Joseph Milford: An Interview With Serena M. Agusto-Cox

March 7, 2011

Poet Joseph Milford

1.  How would you introduce yourself to a crowded room eager to hang on your every word?  Are you just a poet, what else should people know about you?

I am involved in nearly every part of the writing machine—I edit a journal, I host a radio show where I interview poets and provide a reading venue, I write and try to publish poems, and I also teach writing from basic composition to literature to creative writing on the college level here in Georgia. I know that’s a mouthful—I’d probably just start reading some poems after a very Johnny Cash, “Hello. I am Joe Milford.”

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?

Obviously, when we hear the poems or see them “performed”, they become altered, and many times more powerful, vehicles. To see the shape of the poet’s mouth, the body posture, the diaphragm expand, the throat constrict, etc.—this is an incredible organic experience all leading to the convocation of voice. It’s a great sharing. I do think that in these moments, which at their greatest extreme could border on shamanistic, we may find ways to temper our human nature, to tune it into a more harmonious instrument, maybe. Although, I do hear my inner skeptic creeping in, so I will stop here.

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

Paracelsus. The carbon nanotube. Multi-dimensional theory and Max Tegmar. Indie rock. TWANG (also known as “beer salt). Frank Stanford. The I Ching. Allegorical Alchemy. Physical Geology. Joseph Cornell.

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).

After my workshop experience at Iowa, I was starved for this type of thing over the years. Now, I am in a great position because of my radio show and the unique community it provides me—I get to ask established and accomplished poets every week about their formal constructions, writing habits, theories, etc. I actually consider doing the show my second “unofficial” MFA.

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?

I doubt that any dispel campaign could work on a culture, as a whole, who is more worried about the Kardashians’ next business venture than they ever will be about the development of the postmodern prose-poem. Poets have an obligation to keep writing better and better poems. I don’t think I am being elitist here—just practical. I think that the proliferation of MFA and Creative Writing programs all over the country is a testament to how many people are drawn to the craft; however, I know many are very skeptical about this MFA explosion. There’s that word again—skeptical.

Milford's Poetry Collection

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 listen to music a great deal when I am writing—I have various playlists which I will put on random—it would be hard to pick the top 5 songs because I don’t approach it that systematically in my thought process. I don’t have any particular ritual—with full-time teaching and three kids, I am just glad to have time to write at all!

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?

My relationships have not drastically changed. However, I will say this, writing has forced me to grow as a person, and I think I have become better at my relationships because of that.

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

I wish I could decline this question! In any case, I don’t do much at all. I need to get fit—that’s for sure—I want to be around to watch my daughters grow into women—I have noticed that running from my responsibilities is not callisthenic.

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?

In terms of favorite foods, which I don’t correlate with writer’s block, I love, and I know this is boring, hot wings. I could eat hot wings every day. In any case, if I were to go out and really indulge, I would camp out in a high end Thai food place and eat until they had me removed by police escort or stretcher.

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

My space is pretty hectic these days with the kids. Chenelle and I really need to invest in a two-story house with a study space at the far end. I am doing guerrilla warfare writing right now in fits and starts between home, conferences, jobs, poetry shows, grading papers, and errands. I have an amazing library space, though, but my work area has gravitated towards the living area. My ideal writing space would be the desert, but I think at home it would be a room all to myself—our current house is not conducive, in its layout, to this just yet.

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

I am currently shopping around a collection of poems I am calling DRUNKEN LOCUST, which I think is my best work to date. Of course, Chenelle and I are publishing SCYTHE, our literary journal, three times a year and doing The Joe Milford Poetry Show once a week. I am working on a very long poem which I doubt no one will ever be nuts enough to publish—it is currently titled BLIZZASTERISK. I think that sums it up for now—and thanks for this opportunity to talk about my interests and my love of poetry. I’m super happy to be in your journal.

Check out one of his sample poems:

From The Blizzasterisk

i wanted the specific procedure to bleed the TV sitcom families out of me.
vendettas spill over verandas and fertilize the gardens.
things were more insidious than asbestos lingering in our catacombs.
the entire population was just a few French fries short of a Happy Meal.
the ghosts of books read find slippage under the screen door into the grass to fume.
the stagecraft was amazing as the postcards shot through the crowd maiming all of us.
a mystery creature comes to you with a set of keys. you ask which door. it gnashes its teeth.
there is no power-source for the great apparatus. we still hung from the giant killswitch.

*

one can never have enough LEGOS during a mid-life crisis this is the cure to Alzheimer’s.
they kept saying my future was held in my hands’ palms. i sliced that future up with farmwork.
i can smell the musk, the scat, the sulphur, the burnt metals and plastics of a poem passing by.
like that pumpkin on the counter about to become a gourd to be hollowed out for a birdnest.
if you ever see a kid standing in golden wheat or goldenrod–rescue him. America kills.
i am made of tusks covered in leather. i move like a golem through religions. dream me.
some pop-songs are so covered in suntan lotion that i remember my sharkbites. ah, spring break.
on a white piece of construction paper, my stepdaughter killed my ninjas. it hurt nanoseconds.

*

if you paint a garden and do not like the branch then finish the painting and grab a ladder & saw.
a morphic field altered by language is a word or series of words you must own as a badge.
one must always attain a maximum intensity with a minimum of means said Miro the bullfighter.
the red fox implanted with her RFID chip runs constantly around our house stealing identities.
how does one separate the dust from anything he or she has done how does one leave earth?
amoebic vehicles harvest skeletal and biological growths amongst a sea of germinations.
without dirt there would be no clouds. without hammocks there would be no drunks. kick dust.
as a kid we had honeysuckle, crab-apples, grounded pecans, muscadines, sour-grass—plenty.

*

the ash falling was the closest thing to snowfall this hellpocket was ever going to be blessed with.
there are no inhospitable islands to vanquish sinners on–they become convenience store cashiers.
as we spread lime for next year’s tomatoes the world writhed in endless top ten lists. cuckolds.
crawdads circle like an underwater zodiac as i unhook the catfish from my chickenwire hook.
Ascletario was eaten by dogs when he should have been burned. the stars, the stars, the stars.
if i had been named Cadillac Williams and not Joe Milford i wonder what could have happened.
sea urchins thrive about the planet like the halitosis of your hangover and dust of bad checks.
Algol mer. 6:25 ev. Moon Leo. 35 degrees N. Lat 75 degrees. Long. Sun sets at 5:28. days too short.

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