Interview with Joshua Gage
There had been a Cleveland, Ohio reading series that once described you this way: “this monthly event, founded by markk in 2001, is now hosted by the purple-bathrobed mystic of the cuyahoga, the great Joshua Gage.” On some websites you’ve also affirmed your allegiance to Pendleton shirts. Since I have my own ‘trademark look’ for literary events, can you discuss your allegiance to purple robes and the Pendleton brand? And has your public style evolved – or are you still rocking the purple robe?
Ah, ancient history. During my freshman year of college, I had a MWF 8:30 am poetry class. One day, early in the semester, I woke up so late that I had to rush to class still in my pjs, slippers, and my bathrobe. I came back to my dorm, changed, and went to lunch. For the rest of the week, people (young ladies, mostly, which, of course, caught my interest entirely) kept saying, “Hey! You’re the guy in the purple robe.” It was nice to be known for something, so I kept wearing it all through college, and grad school, and then my other grad school. I would wear it to poetry readings, too, and in NEOH, I was “the guy in the purple bathrobe.”
This changed when Vertigo, my editor, publisher, and local reading host, told two poets that Joshua Gage would be reading with them, and they asked “who?” He explained the purple bathrobe, and then they were excited. The gimmick or schtick had become more important than the work. This became a problem because folks would show up to see the purple robe, but wouldn’t listen to the poems or buy the books. So I decided this had to change.
Pendletons go back to 7th or 8th grade, when grunge was a thing. My father had a closet filled with vintage Pendletons, which I would wear to school. I loved the feel of the wool, and the scratch of it against my skin. Plus, in NEOH, when battling inches (feet?) of snow, they were perfect. When I hit my growth spurt, I started buying them on eBay and various thrift stores, and built up quite a collection. It’s still a thing, very much so, and as soon as the weather gets cool enough to wear them, I’ll open the cedar closet and assault the world with various plaids.
In other interviews you’ve mentioned developing your interest in poetry back in the 7th grade. Also, you had discussed working with the great Sci-Fi author Charles Oberndorf. Please talk about the path from your earliest writing and how it led you to enrol in Naropa University and earn your M.F.A. in Creative Writing.
My earliest writing? Let’s start with Charlie Oberndorf, who was my 7th grade English teacher, and who taught creative writing as well as basic literary appreciation. And the stuff I wrote was as awful and horrible as you would expect from a 7th grader. However, Charlie would push me. He would read a poem and gently, but firmly, make it clear that he knew and I knew that I could do better. He was one of the first teachers I had who didn’t accept mediocrity. Also, this was a private, all-boys school on the wealthy East Side of Cleveland. I was surrounded by the sons of doctors, and lawyers, etc., however, I was not a part of that world. I lived in a condo with no cable; my mother was a teacher and my father sold power tools. I was quite alienated. Charlie had us read two poems one day from Philip Levine’s What Work Is, and I quickly realized that the world I was familiar with was just as poetic and worthy of documenting as others. It was very life changing. An unpublished early chapbook manuscript of mine is very much in that working-class, Cleveland-based vein.
Then in high school I had a writing scholarship, which really motivated me to hone in on my poetry. Later on, in college, I spent my undergrad semesters pursuing writing and poetry with various brilliant and talented teachers. I was determined to get my MFA, but I couldn’t get accepted anywhere, so I went to Cleveland State for my MA with a concentration in Creative Writing. Then Naropa started its Low-Residency in Creative Writing MFA. I was enamored with Beat Literature, so I pursued that quickly. I think I was the second or third class to graduate from the Low-Res MFA at Naropa.
But yeah, being a writer and a poet… it’s all Charlie’s fault.
➡️ Hướng dẫn cách làm bùa may mắn khi đánh bài. Vũ khí giúp bạn dễ dàng chinh phục mọi bàn cược mà chẳng mấy người hay biết.
TUPILAK IN ANTLER VELVET
The hillside fire
tears its way loose
through a delicious congress
of pumpkin fragrances
beneath a razor cracking
jawbone. Birds migrating
illuminate the night black.
Alone, the shaman of autumn leaves
chants across the horizon
in smoke like the crunch
beneath your misplaced dance.
and a siege engine of flame
calls upon familiar spirits.
Crisp wind winding until it peels
off, apple spinning,
reminding your feet
in an orchestra of iridescent flowers.
Would you characterize your poetry as leaning towards free verse or metrical?
