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12 or 20 questions with Stephen Roxborough







Stephen Roxborough was born in New York to an American mother and a Canadian father and moved to Colombia when he was two months old. With Jeff Pew, Rox co-edited the anthology radiant danse uv being, a poetic portrait of bill bissett (Nightwood Editions) He is the author of seven chapbooks, one CD, and four poetry collections. Two collections were released this year: ego to earthschool(NeoPoiesis Press) and the DNA of NHL(Ekstasis Editions). Rox is currently Editor/Creative Director for NeoPoiesis Press.


1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

i'd been writing since high school but never published anything until my early 40s when i recorded a poetry CD (spiritual demons) and printed the poems in a booklet with some of my drawings. when that project was complete i wanted to appear and disappear at the same time. i felt like i said what i wanted to say but wasn't sure what to do with it. three years later the project felt like a 20-year-old snapshot of another person. it made me think deeper about publishing. the finality of finishing something and seeing it in print. a daunting thought. my first book came out 10 years later when i was 51. everytime i first see something of mine in print i pat myself on the back for a few minutes, and then all i think about is writing a better book.


my most recent books have become more personal, almost memoiresque. i'm writing about my family, places i've experienced, and people who've influenced my life. i feel i'm a stronger, more precise, more playful, more musical writer. my hearing has become more accute. my camera has helped me see. improved intuition has offered me another dimension. i feel as though i can go anywhere, meet anyone, and discover something pleasurable to write about.


2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

my older brother ran away from home at 16 and left me his record collection which included Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits. my grade 10 English teacher played Dylan Thomas recordings. i had a wonderful grade 12 English Lit teacher who turned me onto Donne, Pope, Byron, Shelly, Wordsworth, and Blake. many wet and wintry lunch periods i used to sneak off to my high school library and read Leonard Cohen. my mother let me out of the house to attend Jimi Hendrix, Donovan, The Doors, Neil Young, The Mothers of Invention, Phil Ochs, and Joni Mitchell concerts. At university, my favourite professor was a Whitman-Emerson-Dickinson-Poe specialist. Of course, i read novels and plays as well, but nothing spoke to me with the power, immediacy, and wisdom of poetry...except maybe, my father's Duke Ellington records and Van Gogh's drawings.


3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

if i have no ideas for a new project i just start and see what appears. because i write every day it doesn't take me long to notice a direction. first drafts are written longhand on 1/4 page pieces (recycled manuscripts cut and made into pads of paper) with no line breaks. one big run-on fragment. it looks like chaos but i already have the rhythm in my head. then i bring that to the screen and it takes shape. my work usually comes from draft after draft after draft after... many kicks at the can. adding, subtracting, taking word inventory, letting the ingredients marinate, turning it over and over, reading it aloud at different times of day, and other poetic tools. i rarely use notes and don't keep a journal. i use stream of early morning consciousness and copious editing.


4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Buddha said, "all life is suffering," but to me all life is a poem. part of the art of life comes in finding the unseen poems. my first book was a collection of smaller pieces from many years. my second book had a theme (desire). my third book i found a structure after the orphan poems were collected. my fourth book has a theme (hockey). i'm currently working on three collections which have themes decided on from the beginning. poems start in the heart when logical mind is quiet and i connect to the universal field. creativity is cosmic love. i connect with my heart and expand outward into something greater than myself.


5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

when i'm editing a poem i usually read it outloud to see if it has music (rhythm and tonal color). sometimes a melody appears. i enjoy that part of the process. readings are a mixed bag for me. i love the idea of reading, then i hate all the nervous energy preparing for a reading, especially how edgy i feel a few hours before a reading. then i enjoy the reading itself (usually), i dig the adrenaline rush after, and even the end of the evening driftdown is sweet. all in all, i usually learn something more about my poems when i'm forced to prepare for a reading. so, yes and yes.


6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

although i've read critical books and/or essays by bp nichol, Steve McCaffery, Carl Peters, Lance Strate, Adeena Karasick, Malcolm Cowley, Darren Wershler-Henry, Marshall McLuhan, and many Paris Review interviews, i'm not motivated by or deeply concerned with intellectual theories about poetics. i prefer to read and write poetry. when i write i don't think i'm answering questions. i don't think i have the answers to questions. i believe i help balance myself, and hopefully others, in an entertaining/illuminating fashion by examining (to name a few) the paradox of existence, love, family, humanity, entertainment, commerce, impermanence, environment, communication, pollution, privacy, paranormal, sport, money, drugs, religion, sex, and death.


7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

the writer's role is to illuminate in an entertaining way. to examine all subjects, not to tell people what to do, but to help them work through their own daily existence, and maybe even move a reader to action. or not. perhaps there isn't a role. perhaps it's all only ego-showbiz. in that case, i'm vastly underrated. (soft shoe interlude) but seriously, i believe the heart of the role is to assist, at best, to inspire & help stimulate others.


