An Interview with Carl Kaucher

karl 4Carl Kaucher of Temple, Pa has published three books of poetry, Sideways Blues – Irish Mountain and beyond. Postpoemed and his latest, Peripheral Debris. He explores his experiences wandering urban spaces near his home and throughout Pennsylvania. The work reflects the amazing diversity of events that are happening all around us if only we slow down long enough to observe. Through his photography and writing, Carl exposes the miraculous beauty of the ordinary. He is photographing the overlooked places and documenting the chance occurrences that happen to him and by doing so gives us the opportunity to reflect upon those similar things happening in our lives.

Interview by g emil reutter

GER: How did growing up in Reading influence your poetry and method of writing?

CK:  Reading Pennsylvania is situated in a valley bordered by the Schuylkill river, Neversink mountain and Mount Penn. Where I grew up on the northeast side of the city, I was just a few blocks from the base of Mount Penn which has large tracts of undeveloped woodland. So as a youth I was exposed to both an urban and natural environment and as with most youth I was outdoors all the time. On weeknights I was playing in the back alleys, streets, schoolyard lots and urban playgrounds. On weekends my friends and I were either downtown or wandering in the woods of Mount Penn. We were always exploring and as we grew older the wandering went further from home.

As a young adult I had various apartments around Reading. I worked at a factory in downtown Reading but never earned enough money to really afford or want a car. I walked. I walked a lot. Reading is a small city so public transit was limited to buses and the buses stopped running fairly early. I walked at night. I found a lot of places in the various neighborhoods I lived to explore, old rail yards, warehouses, out of the way places. I was always trying to find different ways to get from point A to B. At the pace of a walk the world becomes more intimate.

One apartment I had was across the street from the old Reading railroad yards.  I would sometimes meet friends there at night, we would drink beers and I would shout my poems to the moon or passing diesels. I loved being in an urban environment. Sometimes I would walk to the edge of the south side of town with a friend and trek out the railroad tracks to the backside of Neversink Mountain, camp all weekend and build huge roaring fires with railroad ties, drink beers chilled in a little spring we found. I also loved the woodland spaces.

When I got older, after the kids were raised and the desire for career advancement fled I picked up where I left off only I began extending my journeys outward into Pennsylvania at large. Trying to rekindle my creative self, I started writing more about my experiences wandering. I had written for many years but when I made the connection between writing and the experiential part of my life things started to coalesce. When my brother bought me a camera for Christmas one year, I started to document these journeys photographically.  Both of these crafts I still am trying to develop and perfect

GER: What type of jobs have you worked?

CK:  I started my working career in 1977 with a summer job painting dorm rooms at Albright College in Reading. Since that time I have worked in various retail and industrial jobs and until this day I still work in industry at a battery manufacturer as a Quality Inspector. My favorite job was working in a small hardware store for a couple of years. I learned so much about various hardware, lawn and garden and home repair wares especially from the various contractors we served. It was an old building with 4 floors jam packed full of stuff  We sold everything from Kerosine heaters to seed potatoes. You had to learn and learn quick in order to be able to help the customers.  It was the perfect job for a young man. I was the master glass cutter.

Another noteworthy job I had as a youth was working on the grounds crew at Albright College. It was during this time I started writing, I believe I was 19.  My sister was an art major at the school so through her I met a lot of fantastically creative and interesting people. I started writing in part to try and impress some of the girls I was hanging around. I was not that good at writing. I was not that successful with the ladies either. One of my bosses there gave me the nickname Sideways and it stuck.

My job in a factory provides the inspiration I need to do something more fulfilling with my life away from work. I was never really career oriented but I am a blue collar writer and proud of it. From the outside it may seem that those who work in factories are cut from the same mold but I am blessed to be working with a lot of interesting people. I work with folks from Columbia, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Croatia and wow do I learn from them.  Even the people from various regions in Pennsylvania have so many different interests and perspectives. I work with poets, musicians, photographers, hunters, farmers, entrepreneurs, people with skills I could never master. I learn from them all and respect them deeply. There is nothing common about the common man.


