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Interviewed by Blotterature.com

Stephen Roxborough has a personality that is larger than life. We first met him this past spring at A Rainy Day in Seattle part 2 and were intrigued by his endless storytelling and quirky outlook. We are glad that we had a chance to work with him through Blot Lit Reviews and look forward to reading his NYC collection (we got a taste at the Seattle reading and the work was fantastic). Please enjoy his interview with Blot.

Blotterature has a strong connection to our place – industrialized Northwest Indiana – and it is reflective in our writing. Tell us where you are and how your place fits into your art.

rox: For the last 15 years I’ve lived in Anacortes, Washington on Fidalgo Island in the Northwest Puget Sound area (about 90 minutes north of Seattle and 90 minutes south of Vancouver, B.C.). The town has 15,000 residents and almost 3,000 acres of protected forest lands with three lakes and 50 miles of trails. On clear days I can see the San Juan Islands, the Cascades and Olympic Mountains, as well as the Coastal Mountains in Canada. I’ve also had the mind-blowing experience of sitting on a local beach when two pods of orcas greeted each other, spyhopping, slapping and breaching less than 50 yards offshore. It’s not surprising trees, weather, water, sky, ravens, raptors, and animal spirits populate my writing and photography. But then, so does impermanence, desire, suffering, rust, clouds, dandelions and love.

Who/What has impacted your work the most and how does that come through?

rox: I was 14 when [I] discovered Bob Dylan, 15 when I first heard Dylan Thomas read (A Child’s Christmas in Wales), 19 when I first read Leaves of Grass, during my late 20s I poured over Samuel Beckett, and 12 years ago I met and became friends with Canadian poet/artist/mystic bill bissett.

Bob Dylan inspired me to begin writing. Dylan Thomas gave me lessons in the music of language. Walt Whitman showed me my first glimpse of Eastern Philosphy and freedom from the constraint of form. I believe Samuel Beckett the greatest writer of the 20th century. There seems no end to what one can learn from him. bill bissett opened all those doors a lot wider for me.

Meeting Allen Ginsberg, Jorge Luis Borges, Duke Ellington, Andy Warhol, Johnny Weissmuller, Daniel Lanois, Joe Dimaggio, and bill bissett in person was more than a thrill. Even at that level of celebrity/talent they exposed their humanity to me…great lesson in mortality and humility. Last but not least, my great uncle Henry Hall Roxborough wrote more than six books including the first history on hockey’s Stanley Cup. He showed me I might have some potential genetic material for writing.

How do you generate new ideas for your work?

rox: I believe ideas generate themselves. Like everyone else, I experience life. Then I write, and ideas appear (pause) out of the ether (pause) by accident or design (pause) portal or channel (pause) but the main idea is to write and edit. Painters paint, dancers dance, photographers frame, musicians play (pause) actually that’s it. All artists play, and then ideas are born. Marcel Duchamp said, “Art is a habit-forming drug.” If I don’t write, think creatively, play guitar, read something stimulating or take my camera on a walk every day, I don’t feel as though I’ve earned my keep on the planet. Oops, that’s my ego talking, but making art is a large part of who I am. I mentioned to my basketball player son the other day, “I always only just wanted to play and make things.” I believe when you immerse yourself in the process of play, ideas inevitably bubble to the top. The challenging part is making sure, the best you can, not to repeat yourself (pause) too much.

When have you been most satisfied with your work?

rox: Just like in life, when the unexpected and wonderful happens.

Years ago, I posted a few poems on a site called PoemHunter.com and totally forgot about them. Out of the blue, New York composer named Barbara Benary contacted me to ask if she could use one of those poems to create a musical piece around it for the Flexible Orchestra. I couldn’t have been happier. I even flew out to New York for the premeire. Magic.

Once I read a poem I wrote about a friend’s grandfather. Afterwards a large, burly man came up to me in tears, thanked me and said the poem reminded him of his father who passed away recently.

Another happy surprise occured when I met my editor/publisher Dale Winslow on Facebook. On a hunch, I asked her if she was accepting manuscripts. She said, not really, but send me something if you want. Happily, she accepted. Today, it’s my honor to be Creative Director and Editor for NeoPoiesis Press. Who knew?

