We were honored to help celebrate the release of Dennis Hinrichsen's latest book, Skin Music, on October 22, at 6:30 pm. Dennis was joined by Cindy Morgan Hunter; they both read from their works
The following interview was conducted between Z.G. Tomaszewski (GLCL's Event and Special Projects Coordinator) and Dennis Hinrichsen in anticipation of his visit to GLCL for his book launch. Dennis is also finalizing the details for a series of workshops he'll be conducting at GLCL in the new year. Look for his explanation of the workshops, the inspiration behind their creation, and how he hopes the sessions will help the participants. You can sign up for the workshops here.
ZG: For beginners, who are you? Where do you hail from and what sort of things, casual and profound, are you interested in?
DH: I think I’m still trying to answer that first question. We build such elaborate fictions on such flimsy ground and are in such constant flux, that equation always seems unfinished. Neruda in his poem “We Are Many” offers perhaps the best answer when he says “he shall speak, not of self, but of geography.” Or context. Or the many tribes we all belong to.
Currently, I hail from Lansing, Michigan with stops in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Boston.
As for casual things, I have some reading-related guilty pleasures that include noir, cyberpunk, and sci-fi. I also have far too many guitars for my marginal skill set. My focus lately has been on writing poems. I’m still fascinated by that and how maintain a kind of garage band energy and ethos even though I’ve been writing a long time.
ZG: Tell me about your most recent project, Skin Music. What i's this book all about? How did you come to orient it?
DH: My books take shape organically--I generally follow my interests and let one poem suggest another until I have an arc that hangs together. Do this for a year or two and you can’t help but have a pile of poems that connect in some way. The work then is to find the right order for those poems. This, often, can take a long time as you shuffle, reshuffle, deal again, drop poems out, put them back in, find a gap in the arc that requires a new poem.
So Skin Music arose out of a couple of years of writing in just this manner. The key was finding the right title for the book and then seeing both ‘skin’ and ‘music’ as the baseline motifs that I hope keep the whole thing afloat.
As for what it’s about, I think it’s about placing self in a variety of landscapes (e.g., drowning in a river, witnessing a flood-ravaged neighborhood, visiting my mother in the nursing home, playing cards with a WW II Marine who has Parkinson’s) and then asking, 'What is the upshot?' and then working through that to some provisional understanding, or bite of insight and consciousness. And to do it all with sharp visuals and music.
ZG: What were some discoveries you made in the process of writing and arranging the manuscript?
DH: I’ve been writing a long time so most of the discoveries were made in the act of writing and finding things through that process. My mantra since the beginning comes from Marvin Bell and is simply: abandon yourself to the materials at hand. So the model has always been a jazz model, improvisation, and a journey to discover something new. That hasn’t changed in 40 years.
What has changed is how I think about the ‘materials.’ In this book I started thinking along creative non-fiction lines which opened up ideas I wouldn’t normally approach with a poem. It also offered up some prose/lyric hybrid-ish moments with a few of the poems that gave me another texture.
As for arranging the poems, it’s a question of pacing. There were some 3-5 page poems in the manuscript so placing them correctly was an issue. And then handling the back and forth movement among couplets and triplets and un-stanza-ed poems. There is a reading rhythm to be found. There is upper limit on how long each section can be. And so on.
I go through many drafts. I print out the poems and tape them head-to-tail and then hang them on my wall so I can see the book unfold all at once. And then I start moving things around until things are locked down.
ZG: Are there any particular poets or poems that have transformed how you write? (Maybe consider those huge influences as well as those whose work contrasts your own, but informs it.)
DH: Geoff Dyer in his non-fiction book, Zona, argues that we are most open to artistic influences from late teens to early 20’s and that those influences never wane. For him, it was the sci-fi film Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky.
So too in my case, as I built an aesthetic bias and framework for writing poetry during the early seventies when I first started writing. So my source code includes all those writers who were moving from formal verse to free verse during that time and publishing amazing books--Phil Levine, James Wright, Richard Hugo, Galway Kinnell, W.S. Merwin. The essays of Marvin Bell were central. William Carlos Williams was central. John Cage also entered during these years and has always maintained his position as the wild card in the deck. Jazz was central too for ideas about improvisation, so Miles Davis, Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner et al, were all important. Cinema was central as well--all those auteurs from the sixties and seventies. I’ve been influenced by a great many other things over the years but they have mostly been refinements and embellishments to what I already had.
ZG: What, ultimately, are you trying to say as a writer, as a human?
DH: I don’t think I have anything to say as a writer, but I sure am interested in finding things to say through a process that results in poems. It’s a form of play for me, or scratching at the cave wall trying to get the shape of the bison just right. I just try to be open and follow where my interests, my reading, my thinking, my experience, take me.
ZG: So, what's next?
DH: More poems are next. A slight shift in focus. Still too early to say much about them. But I’m still hard at it.
ZG: We're really looking forward to the workshops you'll be offering at GLCL in the new year. In a few sentences, could you briefly describe the extended workshop series you'll be facilitating at GLCL's Writers Hub in 2016?