8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

i enjoy the editing process and the more experience i have the more essential it becomes to me. I've been working with poet, teacher, counselor Jeff Pew for over 10 years, bouncing poems off him. sometimes one or three a day. he can call me on my indulgences, lazy writing, and help me find the better capper. lately, my NeoPoiesis editor Dale Winslow has become an indespensible sounding board. she pushes me to kill my darlings and improve the keepers. I've also worked with poet/novelist John Oughton and American poet Jim Bertolino, both valuable and steep learning curve experiences. i've had sessions with a couple more editors (who shall remain nameless) and although they didn't pan out, i always learned a great deal. that's the main thing: be teachable and never stop learning.


9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

my father would not accept excuses. there was no such thing as not enough time. make time, he'd say. when life handed us a blow he'd tell us, you gotta learn to roll with the punches. he didn't suffer whining and was fond of saying, life doesn't get better for the complainers.


10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

i begin my day by writing as soon as i open my eyes. pad of paper and selection of free hotel or bank pens bedside. i stay in bed until i've written something i like. sometimes i write another draft or sometimes i write another poem. depends on what i have to do that day, but if the ink is flowing i stay in bed for two or three hours. then i get up and make tea or coffee and edit what i've written. sometimes the edit session is longer than the intial writing session. i do like to edit. did you know Stanley Kubrick's favourite part of movie-making was editing?


11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

if my writing is stalled, i give it a rest. i pick up my camera and go on a walkabout. or noodle on my guitar. or read a book, watch a movie. when nothing comes it's usually because i'm trying too hard. let trying go. eventually something of interest pops into my head. no expectations. and the writing begins to flow.


12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

rainforest, english bay, and sandalwood


13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

everything i notice informs my work. sometimes i find poems in my junk mail. but i admit, music is my number one influence. not necessarily any particular piece or specific composer, but the elements of music. i keep abreast of the news. sometimes the composition of a painting or photograph can inform the composition of a poem. lately, i've been looking at my family history. often just hanging out and overhearing snippets of conversation inspires.


14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

meeting and reading and listening to and reading with bill bissett changed my life. everyone should be so lucky to have a living breathing working mentor. due to his generosity and friendship, my heart and poetic awareness has experienced accelerated growth. i return to Blake, Whitman, and Samuel Beckett. just as important is a life outisde of writing. i stay active in the world with my sons, travel, photography, co-designing book covers with Milo Duffin, and editing for NeoPoiesis Press.


15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

tour left bank vineyards in Bordeaux, meditate at Bodh Gaya, read from my hockey book (the DNA of NHL, Ekstasis Editions) in the Hockey Hall of Fame, kayak Haida Gwaii, write a rock n roll memoir, learn to scuba dive, take my boys to New Orleans, build a recording studio, and eventually, meet my maker.


16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

music recording producer (ala George Martin, Todd Rundgren, Brian Eno, Glyn Johns, Daniel Lanois, Rick Rubin, Nigel Godrich...) or a plumber. i've always admired how plumbing holds civilization together.


17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

as a kid i was an introvert. and dyslexic. in early grade school i was put in the stupid kid group. we weren't really stupid but because we couldn't read we were made to feel that way. when my mother found out, she bought a collection of beginner books and worked with me until i was competent. from then on i made sure i read more books than anyone in my class. overcompensation complex. as an introvert i spent a lot of time in my room reading and drawing and later writing. so i imagine my interest in writing all stems from my early difficulty learning to read.


18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

i don't take the word "great" lightly.


my previous favourite translation was by Witter Bynner, but this Hamill version is poetic and powerful in most wonderful ways.


great movie: BUCK (director Cindy Meehl, 2011)

i'm a fair movie buff and began to understand the art of film at university through my best friend, Bruce Preston, a serious film student. we dove into everything Fellini, Hitchcock, Bunuel, Goddard, Tarkovsky, Bergman, and Kubrick. seems odd to me i picked a conceivably schmaltzy documentary about a wounded-child horse-breaker. In my defense, i'm pretty sure watching this film could teach us something about teaching, child-rearing and simply how to all get along. also, the scenes when Buck goes into action are more riveting than anything i've seen Spiderman do.


19 - What are you currently working on?

i'm busy trying to garner some reviews for my two 2017 poetry collection releases.

ego to earthschool (NeoPoiesis Press) and the DNA of NHL (Ekstasis Editions).

anyone interested in a review copy, please let me know.


I've also got three collections marinating in the juices of word and time. every now and then i take a peek and a taste to see if they're aging well. sometimes i even add a new poem for recent perspective. the themes are New York City, what's become of America, and death.


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