Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Interview with Ron Koertge

I had the privilege of asking Ron Koertge, author of the book I reviewed today, Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs, the Guys Lit Wire "Five Quick Questions". Here they are, with Ron's answers:

1. What do you do for a living and what do you like best about your job?

My job now is writing. I taught at a community college for a bunch of years. I liked it and I was a good teacher, but when I hit sixty and could hang it up, I did. What I like most about being a writer is working every day. I have a dandy studio and Buddy the cat and I come up here pretty much seven days a week, fifty-two weeks of the year. There's supposed to be two kinds of writers -- those who like to write and those who like having written. I'm the first kind. I can be the second kind. It's fun to go places and stay in nice hotels and meet librarians and readers but it doesn't get the work done. My parents lived through the Depression; they were solid, blue collar folks. I went to work in my dad's confectionary when I was ten, got a Social Security card as soon as I could, and worked through high school and college selling clothes, being a waiter, doing yard work, etc. I have a feeling that the books and poems I write are prodding at me, urging me to keep going. I'm the door, after all, that lets them from their world into this one. So I understand why they're anxious.

2. Besides for simple information, why do you read?

I'm a little like the competitive swimmer who takes a dip on his day off because he likes water. I like language. So I read to take a dip. I live very close to a library; I go two or three times a week and just pick anything. Most of the time I don't finish the books I bring home. I paddle around in them for awhile, then dry off and have a drink. Four or five afternoons a week I go to Santa Anita, sit with my cronies, and bet on horses. I usually have a paperback in one pocket and if things cool down, I read a few pages. My wife never asks me the usual and very boring How-was-your-day? question because she knows what my days are like -- wonderfully similar. I don't even mind when the work doesn't go well. I figure it'll go better tomorrow. And it usually does.

3. What did you read when you were a teen?

I wasn't a miserable or unhappy kid; my folks didn't have a lot of money, but they were easy-going. I had friends and girlfriends, and something that resembled a car. But I also had a deep sense of discontent that I didn't sense in my pals. So I read to see what was going on in other people's minds. I was sixteen in 1956, an era of
fairly bland conformity. I liked reading about much crazier people. Most kids at 16 are trying on different personalities, anyway, and I was looking for a way-to-be that fit my nature. I loved biographies because they told secrets; I had of few of my own and was glad to see that mine were sometimes like the secrets of famous (or infamous)people. I knew pretty early that if I wanted to amount to anything, I couldn't do it hanging around the bowling alley forever.

4. What book(s) do you wish you had read as a teen?

I wish I'd read more poetry by people who were alive then. (It wouldn't have been easy because in my little town any boy who said he liked poetry was automatically called queer in every sense of the word.) I've been in what is jokingly called the poetry business for forty years, and I know why the dead poets are good, but I love reading people who are ten and twenty and forty years younger than I am. (There's a kid named Matthew Dickman who is out of this world!) And I just know that back in 1958 or so there were other young poets who could have used an audience. Sure, some of them have gone on to be well-known (Robert Bly comes to mind) but there's nothing like somebody's early work. I love getting letters from poets who are reading me now ("Fever" or "Geography of the Forehead") so I'd like to have read live poets when I was sixteen and then written fan letters.

5. What are you working on now?

I just sent the sequel to Stoner & Spaz to my editor. I'll hear what she thinks in a few weeks. She also has some poems about the Greek gods that she might take on with a lot of revision. And I'm tinkering with the idea of fooling around with my version of "The Canterbury Tales." Sounds like Poetry has pushed Prose out of the way for the time being.

A hearty thank you to Ron for stopping by!


tanita✿davis said...

The sequel to Stoner & Spaz????

Okay, that's AWESOME. Next to Shakespeare Bats Clean-up, that is my all-time favorite Koertge book, EVER.

Excellent interview, Kel, thanks.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome. Those are just the 5 questions developed here at GLW to ask male readers, and I figured why not ask them of an author? I enjoyed his answers, too.

Colleen said...

I am now in deep writerly love him over these answers. What a great guy and great way to live. This is awesome!

Sarah Stevenson said...

Excellent interview. I love the sense of freedom that comes out in this, the feeling of being free to write and to read and to live. Wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Colleen: Given that his publicists have organized a month-long tour for him, I opted to go with our 5 standardized questions - I thought it was cool to have the answers from a published author!

Sarah: I agree with you - I couldn't put my finger on why I liked his answers so well, but you've put your finger at least next to whatever it is. Maybe the way that his writing is a major part of his life, but not 100% of it?