Interview With Poet Edward Nudelman

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Edward Nudelman's first book of poetry, Night Fires, was a semifinalist for the Journal Award (The Wheeler Prize) given by OSU Press in 2009. Night Fires was published by Pudding House Publications the same year. Also in 2009, he received a Pushcart nomination.

In addition to his work as a poet, Nudelman is a noted cancer research biologist with over 60 published papers in top-tier journals. He has published two widely read books on an American illustrator, Jessie Willcox Smith (Pelican Publishing).

I first "met" Edward Nudelman online years ago when I first joined Facebook. He was a member of the same poetry critique group, and he was one of the voices I always looked forward to reading. Earlier this year, Lummox Press released his collection What Looks Like an Elephant.

Here is one of my favorite poems from the collection:

Closet Poet, by Edward Nudelman

Through a crack in my barricaded door, I can see
researchers lifting hands, exultant. They swarm around
a blinking machine, twiddling an instrument whose sole
purpose is to spew numbers in linear lines by the reams.
I should rejoice with them. How many, how long,
how perfect these number series appear. Dazzling
combinations and iterations for hypothetical models.
Soon they'll try to persuade me; soon I'll be told
nothing is something. I'll be offered correlations
and compelling data and probably a few lyrics
from some deadhead song. I know they mean
well, swimming laps in the same choppy sea
of discovery I'm supposed to lead them through--
but right now another research project supersedes.
I'm filtering white noise, holing up and hunkering
down in my bunker, closing the door, and locking it.

*****

What are you currently up to?

I am keeping busy juggling my life as a scientist and co-founder in a startup biotech company, working on a manuscript for my third book, flying with my wife from Boston to Seattle, Pismo Beach and Copenhagen (no there's not a joke coming) to visit our three grown children, each of which has added one grandchild to a growing quiver full of arrows for which we are quite proud. There's never a dull moment around here, especially when you factor in our side-business buying and selling rare books which has been going on since 1980. Sounds tiring, but it's really quite invigorating.

What Looks Like an Elephant was published by Lummox Press. How did you go about getting this collection published?

Well, first, the poems represent about a year and half's work of writing and were culled from about 100 poems with a view toward assembling a book with a strong theme. About 10% of the poems were published in journals this past year or so. Once I had what I believed to be a finished manuscript, I began the process of looking at publishers that might fit my style. I assembled a group of about 15 publishers and really just sent the manuscript off with a killer cover letter and relaxed for the next couple months.

I was surprised when RD Armstrong of Lummox Press contacted me almost immediately with excitement wanting to publish the book. Originally, I had no intention of going with the first response, but that passed very quickly after discussing with Armstrong at great length the project at hand.

The original manuscript contained some 60-odd poems (pun intended), and he wanted to expand the manuscript significantly with new poems. So we extended the schedule, and I sat down for a month and wrote another 20 poems, many of which, I think, are among the best in the collection. Is there a moral here?

The book includes a lot of first person narrative poems. How much do you alter facts (if at all) in your first person narrative poems?

Some poems are remarkably factual. Most of the first person narrative poems, actually. A few have incidents nearly as they happened, but they've been woven into new contexts. And there are a couple poems with one or two events that really happened, but everything's a bit morphed and shadowy. For the most part, I try to stay true to the honesty of the poem; this is important for me as a poet trying to convey a certain depth of feeling that is easily identifiable and accessible.

In addition to being a poet, you are a scientist. How do you juggle these two hats?

It's not really a juggling act; more like therapy. The one pursuit seems to assuage and complement the other. It's been much easier to write poetry recently, as my scientific career is perhaps waning down a bit, by purpose. I've logged in a lot of miles in the laboratory and have been able to pursue a career in science, which I've loved and, thankfully, been able to contribute substantially. Now that the kids are out of the home, I have more time to write and the baton is certainly shifting from the left hemisphere of the brain to the right.

You also have a site for Nudelman Rare Books. Could you explain that site/project?

My wife and I have owned and operated a rare book company since 1980. It's been a great side-business, mostly Internet driven, although we have done a fair amount of traveling to international book fairs and to major U.S. cities on buying trips. It led me into another area of interest for which I was passionate about in the early 1990s: bibliography. Sounds dry, but it isn't. I was able to publish two fairly definitive works on an American illustrator (Jessie Wilcox Smith)--one of which is considered the definitive bibliography for this artist.

Your poems have been published in several journals. Do you have a submission process?

I definitely have a process and adhere to it fairly rigorously. First, I submit about twice yearly. I put poems I've written over the past six months or so into three groups: ones to submit to top-tier journals, ones for medium-range journals and ones for lesser journals, but journals I still like and respect. I try to submit groups of poems matched in blocks to these journals; and I only submit to journals that allow simultaneous submissions (this is becoming nearly the norm nowadays). If and when I get an acceptance, I try to notify the other journals as quick as possible. Sometimes I fail, and that is embarrassing.

Who (or what) are you currently reading?

I'm currently reading Ruth Stone, Denise Levertov, Wallace Stevens, Mark Strand, Elizabeth Bishop, a little Pinsky here, a little Hicok there; always Simic and Collins.

If you could pass on only one piece of advice, what would it be?

Well, this is of course a loaded question. I've never been very good about passing on one piece of anything; but since it's your last question, I'll yield and simply say, for effect: don't follow your dreams.

Don't follow your dreams if you want to write really great poems. Don't follow your dreams if you want folks to remember your poems. Don't follow your dreams if you care one jot or tittle about this wonderful and wondrous craft of poetry, what it does to people, how it changes lives. Don't follow your dreams... follow your feet. Follow your eyes. Follow your ears. Follow your heart and your mind. Follow just about every faculty you have. Ardently.

And then, write about it.

*****

To learn more about Edward's publisher, Lummox Press, go to www.lummoxpress.com.

Learn more about Edward himself at http://edwardnudelman.blogspot.com.

*****

Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer

or hunt me down on Facebook, LinkedIn, and/or Google+.

*****

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