Welcome to our Q & A feature article, Poet Chat. In each issue of the KotaPress Poetry Journal, we talk with one of the poets whose work is currently being featured. Submit your poems for the next issue, and we could be chatting with you next time.
This issue we are talking with Joseph Lisowski, author of Near the Narcotic Sea and editor at New Works Review (www.new-works.org). Also featured in this issue are Lisowski's poems "Grief Work," "Paradox," "Forgive Me," and "This Spectre's Power."
Chatting with Joseph Lisowski
Q. What does poetry mean to you?
A. Tough question. Reading poetry means companionship to me, partaking of a spiritual communion with others. Time and place donít matter. If the poem is real to me, itís like I can feel the breath of the writer, his or her life force, against my cheek. Thatís an important connection, exquisitely human. Writing poetry for me, in many important ways, is participating in this conversation. In other words, I feel a need to respond to someone, say William Blake or Wang Wei or my wife or child or friend or whoever, and ordinary discourse just doesnít do. Beyond that, Iím a shaper and player; I enjoy making "beauty" or "truth" out of the airy nothingness of language. It is a delight, albeit a dangerous one. I agree wholly with Rilke when he says, "beauty is the beginning of a terror/that we can hardly bear." Sometimes it feels like when I enter that space where poems are made, I lose myself. A fortunate loss because when Iím found again Iím much better company.
Q. When and why did you start writing poetry?
A. I wrote my first poem at twelve. It was winter and I had just snuck back into my house shaking with cold and fear. The first gang fight I was to participate in got aborted. After carefully hiding my weapons, I went directly to my attic room, which also served as an overflow for my uncleís stuff. An old manual typewriter with a purple ribbon lay on the floor next to the only window. As snow blew in through its two inch crack, I sat down and pinged out lines about a weeping willow. It was some workóI had never even seen a willow, but the sounds of the words and the peaceful, sad scene I created out of my imagination, gave me comfort. My shaking stopped. I read what I wrote and immediately hid it. My secret.
Q. You have written many poems for and about your daughter Chrissy since she passed away. How has the poetic process helped you in your grieving and healing process?
A. Chrissyís death was utterly devastating, debilitating. I canít explain its raw impact . Writing the "Chrissy" poems was a blind act of faith, a last stab at holding on to any vestige of sanity I had left. Did writing them help me grieve, help me heal? I donít know. Iíll tell you though, getting into space where poems are made, communicating with Chrissy, was the ONLY thing that made any sense to me for quite a while. And even that provided little or no comfort.
Q. How did your poetic career/identity change after Chrissy's death?
A. Well, after about a year, I started to write about things other than the aftermath of Chrissyís death. Even so, I lost all interest in sending out my work, except for AFTER DEATHíS SILENCE, the 54 poem "tribute" to her. It was regularly rejected, sometimes accompanied by comments like, ". . .the most powerful thing Iíve ever read; sorry, not for us." Then I gave up even sending that out. About 9 months ago (and I donít really know why), I began to regularly submit my poems again, almost exclusively to mags published on the web. This was about 8 full years after Chrissy died..
Q. Where are you today in your poetry career?
A. Iím critically looking over the stuff Iíve written in those years. I mean I have an awful lot of stuff. Right now Iím working on my fourth book length "Stashu" collection, tentatively titled STASHU KAPINSKI DREAMS OF GLORY. I found the voice of Stashu in my old neighborhood, the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh. Heís sort of a compendium of people I knew while growing up--an old, crusty, confused, long time unemployed Steel worker who, in spite of all drawbacks and adverse circumstances, has not yet given up. I like listening to him.
So far this year, Iíve been lucky. About 70 of my poems have been published or accepted, though not any full length collection. Also, I recently accepted the job of poetry editor for NEW WORKS REVIEW (www.new-works.org).
And then there are my four novels and novella, but thatís another story.