GER: What influence did Kerouac’s San Francisco Blues, Mexico Blues and Book of Blues have on your own volume, Sideway Blues: Irish Mountain and Beyond and how do they differ?

CK:  Sideways Blues, was stylistically influenced by Kerouac’s concept of the Blues which he defines in the front sleeve of his book Some of the Dharma. He says, ” A blues is a complete poem written filling in one notebook page, of small or medium size, usually 15 to 25 lines, known as a Chorus,…” Kerouac insisted upon spontaneity and little to no revision. That being said, I am not a huge fan of most of his poetry per se’ because of that lack of revision. He certainly hits the mark on several pieces but most come across as conversational, and lacking of profundity or depth. I am much more a fan of his prose work. 

We part ways on revision.  I revisit my poems after writing them and revise. Upon a 2nd, third or forth reading I am able to develop the lines and imagery so that it more closely resembles the experience that I felt at the time of writing and also to present things in a way that might be more palatable for the reader. However, when revising I do try to keep the original intensity and vibration that I felt at the time of writing. I also allow myself the ability to extend the poem beyond a notebook page but I do like the concept of sticking to about a page because it forces you to develop each line more succinctly instead of getting too wordy.


GER: Your collections, Postpoemed and Peripheral Debris document through poetry and photography the decline of industry in towns, boroughs and cities in Pennsylvania.  What effect did the geography and people you encountered have on you?

CK: The other thing that inspired me to continue my explorations was the discovery of the concept of Psychogeography which is a sort of pseudo-science dealing with the effects of environment on the behavior and emotions of individuals. It is also very much a literary and artistic movement as well and has a long history.  The premise is to quiet the mind and open up to the surrounding environment to recognize its impacts upon your thoughts and feelings and then document the results through writing or photography. Walking can be meditative. With each step you let go of cares and worries and open up to the present, the longer you walk the easier it becomes.  As you walk you merge more and more into the surroundings and become less noticed by others.  Sometimes I will just sit somewhere and observe. Whether walking or sitting I take notes of happenings, thoughts and feelings. Usually within the next day or so after the experience something poetic resonates within me and I revisit the notes and write it out. The result is not always a success but sometimes works out quite well and those are the works I have published so far.

In the process I have gained a greater appreciation of the people and places I have been. Everywhere everyone is just leading their ordinary lives the best that they can. As an observer, I consider myself lucky to have witnessed all the chance encounters, all the events unfolding. Had I not been at a particular place at a particular time I would not have seen what I saw. Everything unfolds in the present moment and it is the present moment everywhere so depending on where you are that is what you know. Just sitting at home trying to discern reality from the news or from the internet is a half truth at best. I think the truth is what lies before your eyes, take that and fit it into the larger context of what you read or hear.

Pennsylvania is a beautiful place, so many winding roads though cities and towns past forested mountains and farms. The people I have encountered are distinctly interesting manifestations of that environment. Those I have met along the way are always surprising in their diversity.  I have learned to never trust first impressions as during conversation I am generally surprised to find out I was wrong. The architecture I encounter will never be duplicated. There is much historical beauty throughout the state. Even the decay has a certain beauty. The streets of early 20th century row homes I walk down will never be duplicated and may not even be replicated anywhere else outside of the northeastern United States. There is something quite unique about a small Pennsylvania town. There is much to find.

GER: What other poets have influenced you and do you have any you return time and again?

CK: The work that I am currently producing is directly influenced by the beat movement, spontaneous rhythmic free verse. So Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William S. Burroughs of course. Gil Scott Heron, Amiri Baraka, Richard Brautigan, Maggie Estep, Lydia Lunch, Lorri Jackson, Captain Beefheart ( Don Glen Vliet ), Patti Smith are also great poets as well and on and on. I am greatly in awe of the talents of so many other poets too numerous to mention. I have also met a lot of lesser known writers who have inspired me. Strangely enough though, it is the work of William Blake that over the years I have returned to time and again. The marriage of Heaven and Hell has been read many times.

