An Interview with Howie Good
Continuing on with our series, up next is the incredible Howie Good.
When I think of prose poetry, Howie Good comes to mind right away. And if you’ve read his poems, you know exactly why. Howie is a frequent contributor to Unbroken. He’s been with us right from the start, and I can still remember the goosebumps I got when I read the first peice he sent our way, The Heart of It, a piece we nominated for Best of the Net. Stunning. If you haven’t read his work, you are missing out. You can look through our past issues and read Howie’s poems, and be sure to check his books out. His latest, I believe, are Bad for the Heart, available from Prolific Press, and Dark Specks in a Blue Sky, from Another New Calligraphy.
RLB: Howie, thanks so much for taking time to do an interview with us. We are thrilled to have you! Let’s start with what attracted you to prose poetry–what does it do for you?
HG: I started writing prose poetry before I knew what I was writing was prose poetry. In college it was basically all I wrote when I wasn’t writing papers for class. I wrote self-contained paragraphs that isolated a moment or a feeling or a fact. It was a form that I found congenial for some reason. I was probably aware of Rimbaud’s ILLUMINATIONS and Baudelaire’s FLOWERS OF EVIL, but I don’t think I connected their work with the fragments I was writing. I wasn’t that astute. All I was hoping to do was learn how to put one word after another to create a kind of significant noise.
RLB: That’s a really good definition for prose poetry, “… self-contained paragraphs that isolated a moment or a feeling or a fact.” I like that. Could you share your process with us for writing a prose poem? Do you start with an idea, a feeling, an emotion, a title? Maybe a prompt of some sort?
HG: I practice what I call “magpie-ism.” That is, I collect things that catch my eye, stashing them in a memo pad I carry. What sort of things? Words, phrases, facts. The sources include everything from misheard comments to my reading to dreams. Basically, I’m taking notes, though I don’t often know for what specific purpose. That emerges – if I’m lucky – once I sit down to write. I write every day, whether I have a subject in mind at the start or not. To paraphrase Woody Allen, 99 percent of writing is showing up.
RLB: Magpie-ism–I love it! So, once you’ve shown up, and that material emerges, what makes you decide that a piece needs to be in prose poem form, rather than a lined piece of poetry?
HG: I usually write first drafts as prose poems. It’s easier for me to dig for material using that form as the shovel. The more surreal the material I dig up, the more likely I am to continue writing it as a prose poem. The term “prose poem” is itself a contradiction. How can a piece be simultaneously prose and poetry? It defies logic. But that’s what makes it interesting. A prose poem is sustained by the inherent tension between its prose and poetry aspects. What appears at first to be an ordinary piece of prose that follows the established rules of grammar and usage turns out on further acquaintance to be an act of rebellion against established rules.
RLB: And that’s the magic, isn’t it? Reminds me of a quote I like by Peter Johnson, “… the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels.” So, Howie, what would you say to someone new to the form who would like to give it a shot?
HG: Anyone who wants to give prose poetry a shot should just go ahead and do it. It would probably help the process to read outstanding examples of prose poetry. Robert Bly’s collection MORNING GLORY is as good a place as any to start. I also am fond of Charles Simic’s THE WORLD DOESN’T END. Others might recommend the works of Russell Edson and James Tate, as well as Claudia Rankine’s CITIZEN.
RLB: All good choices. Edson and Simic are two of my favorites. Could you tell us what you’re working on now? What will we be seeing from you in the near future?
HG: I’m working on a collection of prose poems – with an epilogue of lined poetry – that is tentatively titled ROBOTS VS. KUNG FU, which is a phrase from the original MATRIX movie. My collection DANGEROUS ACTS STARRING UNSTABLE ELEMENTS, which won the 2015 Press Americana Poetry Prize, is due out in the next month or two.
RLB: Cool, those sound exciting. We’ll be watching for them. Again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your magic with us. You’re a rockstar! We wish you much continued success in your projects. Guys, go read Howie’s prose poem, Spooky Actions at a Distance, in our current issue (Issue 7), and be sure you pick up one of Howie’s collections from Prolific Press and/or Another New Calligraphy–you’ll be so happy you did!
Check back next Friday when Kelly DuMar shares her thoughts with us on the prose poem.
HOWIE GOOD’s latest poetry collections are Bad for the Heart (Prolific Press) and Dark Specks in a Blue Sky (Another New Calligraphy). He is recipient of the 2015 Press Americana Prize for Poetry for his forthcoming collection Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements.