S. Thomas Summers: Poet Interview

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S. Thomas Summers head shot

S. Thomas Summers, poet

Please join me in welcoming S. Thomas Summers to the Poetic Asides blog. Summers is a teacher of Writing and Literature at Wayne Hills High School in Wayne, NJ and an adjunct writing professor at Passaic County Community College in Wanaque, NJ. His first book, Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War (Anaphora Literary Press, 2012), has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Summers' second book, The Journals of Lt. Kendall Everly: a Story of the American Civil War, will be released later this year.

Here's one of his historical poems:

Shards of Night

Them Feds started pouring through
the wood like a river that run its banks.
My heart started thunking wilder than a cat’s
heart after that cat scampered up a tree
cause a dog done breathed on its tail –

and sure enough, I was up a tree.
But, hell – my jaw almost clanked
the ground when I see that flood
a might closer. I was perched on top
a whole cluster of Yankee darkies.

Hell, I says, Abe sent them damn slaves
to fight. I first guessed they’d be whooping
and shucking like a gaggle of monkeys,
but they clutched their guns like soldiers
and their faces where all chiseled from stone

solid as Zion. Our boys started popping muskets
first and a few of them darkies fell,
but the others paid no mind to that. They ran
straight at those pickets like shards of night,
screaming hell and spitting lead.

I seen one take three bullets before
he toppled. Each time blood puffed
from his belly like a red cloud at sunset.
And the one swinging the flag made certain
them stripes never scraped the ground.

I swear them slaves be men.
By God, they be men.

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What are you currently up to?

I've been putting the finishing touches on my second manuscript and forthcoming book The Journals of Lt. Kendal Everly: A Story of the American Civil War. I'm also doing my best to market my first book. Marketing is a frustrating business. Slowly, I'm getting better at it.

Your collection Private Hercules McGraw is comprised of poems about the American Civil War. Did you have to do an extra bit of research for these poems?

I did. My book is a narrative. Poem by poem, Private McGraw tells his story. As he treks through the war, he takes place in many important historical events: the Battle of Shiloh, the Battle of Gettysburg. I needed to research those battles. Who commanded who to charge where? Casualties. Outcomes. Locations. Battlefields. Etc. Additionally, McGraw is from Tennessee so I did a bit of research on the Southern dialect. I think it all came together pretty good.

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In setting up this interview, you mentioned you're a poet, but your primary roles are dad and husband. How do you go about working writing in with your primary duties?

I'm married to a very lovely lady. Her name is Laura. We have two kids, Reanna, 19, and Garrett, 9. Together, we are a mighty army. That army is my first priority. Therefore, I write when I can: at karate lessons, at basketball practice, before I leave for work. It's funny. When I have all kinds of time, I don't write. I write better, far better when time is short. I guess a writer needs to adapt.

Also, I believe you're an educator. Does this phase of your life influence your writing?

I'm a literature teacher at Wayne Hills High School in Wayne, NJ. I'm also an adjunct writing professor at Passaic County Community College in Wanaque, NJ. I love what I teach. I love a story and all the nuances of a story: novels, dramas, poems, etc. I love the words that build a story. Because I love those words, I wanted to create my own so I started to write. Besides, I've convinced my students that their kids will be doing research papers on me.

Your best poetry moment—what is it?

Once it was published, holding a copy of my first book. It was...thrilling.

Finish this statement: I think poetry should ____________.

I think poetry should hush for a day or two. It keeps screaming, "Write, Scott. Write!"

What or who are you currently reading?

Jeff Shaara, Ted Kooser, Jane Hirshfield, Jim Berkheiser, Bill Flewelling, Linda Pastan, ... I could list a hundred names and still fail to mention everyone I'm reading. I also read the Bible every day. Couldn't stay sane without it and my faith.

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

Find your passion and write about it: It all gets easier after that.

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Learn more about S. Thomas Summers at www.thelintinmypocket.wordpress.com.

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Follow me on Twitter @robertleebrewer

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