Interview U

1) Where did you grow up? Was poetry and writing part of that mix?

I was born in Portsmouth, VA at a Naval hospital. My parents moved to Chicago when I was still a wee babe. I was raised partly on the south side of Chicago in a purely Lithuanian neighborhood, then spent the majority of my childhood in a southwest suburb. I read voraciously as a child—a lot of sci-fi/fantasy and astronomy books. I read the dictionary and the encyclopedia quite a bit. I recall reading parts of a Richard Feynman book that my father had been reading. I also had Tolkien books, C.S. Lewis books, and a book called “CLAUDIA” about a girl who doesn’t fit in. Of course Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary were part of the pre-adolescent catalogue. I wrote a story called “THE CLOROX” based on Seuss’s Lorax for my gifted program and space story called “ZEBRON: MY HOME PLANET”. I had just discovered the colon. It was truly a fine piece of futuristic fiction complete with great transitions such as:

“ONLY 5,890,765,098 years to wait!”

“5,890,765,098 years later…”

My first brush with poetry was in about 5th grade. Our gifted program class put together a literary magazine and I was introduced to concrete poems and acrostics. Of course, in various forms of literature we would have to read for class, poetic language would arise. I was Cassius in our 6th grade production of “Julius Caesar”. Before that I recall singing Lithuanian songs in Lithuanian school and paying close attention to metaphor and poetic language. My grandmother told me many stories about Lithuanian folklore/myths and about our family’s journey to America. She read to me always and I to her. Lithuanian was really my first language early on. I learned lyrical quality and pliability of language. I was, essentially, flexing between my languages and that was a poetic exercise.

The first poem I wrote was at age 11 about a homeless girl living in a cardboard box and the title was CARING? It was published in The Poet out of Indiana, I think. I was exposed early on to opera and ballet and the symphony. Classical music was a very important part of my visceral development as a writer, I believe. I was exposed to it quite regularly. And folk music.

Poetry though. I was involved in theatre but I was not exposed to much writing in elementary school and jr. high. I think we read “Call Of the Wild”. I had to relieve my literary fever independently. The curriculum through my gifted program focused on deductive reasoning, critical thinking, and architecture/history/economics. I remember I had to dissect an owl pellet.

Poetry though. I think in the angsty beginning years of high school it was journal, journal journal. Through classic rock music and blues and soul I became aware of rhyme, meter, movements. I think I started writing a screenplay at 15 about a psychiatric ward.

True poetry in high school reading Plath and Sexton for the first time.

Soon, Russian novel writers Solzhenitsyn, Dostoyevsky. Then Voltaire. Beowulf. More plays. Guare. O’Neill.

I really came into my own by 19, having met other writers my age in English programs. Whitman, Poe, Emerson, Neruda, Shakespeare, 17th century metaphysicals like Donne. Milton.

The first poets who really influenced me were Neruda and Lorca. I was later introduced to Mina Loy, Wallace Stevens, and The Surrealists.

2) Who are your poetic influences, favorite poets, writers, artwork, other things that inform your work?

Lorca, Wallace Stevens, Sexton, Mina Loy, Maya Deren, Alejandro Jodorwsky, Fellini, Frida Kahlo, Maxine Chernoff, some Lithuanian poets (Platelis is the most metaphysical of the traitional poets), Patti Smith, Fluxus, Laurie Anderson, Zappa, Piero Heliczer, David Lynch, Captain Beefheart. I draw from science and astronomy as well. There are many writers I enjoy reading to be certain. Last great book was Rinaldo Arenas’ The Assault. It was so raw.


3) When did you ‘become’ a poet when did poet become part of your everyday life?

I had a journal from 15 until about 25. Sporadic, of course. I took many poetry/fiction writing workshops. I think the key was to write poetry every day however I only did it when it struck me. I was with a comic book artist for about 3 years and that revitalized my need to write and shaped my craft tenfold. When I met Larry Sawyer, he awoke me to the innate aspect of poetry in life (it choosing you). He conceived of milk in 1998 and in 1999 I put it online.

4) Where were you educated? Was this important?

I started in Illinois, went to Iowa, went to Ohio, came back to Illinois. Northern Illinois, Loras College, DePaul University, Wright State. Got a Master’s. I liked being exposed to the social dynamic of workshops, but not always helpful in my opinion. I’d be writing this way without specific study. I believe I would have followed the social circles surrounding the type of artistry I wanted to achieve–in whatever medium. At 13 I traveled to Italy alone and for my Master’s thesis, I examined the atavistic nature of my writing, which included a 2-3 month journey back the homeland, Lithuania. The places I’ve been have educated me–NY, San Francisco.

5) You are a Lithuanian-American. How does this affect your writing?

I took a sociolingustics class in which we studied Russian theorists Bhaktin and Vygotsky. Bahktin discussed the notion of heteroglossia, or the coexisting hierarchy of language within your mind. I took 6 years of Spanish as well, so I had a primary language which is Indo-European in its roots (Lithuanian—the closest living language to Sanskrit), a Germanic-based, Anglo language and Latin all competing for a chance to do the “sentence sashay”. Needless to say, I confused words a lot (to this day I still do hear the Lithuanian word first in my head for many things) but I think being tri-lingual flexed that muscle I mentioned earlier. I could better achieve imagery and metaphor because of a wider selection of sound.

5)What is your favorite food?

Soup.

6)Vacation Spot?

Italy, Lithuania (in summer months). Mexico.

7)Curse Word?

GOD-dammit.

Craft Questions

1) How do you form a poem?

I listen to the sounds and voice in my head guiding words to juxtapose. Then I examine external references/sources to bolster the central emotion behind it. I then rearrange the language until it speaks to me in a fashion I fancy.

2) Do you use collage, parataxis cut ups or other tools?

The dictionary, encyclopedia and external stimuli.

3) Is poetry an organic or synthetic process for you?

Organic completely. It is “of the moment”.

4) Where do you write? Is Ambiance important? Do you have rituals or habits when you write?

On my computer, mostly to the blog. I am most alert in the morning—my mind is ripe.

5) In the balance between found language and created language where does your work fall? Do you use many sources?

I’d say it is a fair balance of both. My source is mainly the randomness of my thought process and catching words with a “chaos sieve”.

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