Interview with a Poet
“Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.” ― Madeleine L'Engle, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother
A couple weeks ago I shared a poem about my father—The Carpenter, The Fireman—that my cousin wrote in memory of him. Stephen Page is an accomplished artist, using words like a talented painter her palette. His brushstrokes are simultaneously bold and careful.
His latest work, The Salty River Bleeds, is a sequel to A Ranch Bordering the Salty River, both richly telling of life on a fictional ranch in Argentina. Here, an excerpt from The Salty River Bleeds:
“Birds were chirping and singing
Like they too were reveling in the End.
The Cultivators were nowhere to be seen,
their noxious machinery fumes and pesticides
not clouding the air or poisoning the Earth.
The Gauchos were all in their homes
with their families, eating, or drinking mate.”
(from “The Salty River" in A Ranch Bordering the Salty River)
In “The Legend of Wood” from the same work, Page muses:
“We all have our stories to tell.
The weak and the strong, the rich
And the poor, the old and the young.
Which story do you have to tell, and
From which point-of-view do you wish to person?”
As I have been telling my stories--as well as others’--over this past year, Stephen has encouraged and inspired me. I have seen him only a handful of times over the past two decades but have enjoyed getting to know this somewhat mysterious cousin who now lives in South America.
How did a boy from Southeast Michigan discover this calling? I travelled to Buenos Aires last week to ask him. Just kidding. I wish. He has invited me to visit and share a mate, but alas, the budget has not yet allowed this extravagance. Instead, we used the electronic Pony Express to exchange question and answer.
Stephen, how did you discover that you are a poet?
During my first semester at university, while I was taking a course titled “Introduction to Literature,” I started writing my own poems and stories in the margins of the pages, and on the inside of the cover. I said to myself, “This is fun. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. This is who I am. This is who I always have been.”
What professions did you have before and/or concurrent to writing poetry? Have you always been a poet?
I was a steel cutter, a tool and die maker, a U.S. Marine, and a teacher of literature at a high school. I was a paper deliverer, a bus person at a restaurant, a grocery bagger, a pin setter at a bowling alley, a pallet builder, a truck driver, a grounds keeper/maintenance person at an apartment complex, a cashier in a convenience store on the midnight shift where I also stocked shelves, and a security guard.
Yes, I probably always was a poet/fiction writer, but I did not know that until I was a young man. Some of my earliest memories as a child were of reading—Dr. Seuss and such—alone in my room. Later on, as I grew, I began reading adventure tales and road-trip novels. Most writers, I think, start out as readers. I day-dreamed a lot as a kid and young man. I wrote graffiti on my bedroom wall, which did not make my parents very happy. I went for long walks alone in empty lots, open fields, and through woodlands. I lay in fields and gazed up at the sky. I rolled over and watched insects work for hours. I was composing in my head, I think.
In grade school and high school, a lot of English teachers told me they loved the way I told stories, but that I needed to work on my spelling—ha, ha. Most of my art teachers told me and my parents I had a talent for art.
As a corporal and a sergeant in the Marines I wrote marching chants and running songs, but I did not think of myself as a writer then, only that I was doing my job. But once, while I was stationed on a ship for the first time, and the ship was finally past the surf line and far out at sea, I left my bunk room and went up-top to the deck. The ship was rocking a bit, the waves were rolling and high as Kentucky foot-hills, the wind whipping, then it all settled down. The sea calmed, the ship was steadily cruising forward, and I felt a connection to something I never felt before, to something larger than myself, something I could not put into words. It was like an energy or force that spoke an all-language to me, a mental language that spoke of everything all at once. For some reason, I thought to myself, “this is why writers write.”
Your last two works focus on agriculture, have you been an eco-farmer? For how long? Still? Why no longer?
When I helped run a ranch/farm, I tried to keep our natural grasslands for the cows, horses, sheep, and chickens—that was all they ate on our ranch/farm, grass. We did not feed any supplemental food to our animals. On some of the flat grasslands we planted crops. I kept at least a third of the land as nature had intended—with rivers, streams, ponds, swamps, woodlands, and feral fields (that were all full of indigenous flora and fauna) to keep a triangular balance among the natural earth, the crops, and the stock. This was difficult to do, as we had been pressured by the powers that be to raze all the land and plant genetically modified plants that required a super pesticide/herbicide which poisoned the drinking water, had a long residual half-life, killed helpful insects such as bees, and caused birth defects, abortions, and cancer in livestock and human beings. We used less harmful products and natural fertilizers. We also carefully bred our stock to keep the lineage of animals which were genetically resistant to pests and illnesses—that way we used less vaccines and lice-killers. We did not inject hormones into our stock to fatten them up. We just let the roam and eat grass, and we had some of the meatiest and healthiest animals in the province.
I helped run the ranch for eight years. We sold it one day and moved on to other things.
My poems and stories in my ranch books are pure fiction. Nothing in any of my writings are based on real events, real places, or real people—if there is anything that seems similar to something real, well, that is coincidental.
How long have you been actually writing poetry?
Oh, I wrote my first poem to a girl I liked in the second grade. But, I was probably drafting poems in the collective consciousness before I was in the placenta, before I was conceived and then born, occupying this mortal human form where I am currently residing.
What is on your “bucket list”?
Hmm. To own a new Ducati Scrambler, a ’65 Triumph Bonneville, and a Rickenbacker Bass (I owned a Harley once, and I have a Precision Bass—which I both loved and love). To travel to lands I have not, to drive down roads I have not.
Do you have a “mantra”? What advice would you give anyone who asked for your one best piece of advice?
One? Hmm. Well, I have many. But they might all mean the same thing. Be kind. Be happy. Share. Be where you are and content with what you have, or move on. Find your place. Sometimes where you are is the right place, you just have to weigh the pros and cons. Travel a lot. Love others, always. Understand
"Be kind. Be happy. Share. Be where you are and content with what you have, or move on."
that not everyone will understand you, or you them. But, try to understand and be tolerant to all—rather than be angry or hateful. Respect the opinions of others. Know your friend’s and partner’s boundaries. Treat everyone and everything as you would want to be treated. Be one with all.
Learn more about Stephen Page--his distinguished background and various works--HERE.
Sign of the Times:
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