I am also drawn to literature, philosophy, eastern religious thought and well crafted prose.  Another book I return to often, so dog eared, battered and torn, is Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet  – A Factless Autobiography. Pessoa’s prose is flawless. The narrator, living his entire existence in Lisbon Portugal ( and mainly one street in Lisbon) opens up a boundless universe of imaginative thought and observation. It is the one book, along with a survival guide, that I take with me into the woods when the bombs start to drop and the shit goes down.

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GER: Are you familiar with Martin J. Desht’s Photosonata?

CK:  I was not familiar with Desht’s work but I am certain I will be sometime soon.  From what I can glean off the internet it very much looks like his photography is similar in nature to mine. It seems like he had explored some of the same areas that I have been exploring. Perhaps it would be interesting to try and revisit and photograph the places he has and see how they have changed. Thank you for bringing him to my attention.

GER: Do you believe lost industrial jobs can return to Pennsylvania and if not, will the wealthy continue its efforts to eliminate the middle class?

CK:  No, nor do I think they should. The past cannot be duplicated. The future and any prosperity it may bring to the depressed regions of Pennsylvania will be unique to its time. Manufacturing will be a part of this for sure but it will be manufacturing producing what is needed for the times they are needed in. Yes it is always the people near the bottom that are most affected but humans are adaptable and must adapt to the current situation. Some of these towns will survive but there will be many that continue to crumble into dust. To try and hold on to the dream of returning to the glory days of the past is only keeping us from progressing into what we could be tomorrow. I used to think it as essential for towns to hold on to all those beautiful old buildings of historical significance but if they are holding us back from becoming more prosperous then they too must go.

Overall, I do see us by necessity having to return to a more urban environment, a more community oriented environment. I see the revitalization of small cities taking place everywhere I go.  Places like Phoenixville, Lancaster, Doylestown, Stroudsburg and closer to my home, West Reading are becoming attractive to live in again. Perhaps as more people work from home some of those depressed towns will become more attractive because the cost of living will be less. Certainly, during any revitalization there must be efforts made to keep affordable housing. But, this notion of escaping further and further away from each other is unsustainable. There are only so many places to go.  The car culture and the blandness of suburbia is destroying us more than any loss of industry. The pervasive self similar, scale invariant strip mall culture of the WaWa – Wal-mart world is culturally destructive and environmentally unsound. However, this is a huge topic and could be the subject of many a book so I will stop there and reserve the right to be wrong about any of it.

GER: Was there a transition between living in Reading and now living in Temple?

CK:  I have a love/ hate relationship with the Reading area. I very often wonder where I would be had I lived in other places also. Yet, I would not be achieving what I currently am if I had gone elsewhere. I suppose it is pointless to even speculate what my life would be. I will just try and be appreciative of what has befallen me and trust the universe to take me where it will.

Temple is on the northeastern edge of the greater Reading area so the transition was not that great. I am still in an urban environment where the sidewalks still run and connect me to the city itself. Temple is in Muhlenberg Township which is adjacent to Reading and is very much a fast food, Dollar Mart, strip mall hustle and bustle boom. Temple itself is an old town at the end of a trolly line that was just enveloped by sprawl. Overlooking Temple is the hump/ pseudo mountain called Irish Mountain and it is where my poetic journey began in earnest. It is also the focus of my first book Sideways Blues.  I have found many places nearby to escape to on foot but everywhere I go I can turn the corner and look northeast and there’s that dam Irish Mountain glaring down at me saying – where do you think you are going now?

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GER: How is the poetry scene in Reading?