I’m a trained formalist. “Metrical” as a designation is problematic because there are many forms, for instance, haiku, that are not based around meter. Also, “free verse” is always an interesting concept because as soon as one starts to organize the language, organic forms and patterns will occur. I understand that formalists will eschew free-verse and what not, but I firmly believe that the poem’s content will inform and shape the form. I dabble in both, but I think I lean more towards formalism because it’s easier. However, I do have plenty of free-verse poems out there.
You seem to have moved away from longer poems such as Snow, Blood, Night – your 3-part poem, published in 2009 and nominated for Rhysling Award. What has increased your interest in haiku, ghazals, and tanka?
I’ve found that editors don’t like longer poems. It’s not always true, and with online publishing, things are changing, but I also think it’s difficult for poets to sustain longer poems. So, something like Snow, Blood, Night is really three poems. It is three women speaking, with three different meters. A poem like White Doe of Nara has clear sections. I think the longest speculative poem without sections that I’ve written is Rats, which was in Mythic Delirium way back when. But something like my chapbook Inhuman, while individual horrorku, is actually a long gunsaku. So is it a collection of horrorku, or a horrorku sequence? I’m not sure it matters now that it’s out-of-print, but the idea of “longer” or “shorter” poems has become blurry to me.
I’ve always written haiku and ghazals and tanka, that is, since my Freshman year of college. These are good forms to know and also they have a lot of speculative potential that remains untapped.
Every morning, the floor rises
to receive me. The door is petals
of ivory, dewed in the warmth of dawn.
I enter, disrobed, like a prayer
stepping out over our tongues.
Your 36-page collection Origami Lilies (The Poet’s Haven, 2018) was a collection of science fiction tanka, charmingly rendered as a micro-sized chapbook (measuring 4.25″ wide by 2.75″ tall) and graced with a cover image by Mei Liang. In case some poets are not familiar with this ancient form, let’s define it. The word “tanka” can be translated as “a short song.” Tanka poetry refers to a Japanese 31-syllable poem, traditionally written as a single, unbroken line. One reader said, “The author makes the most out of the short form, writing stories in five lines, at once tender, witty, and always evocative.” Can you discuss how Origami Lilies evolved?
At the time I was writing a lot of scifaiku. I needed a little more space to establish the scenes I wanted to capture, so tanka was the next logical choice. Origami Lilies is an old book, and the poems themselves are even older, so I don’t remember quite well how this collection came together. But I know that tanka were easy to sell at one point. They were short, pithy, poignant, therefore, speculative editors seemed to like them for a time. I even got one in Asimov’s, which is neat, because they rarely accept poems without titles and are very remiss to publish quality Japanese Short Form poems.
No keening hymn or fevered prayer will ever wake you
from that marble city where the dark hearse takes you.
Can you feel the beetles gnawing at your skin?
How long before the worms and maggots’ feast remakes you?
I seek through yellowed codices by candlelight.
I must resurrect you. My heart will never forsake you.
You stand in darkness, bleeding flesh pulled away
from bone. Even in your rot, I’d never mistake you.
Come to bed, my love. Curl into my arms.
Kiss me into the morning when the tomb retakes you.
Ask the question no one has asked, a question about poetry that you’re eager to discuss.
In regards to speculative poetry, I think the question I’d want to ask is why are so many speculative poets content within their bubbles and refuse to read or study poetry outside their narrow interest or field? The best poets in SpecPo are the ones who really know the various poets within and without SpecPo, and can absorb all the tools available to them. This is readily apparent in things like scifaiku, where many of the practitioners are writing scifaiku without the elements that make up a good haiku. It’s clear they’ve never read any of the mainstream haiku journals — Frogpond, The Heron’s Nest, Modern Haiku, etc. — and have no idea what a haiku is or how the form works. But this is a microcosm of the greater SpecPo macrocosm, and I’ve yet to understand why poets are content to stagnate. I don’t have any answers, but it’s a topic worth pursuing, I think.
Thank you very much, Josh, for letting THE POET’s readers get to know you, and we look forward to reading more poetry from you in the future.
Amiable Joshua Gage amusingly describes himself as “an ornery curmudgeon from Cleveland, Ohio.” His newest chapbook, Origami Lilies, was published by Poet’s Haven Press. He is a graduate of the Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing at Naropa University. A member of SFPA, he has a penchant for Pendleton shirts, Ethiopian coffee, and any poem strong enough to yank the breath out of his lungs.