The next writer in the Writeliving interview series is one of LA’s best poets: Rick Bursky. Not only is he a triple threat – poet, ad guy, photographer – but he has also been a good friend and great source of inspiration.
– Martin Ott
Who has been a major influence on your writing?
There are so many poets, writers, painters, photographers and musicians whose work I’ve leaned on for inspiration, influence and just plain pleasure. Though the word pleasure seems so thin in this context. But it’s important to constantly immerse ourselves in art, to read great stuff to be reminded of the possibility of beauty and the challenges that come with it. Just some of the poets include Nin Andrews, Charles Simic, Richard Garcia, Laura Kasischke, David Young, David Keplinger, Yannis Ritsos, Alexis Orgera, Dean Young, Stan Rice, Edward Hopper; Rene Magritte, Ian Randall Wilson, Michael Kenna, Lorca; the list can go on and on. Just answering your question reminds me of the debt I owe so many others. Sometimes I think of myself as a reader who sometimes writes. Teaching has also been a wonderful influence on my writing. For instance, teaching the prose poem and introducing students to its many possibilities has sent me on a prose poem binge. Same thing for the ghazal. One of a teachers responsibilities it to inspire students and instill enthusiasm, I’m also a student in my classes.
Can you give us insight into your creative process?
My poems probably fall into four or five categories. For most of them it starts with a line. In the first couple of drafts that’s the opening line of the poem but in subsequent versions it moves down or disappears, the line is simply a trigger. I try to write line by line. Make as statement, a line, move on. I’ll often change the subject from line to line. Write a line. Move on. That’s my preferred way to work. I’m writing poems, not stories. I really like the quote, “narrative in a poem is like a almond in a Hershey bar, nice but not necessary,” I think it was Charles Wright who said that. I’m always looking, searching praying, begging for a line to start with. My notebooks are filled with failed starts. For instance, “it’s simply a coincidence that all the women I’ve ever loved kept anteaters as pets” is a line that floated around for years before it became a poem.
Another way into a poem for me is an image. A man stands on street corner balancing a bowling pin on his head. I just wrote that as an example but I sort of like it. I’ll probably spend the next couple of weeks seeing where that goes. I used to be a photographer. Now I think of myself as a photographer too lazy to go out and look for photographs so I write them out, poems.
Someone once accused me of simply finding strange or interesting historical facts and calling them prose poems. For instance, I wrote about how people first got started photographing children on ponies, wrote about the Brotherhood of Travelling Postcard Photographers in France and how they helped the allied air forces bomb the Germans, wrote that according to the United Nations being killed by bee stings is the 247th most common way to be killed, explained what happened to the single photograph that was taken of George Washington, etc, etc – it’s all made up. But that’s another way I work, an unusual faux fact filtered through language.
Then there’s another poem, a series of poems, I’ve been writing for about twenty years, though I didn’t know they were connected in any way for the first eight or so years. All of these poems take place on a small, ignored island in the Mediterranean where the main source of work is fishing. They could be Greeks, Italians or who knows. I write about life on there.
No matter which poems I’m working on they all start as scribbled lines in a notebook, and I write everything with a fountain pen. I don’t write on a computer, I type on that. Once I get past a couple of good drafts of a poem I type it on the computer, then carrying it in my pocket for a week making revisions and notes. Once I’m sort of happy I let a couple of friends read it and see what they think. Then back to revising.
Can you share an example of overcoming adversity to keep your writing dream alive?
Your question suggests that I’ve overcome adversity. The jury is still out on that one. Life is always uphill, if it’s not one thing it’s another. I don’t think I’ve had any more adversity it my life than any other person, perhaps even less than some. You get up in the morning and to work. Some day’s it’s harder than others. Bills come in the mail. Death comes. Lovers leave. Things happen. You can’t sleep, spend nights staring at the ceiling and wondering what comes next. But if you’re a writer you write. No excuses. You write something, anything, sometimes it’s even good. Writing has never been a dream, it’s what I do. Winning the lottery is something I dream of. And come to think of it, as soon as I win I’ll revise this and write that winning the lottery has helped me overcome adversity. Until then, ouch. Of course, good friends, good cigars, good wine and good poetry are essentials.
What is something about you that writers and readers may not know?
I don’t believe in talent or inspiration. If you want to be a writer you write. Anyone could be a good poet. Great poet is another story. I make up for lack of talent by working hard. And inspiration? Nonsense. A poet should live an inspired life. That’s not something you wait for. That’s something you go out and get.
About the Author:
Rick Bursky’s most recent book , Death Obscura was published by Sarabande Books. His previous book, The Soup of Something Missing, was published by Bear Star Press. He’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize four times. His poems have appeared in many journals including American Poetry Review, Field, Iowa Review, Gettysburg Review, Conduit, Prairie Schooner, Black Warrior Review, Shenandoah, and Hotel Amerika. Bursky works in advertising and is an adjunct at USC and teaches at UCLA Extension.