CK:  Reading has had a pretty stable poetry community since the early 1990’s under the moniker of “Berks Bards”.  The “Bards” are part of the artistic establishment and tend to be a bit academic, but the group has afforded me many opportunities over the years so I am thankful for them. Under the leadership of its original  founders it was more of a county-wide group involving many communities, now it pretty much resides in Reading and is intertwined with the local art venue at the Goggle Works. The Goggle Works is an old factory that was refurbished to now be an arts and craft center with artist lofts for rent and workshops etc. It is a good thing overall but is a self contained island of art with not many places to go outside of it. Ironically, it is the old factory where I used to work at in my young adulthood when I was tromping around the streets. I believe there is a couple of other groups that are around but are more “workshop” oriented and I am not a “workshop” poet but I’m guessing they do good things.

Reading itself has become a largely Hispanic community which is vibrant and diverse and does seem to have it’s own growing creative community. I have only recently discovered this but have long sensed it. Unlike a large city such as Philadelphia if one wants to broaden their scope and reach you have to travel to other small cities to expand the circle. I have found very vibrant poetic communities in Lancaster, York and Harrisburg as well. I know of groups in Allentown, Bethlehem, Scranton and Chester County also so poetry is very much alive in Eastern Pennsylvania. I also have found a great circle of friends and supporters in Woodbridge N.J as well.

GER: What current literary projects are you developing?

CK:  Like in the Lawrence Ferlinghetti Poem I am Waiting, currently I am waiting for a rebirth of wonder which is slowly beginning to emerge. While I am still writing experiential poems of place, I am delving more and more into some longer prose pieces which are still experiential in nature but incorporate mental traveling as well, stream of thought. I am most interested with the juxtaposition of loosely related images that play upon each other to form a more implied narrative.  I have done this in the past with some success in longer spontaneous pieces I have written but I think I would like to utilize this in some shorter poems. I have just been reading some and love his poems Night Highway 99 and Three Worlds, Three Realms, Six Roads  in which stand alone lines juxtaposed take the reader on a journey without much in the way of narrative. It all comes down to a well crafted line, I think. I also like the short numbered aphoristic like chapters found in Fernando Pessoa’s work or Kerouac’s Desolation Angels or even Fredrich Nietzsche’s Human, All Too -Human or Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell. So, I am continuing the process of developing and experimenting with my writing.

As with my previous three books, at some point it manifests that I have a body of work that fits together well and then I seek to publish. If I do publish again, I think it will be an E-book to try and reach a larger audience but we will see. Along side the writing I am still exploring and trying to better my photographic skills. I have a large body of photographic work so maybe a collection of photographs like Martin J. Desht’s would be in order but I would have to figure out how that is done. In this electronic culture I am not certain that hard copy books are the correct path but on this too I reserve the right to be wrong.

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An Interview with John Macker

macker profileJohn Macker lives in Santa Fe, NM. His latest books are Atlas of Wolves, (Stubborn Mule Press 2019), The Blues Drink Your Dreams Away Selected Poems 1983-2018 (Stubborn Mule Press), Gorge Songs (DCArt Press, 2017) with Denver woodblock artist Leon Loughridge and Blood in the Mix, (with El Paso poet Lawrence Welsh), Lummox Press, 2015. Other books include Disassembled Badlands, Woman of the Disturbed Earth, Underground Sky, Adventures in the Gun Trade among others. In 2006 he edited the Desert Shovel Review.

By g emil reutter

GER: What are your roots in poetry and how were you able to evolve to your own unique voice?

JM: I started writing poetry seriously and consistently after college in Denver. Dylan Thomas was a huge early influence and then, later on, Kerouac and the Beats and their vital connection to Denver. Fresh out of the Univ. of Missouri, in 1978, I took Gregory Corso’s “Socratic: Poetry Rap” at Naropa Institute in Boulder that summer. I was influenced by the Donald Allen-edited anthology, The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, as seminal a representation of contemporary poetry as there was at the time. I began to scour bookstores for Diane DiPrima, Corso, David Meltzer, Ed Dorn, Lew Welch, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Ginsberg and the rest. In Denver, I was introduced to poet/artist Tony Scibella who owned Black Ace Books on East Colfax. He had been influenced by his friendship with Perkoff, who died in 1973. (An early, enthusiastic supporter of Perkoff’s was Charles Olson.) Our friendship lasted until Tony’s death in L.A. in 2003. My first publication, a broadside, was published by Larry Lake’s Bowery Press in 1983.

