Interview With Poet Walt Wojtanik

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As many of you may know, I love to interview past winners of the challenges here on Poetic Asides. Walt Wojtanik is no exception. The 2010 Poetic Asides Poet Laureate, Walt is a fine (and prolific) poet who is very encouraging to other poets on this blog and in other venues. He's a true class act.

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Walt has written more poems on this blog than I can even begin to guesstimate. The number is easily in the hundreds, and I wouldn't even be surprised to learn he's shared more than 1,000 poems on here. That said, it's hard to pick a favorite, but here is one I highlighted from last April.

And Suddenly the Room Fell Silent, by Walt Wojtanik

Labored and shallow,
a respirator kept the last vestige
of breath on a
regimented pace.

Inhalation and exhalation mechanized;
kept the plane
of life still in view
for eyes closed and mortified.

All sense of
pulse was just
a faint memory, and suddenly
the sound of a father's voice
was hard to recall.

The strength of it nestled in a heart
so deeply
that it defied fibrillations.
The ashen hue of his drawn
cheekbones

made the vision of him indistinguishable.
Erratic and
broken now, each gasp begged
to be his last. A faint squeeze

of a
clutching hand flashed the image
of your "hero" walking you across the
street
for the first time. Now as he crossed,

it was your grip that
led the way.
There came a gurgle; a guttural gag.
And suddenly the room
fell silent.

*****

What are you currently up to?

Idle hands and all that, I find that the busier I am, the more productive I am. And lately, I've been busy. The poetry, of course, has moved to center stage for me (after my family, of course). I am going through the poems that I’ve amassed since the Poetic Asides 2009 April Poem-a-Day Challenge to put a collection together (or at the very least, a couple of chapbooks). Choosing the right combination is daunting considering the sheer number of poems written.

I'm composing my music (my melodic poetry) which is making a resurgence due to a musical which I have in process. In my spare time (whatever that is) I'm wrestling with a movie script I've started and all that it entails. But, I remember the advice that your wife, Tammy Foster (Trendle) Brewer said in your interview with her, "Never forget you are a poet." Poetic Asides and the incredible poets in "residence" here never let me forget that. To that end, I consider myself "manic poemic."

At last count, I maintain three active blogs, each slightly different from the next. "Through the Eyes of a Poet's Heart" is my personal blog. It contains pretty much all of my poetry under one banner, a cyber file cabinet. I like the blog idea because I can incorporate a visual aspect with photos and such, to enhance my work.

"Across the Lake, Eerily" is a blog I share with a kindred spirit, fellow Poetic Asides insider, Marie Elena Good. We joke that we're "the best friends we've never met." With me being in Buffalo, New York and Marie Elena out near Toledo, Ohio, we are strategically positioned on the very opposite tips of Lake Erie. We've found that our similar experiences growing up around this Great Lake are eerie indeed, as if we were siblings separated at birth. I'm trying to talk Marie into a joint collection from that site.

The third blog, "Wallegory and Other Stories" is a place where my short stories and flash fiction go to roost. Besides these three and Poetic Asides, I am the administrator of micro poetry on Facebook.

You've played around with concrete poetry on Poetic Asides. What appeals to you about the form?

I seemed to have garnered an obsession for concrete poetry. I've been blessed artistically being able to craft in words, music and art. But, the combination of verse in an artistic display has become my favorite undertaking. I think poetry is not only an aural medium, but can be very visual as well. My top seven submission for the November Chapbook Challenge, "Worth a Thousand Words" was comprised entirely of my concrete poetry, holding firm to the adage that "A picture is worth a thousand words." And sometimes the words paint a pretty picture.

As for composing a concrete poem, sometimes the picture forms in my head before a single word comes to my mind. I write to the image as much as I try to manipulate poems into a visual form. I love the challenge of coordinating the visual with the poem to connect with the reader.

I believe there's a special code needed to format each space in the comments of this blog. Could you share that code with other poets who might want to dabble in concrete poetry this month?

Certainly. The manipulation of the spaces rose from the desire to indent lines, and the secret of this was shared with me by Sara Gwen, one of the many innovative poets here at Poetic Asides. You cannot just advance the cursor with the space bar. You need to "insert" the spaces as actual characters. The code is Alt +0160. This needs to be keyed for each space desired.

Keep an eye on the preview below the comment box. It will be a good representation of the finished poem. It is very labor intensive to write concrete poetry here, but the result is usually dynamic and speaks for itself.

Are there any other poetic forms you especially enjoy?

