Civil Defense Publications welcomes poet Ed Coletti to our growing roster. His new book, Germs, Viruses and Catechisms is available now from Amazon , and from independent bookstores and AK Press February 1.
Please join us Sunday February 9th, 2014 5pm for a book release party at the Green Arcade Bookstore, 1680 Market Street @Gough San Francisco CA. Ed will be joined by poets Ananda Esteva, Jonah Raskin, Leticia Del Toro, and David Madgalene.
What inspired you to start writing poetry? What inspires you do keep doing it?
It was a number of early events. I participated in a great college seminar in Modern Poetry taught by a wonderful professor, Philip Herzbrun at Georgetown University. Then, as an English major there, I became enthralled by John Donne and his brilliant use of metaphor. I tried to emulate him and, of course failed.
After a stint in the Army and in Vietnam, I returned and quickly left to travel the world with my artist buddy Arby Kenny. I recall a pub in England where I began giving names to the bottles of scotch whisky, Grant, Bell, etc. and wrote a mock epic about them. Then, in Paris, for several days, I took notes on the Metro and wrote a long poem “Paris Metro” on the stops and the characters I observed.
Later still, I entered the Creative Writing Masters program at San Francisco State and wrote some bad poetry but did begin to absorb the sense of my then mentors there, Robert Creeley, Stan Rice, Nanos Valoritis, and Leonard Wolf.
As to why I keep writing poetry: Writing helps me to live with paradox and the unsolvable. I literally have grown to need to write poetry. I love to write and rewrite every day. Generally, I do this with a drink and classical music or jazz. I call this my “bourbonation time.”
How is Germs different than your other volumes? Do you think that your readers will be surprised by some of the ground you cover there?
The title itself comes from one of the poems, “Germs and Viruses” and inspiration from the poem “Catechism” that appeared in my collection When Hearts Outlive Minds.
The present volume yokes politics, war, history, and religion as themes. I doubt that readers who know me well will be “surprised.” Also those who have visited my two blogs, “Ed Coletti’s P3” and “No Money In Poetry” will know that I can be “political” almost as frequently as I can be lyrical. I like to think that I can be both at once.
What are the best ways for poets who want to address political issues to avoid sounding didactic?
Good question. Too often, and sometimes for good reason, political poetry is considered to be “ranting.” At slams, many folks get up and dramatically shout their political beliefs but with little if any art to their work. Good political poetry should possess the same characteristics as any good poetry: form, meter, some sense of “music” (with a small “m”) and, above all, originality and surprise.
Your work in Germs is some of your most skeptical of power and government. What led you to this point?
Hell, back in college, I had a devil of a time choosing a major at the end of sophomore year. My choice was between Political Science and Literature. I loved both. I chose to major in English (Literature). But the other also was always with me. When asked what sort of a poet I am or what my style and subject matter are, I never pigeonhole myself. With each new poem, I hope to be different or new.
Philosophically and politically, I long attempted to reach some form of harmony or consensus. In school, I was a debater who could take either side of an issue and argue it honestly. I also enjoyed listening to people with points of view different from my own.
However, during the execrable Bush/Cheney Administration, I found myself taking a leap toward one-sidedness. I tend to be a somewhat excitable person. I simply could not stand the shift in policy toward fascism. When the neo-cons sent the nation careening in the worst possible direction with their masterpiece of evil, the war in Iraq, the pendulum never has swung back. Even the subsequent administration (as well-meaning as it appeared to be) became infected. That war and the reaction which followed in the Muslim world also amplified the roles of fundamentalist religion in promoting hate. I very much believe that the problem is best described as “fundamentalism” (hence “Catechism” in my title) rather than “religion” or “spirituality.” Here I point equally to fundamentalism whether it occurs in elements within Israel or among fundamentalist Christians in the United States giving rise to its political shapes including the Tea Party, NRA, and general cultural atrophy.
When I refer to my book as “historicowarpoligious,” I also recognize that “nothing is new under the sun” and that certain social evils, inequality, and injustice, go way back long before Bush, etc. Witness America’s treatment of its indigenous population, slavery, all wars, large scale crime, and greed. The last of these may be the most virulent evil today wherein insatiably profit-hungry corporations have been determined cynically by the Supreme Court to be “People,” while the actual living People are being treated as either invisible or even as the enemy by government.
On of your poems, Columbus, the Mafia and Denial as a poem from an Italian-American as it casts a critical eye on your heritage. Does your IA ancestry influence your outlook? Why or Why Not?
Nothing in my own formulation has made me happier or prouder than being an Italian-American. My mother was born in Tuscany and my father in Brooklyn of Neapolitan parents. I was taught to value all things Italian. I have visited Italy many times. But I also was taught both in school and at home that Columbus was a great man. It was not until my mature years, reading in A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and writings fostered by The Italian-American Political Solidarity Club that I fully realized the terrible impact of Columbus upon Native Americans characterized by me in “Columbus, the Mafia and Denial.”
If you could go back in time and have dinner with any seven dead poets, who would they be?
Robert Creeley because we could now share from the perspective of years. I’m older now than he was then when he was my teacher
Geoffrey Chaucer because he would be a lot of fun
John Donne who I once thought I could be before I awoke to reality
W.B. Yeats who was so great a poet that I almost gave up writing poetry
Emily Dickinson who might explain a few things
Walt Whitman who opened the modern door
Ezra Pound who I’d ask to represent me and get me a bit more out there