Meditative Rose, Salvador Dali

The Slow Trains Ten
writers on the creative life

featuring Scott Poole

Scott Poole is the Assistant Director of EWU Press. His first book of poetry, The Cheap Seats (Lost Horse 1999) was a finalist for Foreword Magazine's book of the year awards. He reads his work every Monday morning at 7:50 a.m. on KPBX, Spokane Public Radio, which can also be heard live at KPBX Listen Online. His second book of poetry, Hiding From Salesmen, is forthcoming from Lost Horse Press in 2002.

1. When did you start writing poetry?

Well, I wanted to get laid. That was the primary motivation. It's almost as bad as being exposed to verse through Jewel. But whatever works, I always say. I really wanted to impress the woman I just met. This was in college. I was a sophomore, she was a freshman. So I wrote this terrible poem called "Chambers of my Mind.” I wrote it out about thirty times until my penmanship was readable. Then I burned the edges of the paper. At the time I thought all poetry had to look like it was written on secret scrolls or it had to have been around a thousand years. So I made it look like that. Then I mounted it on black construction paper and tore the edges of that too. Then I gave it to this girl while we were studying in the science library and she burst into tears. And yes, I did get lucky that night. But unfortunately it worked so well that I ended up falling in love and marrying her. I never got to try the poetry thing on another lady. So guys, be careful with those poems. They’re powerful.

2. What is your writing routine like?

Well, first I drop into a cold sweat. Then I lie on the floor and wonder if I'm dying. Then I see if there is anything on television that I can steal. Of course, there never is. Then I sharpen a #2 Ticonderoga pencil and throw it into the swimming pool. After that I consider becoming a Barista or Phlebotomist. Then I panic again. Then I watch the movie Barfly, if I haven't done so in the last month. Then I drink a six pack of Fat Tire ale and fall asleep under the living room rug. When I wake up hungover I do seven hundred jumping jacks and then prepare a meal out of nothing but extra virgin olive oil, leeks, and the latest issue of Sports illustrated. Then I eat a box of cookies and read a few lines out of The Old Man and the Sea: "I have seen lions on the beach..." Then I burst into tears and roll down the stairs. At this point I'm just about ready. I play every CD I have that mentions Johnny Cash or is influenced by him. Then I put on my writing underwear with a picture of Emily Dickinson on the crotch. Then I stare at the wall for 17.5 minutes. Then I start writing with no clue, and eventually I produce some piece of trash that I take out and throw in this deep pit I have dug in the back yard. Then I burst into tears, make a sandwich, and tell myself that I'm a freakin' hack and that I don't deserve to live. As I am driving the car at breakneck speed towards a cliff to kill myself, a great idea usually pops into my head at that moment and I have to stop and write it on my leg with a pen I keep in the glovebox for just such an emergency. Well, maybe it doesn't always work exactly like that, but that's how it feels.

3. Who are some of your favorite writers, and which writers have had the strongest influence on you?

The first poets I was exposed to were Allen Ginsberg, Richard Hugo, James Wright, William S. Burroughs, and Charles Bukowski. Also, I was heavily influenced by the late 80's band King Missile. It was like candy to my mind. I loved them. I felt they were doing something dangerous. It was inspiring to read things by people who didn't mind being weird. I was craving that at the time. This wasn't until early in my college career. TV had sidetracked me so much that I never even considered reading or writing outside of school. It wasn't even an option. Isn't that crazy? Isn't that horrible. I know there are thousand, millions perhaps, of people like the way I was, a guy without even one book in his house. Recently, I've been influenced by Dorianne Laux, Jack Gilbert, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Yehuda Amachi, Neruda, Vallejo, Yannis Ritsos, Charles Simic, Russel Edson, David Ignatow, and Robert Wrigley.

4. Besides writing, what are you most passionate about in your life?

I'm passionate about cookies. I love cookies. I'm also passionate about my wife. My children of course. Trying to keep my damn yard green. I'm passionate about sitting and staring off in the distance. I'm passionate about publishing beautiful books. I'm passionate about riding my bike to work. I can't believe I'm writing this, but I'm passionate about Spokane. I felt I've made a difference here. I run (and began) the only Lit Fest that Spokane has ever had. I'm proud of that. Here, I feel part of the community and it's an incredibly good feeling. I never thought I'd be in that position. Conversely, Spokane has taken care of me. All the good things of my life have happened here or come from here.

