Welcome everyone to an interview with Hosho McCreesh. I asked if he would be so kind as to let me interview him about his chapbook 37 Psalms From The Badlands published by Kendra Steiner Editions and he happily obliged:
What was your first introduction to poetry that you can remember?
It would have to be 2 things: Music in general, but Bob Dylan’s music specifically & the readings of Yeats my father recorded on his own albums. That’s where words first had real power for me. I also loved the tune the Tennessee Stud. I remember wanting to know what things I heard meant…I’d hear an interesting word that I didn’t know & wanted to understand it. Having moved on to rock, I remember calling a radio station when I was about 8 or 9 years old, requesting “Dirty Dees And The Dunder Chee”—I didn’t know what “Dees” were, nor what a “dunder chee” was, but I was pretty sure that’s what AC/DC was singing about & I loved that song! My father spent many years on the road making music—& he does Yeats readings superbly—a tremendous voice for it. The Fiddler of Dooney, The Lake Isle of Innsfree, The Hosts of the Air…they were just magic for me, still are, actually.
Which poet (living or dead) would you willingly buy dinner for to learn more about him/her?
Lots, I can’t decide which—from Li Po, and Issa, to Whitman and Bukowski. But it would have to be outside the realm of a “meeting an idol” kind of situation—with all that stupid, uncomfortable energy, & the dull questions I’d surely want answered. Better if we were bumped off the same plane or something & the airline gave us meal vouchers. I once had a terrific dinner with a beautiful older woman just this way. She said I could run away to Peru with her, that she’d give me her $400 voucher towards the price of the ticket. I was on my way to visit family, otherwise I might’ve gone…it would’ve been quite an adventure! But those poets are, most obviously to me, so much more than just the sum of their work. The spirit of each of them lives & breathes in their lines even still…it’s really easy to see compassionate, bright, wise, & funny people beyond the work. Of course, there’s a handful of folks writing now that I hope to someday meet as well.
When did you start writing and when was your first poem published?
I always remember writing, & I even think a wonderful teacher, Kay Goodman, helped me place something in newspapers when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I remember writing Shakespearean sonnets to girls in high school. I’d say it was college where I started writing seriously. It wasn’t until after college that I really discovered the small press, but I’d been writing poems & stories for a while by then. I can’t be sure where my first poem was published—it might’ve been The American Dissident; editor G. Tod Slone published quite a few early pieces and was a kind, early supporter of my work.
What does your family think about you being a poet and about poetry in general?
My family is terrific. They buy my books, they sell my books to co-workers, they try to talk people at supermarkets & drive-thrus into buying my books—they are really out there pushing for me…which is just terrific, because I hate that stuff. It embarrasses me, but I owe it to the publishers that gamble on my work to get out there & hustle my mystical snake-oils! When I didn’t have a reliable computer, my aunt & uncle let me store all my work on their machine, let me monopolize it when putting together submissions until all hours of the night—heck, they even let me steal their stamps! It’s terrific to have such love & support from them.
For your book, 37 Psalms From The Badlands how did you come up with this collection of poems and the title?
