Interview with Ed Ahern
An interview with Ed Ahern
Thank you for taking time out to chat to THE POET Ed. Where in the US are you from?
I was born and grew up in the Chicago area, but once I graduated from the University of Illinois moved away and never went back, except to visit family. For several years each, I lived in Germany, Japan and England, and for the past thirty-five years have resided in Connecticut.
When did you write your first words of poetry?
No one else in my family writes poetry, but my mother insisted that I memorize poems as a young child, and I blame her. The first poem I wrote was in high school. It was a short free verse about ants that they were desperate enough to publish in the high school newspaper. I don’t recall much about the poem, but I’m pretty sure it was pretty bad.
Why did you start writing poetry?
I started writing poetry out of annoyance with what was being already published, and wondering if I couldn’t do as well or better. As it turned out I could, but I realized that if I was going to be good rather than adequate, I needed training. I joined three poetry groups and started reading through books on poetry, all of which I’m still doing. I may not be writing great poems, but I’m now writing better ones.
And I was liberated. I came to poetry so late in life that I knew there would never be decades of artistic development and recognition. This has let me write whatever I want – formal poetry, haiku, shape poems, free verse, on whichever theme or emotion I was touched by. The only poem I wrote between the ages of sixteen and seventy-one was a love poem to my wife. It has cryptic references that only we would get, but it’s not too bad. I did read a lot of poetry though, developing a serious crush on Mary Oliver’s work, which acts as a narcotic for me. If I read much of her I write like her for a day or two.
The rolling waves of wants
curl through my life,
frothing up sparkling desires
drowned by the next urges,
wanting to surf on fulfilments
but tossed in the churn
until breaking on the shore
After your first poem about ants, published in the high school newspaper, when and where were you next published?
My second published poem was The Game, published in Bewildering Stories around seven years ago. About three hundred published poems later I’m still surprised that people will publish my stuff.
Describe the process of transferring your original ideas in your mind into final words on paper.
I type my drafts, which is unlike many, if not most serious poets. In the beginning is the idea, really just a mood. Then, like a spider, I start to spin around it, changing words as I go along, cutting bad lines, until I have a draft. Then the next morning, when the dew is still on the web, I revisit it and make more changes. Then I send it out into the world to catch an editor. If ten editors refuse my silk, I pull the web apart and start over, keeping the idea. Eventually, someone publishes it, often not who I expect to do so.
However, a poem is never finished for me. If I reread one of mine I frequently alter it, sometimes even changing the title if I’ve changed the poem’s essence.
I know before I cross the dune,
the tide has slithered out again,
and purged its wafts of seaweed rot,
once-shelled life, and foraged fish.
Below the dune the smell defines,
the mud, the rocks, the pungent dead,
the plants now weeping iodine.
The ocean clears its throat,
and spits into the clouds.
Do you have a favourite genre of writing poetry?
I write largely genre fiction, but almost entirely literary or general poetry, a psychotic break I don’t understand but am comfortable living with. I write a fair amount of formal poetry and haiku, but feel most comfortable in free verse. Poetry is sometimes my refuge from fiction. When I’m stuck in a plot, or the writing has gone farty, I’ll write poems, then return to the fiction refreshed. Interestingly the reverse isn’t true. I might write it badly, but the poetry never gets stuck.
What publication or publications are you most proud to have your work published in?
In my case it’s multiple publications of the same poem. I wrote about the current quandary in my Catholic church, a gentle poem called God’s New Clothes. Only one religiously oriented publication would touch it, but ten spiritually oriented publications did, my record for the number of times a poem has been published. On the bright side, I haven’t been excommunicated because of it.
The shoal sour dries in wind drifts
as the leavings of the ebb come into view.
Shell piles here, sand there, rimmed by
barnacle rocks and wet-rotting weed.
Gulls and terns pick at scattered
remnants of crab and fish,
and lift dying clams high enough
to drop them onto the rocks.
The water almost, almost stops,
a hovering quiver in the shoal’s edges,
before the surge rewets the gasping buried
on its slithering way across the crest.
Men who ignore this ever-change
are trapped by it.
One or two boats a year aground,
one or two men a decade drowned.
Feeding and dying quicken with the flow,
little fish pushed across the shoal
toward waiting jaws,
birds swooping for the crippled.
Force of water rules the shoal,
which heaves its crests and shallows
to appease the ever-flowing god
who never looks back.
The water climbs man-high above the shoal,
And, stirred only by wind
fondles fish and weed and shell
until ebbing implacably into turmoil.
Do you have a favourite writing space?
In front of a computer. Mostly on a desktop in my little office, in silence, but when traveling on a cranky laptop.
What subjects mostly inspires you to write?
I either write introspective and uplifting, or snarky sardonic and cynical … your choice. But I almost never write political poems, it strikes me that the essayists do as good a job, and in a year or so a political poem loses context. Of all the writing I do though, poetry is the most self-satisfying. I can reread a poem and know that I’ve captured the mood or the dilemma or the moment of fulfilment. And the words sing, sometimes.
Is being a poet easy?
Being a poet is too easy. As I think Billy Collins commented; there are too many bad ones. Getting paid as a poet is unusual, making a living as a poet is rare. I don’t think any country focuses on poetry though, except for children’s poetry and greeting cards, poetry is largely read by other poets, and I’m okay with that, they’re the best judge of when I’m writing rubbish. I suspect that state sponsored poetry would lead to bad Walt Whitman imitations.
Winter lets go of the river
with parting waves of snow
and growling goodbyes
as jumbled slabs of ice,
piled shore to shore,
grind stream-grass into confetti
and toted boles of trees
drift on gelid voyages
into flotsam diaspora.
And lastly Ed, what are your future plans as a writer and poet?
At seventy-eight my planning horizon is rather short. I write three or four poems a month, and with luck will get out another poetry collection, maybe a retrospective Ed Ahern’s Best Doggerel.
Thanks again for your time Ed.
Ed Ahern started writing fiction at sixty-seven, and poetry at seventy. He sometimes detours into literary fiction, but is best known as an innovative genre writer and poet. He’s tucked away several awards and honourable mentions for over 300 published short stories and poems, and six books. They’ve appeared 800 times in ten countries and, counting reprints, over 200 publications. Several of his stories can be listened to through Audible. His writing began with a degree in journalism from the University of Illinois. Ed’s career thereafter has been; U.S. Navy officer (diver and bomb disarmer); reporter for the Providence Journal; intelligence officer living in Germany and Japan; international sales and marketing executive at a North American paper company (twenty-three years, seventy-four countries visited, MBA from NYU) and ten more years as a sales executive for the company that also owns the New England Patriots. In addition to writing, Ed’s been critiquing other writers for several years at Bewildering Stories, where he serves on the review board and manages a posse of six review editors. Ed is an active member of several writing groups, including the Fairfield Scribes, and the Poets’ Salon, where he’s known for his tough-love comments. He is also lead editor for the Fairfield Scribes Micro Fiction journal.