I’m happy to introduce our first poet interview of 2017: Donald Illich!
Donald Illich’s work has appeared in literary journals such as Iowa Review, LIT, Nimrod, Passages North, Rattle, and Sixth Finch. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and received a scholarship from the Nebraska Summer Writers Conference. Washington Writers Publishing House and Gold Wake Press named his full-length manuscript a finalist during their open readings. He self-published a chapbook, Rocket Children, in 2012, and he published another chapbook, The Art of Dissolving (Finishing Line Press), in 2016. He lives in Rockville, Maryland.
Here’s a poem I really enjoyed from his chapbook The Art of Dissolving:
Gravity, by Donald Illich
My parents used to tell me
that gravity turned off at night.
That everyone floated
in their nightclothes, bouncing
against the walls of their rooms,
sometimes flying out a window.
When someone woke up, like me,
everyone returned to their original
positions, snoring as if nothing
had happened. I don’t know why
they told me this, except to screw
around with my imagination, to keep it
working in a useless direction.
Even now, at three in the morning,
I try to catch my wife hovering
near me, with the books and shelves
above us, bobbing near the ceiling.
I sometimes have the feeling
I was the one whom gravity abandoned.
That I’m the loose person, who will
stick to neither a job or a life.
No one tells me, though. They
watch me rise like a balloon,
sending darts toward me, waiting.
Do you find first drafts the easy part and revision kind of intimidating? If so, you’re not alone, and it’s common for writers to think the revision process is boring–but it doesn’t have to be!
In the 48-minute tutorial Re-Creating Poetry: How to Revise Poems, poets will learn how to go about re-creating their poems with the use of 7 revision filters that can help poets more effectively play with their poems after the first draft. Plus, it helps poets see how they make revision–gasp–fun!
What are you currently up to?
I am working on creating two chapbooks, “City Waltz” and “Fear Avenue.” “City Waltz” is a surreal chapbook, with a basic theme about the city and city life. “Fear Avenue” is an autobiographical book with lots of old and new poems. I am also revising my full-length manuscript, “Temporarily Human.”
I loved reading The Art of Dissolving. How did you go about putting this collection together? And then, getting it published?
I basically took the best work I had at the moment and put them all together in a chapbook. There was no theme, really, though I tried to use published pieces mostly. I did try to place my most accessible work at either the front or the back. Finishing Line had a call for manuscripts, and I sent in my manuscript, and they accepted it. It was relatively easy.
Were there any surprises in the publishing process?
I think the big surprise was how long the process took. I expected things to rush along, after providing cover art and then proofing the proofs, but to create a good product it took weeks longer than I thought. In the end, though, I’m very happy with the way it turned out.
Your bio mentions you’re a technical writer-editor for the Federal government. What is involved with that job? And a follow up, do the poetry and technical writing ever influence each other?
As a technical writer I do various things, such as write replies to letters from the public, create outside articles in health publications, and participate in events/conferences, including publicity for them. Technical writing has helped me become more exact with my language in poetry, and poetry has provided me with the creativity to come up with solutions to writing conundrums in my job.
You’ve been published in several publications. Do you have a submission routine?
I wish I was more organized in submitting my poetry. I tend to submit a lot in bunches, then only sporadically submit between them. There are lots of good places to find markets, such as Poet’s Market, and I use them. I also have several publications I enjoy and read, and I keep submitting to them. I think since it’s so common to get rejections, it’s best to submit as much as you can, within reason.
Your bio mentions you’re the President of The Federal Poets. Could you explain who The Federal Poets are and what you do as President?
The Federal Poets is a workshop group in the D.C. area that meets once a month to critique each other’s poems. We also put out a journal for the members called “The Federal Poet.” As president, I lead the meetings, and I also am in charge of reserving the rooms at the library. I also arrange readings and try to publicize what The Federal Poets do as much as possible. The Federal Poets, in one form or another, has been around since the 1940s.
A poet no one’s heard of but should. Who is it?
Mathias Svalina. His work is weird and profound. I especially love his book, “Destruction Myth.”
If you could share only one piece of advice with other poets, what would it be?
Be patient. Rejections will come and go, but the important thing to do is keep reading and keep writing. And enjoy the process of getting where you want to be.