I've been introduced to a wide variety of forms here at Poetic Asides. Among the forms I use with some regularity, I have to say that the pantoum and sestina rank as my favorites. The pantoum, with the repetition of lines from stanza to stanza, in my mind is easier to write. There is a continuity that allows the thought process to flow with more clarity. On the other hand, the sestina is rather regimented and presents its own challenges. Being a longer form, it gives a poet the opportunity to stretch their poetic legs and expand on the subject at hand. I've taken the liberty of writing a lot of the variations such as a rhyming sestina, a double sestina and an actual backward sestina at Poetic Asides. As I stated earlier, I love challenges.

Last year, you became the third ever Poet Laureate of the Poetic Asides blog. Were you able to gain anything from last year's April PAD Challenge experience?

First off, it has been an extreme honor to be chosen as the 2010 Poet Laureate for the Poetic Asides April Poem-a-Day Challenge. I have followed in the footsteps of two very talented and inspiring women in winning this laurel, Sara Diane Doyle (2008) and Marie-Elizabeth Mali (2009). Probably the biggest benefit I was able to glean from the designation, was the confidence it infused into my abilities, which in turn made me a more accomplished poet.

I would say I owe a lot of that to the incredible sense of community that is present at Poetic Asides. As much as drive and inspiration and idea, community was vital to the poetry in my eyes. It's like talking shop; a union of like minds with the same interest on which we rely and feed. There develops a friendly rivalry that pushes us to even greater heights. The encouragement of a community such as Poetic Asides can make or break a poet.

Take me as an example. After three days worth of prompting in the 2009 PAD, I was prepared to give up the ghost. I couldn't justify my work against the quality that was present here at Poetic Asides. I didn't think I fit in. But, I saw a comment on one of my poems by another neophyte that kept me in the game. That happened to be Marie Elena. You can't have a bad day or pen a bad poem for that matter, when you have that generous heart backing you. We've spurned each other into some good work, and along with the likes of De Jackson, Hannah Gosselin, Pearl Ketover Prilik, RJ Clarken, Salvatore Buttaci, Joseph Harker, Amy Barlow Liberatore, et al, have been able to assemble quite the group, within the group.

And to have our work ranked up among Marie-Elizabeth Mali, Bruce Neidt, Nancy Posey, Taylor Graham and the like, makes it more rewarding. You named me Poet Laureate, but these are the people of whom I am in awe.

Do you have any words of advice for poets who may be new to the poem-a-day challenges?

I guess my best advice for someone deciding to undertake the poem-a-day challenge would be to get to the prompt as early as possible. Think, but don't dwell on the prompt; your first instincts usually capture the essence of the prompt and are more spot on.

Don't be too literal with it. Look for the angle that isn't as apparent.

Point of view and perspective are your allies. Rely on them. Write your ass off, and when that is all said and done, you'll find you've also written your heart out; do not fear using what you (Robert) like to call, a confessional voice. Let the poetry be cathartic and liberating.

Above all else, embrace the support that this blog provides and feel free to contribute your own.

Did I say have fun? Have fun.


Who (or what) are you currently reading?

Being a devout Lennonite and Beatlemaniac, there is usually a tome within arm's reach that is either a biography or analysis of John Lennon or
the Beatles. Currently it's "John Lennon: The Life" by Philip Norman. Aside from his song lyrics, I thought John Lennon was a gifted poet "In His Own Write." But, I find it's that analytical mind that drives my muse.

When I was younger, I drove my parents nuts by tearing apart appliances to see how they worked. After a while, I was able to put them back together and actually have them work again. I do the same with poetry. I'll read books on the construction and composition of various forms or the works of as many of the classic poets I can get my hands on. I love anthologies. I analyze, then "reconstruct" them. Eventually, I get them to work for me too.

If you had only one piece of advice to share with other poets, what would it be?

You will only find inspiration in the places you look. Everything can work its way into your writing if it strikes your muse. There is as much inspiration in a block of moldy cheese as there is in a wonderful sunset. That's the nature of the process. If it triggers something deep within, be inspired by it. You just have to keep your eyes open and write your heart out. And like the lady said, "Never forget you are a poet."

*****

Be sure to follow Walt's blogs listed again below:

Also, search for and friend him on Facebook--as well as in the comments of this blog.

*****

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Learn poetic forms, terms, and more...
...with The Poetry Dictionary, by John Drury. For instance, Walt mentioned the sestina and pantoum in his interview. Those forms and many others are explained (with example poems) in The Poetry Dictionary. Also, poetic terms, movements, and more are defined.

Click here to learn more.