

Poetry is an affliction, an affirmation, a disease for which the only cure is a poem.

INTERVIEWER

Do you strictly write free verse or do you experiment with other forms?

Tom McCoy

I write pretty much free verse with an occasional jab at form, a villanelle now and then.

INTERVIEWER

Great. I need to try my hand at a bit of villanelle. I’ve written free verse, prose poems, haiku, walk poems, event poems, sestinas, but not a villanelle.

INTERVIEWER

Our Poetry Editor, Rick, characterizes your poems as “a surreal collision of the cosmic and the earthy.” What do you have to say about that?

Tom McCoy

Well, first I would like to say thank you to Rick. It takes one to know one. Obviously we suffer from the same affliction. Although you may preface the malady with endearments of your own, it all rolls on the same wheels, like riding a bonecracker with no way to get off that isn’t worse than the ride. But what fun! Now if we could just figure out a way to get paid…

Poetry occurs at the intersection of consciousness and intuition. It is a secretion of ego like most of our endeavors on the plane but it seems to function at a slightly higher level in terms of direct communication. At its best it can transcend the linear, but usually has the consistency of a journal confession. If you don’t feel compelled to do it, I would suggest you don’t. But if you must, write like no one is reading—they aren’t. Or can’t. Readers? What readers? This is my medicine.

Every good poem should have a little wilderness in it. What does that mean? If you write something that is point—a one to one engagement with what we consider reality—you haven’t written a poem, you have written a paragraph. A poem needs that thread of ambiguity which allows the reader to enter the vehicle on his or her own level, hopefully to be transported to somewhere or something else. If you are sure of every line and every word you probably haven’t written a poem. Live large in your head. Be brave munchkins.

INTERVIEWER

What poets influenced you most?

Tom McCoy

Roethke, Eliot, Stevens, Cummings, Seuss, Rumi, Hafiz, Dickinson, Oliver, Bishop, Thomas. The usual suspects. Hopkins, Neruda, Paz, Levertov, Piercy, Brodsky, Whitman, almost everyone I’ve ever read.

INTERVIEWER

Fabulous. Pablo Neruda is my favorite along with Mary Oliver.

INTERVIEWER

I see you have piles of marked-up poetry on your desk. How long have you been revising poems and what do you plan to do with the heap?

Tom McCoy

I have been revising poems since I started writing at about age twelve. I hope to come up with a finished one someday. A life spent polishing turds. I am working on a couple chapbooks and hope to invade the online world. Poetry by the pound.

INTERVIEWER

Sounds like hard work, depending, I suppose, on the places you’ll go to try and publish. Art is a struggle. Some days I wonder why the heck we bother.

INTERVIEWER

You’re well-liked among the community of poets in downtown Silver City, New Mexico. I’ve sat on occasion at the Thaddeus J. McPhearson Society of the Arts’ readings to listen to you recite your work. You deliver your poems with a twinkle in your eye. Does participating in the poetry group inspire your creativity? If so, how?

Tom McCoy

It gives you a deadline, mostly, and a chance to strut and see what other folks might consider a poem. Mostly it gives you a chance to steal stuff [laughs].

INTERVIEWER

Last year, you read with local poets at The Southwest Festival of the Written Word. Do you plan to read at this year’s October event?

Tom McCoy

I don’t think so. There are plenty of other fools waiting in line [laughs].

INTERVIEWER

You’re an entertaining guy, Tom. It’s been fun!

Kindle

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