David Mason: An Interview With Serena M. Agusto-Cox

August 9, 2011

Poet David Mason

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 would recite a poem by someone else. Mother Goose, for example. Then I would recite another poem by someone else. Auden or MacNeice or Dickinson, perhaps. I might ask the audience to repeat a poem after me, to join in the recitation. I wouldn’t say much of anything about myself unless I was asked in a question and answer session.

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?

One of the great curses in life is a lack of eloquence, an inability to express some portion of what one feels or experiences. I think eloquence can be found in a lot of places, and so can its opposite. I’ll take eloquence wherever I can find it. As for the second half of this question, you seem to be asking whether poetry “makes nothing happen.” I think Auden responded well to his own controversial statement when he called it “a way of happening, a mouth.” As for its effect upon others, I do not think one can generalize in that direction.

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

I have obsessions, yes. Death and love. I’m always wondering what a person is, what a human being is, which might be why I like to write about other people. Weather. Landscape. Seascape. I react to weather the way werewolves react to the moon.

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’ve co-edited a poetry textbook, so I can say with authority that none of these books is sufficient. Never took a creative writing class in poetry, but had an undergraduate one in fiction. Did belong to an informal writing group when I was a gardener in Upstate New York, and met several people more talented than myself, yet somehow persisted in this craft and sullen art and began to get the hang of it.

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?

Poets don’t have any obligation to do anything. Nor do readers. It’s a free country. I like a certain level of access in a poem, but I also love a whiff of mystery, a sense that the inexpressible has been cracked open or exposed to me in some way. I wouldn’t want to dispel any myths. Myths are there to cast a spell, not to be dispelled.

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 prefer listening to music when I can really listen to it, not as background or wallpaper or white noise. Since I am hard of hearing, I have to strain quite a lot to make out words in songs, so I can’t really write when Dylan‘s on the stereo. I’d rather sing along, even if I have to use my own version of scat half the time.

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?

Some of the best and longest friendships of my life have been with fellow writers. I’m only now getting around to admitting that I have a “kind,” I belong to a certain subspecies of the human that I needn’t be ashamed of. I always thought non-writers were superior beings, but I’ve changed my mind about that. I don’t think writers are superior. But I do think they are my “kind.” We understand each other.

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

Who says I’m healthy? I try to stay fit as a person, exercise as often as I can and eat reasonably well and try not to drink too much. But you asked how I stay healthy as a writer. I guess I would say by reading my betters. If I’m not reading something that really moves or impresses me, I feel unhealthy.

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 don’t believe in writer’s block. If you’re not writing you’re living, so what’s not to like about that? I have never been blocked in my life. Don’t have the foggiest idea what the term means. As for food, I am omnivorous. I’m just trying to eat less, to carry less weight around in the world.

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

I’ve never had any trouble writing anywhere I’ve been in the world. I did until recently have a lovely office that used to be an artist’s studio, with north light and brick floors–a beautiful room. Now I live in a tiny cabin, 380 square feet in the shadow of Pike’s Peak, and it serves just as well. People who need the perfect space in which to write are sissies. Your brain is where you write. It’s portable.

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

The most exciting work involves my collaboration with composer Lori Laitman. Our first opera, The Scarlet Letter, will have its professional premiere at Opera Colorado in Denver in 2013. My libretto will be published as a book in 2012. Our oratorio, Vedem, premiered in Seattle last year and is now out on CD from Naxos. And we’re at work on an opera based on my verse novel, Ludlow. Also, I seem to be writing a lot of love poetry lately. The dam has burst.

Check out a sample of his poetry:

SEA SALT

Light dazzles from the grass
over the carnal dune.
This too shall come to pass,
but will it happen soon?
A kite nods to its string.
A cloud is happening

above the tripping waves,
joined by another cloud.
They are a crowd that moves.
The sky becomes a shroud
cut by a blade of sun.
There’s nothing to be done.

The soul, if there’s a soul
moves out to what it loves,
whatever makes it whole.
The sea stands still and moves,
denoting nothing new,
deliberating now.

The days are made of hours,
hours of instances,
and none of them are ours.
The sand blows through the fences.
Light darkens on the grass.
This too shall come to pass.

–first published in The Times Literary Supplement

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