Editor’s note: Jack Collom responded in writing to written questions. This abbreviated the interview somewhat and I’ve added two passages from other interviews (in Second Nature) that follow this interview with Jack.
Bob King: Jack, your book, Second Nature, contains an amazing variety of “forms”–from sonnets to lunes to acrostics to free verse as well as prose essays and portions of interviews, all in the service of your ideas on nature, the poetry of ecology and, for that matter, the ecology of poetry. Let’s start with the forms. You say, in “An Ecosystem of Writing Ideas,” “Some might argue that we should master one or two forms (styles, genres), but I believe that generally in creative writing…the more variety you undertake, the more mastery you achieve.” What drew you to this “variety” in writing?
Partly, living into my ‘80s drew me to variety. One loses normal context—and thus gets to replace it with new stuff.
Jack Collom: Partly, living into my ‘80s drew me to variety. One loses normal context—and thus gets to replace it with new stuff. But also, 10001 cultural developments have led me down the “multiple-truths” path(s). Who deconstructs the deconstructor? Uncertainty Theory makes us all rich.
BK: And it’s not just a matter of different forms—you use different diction and tones as well. Just to give readers a sample, here’s a spring lune (or “American haiku” as it’s sometimes called): “Hey whatta surprise! / Dead-looking sticks burst out with / glorious green stuff!” And then this from a passage in “Spring’s First Day Ode: “A cardinal, / crested and lipstick / red, whipcracks dusty tail / through myriad uccello midget emerald bulbs and / flames out in rigid labyrinths.” And you can also execute a strict iambic pentameter sonnet, one ending with “There is no factual gap / Between complexities. The sonnet’s long, / But physics flashes in the finch’s song.” How do you deal with, or find, or master, these different levels of diction and approach?
JC: As an old nature-boy, variety is just plain real.
BK: You’re also famous as a teacher of children writing poetry along with others, like Koch, connected to the Teachers & Writer’s Collaborative in New York. In one essay you list a number of ‘forms’ or ‘starts’ that children and students can use, including bumper-stickers, captured talk, concrete poetry, I Remembers, lists, questions-without-answers, talking-with-animals, and the like. Did some of your ideas about poetry come from working with children and students? How did those experiences with children affect you as a poet?
JC: Yes, my writing has been enriched by working with kids. A combination of the basic energy of the syllable and not paying too much limited attention to unified thought systems & their referential aca-wacka.
Read the full interview here!