So, my roots involved that generation of artists and wordslingers who came of age in the 1950’s and 1960’s, who wrote with a radical new spontaneity and vision that was based in large part, on the way people talked to each other on the streets, responses to cultural suffocation, the atom bomb, drugs, Vietnam and sex. Also, the little small press literary mags and their attendant scenes that began springing up all over America, edited by Judson Crews, Diane DiPrima, Amiri Baraka, William Margolis, Wallace Berman, and many others, had their origin stories in that generation. 

My own voice found its origins in the texts of these poets but also through a carefree diet of indiscriminate and voracious reading throughout the years. Prose writers such as Kerouac, Roberto Bolańo, Charles Bowden and Cormac McCarthy come to mind. My true voice came, with the most potency, from the landscapes and natural beauty I found in New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. I grew up in the west, my grandfather was a cowboy and a rancher, so I absorbed the landforms early on. I’ve always been intrigued by the relationship of humans to their environments. It sounds like a well-worn theme but it also involves ritual, magic, Native American history, the desert and the Blues. The works of Gary Snyder, Ed Dorn, John Knoll, Linda Hogan, N. Scott Momaday, Amiri Baraka, the transcendent essays of John Nizalowski and many others.

macker desert

GER: How did your move from Colorado to New Mexico enhance or affect your art?

JM: It was significant, life changing. The visual stimulation and history came at me full throttle. The Apaches, Billy the Kid, the canyons, mesas and pueblos. The graves, the hidden underneath. It was mind-altering. A drug with wings. It allowed me to build my writing with new focus, energy and subject matter. They came in through the window. I guess you could say I reached a level of maturity and discipline that was needed to get the work done.

GER: Share with us how your collaborative work with Paris Butler, Leon Loughridge and Lawrence Welsh came about and how was the experience?

JM: Parris and I collaborated on the one broadside back in Denver in ’86, I think. Again, the writers of that generation were keen on collaboration because it not only enhanced the words but visual art, on many levels, was integral to their lives. They were all friends! The influence was always mutual and contagious. Leon and I met through the Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe where I was working and he was represented. He is a superb wood block artist in the light and tradition of Gustave Baumann. We’re working on our 4th limited edition book together. Sometimes I would work off of his images and sometimes we would just meet having done the work separately but guided by a central image or theme. Sometimes he’s worked off of my words. It’s a mutual inspiration society. Mostly geographical and historically themed.  He’s also an amazing book maker. His technique is flawless. I’ve also collaborated with my wife Annie, Tony Scibella, Denver artist Steve Wilson, Santa Fe artist Carol Anthony, and artist John Felsing.  

I’d been an admirer of El Paso poet Lawrence Welsh’s work for years. He approached me in 2015 about doing a book together and I had some new work so we made it happen. It was published by Lummox Press. Blood in the Mix was Larry’s title. I’m a bit more long-winded than he is so the contrast, I think, was illuminating. Some of his potent shorter poems work like Southwestern charms or spells. He’s also a firm believer in collaboration. His latest book is Cutting the Wire, with photographer Bruce Berman and poet Ray Gonzalez.

GER: In 1988 you opened a used and rare book store in Glenwood Springs. How did that experience add to your poetry as well as the constant interaction with poets?

