What is your personal/aesthetic relationship to thepoetic line? That is, how do you understand it, use it,etc.
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.
Do you find a relationship between words and writing andthe 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.
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. He was a founding editor The Más Tequila Review.