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Thread: AW's Day of Listening - Interviews Thread

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  1. #4
    Moderator AW Moderator Stew21's Avatar
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    Mar 2006
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    Stew21 interviewing William Haskins



    When I thought about the questions I would most like to ask you for this interview, they all seemed to revolve around one thing. Love. Bear with me.

    Well, anyone who knows me will tell you I am, without a doubt, most commonly associated with Love.

    You have a love of politics and a love of George Orwell’s writings. Which came first? Did reading Orwell bring you to politics? Did politics bring you to love Orwell? Or did those passions develop independently of one another?

    Politics came first.

    I was lucky to have a political junkie for a father. So while other kids my age had this sort of saccharine view of American politics (as spoon fed to them in school), I was aware at an early age that JFK was in a fairly fresh grave, that his brother had shared in the same fate, that MLK had been murdered, that George Wallace had been shot, that the carnage in Vietnam continued—as did the conflict at home over it.

    I knew about the savage beatings at the ‘68 Democratic Convention, the killings at Kent State, on and on… Plus, growing up in the Deep South, I was aware of the Civil Rights movement and the racial hostility it brought to the surface.

    So my early political education was far less shaped by “hallowed founding fathers” bullshit and far more by observing the raw pursuit of power and the cold-blooded willingness to snuff it out.

    Politics and violent upheaval intermingled in my perceptions early on.

    I was forced to reconcile the promise of democracy with a deep mistrust of power and a conviction that politics is mainly practiced by evil and utterly corrupt people. It’s something I still struggle with, and being an avid follower of American politics, there’s no shortage of contradictions upon which to muse.

    As for Orwell, my introduction to him came a bit later, when I was about 12 or 13. But it was a direct outgrowth of my interest in politics. Having become more aware of, and interested in, global affairs, it was only natural that I delved into the Cold War dynamic, the competing ideologies of Western democracy and Communism.

    Along the way, I stumbled across a reference to Animal Farm. I have read it at least once a year for three decades now and, alongside The Old Man and the Sea, it stands in my mind as one of the most poignant parables of the modern age.

    This was also about the time when I became serious about poetry as a lifelong avocation, and I soon discovered Keep the Aspidistra Flying, Orwell’s early novel about the tragically comic poet Gordon Comstock. Although it was not a political work in any overt sense, it was a biting commentary on the place of the artist in the modern world (particularly the capitalist world), and I still enjoy returning to it now and again.

    When I was about 15, I read Nineteen Eighty-Four for the first time, and it was a life-changing experience for me. I consider it the most important novel of the 20th Century.

    If we were to ask Mrs. Haskins, your mother, about you as a child, how would she complete these sentences? William loved to ______. His favorite things were _______.
    She would say that I loved to harvest souls, and I have no doubt that she would say my favorite things were my extensive collection of shrunken heads—not so much for their value as trophies, but as wistful reminders of the wonderful adventures I had in obtaining them.

    What makes you laugh?

    I’m a sucker for satire; the more acid the wit, the better. That, and children crying.

    I know you love music. Do you sing out loud while driving the car?

    Yes. I also sometimes get out and dance at red lights. Topless.

    Seriously, music has a magic all its own, and I’ve been fortunate to be turned on to some wildly diverse artists.

    You have spoken of a cosmic love for two women, whom I consider to be quite different—Dorothy Parker and Madeline Kahn. It so happens, I also love both women so I’m interested in what about them you love.

    Different, yes. But they shared some qualities—not the least of which was their sense of humor—and those are common threads in my affection for them.

    Parker was bold and independent in an era when the 19th amendment was fresh off the presses and "women's rights" were decades away. She was caustic, prolific and highly perceptive, and she had an inner strength that must have radiated from her very presence. But she was also a wounded creature with deep vulnerabilities. That combination strikes something deep in me.

    Madeline Kahn has brought me a great deal of joy. She was a confident and brilliantly funny woman without a shred of self-consciousness. While not an intellectual, per se, she was a true artist with keen instincts, and her Academy Award nominations, in my opinion, support this.

    I think it's also important to note that my admiration for people is often rooted not only in how they lived, but how they died.

    When Dorothy Parker died, she bequeathed her estate to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Foundation. This was in 1967 when Dr. King was still living and struggling, so it wasn't a case of some attention-seeker making a grand gesture to the martyred hero, but a genuine act of solidarity with the Civil Rights Movement. The estate went to the NAACP after King's death, and I’ve always found it touching that the NAACP claimed her ashes two decades after her death, when no one else would.

    In Kahn’s case, I remember how saddened I was when I'd heard that she had terminal cancer. Her gesture was of a more personal nature, but no less touching. In the last year of her life, knowing she was dying, she married her long-time sweetheart.

    Yep. They were two classy, funny, beautiful women.

    And then there are words. Tell me about how you first found your love of words.

    Language just appealed to me from the start. I think some people are simply wired that way. I imagine it's the same way future painters respond to form or color, or future musicians to sound. Once I learned to read, I did so voraciously and it just seemed natural to me to, in turn, write my own stories and poems. I remember thinking for a time that everyone must do it; it felt that natural.

    If someone were to ask me what I think you love about words it would be the ultimate use of them, the precision of them when used correctly, and the ability to communicate ideas effectively. You seem to look for the exact combination of words in the right number of syllables, the best sounds, metaphors, meanings and using the correct application of language tools and devices to get the exact right meaning. (and you seem to do that not just with poetry, but most other writing I’ve seen as well). That’s just my understanding. So I’ll ask you.