JM: Denver was only three hours away from Glenwood Springs, a mountain community, so the connection with writing and old friends was always there. A bookstore should always be a community conduit. That’s why so many small independent booksellers have survived things like economic downturns and pandemics. Yeah, a lot of different folks dropped by throughout the years. Influenced by the small press publishers, I published the Harp Arts Journal, which had feelers up and down the valley. Hunter Thompson was a fan. I dug the action, I didn’t have a boss and I didn’t make a dime. But for seven years, I was in book heaven. Got to know Colorado poets like the late, great Mike Adams, Art Goodtimes, and Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer.

GER: For two decades you have been bookstore director at Gerald Peters Gallery. Even though you continue to promote the arts how does this gig differ from Glenwood Springs?

JM: Due to covid, I’ve been furloughed for the last 12 months so I’m not real sure about the future. But, I had a hands-off boss! I had a paycheck! I didn’t have to worry about keeping the lights on. I met some of the most interesting people in the world there and Gerald Peters, as one of the perks for working there, let me use the gallery space off-hours for poetry readings, publication parties and so forth. Great fun. And the art on the walls was always an inspiration. I was able to attract some local (& national) writers of supreme talent for my one and only edition of the Desert Shovel Review. I also had free reign to stock the shelves with some of the greatest art and photography titles (new and out-of-print) ever published.

GER: You have been involved in a number of publications over the years. Describe the interaction with other writers and what do you consider to be your best publication?

JM: My first editing/publishing shot was the lit mag Moravagine, in 1983, in Denver. Very raw and by today’s standards, primitive. I still wince when I look at it. I did 3 issues. My third issue featured an interview with Venice West/Denver poet Tony Scibella which was later used by John Arthur Maynard in his book on the SoCal Beat era, Venice West: The Beat Generation in Southern California. But it was a learning experience. And that’s what you did, you got to practice your craft while assembling what you believe to be the finest art and writing that you can scrounge up, to surround you on the page. It was influenced by Larry Lake’s Mano/Mano 2 (with Kenneth Patchen, Neal Cassady letters, Ken Kesey, Russell Edson, Stuart Perkoff, Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac etc. ) and Ed Ward’s Passion Press, both in Denver. Ed Ward’s interview in one of his issues with underground filmmaker Stan Brakhage, who was a Colorado resident, was essential reading. Brakhage extolled the virtues of the small press and was close to poetry. I had him show a couple of his films at this Denver Art Museum gig I did in the 80’s.

     Later, in Glenwood, I edited a few years’ worth of monthly Harp Arts Journals (in tabloid form) before ending up with a couple of magazine format issues. There, I was fortunate enough to have access to material by Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, Diane DiPrima, John Hiatt interview, Ben Talbert etc).

     I edited the Desert Shovel Review in New Mexico, in 2006. I was able to connect with some fine American writers including Jack Hirschman, S.A. Griffin, Mike Adams, Donald Levering, David Meltzer, John Knoll, Janet Glovinsky, Philomene Long, John Thomas, Todd Moore, Tony Moffeit, collage by Steve Wilson. It was, for lack of a better word, a kind of outlaw presentation: perfect bound, jaw dropping collage by my wife, published out of our roadhouse. It was during the second Bush administration and I quoted Hans Arp: “While the thunder of the batteries rumbled/In the distance, we pasted, we recited, we/Versified, we sang with all our soul.”  I still feel that way.  I was in all 9 issues of RD Armstrong’s Lummox journals with either poems or essays.

     One of the best I was involved in, no doubt, was Gary Brower’s Malpais Review that appeared between 2010-2016. He published my poetry but mostly essays on poets, like Ed Dorn and his Recollections of Gran Apacheria and Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid. I ended up there as contributing editor. It was published out of Placitas, New Mexico. A poetry anthology for the ages.

     Padma Thornlyre, publisher of Turkey Buzzard Press, published three of my poetry titles. He’s a good editor and friend. I’ve also established a good working relationship with Jason Ryberg of Spartan/Stubborn Mule Press, who published my last two titles. I’ve worked closely with both of them on the look and scope of the books.

     Another type of collaboration between consenting adults.


