Luke Maguire Armstrong resides in Antigua, Guatemala where he is the director of the educational development organization Nuestros Ahijados. He has published a collection of poems through Potent Possibilities Publishing titled iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About which is also the title to one of the poems in the collection. The introduction alone is worth picking up a copy for yourself as I laughed so hard my husband begged me to read it aloud. The cover is tongue-in-cheek as well, and once you read the intro you then focus on the poems which range from funny to serious to worldly. I was intrigued by the entire package and just had to dig into the mind of Mr. Armstrong, who willingly obliged:
1. Your cover features dolphins against the waves, the title is large and easy to read, and then there’s this white circle towards the bottom and in the circle it says “if this book were to win an award, we’d put it here.” Seeing the circle and its text made me laugh aloud before I even bothered to open to the first page. Why did you decided to throw that on the cover?
Because I thought it was funny. It was just a matter of, once I had the idea to put something like that on the cover, there was no way I was not going to do it. It stays with the theme of the book of making poetry fun without compromising the artistic integrity.
2. As if the cover wasn’t enough, you have a table of contents that has absolutely nothing to do with the titles of your poems but are quite funny to read such as: “Hiring Your Girlfriend: Mistake or Best Decision You Ever Made?” and “Bathing Kitties: A Reluctant Memoir,” and “Bathing Old People For Money: A Reluctant Memoir.” When I eagerly flipped through the pages to those poems they were nowhere to be found but the poems were wonderful enough to make up for it. Then you find a creatively done map that serves as a more accurate table of contents but doesn’t exactly give away the exact titles. What prompted you to do an incongruous table of contents and then a map of an almost-table-of-contents for your readers?
When I was putting this book together, funny titles for poems that did not exist would just sorta pop into my head, and I’d write them on napkins or whatever I had to write on. I knew I had to include them somehow in the book, and creating a fake table of contents seemed like a winning idea.
At some point in our lives, we all ask ourselves the deep question, “Are treasure maps the coolest thing ever?” I think there is something universally awesome about treasure maps. I know I spent a large part of my youth making “pirate treasure maps”. In writing a poetry book, a pirate treasure map seemed a good direction to take. Credit goes to my friend Andrea C. Johnson, who took the idea and used her talents as an artist to create the map.
3. Mr. Armstrong, your Foreword is so funny that I would love to reproduce it in its entirety but I don’t have the energy to retype that much text and the readers of this interview really ought to get a copy for themselves, anyway, to thoroughly enjoy it. I would like to quote a couple of excerpts and ask you to expound on how you came to write this Foreword:
“If you have ever listened to poets talking about poetry (when we consume alcohol we tend to rant), you’ll discover that we feel a little left out. We see the Jonas Brothers rocking out and filling up stadiums of screaming teenage girls, while us poets sit on coffee shop stools and look out at an embarrassing acreage of five pale faces who have come to our poetry reading (usually all five in attendance are our mom.)”
Mr. Armstrong, this had me rolling on the floor as you really seem to understand poets’ plights, please expound on why you would share this sentiment with readers of your collection?
You never hear someone say, “You’re only a poet for the fame and fortune and free Ferris wheel rides!” Poetry is an interesting endeavor. Tons of work goes into it, but there are very few financial or other rewards to it. And this is okay. It just means that people write poetry for the right reasons. In my experience, there is no such thing as being a sell out and a poet.
Here’s another excerpt that really hits the nail on the head for me at least, please tell me more about why you thought to share this sentiment with your readers:
“We are all English majors who aspired to be Shakespeares, and when that failed, we aspired to be Hemmingways, and when that failed, most of us decided between having drug problems or becoming English teachers. That’s why your high school English teacher was so cranky. She not only was not Shakespeare, she chose teaching you not to end your sentences with a preposition instead of hitting a bong with your tied-dyed friends with names like Star, Cheebuz and Bob Marley.”
