1. What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to the
poetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it,
rv: My first serious introduction to the importance of the line came about during my early studies of poetry as an undergrad at CSULB. I had developed an interest in poetry when I was in high school, but my teachers were clueless when I asked them for guidance or suggested readings. As a student in college, I started reading William Carlos Williams. His use of the line made me realize I didn’t have to adapt my language and speech to artificial and formal poetic devices to write my own poetry. I didn’t have to sacrifice parts of myself in order to become a “poet.” I was already both. Dr. Williams helped me achieve a certain level of comfort within myself, integrating who I was/am with what I wanted to do, i.e., write poetry. My natural sound could be expressed using a line break based on my breath. I became aware of the relationship between poetry on the page and how it sounds when read aloud. You have to understand that I was a clueless college freshman, and all this was a revelation to me. Within a very short period of time, I found myself reading the work of Charles Bukowski and Nila Northsun, adapting their use of the short line within my own writing style. Robert Creeley’s poems also had an impact. I try to create a rolling, or tumbling effect, where one line falls into the next. I want the poetry to be alive on the page. Poetry is a life force, and as such, we do not choose it, it chooses us.
2. Do you find a relationship between words and writing and
the human body? Or between your writing and your body?
rv: My body, the physical self, gives me a sense of presence. But it is raw. Poetry provides the means to interpret and measure my interaction with my surroundings; both the natural and the manmade. Art plugs me in, turns me on. To deny this role of art in our lives, or diminish it, leads to the dysfunctions we see every day, and I believe will ultimately be our downfall as a species.
When I was in the fourth grade, I was on the Glee Club, the group of kids who provided the music component to the annual Christmas program. During a practice, the teacher directing us stopped us in mid-song, looked at me, and told me to stop singing, to just “move your lips, okay?” It was a cruel and brutal thing to tell a child. No one should ever tell a kid to stop singing. I was scarred, and I never sang again, because I knew my song was ugly. And I really liked to sing! Poetry found me, gave me back my voice, and I can’t imagine what I would have become without it.
3. Is there anything you dislike about being a poet?
rv: Well, if you put too many of us in a small space, it can get ugly. (I joke, to a degree.) I am not a businessman. But if we don’t honk our own horn, no one else does. So when a book comes out, I find myself playing the multiple roles of publicist/promoter/pitchman, and it’s okay up to a point. I know the publisher is counting on it, and it’s the least I can do. But, as Bones might say to Capt. Kirk, “Damnit, Jim! I’m an artist, not a businessman.” All I want to do is write, read, give readings, facilitate workshops, and publish my poetry magazine. Getting paid enough to make a living while doing these things would be a bonus, but now I’m dreaming.
Bio: Richard Vargas was born in Compton, CA, attended schools in Compton, Lynwood, and Paramount. He earned his B.A. at Cal State University, Long Beach, where he studied under Gerald Locklin and Richard Lee. He edited/published five issues of The Tequila Review, 1978-1980. His first book, McLife, was featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, in February, 2006. A second book, American Jesus, was published by Tia Chucha Press, 2007. His third book, Guernica, revisited, was published April 2014, by Press 53. (Once again, a poem from the book was featured on Writer’s Almanac to kick off National Poetry Month.) Vargas received his MFA from the University of New Mexico, 2010. He was recipient of the 2011 Taos Summer Writers’ Conference’s Hispanic Writer Award, and was on the faculty of the 2012 10th National Latino Writers Conference. Currently, he resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he edits/publishes The Más Tequila Review.
why my ex-wife will go to heaven
one day you find yourself managing
a Hallmark gift shop in the San Bernardino
mall and it’s busy because one of the major
holidays is approaching
those ones that bring in the big bucks
that make or break the quarterly profit report
the report that keeps the home office happy
or gives them the excuse to ride your ass into
the ground for the next three months
so this is what it comes down to
as your crew of underpaid clerks
man the register and cruise the aisles
helping customers locate that special piece
of made-in-China merchandise with a
sappy card to match
and as you take position up front to
meet and greet the crowd you notice
the young mother with her toddler in hand
you know the type well
she’ll browse and take her time while
junior is turned loose to make like
a Tasmanian devil touching and grabbing
his heart’s desire as your staff is transformed
into a team of impromptu babysitters
this is how it is and you accept it
a few minutes go by and you see
the child again as he is leaving the store
but this time someone else is holding his hand
someone avoiding eye contact
someone trying to walk fast and not be noticed
years later you take stock of life’s ups and downs
while sitting in a bar in Rockford, Illinois, stacking
achievements and accomplishments against the failures
and the near-misses
wonder what the hell went wrong
always remember this:
how you didn’t hesitate to approach them
as they attempted to leave
how you ignored the man at his side and
bent down so you looked the kid eye to eye
and asked, “where’s your mommy?”
how you heard the sinister whoosh of hot air
as his hand was dropped and the faceless stranger
stepped into the crowd
later, after reports by security and interviews with police
you took a phone call from the near-hysterical parents
who kept repeating “thank you, God bless you,
thank you, God bless you, thank you, God bless you…”
they were chanting for you
elevating your spirit and
that’s as good as it gets
This poem took my breath away …
This was great from the interview with its excellent questions and even better answers (the sign of good questions) through the terrific poem. Which I decided to show my brother even before it got to the critical part because it was already great about managing a retail store as my brother does. I forgot about that as the poem ascended to another level. Then when I saw the by-line and thought Jesus l know Miriam Sagan. “I was born a geometer,” you wrote in Peter K’s class in 1973. God bless you, M!