Thursday, September 1, 2011


[ The following interview of me by writer and poet Shen Hart appeared today in the imaginary garden with real toads. ]

You say in your preface that you studied mathematics, do you see the world from a mathematics standpoint or has poetry changed your outlook somewhat?

I think I see things pretty much the same way. I was a mathematician in my school years, and then I was a software scientist for over twenty years. Writing a poem is in some ways like a writing a proof in mathematics or a program in software — in fact, the way a poem looks on a screen often looks like a computer program. There's a certain "correctness" and "completeness" that is involved in writing all of these, and, depending on one's point of view, "aesthetic". And the feeling of satisfaction on completing each of these is very similar. Writing poetry though has indeed increased my interest in language usage — especially figurative language and metaphor — and in words themselves, and how effective they can be in doing things that are both useful and entertaining. Of course, poems are used to express one's feelings and passion and stuff like that, so that's indeed a difference. Still, if I pick a book of prose to read, it is likely to be a book on string theory or something like that.

How did you feel in that space of time where you made the transition to writing poetry?

At that point (in early 2008), I saw a talk by Robert Pinsky that was re-played on C-SPAN where he talked about the structure and sound of poetry, and something really clicked. I was looking for a creative outlet, and poetry looked like a form of writing (that wasn't proofs or programs) that would suit my makeup, so I thought I would try it out. I found I liked it.

You have quite the range within your poetry! Do you feel this reflects something of your personality?

Having been writing poems for just three years, I feel like an experimenter and explorer again. (Some would just say dabbler.) That's in terms of experimenting with various poetic forms. In terms of subjects that are in the poem, I am drawn to things I'm interested in.

Is there anything in particular which you find your mind wandering to within your poetry? For example, the nature of the human psyche, nature.

I'm definitely drawn to figuring out how to explore and exploit in a poem my interests: the latest scientific findings; the latest tech trends — especially in the Internet; politics and pop culture; the homoerotic.

You have quite the knack for forms within poetry, is there a particular form you favour? Why?

I don't think I have a favorite, though writing a sonnet (of whatever scheme) has a feeling of completeness to it. I am drawn several times to the "ballad stanza", a form Emily Dickinson used quite a bit. (If I had to pick one, I would say she is my favorite poet — her poems are known for incorporating science and philosophical themes.)

I think writing free verse is harder than writing formal verse, since with free verse you really need to make your own internal structure within your poems, and that is hard to creatively do well. Free verse though is a dominant form now, so of course I would like to do more of that. I would also like to do a long-format story (narrative) poem. I did something of that in "The Geek Poets Tale" (a poem on my blog).

What is the purpose of your poetry and the reason you write poetry?

The primary purpose is to entertain myself, and I hope that some of my poems can be entertaining to others. (I like the idea of poetry being approached as entertainment as well as a form of literary art.) The other purpose is to be able say things succinctly in a way that one can't say as effectively in a philosophical or political column of prose.

How would you describe the non-poet side to your persona?


Would you be so kind as to share with us, your favourite memory to date?

The day I graduated kindergarten. I hated fingerpainting.