How do you know when a piece is finished?

rox: Sometimes I don’t know and I keep tinkering. I suppose deep down I think there’s always room for improvement. But if it refuses to get better, I stop, and let one of my editor’s kill it for me. When French painter Eugene Delacroix was asked the same question he replied, “First I have to ruin it a little. Then I know I’m done.”

What has been your biggest failure and what ¬– if any ¬– lessons were learned?

rox: I don’t experience life in black and white, so failure isn’t a word in my artistic vocabulary. I like to think I keep moving forward, pushing my own modest boundaries as much as I dare, can or want. I performed a spontaneous sound poem for my mother’s 80th birthday that upset her and delighted only one member of the audience. Unfortunately, my sound poetry fan died soon after. Without risk-taking there is little growth. bill bissett says it best: “advise 2 aspiring writirs write as much a spossibul howevr n whatevr yu want ar led 2 n b aware uv yr own possibul self censoring in all wayze n b wanting 2 let go uv that thos urges”

Tell us about your commitment to the writing community. Outside of your work, what else do you have going on? Or what do you see starting up in your future?

rox: I served on a statewide poetry board for three years (Washington Poets Association), co-founded Burning Word Poetry Festival, and co-edited three anthologies including radiant danse uv being, a poetic portrait of bill bissett (organizing, editing and producing an anthology is a great education for any aspiring writer). Currently, I’m editing and designing book covers for NeoPoiesis Press. If I’m invited to read somewhere, I try to appear, and give as much as I can, but all-in-all I’m an introvert and don’t easily seek stage or spotlight. As for the future, I’d like to record another collection of poems and music. So far, my only CD, spiritual demons, was released in 2002…my first time in front of a microphone. I’m overdue.

What’s your biggest pet peeve with the writing community, trends, etc. today?

rox: Competition in art. Especially competition to make money. Popularity contests. Slams like bloodsport with scores like figure skating. Whitewashed-brainwashed cerebral ivory-tower academic blah blah with no guts, suffering or otis redding-type soul. Putting down over lifting up. Poets who don’t read their peers or can’t be bothered to help other poets. Poets that don’t practice listening (ears, like the mind, are muscles too). I embrace freedom of expression and all the stages/venues to express that freedom, including the street corner and the closet, so let me just say I’d like us all to practice inclusion over exclusion. Have compassion for each other. The outsiders and insiders. Private circle jerks seem pointless. Don’t make wanking or personal feud your forté.

What are you working on right now?

rox: I’m editing a diverse collection of fascinating poems by a former doorman and city sidewalk-sweeper named Jeff Pew. A titallating novel from the talented Judith Walcutt is also in the editing queue. My extraordinary Art Director Milo Duffin and I have about a dozen covers to design. And then, there are the four or five collections of my own in the works. I don’t usually talk about them before they’ve found a home for publication, but I’ll just say last October I spent a week writing and exploring New York City which has blossomed into a recent favorite collection channelling writers who lived in the city (Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Kahlil Gibran, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, O Henry, Cole Porter, John Steinbeck, Washington Irving, Hart Crane, Emma Lazarus, Dashiell Hammett, e.e. cummings, Frank O’Hara, Thomas Pynchon and also soaking in the ghosts of great location: Hotel Chelsea, Whitehorse Tavern, Algonquin Hotel, Apollo Theater) as well as a few of my family/personal connections to the city. NYC is polar opposite to where I live now, so I get a rush from it when i visit.

What are you reading right now?

rox: Death By Triangulation (John Oughton) The World Afloat (M.A.C. Farrant) Time Space & Knowledge (Tarthang Tulku) pass the food release the spirit book (bill bissett) The Dream Songs (John Berryman) Ordinary Words (Si Philbrook) The Bare Plum of Winter Rain (Patrick Lane) Marshmallows & Despair (David Ossman) I Will Always Be Your Whore (Alexandra Naughton)

I like to dive in and out of a variety of authors and subjects. I usually have one Eastern Philosophy book on the go, one classic poetry book, as many Canadian authors as I find/know, and I try to keep up with the work of my friends and acquaintances. For me, reading is the best way to learn about writing.

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