Bill Shute of the terrific & varied KENDRA STEINER EDITIONS wrote me & asked if I’d be interested in writing something for his NEXT EXIT series—which, for readers unfamiliar with it, is a somewhat anonymous mix of two poets with different but hopefully complimentary styles, with poems titled only by CITY, and STATE, no direct indications who wrote what. I was honored & told him yes, definitely—as I’d recently seen the terrific books Bill had put out by both Christopher Cunningham & Luis Berriozabal. I remember this being around mid-December & I knew I had some days off from work coming up which would afford me some time to just sit & write. Bill gave me 2 months to write them, &, much to my surprise, I wrote the 6 poems he requested in about a week. I shipped them off, & Bill was really pleased, so he asked if I’d like to try to putting together a full suite of poems—& we were rolling. I’ve long believed that giving New Mexico the Japanese “breath poem” treatment was something that just made sense & so, after years of wondering how, the PERFECT opportunity really just arrived at the right time. I’d been reading lots of haiku, had been obsessed with Mike Kreisel’s sublime FEEDING MY HEART TO THE WIND from Sunnyoutside, & I’d BEEN experimenting—specifically using torn scraps of paper as my page size, telling myself I had to write a whole poem on 1 sheet…then, telling myself I had to get 2 poems on 1 sheet. Anyhow, I felt like I was finally at the point where, as a writer, I could try something larger working in really short form. So that was the origin. As for the title, I wrestled for days with it. I was careful not to call these haiku—as haiku is far more controlled, & the rules more regimented. A few, loose-knit forms began to appear as I wrote & instead of trying to wrench them all into a certain form or look on the page, I just let them each be what they were. They weren’t SONGS, they weren’t ODES, or BALLADS, there just wasn’t a word for what they were that I liked, & I tried a lot of different titles. I then started goofing with some more biblical terminology like “scripture” & “verses” & stumbled on to PSALMS & it finally felt right. I wrote 37 PSALMS, & they fit perfectly on the 6 pages I sent Bill Shute—it was a lucky coincidence that 37 is probably my favorite number. As for the BADLANDS, well, sometimes I call New Mexico the BADLANDS—so once I settled on Psalms, the rest just fell into place.
Obviously your life in New Mexico has influenced these poems. Where in New Mexico do you live and how many years have you been living there?
Actually I’m born & raised. I’ve lived my entire life here—except when I’ve been traveling. All told, I’ve spent about 1 year overseas—meaning the other 34 years I’ve happily lived in New Mexico. It will always be home. I’ve lived all over the state. In fact, the whole design of NEXT EXIT 8 is what I’d call a kind of autobiography by city…using invented narrators, & metaphorical situations that echo my life in each place. PSALMS is written specifically for New Mexicans, full of things they will easily recognize. I’m surprised it’s sold as well as it had beyond the American southwest—surprised & flattered.
What about the landscape of New Mexico inspires you? I lived in El Paso for five years and loved the mountains and deserts of New Mexico myself. Do you draw your creative energy from the scenery there?
I surely do. I just love it here. It’s a really beautiful place, though one that can be hard to recognize or know. As a landscape, as scenery—the clash of earth & sky is amazing. But more so than that, there’s a palpable kind of danger here, a kind of desperation. Many places don’t have cell phone reception; many roads are long & lonely. If you break down out here, depending on where you are, it could be a while before someone finds you. It’s also an interesting place culturally—a combination of centuries old Spanish & Mexican influences, the native Indian tribes, immigration up from South & Central America & through to the last vestiges of the American Old West. There are trees rumored to be older than Jesus, & churches older than America—all still standing. I think that is just mind-bending.
May I post poem #21 (my personal favorite) and how were you inspired to write this poem?
Thank you for the kind words. That one has won over a few folks, actually. Watching & helping my Mom & my aunts peel chile was the sole inspiration for it. It’s something distinctly New Mexico—the smell of the fire-roasted chile every year—it’s glorious. But the chile does get into your hands where it will subtly burn for days, in particular when the sun shines on your hands…sort like pepper mace burning days after the fact. The visions of my family, hunched over the sink, peeling & sacking chile…I don’t know…it’s just powerful for me. The kitchen is the heart of the house, family get-togethers year round—food, fun, drinks, playing cards or games…like many of the PSALMS, it’s just a kind of snapshot I needed to write down.
The women’s hands;
watching them peel chile,
the way it still burned days later
in the sunlight—
in your mind.
What is your favorite poem and may I post it?
That’s a tough question, to single them out, because, for me, it’s the accumulation of images, feelings, vivid sights, sounds, & smells—that’s where the greater picture starts coming into focus. But I suppose, if I had to pick (out of these first 37) I’d say either Cabezon or the descansos…those two stand both individually, as well as work effortlessly in the larger framework—not to mention capture what most of the entire collection is hoping at capture. Cabezon is an old volcano cone about 60 miles west of Albuquerque & a descanso is the Spanish word for the little crosses you see along side the road—to mark the place where a soul left the earth. I’ve long been enamored with both. I hope to use this collection as the cornerstone to a much larger piece—one I plan to work on for the entirety of 2008. There are a lot of PSALMS I’ve written since that also feel as complete as the two I mentioned.
