Ask a Poet: Raymond Luczak

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Welcome to the Ask a Poet blog series! Leading up to the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival, we will be putting the spotlight on poets you can see at #DPF18, October 18-21. Learn more about a new Festival Poet every Wednesday and Friday, presented in no particular order.

Today, we’re getting to know Raymond Luczak!


Hey! What’s new with you?
2018 has proven to be an extraordinary year. It’s not often that I’d get to see three new books (a short story collection, a novella, and a poetry collection) published in a single year, but these days I’m most excited about my seventh poetry title A Babble of Objects. Usually, when I create a new book of poems, I try to challenge myself by not falling into the trap of repeating myself when it comes to subject matter or approach. This time, with A Babble of Objects, I decided to focus on the inner lives of inanimate objects and keeping such interior monologues quite short. Then with the rewrite, I decided to play with the look of many of the poems. For example, in the poem “Glue,” I reduced the spacing between lines so severely that the lines look like they’re nearly glued together. Another poem “Threads” plays with each line as if a loose thread gone astray across the page; the poem “Scalpel in Biology” shows the incision cutting right through its lines. In essence, my book becomes a visual atlas of these nameless characters. Just like Madonna who is constantly reinventing herself with each new album, I had a blast reinventing myself as a poet with A Babble of Objects.

What are you currently reading?
Through reading submissions for a Walt Whitman poetry tribute anthology that I’ve been editing, I happened to come across the work of Cyril Wong, a Singaporean poet who happens to be wildly prolific. His submission was so good that I had to hunt down his books; his work is unfortunately not widely available in the United States. He is regarded as Singapore’s first truly confessional poet, but his work easily transcends the tired clichés of confessional poetry. His latest collection The Lover’s Inventory (Math Paper Press, 2015) is wonderful.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
I love performing my poems in American Sign Language (ASL) because it forces me to see my own work in a whole new light when I translate it for performance. Often I discover things I hadn’t realized that had been there all along!

What is something miscellaneous from your life that you would recommend to other people? It could be a person, a habit, an idea, anything that brings you happiness right now that you would like to recommend.
We need to relearn again the art of appreciating each simple pleasure we are given at any given time. For instance, if we happen on a startlingly beautiful flower in full bloom, its color bursting from the kisses of the sun, we shouldn’t simply take a picture of it with our smartphones and move on. No, we should stop and really look at the flower. That flower is not going to live long, so we need to appreciate its majesty while we can. So much of life is ephemeral so this is why I’m a poet. I write because I don’t want to lose that art of appreciating the amazing world around us to which no one seems to pay attention. So: if you see something odd and startling, stop. That moment is not going to come back again, so stop. Try not to think of anything but the sight right before you. It doesn’t have to be a visual thing; it can be the sweet fragrance of a lilac in full flower, its waft being carried past you on the breeze. And it doesn’t have to be flowers either. It can be the person you love the most. Just say nothing for a moment and look at their faces fully. Let the memory be imprinted on your brain, and it will never leave you. Even if you never write a poem, that act of imprinting the impression makes you a poet not of words but of memory.

Raymond Luczak lost much of his hearing at the age of eight months and grew up in a hearing family of nine children in a small town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He was not allowed to sign until he was 14 years old. He graduated with the legendary Class of ’88 from Gallaudet University. Luczak is the author and editor of over 20 books. Poetry titles include The Kiss of Walt Whitman Still on My LipsMute, and How to Kill Poetry. His Deaf gay novel Men with Their Hands won first place in the Project: QueerLit Contest 2006. Red Hen Press will bring out his next book Flannelwood in the spring of 2019. His work has been nominated nine times for the Pushcart Prize. Also a playwright, he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. []  


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