5. What kind of music do you enjoy, and do you find that music has an influence on your writing?

I enjoy jazz quite a bit. But it doesn't influence my writing. I like grunge and punk-rock. But it doesn't influence my writing. What influences my writing more than anything are my old Steve Martin albums. The timing of his delivery is pure genius. He holds the audience on every word. That's what a true poet does. Every time I listen to those albums I get inspired.

6. Where are your favorite places to travel?

Travel? Who can afford that? I get stressed out about planes and cars. Where do we eat? Where do we sleep? What do we go look at? It's a lot of obligation. How can you enjoy yourself?

I like to go to this bar called Mootsy's in Spokane on a Friday afternoon and have a glass of Scotch with my good friend Tom Davis. Every guy in there is familiar. We laugh. It feels like the center of the universe.

I'm also very fond of wandering off into the woods and getting lost. I like thinking a bear would attack me any minute. Can you imagine how spiritual that would be? There's no soul in getting run over by a bus, but getting disemboweled by a bear. Wow. That would be a definite earthy, wholesome way to die. I think all vegetarians and 12 grain bread eaters would like to die that way.

Really, my favorite place to travel is somewhere I make up in my head. Somewhere, for instance, that's just like here but has no ham sandwiches. You'd feel good 98% of the time, but when you wanted a ham sandwich, you'd get really homesick and think "man, I should go back home. Get some bread, get some mustard, and slap a mean piece of ham on there. Then I'd be alright." Then I stop dreaming, go downstairs, make a ham sandwich and love being exactly where I am. You can't get that feeling in Paris. But to contradict everything I just said, I want to retire somewhere warm with sidewalk cafés.

7. Where do your best ideas come from, or, what creates your most inspired state?

The ideas always come from writing. The simple act of writing and trying to be funny. I might write a line about a guy who wakes up every morning, pulls an apple from the refrigerator and throws it under the hood of his car, then drives to work. By the time he gets to work the apple is gone. To me that's kind of funny. I don't know what this means, but maybe my subconscious does. So I keep writing and perhaps I'll find out. That's the fun part for me.

8. Do you have any interesting vices that you'd care to share, and have they helped or hindered your writing?

Meth. I have a huge pile of Meth-amphetamine behind my house. I have to scoop it up with a bobcat mini-bulldozer. I don't take it orally but I like to rub it all over my body and feel cheap and expensive at the same time. Then I climb behind my computer and watch the magic happen.

No, none I can share. They're all secret. I'm completely normal. I don't have any vices. It's not like I drink lots of scotch and like to watch Ricky Lake and Jerry Springer and I never masturbate or cruise Internet porn and I would never think about wearing women's underpants and pretending I was John Wayne while I rode a plastic sheep around my bedroom while no one was home. And of course if I did any of that I might never write again. It would be too much fun.

I guess I was lucky. I was born messed up and I don't have to do anything to get into that wonderful state.

9. Yeats said that the only things worth writing about are sex and death -- what would your list include?

Sex and death. Death and sex. What else is there? Well...and old people. I like writing about old people. And nakedness. Nakedness and old people. That's a great combination -- really just the transitional stages of sex and death, kind of the bus stop of sex and death. I think my poetry is eternally waiting at a bus stop for a bus to arrive with the words sex or death on it. So I write about being at the bus stop with naked old people who are still waiting too. Maybe someday that bus will show up and then we can all get on and join Yeats in writing about actual sex or death. Someone once said that I couldn't write a poem that could get past line 20 without a naked person in it. They just might be right.

10. What's next for your writing?

Well, I was intrigued by the idea that United Airlines has rewarded its frequent fliers by naming an airplane after them. If you fly over 3 million miles on United Airlines then you get a plane named after you. Wow. That gave me an idea. I was thinking I'd like to get my poems shaved onto the sides of squirrels in public parks. People would try to get close enough to read the poem and then get bit in the hand by the squirrel and have to go get a rabies or tetanus shot. All the while the squirrel goes around eating junk off the ground. To me that would be the pinnacle of poetic achievement. So I'm working on that. I've got a friend who's going to come up with a squirrel anesthetic for me.

©2002 by Scott Poole

Scott Poole
Scott Poole's featured work in Slow Trains includes:

Selected Poems
Sincerity (special September 11 section)
For Alcaeus

See more about Scott at his Web site, where you can sign up for his outstanding weekly poem by email.

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