Please expound on why you would share this sentiment with potential readers?
I have to say, I had great English teachers in high school who went into teaching for all the right reasons. To my knowledge, none of them are drug addicts…
I have lots of friends from college who sort of gave up on their dream of writing when they had some setbacks early on and had to take jobs as teachers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. People need to make their ends meet, and teaching is one of the most beautiful ways to do that. But this is no reason to stop writing creatively. At the heart of it all, writing in-and-of-itself is a worthwhile enough enterprise to do for its own sake.
4. After the Foreword you present your Marketing Plan and how you hope word of mouth is important and that profits from this book will go to charity and say “Who says that poetry can’t save the world?” Please let us know which charity the profits are being sent to and what does the charity mean to you?
There’s no marketing budget for this book, or even much of a marketing plan for that matter. Publishing the book was never my intention when I was writing these poems. Writing poetry is just something I do for myself. But after accumulating a lot of material, it felt right to be putting some of them into a book. The whole thing is a result of a big mindset shift. I never used to share my poetry much with others. Then a writer friend, Alex Ferrar, invited me to read at a reading he was organizing. The feedback was positive enough that I started sharing it with friends and submitting it more for publication—all of which eventually led to the book.
It also feels right that if sales of this book somehow take off, which could only happen through word of mouth, that I put some of that where it can do some good. So a portion of any profits will go to the charity I work for (www.godschild.org). This is a wonderful organization that is changing thousands of lives worldwide. I’m lucky, in that when I go to work, I get to see those lives changed and even help make it happen.
5. Now that we’ve gotten this far with you, we can now focus on your poetry which is a wide range of subjects with an even larger variety of emotional responses which could be provoked depending on how your readers view the particular poem at hand. I would say your poems range from trying to awaken the world to the plights of the less fortunate to ones that make readers laugh at your childhood antics and perhaps drunken college days. How did you decide to select such a broad range and put them together into one collection?
I’m laughing at you describing them as “drunken college days.” As I said in the earlier response, I never set out to write a book of poetry. I’ve been writing poetry since I was a kid, and before that I was expressing myself through journaling. What made it to the book are poems mostly written over the last three years. I put in what I considered to be my best work. I also left some out that I felt were negative and without the silver lining of hope to them. We all have good days and bad days, and as writers both are reflected in the writing we produce during those times. I’m a believer that there really is no reason to share with the world work that has an intrinsically negative nature. We all have lots of faces, but should strive to show the smiling ones to the world.
6. I would like to share a few of your poems with readers and ask you about them. Since I’m running with the theme of “funny” I’ll start with your own rendition of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” which you’ve turned into as “The Drink Not Taken.” How did this poem come about and how did you decide to model it after Robert Frost’s poem?
This poem was written when I was in college, for a literary journal that was looking for “bad poetry”. They rejected this poem telling me that it was “too good” for what they wanted. That was some irony, since most of my poetry at the time was not being accepted into literary journals because it was “not good enough.”
The Drink Not Taken
Two drinks settled on a yellow table,
And sorry I was able to drink only one
And be but one drinker long I gazed
And looked intently at both the labels,
For a closer inspection, both to the light I raised.
The first was light and smelled of juice
And having within it nothing to impair,
While the other was of a higher proof.
Though deep down I knew I should care,
Recklessly, I took the second and drank it bare.
And that next morning in bed I lay
With pounding head and eyes shut tight,
I realized shortly I’d slept through the day.
I should have realized that through the night,
Drink leads to drink and then to drunken plight.
I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two drinks settled on a table and I,
Drank the one with alcohol content high
And that has made all the difference.
7. This next poem is called “Lunch Box Filled With Cat,” in which two young boys smuggle a cat into their room and it is discovered by the parents who return it to the rightful owners next door. I love that the main boy desperately wants a pet and fulfills his desire by simply picking up the cat and smuggling it into his room. Is this something that really happened or did you come up with this poem another way? What inspired you to write a poem about childhood adventures like this one?
