Steve Schroeder Interview by Serena Agusto-Cox

June 22, 2009

Steve Schroeder’s first full-length book of poems, Torched Verse Ends, was recently published by BlazeVOX [books]. His poetry is recently available or forthcoming from Verse, Beloit Poetry Journal, Barrow Street, River Styx, and Verse Daily (x2). He also edits the online journal Anti- and works as a Certified Professional Résumé Writer.

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1. Not only are you a contributor to 32 Poems, but you also have a new book, Torched Verse Ends, coming out soon. Please share a bit about your experience writing the book and about how many poems you previously published that are included in the book. (And anything else you would like to share.)

Torched Verse Ends, now out from BlazeVOX, is my first book. It contains poems written from 2003 through 2008, though far from all the poems I wrote or published in that time. It’s evolved a lot since I started sending it out in 2006, when it was not yet remotely ready to be a book. The experience of writing the overall book boils down to “Whoa, I might be able to organize these poems I’ve been writing into a book,” then “God, why did I ever think this was a good way to organize a book?”

2. Do you see spoken word, performance, or written poetry as more powerful or powerful in different ways and why? Also, do you believe that writing can be an equalizer to help humanity become more tolerant or collaborative? Why or why not?

For me, the sonic and textual aspects of the best poems are inextricable, but reading a poem on the page and hearing the same poem can be vastly different experiences depending on the speaker. If you’re not a particularly good reader, do something besides reading straight into the page in a monotone, even if it’s setting off firecrackers mid-poem.

If writing improves humanity in any way, it’s going to be incidental at best and most likely completely accidental. Sure, occasionally a didactic piece like The Jungle or Uncle Tom’s Cabin achieves its goal, but mostly it’s just bad literature. That’s not to say you can’t address political or social issues, but good writing has to be paramount over trying to change the world.

3. Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

Almost anything I do, I do obsessively: Reading and trying to write speculative fiction and Watching and quoting The Simpsons. Fire’s another obsession, to judge by the first book. Poker, Scrabble, basketball, Competition. Publishing poetry happens to be a fun competitive game I’m pretty good at.

4. Most writers will read inspirational/how-to manuals, take workshops, or belong to writing groups. Did you subscribe to any of these aids and if so which did you find most helpful? Please feel free to name any “writing” books you enjoyed most (i.e. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott)

I needed that sort of support since I didn’t go straight to grad school after I earned my BA. On a personal level, my membership in Poetry West, a Colorado Springs organization, was the most helpful, as it led to some of my best friendships inside or outside poetry. Poetry West is a Colorado Springs poetry organization similar to those in many cities: it hosts workshops, holds member readings, and publishes a small print journal. While it’s attracted its fair share of fringe personalities over the years (as I think any such local organization does), it also introduced me to some wonderful friends and let me discuss poetry with people who know an awful lot about it at a time when I didn’t have another place to do that. I also got to edit their journal, The Eleventh Muse, for three years, experience that I used to springboard into starting my own online zine, Anti-.

The only writing guidebook I return to often is How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card, and it’s actually something I try to use in my poems. Somewhat on-topic, I think there’d be a market for a book of deliberately bad writing advice.

5. Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

No they don’t, and it couldn’t. Poetry is a fringe of a fringe. The people who come to poetry are going to find their own way here. We can stick it in every bus and web banner and bar urinal, and it will have the same lack of audience and the same behind-the-times reputation. If reaching a mass audience is your thing, pitch a TV reality game show about bitchy drunk poets. I’ll volunteer to appear on it.

6. When writing poetry, prose, essays, and other works do you listen to music, do you have a particular playlist for each genre you work in or does the playlist stay the same? What are the top 5 songs on that playlist? If you don’t listen to music while writing, do you have any other routines or habits?

I can listen to music when I draft, but not when I revise, because it requires much more precision. I’ve written pieces that take their titles from Tool and Johnny Cash lines, and I’d love to come up with a poem for the title “Which Motherfucker Stole My Flow,” lyric courtesy of Busta Rhymes.

Probably my most time-consuming habit during writing is Googling for related information on some minor detail: Old English kennings? The death of the Roman emperor Commodus? Mill levies for public schools? Oh yes, I’ve read about them all recently.

7. In terms of friendships, have your friendships changed since you began focusing on writing? Are there more writers among your friends or have your relationships remained the same?

Well, yes, being a writer does result in having more writers among one’s friends. There are even several writers in my semiweekly basketball game, they’re not as unathletic as the stereotype would suggest. I’m glad to say my girlfriend isn’t a writer, but I’m also glad to say she puts up with writers very well. Better than I do, in fact.

8. How do you stay fit and healthy as a writer?

I work out at the gym five days a week and wear myself out playing basketball the other two days. It almost counteracts my affection for milkshakes and margaritas (not at the same time). Mentally and emotionally, the act of writing itself is a central aspect of me feeling healthy and balanced, though definitely not in a writing-as-psychotherapy sense.

9. Do you have any favorite foods or foods that you find keep you inspired? What are the ways in which you pump yourself up to keep writing and overcome writer’s block?

I could list favorite foods from now until I die with a half-pound cheeseburger stuck in my throat, but there’s not one food that particularly inspires my writing. I don’t see a “Nacho Sonnet” forthcoming anytime soon. Coke Zero does help fuel my writing, though, especially during my highly productive hours of 10 PM to 1 AM. I’m a writer’s-block agnostic, so I can’t really help you on that topic.

10. Please describe your writing space and how it would differ from your ideal writing space.

My current writing space is my desk and computer, with space for my notebook. My ideal writing space probably wouldn’t have the dogs barking upstairs when the mail arrives, or the loud neighbor’s children out on the street until midnight, or the low spot on the ceiling where I can hit my head if I stand up without paying attention, but those things are ultimately irrelevant to me. The ideal writing space is you, something to write on, and time to do it. If you can’t make something out of that, you aren’t a writer.

11. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

I’m working on a second manuscript of poems, where all the titles are stolen from other sources. Some prose fiction, humor pieces, a how-to guide on resumes (my day job), and a book of post-apocalyptic poems are all out there just past the horizon.

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