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APRIL 2005

Ken Brewer, Utah

Studied Poetry: I haven’t “studied” poetry with the rigor of a scholar, though I completed my M.A. in English at New Mexico State University with an emphasis in British Literature and I took several poetry literature courses at the University of Utah as part of my Ph.D. in Creative Writing. I study people mostly, and animals, and writing, more or less in that order. As a writer of poetry, I focus more on paying close attention to the details of everything I can observe and experience. I read other poets because I enjoy poetry and because I expect to learn my craft from other poets, but I read philosophy, natural history, and science (the sort written for non-science readers) as my first choices, my “pleasurable” reading. I’m one of those odd people who had double majors as undergraduates: math and English.

Writing: I came to writing relatively late in my life. I was in my first year of graduate study at New Mexico State (1965) when I attended my first poetry reading. Keith Wilson, a faculty member in English at NMSU, read that night. I had never heard poetry read by the “living” poet; I was studying long-dead British poets. I was so taken by Keith’s reading that I began trying to write “poems” that very night. I took my earliest attempts to Keith and he gave me books to read by William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Robert Creeley, Gary Snyder, Denise Levertov. He helped me get published for the first time, in a magazine called Potpourri published by Carlos Reyes in Oregon (1967). I’ve been at it ever since.

Inspiration: I don’t think I believe in “inspiration.” I find the subjects of poetry everywhere and I write because I enjoy it. I don’t wait to be “inspired.” I write nearly every day, as William Stafford did, though my daily writings aren’t as good as his were. I’ve never let a search for “quality” keep me from writing. I revise a great deal and am often as surprised in the revision as I am in the initial creation of a poem. Those moments of surprise are the true payoffs for me as a writer.

Favorite Poets: I’ve already named many of those: Keith Wilson, William Carlos Williams, Gary Snyder, William Stafford. I would add such poets as John Milton, John Berryman, Ann Stanford, May Swenson, Walt Whitman, Henry Taylor, Emily Dickinson, Robert Bly, Gwendolyn Brooks, Theodore Roethke, Randall Jarrell, Michael Harper, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, Yeats, Lowell, Plath and Sexton—a diverse group and not a complete one. As to other writers, Shakespeare’s plays, William Barrett’s Irrational Man, Richard Selzer’s fiction and nonfiction, Odo Marquard’s In Defense of the Accidental, Daniel Dennett and Richard Rorty have all struck me in significant ways at particular times in my life. My “favorites” keep changing so much that I probably do not truly have “favorites.” I read as much as I can and I read broadly in all sorts of writing.

Challenges: No question: Time. I spent most of my working life as a university professor, teaching relatively heavy course loads and many students. I began my teaching career as a Graduate Instructor, then a high school English teacher before coming to Utah State University. I retired “early” (the first chance I got) in 2000 after 32 years at USU. During those years, I accomplished most of my best writing during two sabbatical leaves of one year each. I have probably written more, and I think better, during the five years since I retired. The key to this has been “time” to focus my attention entirely on writing. Most of the poetry books I have published are “connected” poems, a focus on one or two main characters and a loose “plot.” The poems are linked in such a way that they tell a story. I have most recently completed a murder mystery in poems. Such books required a more focused, and different, attention for me than the sort of “daily writing” in journals that I did throughout my teaching career. I suppose that as I get olderÐI’m 63 nowÐother “hurdles” will appear that might involve my mind or my body, my ability to find the language or my energy and concentration. I doubt I will ever lose my sense of joy in writing, though.

Advice: First, my advice to everyone is to pursue whatever path gives you the most enjoyment and fulfillment without regard to what financial success it might promise. You don’t have to make writing a “career” to be successful at it. Writing is a way to stay in touch with the world around you and within you. If you can also publish your writing and even make a little money at it, fine. I wanted to be a basketball player, but a 5’ 9,” 200 pound point guard did not attract much attention from “scouts.” Nevertheless, I played basketball as long as my knees would let me, and I loved it. I didn’t quit playing simply because it could never be my “career.” Whether writing becomes your “career,” you should read as much as you can and write as much as you can if you wish to become better at writing.#



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