This particular poem is inspired by reality. When I was eight, I really did kidnap a neighbor’s cat. I got in a lot of trouble for that. As the poem truthfully recalls, I was no longer allowed to have my own room when my parents found out. If only that cat had been a little quieter…
A Lunchbox Filled With Cat
Having only eight years frees you
Like birds soaring because they can.
Your own room is limitless space that lets you paint
The world even a peacock color—it turns
All things into possibilities—even pet cats.
A neighbor’s cat—lounging lazily on her porch—
A reminder of things you do not possess—
Things you do not possess—
A reminder of still possible things—
Still possible thing—
The need for a plan.
1) Coax the cat with cheese.
2) Stuff cat in large, red lunch box.
Your room’s closet.
Your own room’s closet.
Your own room’s closet—
Soon to be cat cage.
And so with a faithful younger brother in tow
The world is suddenly remade—even a pet cat is now possible—
Is smuggled into your closet via a lunch box.
Our precious pet—which we fed with fish sticks—
That we gave a pillow for a litter box
And a sleeping bag for a bed—
That clever cat
Who used the pillow for a bed and
The sleeping bag as a litter box.
And for three days the cat and world were ours.
And were it not for too loud a meow, our father would
Not have been brought to anger—I would not have been
Brought to apologize to worried neighbors—I would not
have been punished—
forced to again share a room with my younger sibling—
I would not have been brought back to the stinking
Society of a younger brother still in diapers.
And this world has not changed.
Today there are no less kidnap-able cats,
No less lunch boxes.
The world has not changed—but something has.
Today I have my own room, but not my own world.
And every day I pass by cat-filled porches and
Wonder where the desire to coax them with cheese has gone.
The world has not changed, it has just been found finite.
8. This is a poem you mention in your introduction as one your mother would not be happy with but it is a poem which most people can relate to, especially the college crowd. Why did you decide to write this poem and if your mother did read it, what did she have to say about it?
My very religious mother, who is also a writer and proofread the manuscript of the book for me, certainly would have liked that I leave that poem out, but I think she understood why I kept it in. I kept the poem because it is not a poem about one-night-stands. It is not exploring a racy issue just for shock value. For me, it’s about the underlying human essence that causes people to want to have a one-night-stand. The poem is a realization of that.
I added the last two lines, “And this is hopeful. / And hope is love.” months after I had written the poem. I don’t think I would have included the poem in the book were it not for the addition of these two lines. They somehow changed the poem; it made the subject of one-night-stands somehow seem acceptable—when framed in the right context. Poetry is so much about how we frame things. By reading someone’s poetry, you have clues to how they see the world. Sometimes I’ll look at a poem I’ve written and wonder, “Is this poem true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?” When I say truth, I’m not thinking did it happen, but of Truth with a capital T. Meaning, does the poem invoke some essence of humanity? When I say kind, I mean, is the poem a positive take on reality? This is so important. Just by being part of the world, we are all charged with the responsibility of shaping it.
Whether we like it or not, we are all changing the world. The only question is to what degree and was it for the better or worse. Writers of poetry are not excluded from this. You can explore sad and taboo issues. This has always been the playing field of poets, but I think it is intellectual laziness to just stop there without offering readers road out of any darkness a poem or story leads them to.
To The Fathers Of The Daughters Who End Up In My Bedroom
Man to man, you know how it is,
Let us discuss some few things:
Everything will be dark, so we
Need not concern ourselves
About whether there is, or there
Is not, a decaying apple core in the corner.
Words are merely words and lies
Also words. Things happen
And there is sometimes a pot
Of gold at the bottom bottled beer.
I won’t call the false number
She gave me, so don’t stress it,
We will not meet over an
Awkward table, so never
Concern yourself about
Who will foot the bill.
