Interview with online literary zine I Want You To See This Before I Leave—james-k

Why do you write? What purpose does writing serve for you currently?

I write because I have to.  It sounds corny and dramatic, but the inner turmoil that just accrues and accrues when I don’t write drives me insane.  If I’m not writing, I feel useless.  I have friends who do charity work, have gone to other countries to help those in destitution, all of that—but me, I’m not that kind of guy.  I feel more present in the inner world than in the physical.  My purpose in writing is to serve the spiritually destitute.  I think I have a keen eye for the subtle nuances of human communication, and by illumining those to my readers I hope to provide them with hope.  It’s all about communication—without it, life would hardly be worth living. A lot of people are depressed because of a lack thereof, and if my writing provides them with some solace then that’s purpose enough for me.  I never feel alone with a good book in my hands.

How do you usually start a poem, story, etc?

I think of a poem as a marriage between idea/ideal/concept (whatever) and image. Being a poet is kind of like being a sorcerer, conjuring spells out of the ether, making the abstract concrete.  The musical quality of poetry I find to be quite entrancing.  Lately I’ve been writing more prose than poetry, but I’ve been trying to make my prose more lyrical so that I don’t lose that musical element, those lilts and bends.  When I first began writing I started with poetry, and then had a phase of exclusively writing stories, and then exclusively poetry, and so on.  But after a while I bounced back and forth so much that a distinct style came about in me that works in both genres.  My poetry professor Pauline Uchmanowicz, when I told her of my pattern of progression, related to me an analogy of Ben Franklin’s (which I will butcher), that good writing is kind of like a mixed drink, poetry being the liquor and prose the chaser (or vice versa), and the end product is certainly more enjoyable than if you were to drink either alone.  Ah, but back to the question.  When I write a story I usually have two or more conflicting ideas or character types which I put in the ring together and let them duke it out.  There is never a clear winner—that would be a boring story—but the story is the fight itself.  The idea is not to be didactic but to be acute in your observations of human nature.

How do you know when a piece is finished?

You just know.  This is not really a helpful piece of advice unless you’ve experienced it yourself.  There is this moment, after reading and re-reading a piece a million times, when you know that what you have created is crystallized (at least according to your own perception) and that there is nothing more to be added or omitted without compromising the integrity of the composition.

What writers/artists are influencing you right now?

Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, and John Steinbeck.  They are my favorite writers of all time.  The general literary mouth will tell you, “Read broadly! Read broadly!” And I have, and I think it’s important to read broadly to discover styles you wish to amalgamate and emulate, but perhaps what is more important is to learn what not to do.  What makes for bad writing.   There is a lot of it out there and it should be a writer’s priority to ensure that he/she does not add to the clutter but is a proponent of substance.

What do you want people to know about your work?

That I care.  I feel like I might give off this vibe in person that I don’t give a shit, that I’m apathetic.  But if there’s anything I put all my effort and mental/spiritual/whatever reserves into, it’s this. Writing.  And if any potential reader has the attention span for it, I guarantee he/she will not feel like he/she has wasted his/her time.

What question do you wish I asked you?

“Do you like writing?” No, I think it is one of the more difficult and torturous things a human being can do to him/herself.  But if you feel as if you have been called to be a writer, it’s not something you can just walk away from.  The feeling after having written something is amazing, transcendental—a reward for your days, weeks, months of struggle—though in short, writing is not something you necessarily enjoy but endure.

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