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The Habitual Poet: C.B. Anderson

Installment #61

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The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to: editor@poemeleon.org

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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?

A:  At the library in Concord, MA.


Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?

A:  Only three dozen or so, and I’ve read them all.


Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)

A:  At night, in a soft chair, with my eyes open.


Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?

A:  John Ciardi’s Collected, plus several journals.


Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?

A:  George Adams, Interpreter of Rudolf Steiner: his life and a selection of his essays; the SF series by Kay Kenyon called The Entire and the Rose; and Malt Advocate magazine.


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Q: When, where, how do you write, and why?(i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)

A:  Whenever I can, but mostly at night in that same soft chair, and printed with a black ink pen on narrow-ruled glue-top writing pads.  I write because there are things I want to say, because the application of the craft engages me artistically and intellectually, and because I can count it one of my few good habits.


Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?

A:  I used to churn out more than a dozen poems every month, but lately I average less than half that—if only the decrease in quantity led to an increase in quality!


Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?

A:  From five minutes to five years.  It all depends on how long it takes me to recognize the errors of my ways.


Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

A:  When I can read it without wincing.


Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?

A:  Certainly, but nowadays I don’t get invited anywhere all that often.


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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

A:  I never submit simultaneously.  I often slip finished poems into appropriate file folders dedicated to specific markets, in anticipation of upcoming submissions.  A couple times a year I compile a list of potential venues, distribute my poem inventory accordingly, and send out a rash of manuscripts.  This past March, for instance, I submitted poems to fifteen or sixteen different journals.



Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?

A:  This changes day by day.  In the past week I’ve received both.  Sometimes I’m pleasantly surprised; at other times, bitterly disappointed.  These days, if I expect a rejection, then I usually don’t bother to submit.  But if I never did, then there would be no pleasant surprises, like the one I got last fall when Poemeleon took two of my poems.



Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?

A:  Definitely a mix, but new online journals seem to come into being more frequently.  I like print venues for the weight of the paper, and online venues for the width of the circulation.



Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)

A:  Well, once I complained overmuch about the misspelling of the title to one of my poems, and I was threatened with blacklisting in that journal and several others in which I had no interest.  It got sticky until I just gave up, realizing I was dealing with over-sensitive semi-literates.  In general, I hate it when I have to wait for up to a year for a non-response.  I favor a Constitutional amendment which would deprive such negligent editorial staffs of their right to publish.


Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?

A:  Fan mail?  Fortunately, no.  Hate mail?  Regrettably, no.



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Practical considerations


Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?

A:  I’m a gardener usually, involved in one sort of horticultural activity or another.  On occasion this does lend a bit of content to what I write.  How could it not?


Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?

A:  So far, not at all.


Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?

A:  Not since fourth grade.  But recently, in the past half year, my output has slowed down a bit, which is not altogether a bad thing.


Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

A:  Lately I’ve had little money to spare for subscriptions, but I can always afford paper and afford ink cartridges for my electronic typewriter.


Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)

A:  Not yet, unless diffuse general neglect counts.


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Random nonsense


Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)

A:  I could do both of these things if I felt like it.  Other than that, I can put together a garden that would make God Himself turn green with envy.


Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:

a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address

b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed

c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)

d.) Do none of the above; instead you: _____

A: It doesn’t matter—she claims she doesn’t understand anything I write, and she’s probably never heard of Sylvia Plath.


Q: If the best medical specialists in the world told you that if you didn’t give up your poetry habit today you would die in six months, would you get your affairs in order or would you leave that up to your family?

A:  If I were vouchsafed such unimpeachable certainty, I should think my affairs were pretty much in order.



Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?

A:  A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y.  Hmm….  The last, I think, because it’s not totally committed.  Or maybe A, since that’s already my last initial.  Anything but IOU’s.


Q: Finally, what piece of advice would you most like to share with our readers? (This can be on writing, the writing life, or anything else...)

A:  Think outside.  And always remember that (as La Rochefoucauld put it): Everybody complains of his memory, but nobody of his judgement.




C.B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden.  His poems have appeared (or are expected to appear) in print, electronic & etheric journals on all eleven continents, if and when the long-anticipated land masses arise out of the Deep.



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