“Each of these places got my attention for different reasons, but I suppose they all challenged my understanding of foreground and background.”
(Reasons for) Moving (Structo Press, 2017)
What have you read that has shaped the way you write now?
I suppose I’ve read a fair amount of poetry, but (and this is just speculation) I don’t think I’ve read as much poetry as other serious poets have. I’m still actively trying to figure out who I really like and/or identify with and why. With that said, there are a few widely anthologized poets who’ve had varying degrees of impact on my writing: Robert Frost, W.C. Williams (or the idea of Imagism), Gerard Manly Hopkins, and to a lesser extent, T.S. Elliot.
Could you tell us about your path to becoming a writer and, more specifically, a copyeditor?
My path to becoming a writer probably started with the lyrics I came up with for my high school punk band, but choosing an English major in university was the real turning point. At that time, I made a conscious decision to carry a pen and paper at all times so that I would never miss a moment of inspiration. Nearly 15 years later, I’m still carrying pocket journals everywhere I go. In 2009 or 2010, a friend turned me on to a great database of literary journals and I started to get serious about submitting my work. I got my first poem published in 2011 and never looked back. As far as the copywriting goes, I was doing an MA course in creative writing when a few representatives from a local business scheduled a little recruitment session to see if any of the students could help improve the content on their website. I got the job and I’m still there now.
Do you tend to write during your travels, or is it something that you reflect on later?
A little of both. If I can, I take notes as things happen or shortly thereafter and turn them into poems later. Sometimes, the gap between the rough handwritten notes and the final draft (or even the first draft) of a poem can be several years long. Sometimes, the poem doesn’t spring out of notes at all. Instead, it’s just a memory that comes back to me out of nowhere or something I’ve been thinking about all along, but never written down.
What are your feelings as you reflect back on your published writings about your travels? Does it cause you to want to travel more?
I definitely want to travel more, regardless of whether or not I look back at the poems I’ve had published. There are still so many things I’d love to see. But, yes, I suppose when I re-read some of my travel poems, I think “That was great; I’d love to do more of that.” I probably spend more time day dreaming about it than I should.
Does reading your own work inspire you to write more poetry about those same travels?
I’d love to write a poem about every single noteworthy travel experience I’ve ever had in every place I’ve ever been. It’s a goal of mine, but I’m the first to acknowledge that it’s probably not realistic. When it comes to the places and/or experiences that I’ve already written about, sometimes I look at the poems and think “That’s all I have to say about that and I couldn’t put it better if I tried.” But I look at some older poems (which don’t appear in this collection) and think “I could do better; I should try again later.”
(Reasons for) Moving includes a variety of works from what seems to be a well-traveled life. How long did it take you to complete this chapbook in its entirety?
I’ve been working on this collection off and on since about 2013. That was the first time that I submitted a manuscript focusing on ideas of place and travel. Eight of the poems in that early version of the chapbook survived in one form or another and made it into (Reasons for) Moving, but countless others were cut and the whole thing changed shape several times along the way.
Why did your travels take you to places like Ankara, Phonsavan, and Phnom Bakheng? What compelled you to write about them?
From 2008 to 2012, I taught English in Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey. While I was living in Indonesia, I took a trip to Cambodia to visit ruined temples, like Phnom Bakheng. Before leaving Thailand, I traveled through Laos and made it a point to visit the Plain of Jars, for which Phonsavan is the jumping off point. For the two years that I lived in Turkey, Ankara was my home.
Each of these places got my attention for different reasons, but I suppose they all challenged my understanding of foreground and background. In Ankara, the call to prayer was omnipresent, but it wasn’t until we left it behind that our experience of it really came into focus. In Phonsavan, an archeological site that should have been as apolitical as Stonehenge was overshadowed by the legacy of The Secret War. On Phnom Bakheng, I felt like I was sitting right in the middle of a manic intersection where binary oppositions like past/present; rich/poor; young/old; local/foreign; and distant/present all collided and crystallized into one superb irony.
Was travel a part of your childhood, or has most of your travel happened later in life?
My travels began with a university semester abroad in 2004 in Athens, Greece. For the next four years, I don’t think I let an entire year pass without leaving America for at least a little while. I’ve more or less been living abroad since the beginning of 2008.
I noticed that distant poems like “Ankara” interweave with poems located closer to home like “We Pass.” Could you discuss the connections between two places thousands of miles away from each other?
The last lines of The Catcher in the Rye are “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.” This phrase comes to mind when I think of places like Ankara and Pennsylvania, because from where I’m standing now, they all seem equally distant and I miss them all in a similar way. I have this fanciful theory about memory and travel. Most people think that when you remember a place, it’s because some impression of that place has stayed with you. But I imagine that you actually leave a residue of your soul behind, and what you think are memories are actually moments of reconnection with the bits of yourself that are still back in those places, revisiting the same spots over and over. So, long story short, the thread that binds these disparate places together is me.
“Writing Home from Quepos” follows a prose style, which is unlike the other poems in (Reasons for) Moving. Why was this the only poem written in this form?
“Writing Home from Quepos” was an attempt to piece together an entire month’s worth of observations and impressions. I originally tried to turn this material into a series of postcard messages, but decided that it was better off in a single letter. Though, this letter actually un-writes itself. The speaker describes things as if addressing a specific recipient, but goes on to explain that some of those descriptions will ultimately be kept from them. As far as formal variety goes, it was important to me that this collection included several different approaches, lest it get boring or come across as too one trick pony-esque.
A common theme I noticed in these poems was the value of home. There’s a push and pull between the value of home and the wanderlust of travel that’s constantly contrasting. Could you tell us more about this contrast?
I remember hearing that Rimbaud pursued “derangement of all the senses.” If there’s such a thing as ‘sense of home,’ becoming a serious traveler completely deranges this. Eventually, there’s nothing behind you, around you, or ahead of you that truly constitutes a home. The impulse to look back in search of home is still there, but it’s mitigated by the impulse to look forward and wonder, “Where next?” It’s also about the tension between a desire for stability and a desire for discovery.
David Russomano’s poetry has appeared in roughly 40 digital and print literary journals and anthologies since 2011. In addition to being nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Sundress Publications’ 2012 Best of the Net Anthology, he was awarded the 2014 Faber & Faber Creative Writing MA Prize by Kingston University. His debut chapbook, (Reasons for) Moving, is available now from Structo Press.