    What about words do you love?

    I think it's the infinite possibilities of language and some weird human desire to use it to express a thought or emotion in a way that it's never before been expressed.

    Oddly enough, I often find that, for me, it’s more a process of subtraction rather than addition. I like boiling ideas down to their essence. A well-crafted metaphor can often do more in ten words than ten pages of literal explanation can do. I find a sense of wonder in the compression, the distillation, of language.

    What is your favorite word?

    Hmmm… "Sanguine"…

    …and "goddammit".

    From my experience at AW, I can see that you love helping other people develop the potential poet in them. I consider myself lucky to have benefited from that mentorship. What is it about this act of mentorship that fulfills you?

    I know from personal experience what support and advice can mean to a writer, having benefited from it myself. I also recognize that I will never be anything more than an obscure poet, so there’s also the hope that I can contribute to the development of a poet that might actually achieve greatness. And there are a handful at AW that I think could.

    What does potential look like?

    It looks different in different people and, as strange as it might sound, it’s not always about how well they write. I’ve known many people who are masters of language but are as shallow as a gutter puddle.

    Sometimes it’s about how they think. Assuming they have a basic level of proficiency with language that can be, with some effort, refined and improved, I will always cast my lot with someone who has strong conceptual skills, sensitivity to the human condition and the ability to tap into emotional depth through metaphor.

    Loving has its burdens. What is the biggest burden you’ve carried for your love of writing?

    A tendency toward introspection that is not always fair to the people closest to me.

    Is writing a simple process for you, or is the quote “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” (Thomas Mann) more true?

    Both are true, but not in equal measure. Sometimes I’ll write a poem or some prose pages so effortlessly that I find myself asking, “What the hell just happened?” And, of course, I would love to be able to bottle it, but you can’t. It’s this crazy flash convergence of inspiration and intellect that pushes the conscious mind out of the way and does its work.

    More often than not, however, writing is goddamn hard work for me.

    Many times we see that you have a very full knowledge of many things poetry, including schools of thought, styles and forms, and poetry movements and theory. And many other times, we see you pushing those things aside and even criticizing them. Is this a case of learning the rules so you know how to break them? Or maybe a buffet– poetry theory à la carte?

    Movements and theory and criticism are all external to the art. They are imposed upon it, after the fact, primarily because humans have an innate need to put things in buckets. I do find value in knowing and understanding the aims of various schools of thought, or experimenting with established styles and forms, but never at the expense of creating a direct connection with the reader.

    That said, only by having an awareness of different styles and forms can one understand how and when they work and employ them successfully in a poem. So your notions of “learning the rules so you know how to break them” and a “buffet” are accurate.

    But, ultimately, I don’t give a fuck what some critic or doctrinaire with an MFA thinks about my work; I only care about connecting with the reader.

    And, as for movements and schools, I’d have to go with Groucho’s quote that I would never belong to any club that would have me as a member.

    Who are your writing influences?

    Let’s see. When I was a kid, it was Twain and London and Poe. By my teen years, it was Orwell, Burroughs, Rimbaud, Camus, Dickens, Hunter Thompson.

    As an adult, I don’t really feel as though I’ve taken on any influences, not consciously at least. I’m pretty set in my ways.

    Are the people who influenced you when you first started out writing still your influences, or have they changed with time?

    Twain’s a good example, I suppose, because as a child I loved Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Throughout my life, I’ve read other works, here and there, often as a result of some chance conversation or discovery in a used book store. He had a wit that ranged seamlessly from childish to profound, and I admire that greatly.

    What metaphor would you use to describe yourself?

    I, a pebble
    Dropped into an ocean,
    A whisper in the storm,
    A vibration on the water,

    My energy spreads
    In rings and fades—
    And I am swallowed,
    Smooth as glass.

    I see the theme of mortality throughout many of your works. I see it as a bittersweet reminder to love life and live it. That may not be your intention, so I’ll ask. What is it about this topic that makes it a common theme for you?
    Well, it’s a common theme for all of us, ain’t it? The only two experiences that we really share as a race are birth and death. And birth, barring some tragic affliction, is a blossoming where, literally, everything is possible.

    Death on the other hand, is our final accounting. What we’ve done, what we haven’t, what we could have, what we didn’t.

    I’ve been told I’m obsessed with death, but I think this is a bit extreme. The fact is, I’ve cheated death a few times, the first of which was when I was 6 years old. To know, at that age, that you came close to dying does something to you. At least it did to me. It made me feel as if I’ve always lived on borrowed time.

    So it’s always there, just around the corner.

    You’re the founder of Blue Rock. What would the inscription on the town square memorial say about you?

    I would hope that it would say that I provided a place for people of all kinds and creeds to come and stake their own claim and to live as they see fit.

    Finally, the AW people are listening. What would you love to say to them?

    in fury's grasp
    or throes of pain,
    when nightmares stalk
    the waking brain,
    and monsters wear
    the masks of men—

    still the mind,
    move the pen.

    beneath the heel
    of tyrants' wrath,
    when robber-barons
    plot your path,
    to journey through
    the vipers' den—

    steel the soul,
    move the pen.

    and when the
    final die is cast,
    each breath connected
    to your last,
    a matter of
    not if, but when—

    steal the night,
    move the pen.
    Last edited by Stew21; 12-16-2008 at 06:02 AM.

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