& crows picking
beautiful, all that
a tangle of milkweed,
& fifty miles of empty blacktop—
behold, a sacred place.
What is your favorite sound?
Two jump immediately to mind: 1) wind through trees & leaves 2) the sound of a family get-together through an open window.
What is your least favorite sound?
Anything loud, mechanical, grinding, the hum of electricity in wires, cell phones.
What do you think of the Guerrilla Poetics Project?
I dig the GPP. I think it’s a really inventive way to extend the reach of the small press. Even your friendliest neighborhood bookstore simply can’t gamble on copies of every chapbook or small press rag out there—so, instead of trying to pick & choose, they just refuse to stock them. But a fine, letterpressed broadside, given freely to unsuspecting readers—that’s a fine way to grab their attention. $25 for 24 broadsides is a damn good deal, any way you slice it. Logistically, I also really dig the notion that, together, we can accomplish things that, alone, we could never do. I mean, for example: to have a fine little poem by Kathleen Paul-Flanagan found in Ask The Dust by John Fante in Göteborg Sweden…c’mon, how cool is that? I often marvel thinking about the different figurative & literal fingerprints on each broadside—poet to designer to printer to operative to unsuspecting findee, the miles some broadsides travel to end up in the people’s hands—it’s a really cool artistic lineage, the completing of a circle…a metaphor for human interconnectedness. & with every member now able to both submit poems & help decide which poems are printed, it’s about as democratic as a publishing project can be! But, even aside from all of that, the broadsides are just terrific little pieces of art. I like to imagine a long white hall lined with them, one after the other, in nice little matching frames!
What other hobbies/work do you do outside of poetry?
I paint—watercolors & oils, I’m trying to learn how to letterpress, I’m learning how to make paper. I’d love to learn how to sculpt, work with ceramics, photography, I’ve worked on occasional short films—heck, almost anything artistic interests me. But selling any of it does not—so there’s the rub. I would love to be able to design & build things—from an adobe house to a Japanese garden in my backyard. I love to eat, drink & be merry as well—though not always in that order.
Finally, what would you like to accomplish for your own poetry in the next two to five years?
5 years is such a short amount of time—so I’d have to say just keep evolving as a writer, being more deliberate & restrained with line & language. If I can, that will help me keep placing quality work with committed people. I’m excited about the small press again—& you have to ride that energy while you have it. Because there will be long, lonely stints when you’re not writing well, when you’re struggling to place work even when you feel you are writing well, or when life comes at you from all directions at once & the last thing in the world you want to do is sit down at the typer. I never want writing to feel like a job—I always want it to be something I do for the pure joy of it all, of figuring out how I feel & putting it down on the blank page. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to continue riding the uber-talented coattails of these masterful independent printers & publishers like BOTTLE OF SMOKE PRESS, CENTENNIAL PRESS, HEMISPHERICAL PRESS, KENDRA STEINER EDITIONS & SUNNYOUTSIDE. I am really honored to have placed work with most them—they are each fully committed to their writers, & they just do beautiful stuff.
Thank You Hosho!
You can learn more about Hosho McCreesh and find his poems on the GPP Poets Page on the Guerrilla Poetics site, please use the link on the sidebar.
Also, please note that you can purchase his book and many other fine poets’ work at Kendra Steiner Editions (KSE) headed by Bill Shute. You can purchase one book for $4 of 3 for $10.00. I chose to buy 3 chapbooks for $10.00 and enjoyed every one of my picks. Next week I’ll be featuring Chris Cunningham’s chapbook from KSE titled Next Exit: Five. I’ve included the link to KSE below so you can check out the site and I sincerely hope you purchase some chapbooks, you will not be disappointed! Each chapbook is hand-numbered, and if you ask real nicely, I’m sure the poets will be happy to sign them as well…
Check it out at:
Thanks for reading, please support the poets, small and independent presses, and please stop by tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…