Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Poetry Daisy Chain Gang - Focus on Mark Kerstetter (From Speedball Into the Blue)

To celebrate National Poetry Month this April, I asked some of my favorite writers to participate in a collaborative experiment -- a poetry daisy chain. The idea was simple -- each person contributes the beginnings of a poem, some possible constraints or requirements, and then pass it along to the enxt person in line. By the end, everyone would receive their original start with everyone else's 'take'. The hope: to approach poetry a little differently, to churn the creative juice, to build community, and, most important, to have some fun. We succeeded in all these goals, and ended up with some fascinating results.

For the next couple of weeks, I will feature several of these adventurists. First up -- Mark Kerstetter. Poet, philosopher, prose writer, artist, Mark takes a multi-media and multi-genre approach to creating provocative, lush, and sometimes uneasy beauty. He posted his 'before' and 'after' poems, as well as a fascinating piece on the process behind his poem --> FROM SPEEDBALL INTO THE BLUE. A must read for anyone wanting to get an inside view of an amazing writer's mind.

Mark kindly agreed to an interview, which we conducted in the shade of an ancient cyber oak over several glasses of cyber Bordeaux...

You write poetry and prose - which calls to you more, and why? I don't think poetry calls to me more than prose, but I have an older and closer relationship to it. As a little kid I wrote rhymes as well as stories. For reasons unknown I stopped writing stories when I turned 11 or 12, but continued with poetry. I began writing fiction again in my twenties but it was of an experimental, "poetic" type, and remained so for years. Only fairly recently have I begun to write straightforward stories again (many of the shorter ones are posted on my blog), and so I still feel like an amateur in that area. But my relationship to poetry has been constant, so it feels like home to me.

How would you characterize your poetry voice? your prose voice? In general my poetry voice and my prose fiction voice are the same in that I tend to go for a speaking voice. I want my poems and stories to sound natural or musical when spoken out loud. The stories I've been writing are for the most part a much simpler voice, a natural sounding voice, even though they are not necessarily me personally. My poems cover a wider formal range, but always I go for either a natural voice or language that sounds musical when spoken aloud. I don't go for poetry that is meant to be looked at silently on the page. I want to hear someone, speaking from the heart, telling me something real from their own experience. That is what I try to do.

The first line you sent us is strong and evocative:
Swept into that maelstrom,
in the still eye
and spinning faster than we believed possible

I like the idea of a meditation on speed, of a calm lucidity in the eye of a tornado. I think it's rich ground for writing. A few years ago I wrote a long poem on this theme. The first sentence completed the last sentence, so that the whole thing, in the experience of reading it, turned like a sphere in orbit.

When you wrote the first line(s), did you have a preconceived idea of how your poem would shape and form? If yes, what was that vision? I had the idea that everyone would write one line of the same approximate length as mine; it would therefore have been a short poem. But that expectation was based on my own lack of foresight. I did not lay that down as a rule, so there was no reason for me to expect it.

What surprised you about the final version? A lot of things surprised me about the final version. There was a high degree of counter-movement, which surprised me since the concept already allowed for the opposing movements of speed and stasis. For example, Paige wrote, "But that was yesterday..." which felt (to me, anyway) like taking the reader right out of the situation described in the first line. Not to blame it all on Paige, but the resulting text was a picture of chaos. I didn't expect a perfectly formed thing, but the degree of chaos did surprise me. I blame myself. I should have picked a simple theme and imposed an order on it. I couldn't help but notice that counter-movement occurred to some degree in all the texts, sometimes to an extreme degree. Ironically, when "Speedball" became "Into the Blue", Paige became my starting point, and Doug, the person who most consistently went his own way in the game overall, ended up giving me the thing that captured my interest the most. He gave me the wonderful name Edwin "Speedball" McCullen and put him in a place I saw as a nursing home. He is a man with a past: a hippy in Haight Ashbury, a wanderer in Amsterdam. Then Robin gave me Sedona, a place I had to google. Since I've been to Arizona I've seen the saguaro cactus. Now I had a man escaping the confines of his nursing home in Sedona, to wander the desert in freedom one last time. I could never have predicted that, and how beautiful it is!

What are you working on now? I am almost finished with a review of a wonderful new book of poems by Peter Davis, an essay on Salvador Dali, and I've been taking a lot of notes on the play Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. Of course I always have poems going on and stories in my head.

Mark Kerstetter loves to read, write, draw and make art out of salvaged wood and other found objects. He selects poets for the arts and culture webzine Escape into Life and blogs at The Bricoleur

Peace, Linda


  1. "meditation on speed" Love it.

    What a crazy chaotic idea. It's very interesting to see the various poets spin on the sentence and how Mark was able to take everyone's thoughts and bend, blend it into what he did. Fascinating. Cool interview here about the process.

  2. I very much enjoyed Mark's post about his prose, the poem and the process of taking pieces to make one from the other.

    One of the interesting things about this experiment, that Mark touched on here, is how the different styles come together. You can almost read the poem and pick out the writer without being told.

    Thanks for this, Linda. It was great fun.

  3. Thanks for letting me play along with your words!

  4. I'm glad you can point the finger at moi, because I believe the end poem is worth it.

    It appears that a few "rules" enabled the poets to focus on a commonality.

  5. Mark is one of my favourite online people and it's nice to see him fleshed out a bit. The whole concept was quite extraordinary, Linda.
    Peace to you both.

  6. A very cool thing this is, Linda.

    And Mark is one of the best character writers, ever.