If she needs a taxi tomorrow, I
Will offer to pay and she will
Refuse, choosing instead to use
Her daddy’s money.
You have raised her well, though
I admit my standards have
Slipped lately. Were you in my shoes,
You sir, would not have shoes on at all.
And after it all, in the dark light
Of the familiar edge of my bed,
As we both rummage through our
Value systems, searching for
Fleeting silver linings, we will
Sit listening, to the intimate voice
Of mutually vanishing
And one day, to my despair,
The tentative daughter,
That I hope your daughter is not
Carrying, will likely do the
Same human thing.
And this is hopeful.
And hope is love.
9. I would like to take a turn here to note you do have more serious poems, one in which I am curious as to whether it really is about you or from the perspective of someone close to you. The poem title is “The Certainty: Either We Must Become Orphans Or Parents Who Lose Who They Most Love.” The poem speaks of brother and sister driving with the knowledge that their parents have passed away. Please let us know how this poem came about and why you wanted to share the quiet, contemplative drive with your readers?
I know it is going to be a good poem when it just writes itself. This poem did that. I’m blessed in that both my parents are still alive. Art has such a strange dimension to it. When I read this poem, I can feel that it is vividly true. Even though I have not personally lost my parents, I can picture the car and the two siblings and I can hear the sound of the tires on the road and feel the frost on the window. I can even taste the coffee. This is what makes art so strangely wonderful, that it can be True, without really being true.
The sentiment I was really trying to express was about eventually finding love. I realized, somewhat sadly, that falling in love in the future means only knowing that person from the present onwards. I’ve calmed down a lot over the last few years. And that’s a good thing. But it is somewhat bittersweet knowing that whomever I meet from this day onwards will only see the destination and not the journey. This is why there is nothing as wonderful as an old friend, someone who knows both the journey and destination. So this was the point of the poem, and somehow it came out framed as a brother and sister driving down a dark highway, alone after their parent’s funeral.
The Certainty: Either We Must Become Orphans Or Parents Lose Who They Most Love
My sister sits silently steering as we
Speed back to returning to normal lives—
Lives built years ago by him and her
Now both not resting, not sleeping, not rising—
Cars hum by. I’m trivially troubled by the
Modifier in “good as gone.” Cars hum by.
Slowly I feel and taste a connection between
The humming highway and the warmth of my Starbucks.
Time’s frozen. Neither words nor glances pass between us.
We understand. Cars hum by.
Highway. Icy. Progress.
Lately I’ve become too old to still be young.
When my parents were my age they were married
With two kids and a promise that lasted till the end.
Cars, still, hum by.
Back then love was something that happened early.
And I’m not too worried it won’t, but it will be long
After I’m worth knowing.
We won’t experience the youthful best of each other,
But taking turns listening, we will settle for being
Ambassadors to our own pasts:
Rugged youthful stories: Black out binging, altered
Everything, new consciousness, have-beard-will-hitch-
hike, first and last times, recklessness that led to wrecks, the
future, as we uninhibitedly dreamt it should be.
The past won’t repeat itself in the future. We’ll repeat it.
Good as gone. As gone as cars humming by.
As the light fades, my sister turns on the headlights that
Illuminate the next few moments of highway.
Every minute twin lights moving faster than our ability
To survive an impact speed inches by the left.
It’s intimate inside the heated car. But to everyone outside
We are just a pair of anonymous lights speeding through the
Strange darkness, wondering when we’ll cross paths with
someone, hoping to one day leave loves orphaned to the
Mr. Armstrong, thank you for sharing your work with me and allowing me to interview you. You have many more wonderful poems and I hope readers of this interview will seek out a copy for themselves. Please keep in touch and I wish you continued success in your writing.
If you enjoyed this interview and the poems shared you may purchase a copy for yourself for $9.95 at Amazon.com (shipping and handling not included) by following the link below:
Thanks for reading, please drop by tomorrow for more Poetry Tips…