DH: The workshop is intended for advanced writers who have some poems in hand that they just aren’t happy with. They have revised and revised and are at loose ends as to what to do next. The poems give off light, they’re incandescent, but they’re just not finished, they’re not laser. So in the workshop I’ll be guiding a discussion that introduces and applies some formal principles that will help these writers look at their work through a different lens and find ways to sharpen line, stanza, music, etc. So the early part of the workshop will focus on existing work. Depending on how things go, we might turn and use these ideas to generate new work.
ZG: Where did this idea come from?
DH: The central ideas came from cobbling together a variety of ideas I’ve run across in 25 years of teaching a number of different classes including comp, creative writing, song writing, and Shakespeare. The source code is a Robert Hass essay from Twentieth Century Pleasures called “Listening and Making.” But John Gardner is in there, as is Charles Wright, Stephen Dobyns, Ian McKellan/Shakespeare, John Cage, Marvin Bell, and a song writing text. The ideas are staggeringly easy to comprehend and apply and the results dramatic. Line and stanza are sharper, music is sharper, the poem’s logos is sharper, and so on.
What unlocked all this for me was the text I used for the song writing class. Essentially, this was a class in writing formal poetry without any of the academic language found in other prosodies. Completely unpretentious. And yet it connected all the way back through Hass/Gardner/Shakespeare/Wright et al. I found it energizing and eye-opening.
ZG: What might you be aiming to achieve through this?
DH: What I hope to do is give students a much clearer understanding of the formal questions their poems are addressing and ways to sharpen that content/form dynamic. I want to show them strategies for moving their work from incandescence to laser.
Congratulations to the winners of the Imagine This! An ArtPrize Anthology for 2015!
In the Vineyards of Teramo by Laura Apol
Lunar Phase by Rachel Girty
Your Daddy and the Guitar by Susan Booker Morris
Uncle Percy by Kevin Griffin
Toward Amarillo by Carolyn Guertin
Sending My Son to College by Laura Apol
Oblivion by Caryn Mehler
Consumed by Thin by Susan Larimore
Skinny by Sydney Shavalier
The Kitchen Before Sunrise by Irene Fridsma
Crows by Carol Johnson
Quartet: Seasonal Resurrection by Susan Szurek
Memoir of a Villain by Justin Hunsberger
Jungle Rhythms by Michelle Patnett
Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday by Ashley Cowger
Soft Spots by Kathy Woods
Sally Mingus by Anthony Spaeth
First Date by Brandon West
Stranger in a Bar by Hannah VanDuinen
Rock of Ages by K.P. Robbins
Dr. Upadhyama’s Ledger by Bruce Ballister
Maybe Three People by Robert Kirvel
Over the Edge by Joseph Roper
Journey Down a Country Road by Sara Etgen-Baker
Getting Garrison Keillor’s Autograph by Brent Chesley
It was the title “Is Fat Bob Dead Yet?” that caught my eye, and when I read that author and poet Stephen Dobyns was described by Stephen King as “the best of the best”, I was further intrigued. Described as a comic suspense novel about a small time con and two combative detectives, the story opens with a gruesome motorcycle accident in which a Harley rider is cut in half by a reversing dump truck. The main character, Conner, is nearby when the accident occurs and can’t leave the scene because of the blocked cars. Detectives who are investigating the death of the motorcycled owner, Fat Bob, so named because of his love for Fat Bob Harleys, learn that the unfortunate accident victim wasn’t actually Fat Bob, and begin to question whether the incident was an accident.
The plot thickens, as they say, with twists and turns and quirky characters, including a pair of detectives who can’t stand each other, a homeless man called Fidget, beautiful women, and the team Connor works with in his uncle’s latest con, raising money for phony charities such as “Beagles Addicted to Nicotine”. Things become more complicated (and dangerous) for Connor as he pursues his own related investigation.
The story has suspense laced with plenty of humor, with the author inserting himself and addressing the reader; the malapropisms of Vaughn, the weird but brilliant hacker (“It’s beyond my apprehension”, “… an optical conclusion”); the sniping of the two detectives; and the positive but slightly strange philosophy of Conner’s uncle. I remember thinking as I was reading “this was written for guys”, but it’s a fun read if you like your suspense with colorful, flawed but likeable characters and a little irony. --Jeri Devlin, GLCL Member
Stephen Dobyns is a novelist and poet, and is widely published in both genres. Dobyns grew up in New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, was educated at Shimer College and Wayne State University, and received an MFA from the University of Iowa. He has worked as a reporter for the Detroit News and has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Warren Wilson College, the University of Iowa, Syracuse University, and Boston University. Dobyns has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Not only have his poems been anthologized in Best American Poems, two of his short stories have been chosen for Best American Short Stories.
Fresh Ink BLOG
Musings, news, and information about the writing life in the Great Lakes region.
Retreats, Workshops, Etc.
Alcona Writers' Retreat
Bear River Writers' Conference
Kalamazoo Poetry Festival
Poetry Society of Michigan
Three Ponds Farm
Small Presses and Lit Mags
Broadside Lotus Press
Michigan Quarterly Review
World Weaver Press