GER: How did you become involved with “The Outlaw Poet’s Summit Reading” and how did that go?

JM: RD Armstrong asked us to meet him in Boulder so we did. It was great to see old friends, Art Goodtimes and Mike Adams, who was ailing but in fine form and voice.

macker moore

GER: Can you share with us your memoires of Todd Moore?

JM: Todd was a gentle man with a huge spirit and generosity. His kind of scholarly appearance and soft voice belied the ferocity of his language. He was a school teacher but also the quintessential outlaw poet, along with Pueblo, Colorado’s Tony Moffeit. One night, a whole group of folks came out to the roadhouse for the Desert Shovel publication party. Todd and Tony were huddled in the corner & I overheard Todd tell him that he was “in the process of destroying the American line.” I believed him. Some of his lines were one word in length. He probably knew more about John Dillinger than Melvin Purvis did. He was an early supporter of my manuscript for Adventures in the Gun Trade. He had a collection of historic knives that was scary and they had a privileged spot in his study close to his wall of books. He was extremely well read. On his 70th birthday he dropped into the gallery. He still had a twinkle in his eye. I think he enjoyed busting the chops of the “literary establishment” as much as anyone. He reiterated his love for gangsters and old Westerns. I could go on. Todd shouldn’t be forgotten.

macker cutting

GER: Your 1984 chapbook, the cutting distance, was released by Long Road Press.  Can you tell us about the chapbook?

JM: It was my first. And I think a kind of green, careless work. I needed an editor like a drought needs water. I needed more seasoning, for sure. My mother had just passed away suddenly so I was riding on those emotions & it was dedicated to her. Tony Scibella illustrated it and Frank Rios wrote a foreword. We assembled it in Tony’s bookstore. But Larry Lake, who published my first broadside believed in it so we went ahead. The poems were like early auditions for the Muse. Some poems still stand. One in particular: in the park/my dog/like a silly yellow snowcloud/lopes across the grass/in the dark/with the crooked smile/of dead things in his mouth.

GER: Tell us about Border Wall Blues from Atlas of Wolves and its continued relevance to events of the day?

JM: I’m glad you asked. That poem is an exclamation of terror and urgency. It sprung out of previous administrations’ obsession over walls. It’s also satirical. The previous administration turned the border into a hellscape, a boneyard, a place where families were separated and decayed. It’s about our “rapacious crumbling beauty”, our obsession with tired, racist monuments and statuary. It destroys the migratory paths of wildlife. It’s a billion dollar disgrace and illustrates what happens when a government lacks all imagination and empathy. Recited aloud, the poem is a chant and ends up singing us the blues.

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GER: You have been performing readings for a few decades. What do you get from readings and how important are they to your continuing development as a poet?

JM: Two things: They are key to listening to the poem aloud in your own voice and gauging the reaction of an audience. If the poem is not finished (& I’m not sure any of mine really are) readings help to edit the poem. Secondly, I’ve spent years trying to become a better reader or performer of my work and I think I’ve managed to communicate my words with much more clarity, enthusiasm and professionalism than I did, say, 20 years ago. My first major public reading was at the Slightly Off-Center Theatre in Denver in the early 80’s. I read with Ed Dorn and Linda Hogan. It was the first time I really listened to poetry spoken to me.  

I’ve done some Zoom readings and those have been useful but it’s nothing like live talking flesh.

GER: Has Covid had an effect on you and your family and where do you see us in another year?

JM: My wife’s art business (she sells at an artist’s market at the railyard in Santa Fe) has come to a halt. I haven’t worked at the gallery in a year. We are unable to see our grandchildren, one who has special needs. Like everyone else, we’ve mostly adjusted. I sit under a tree in the backyard (weather permitting) and compose, if the gods are paying attention. We walk the dogs 2 miles every morning. Trying to reach some semblance of order and common purpose with the rest of humanity going through what we are. But, yeah, the isolation gets to us. Phone calls and emails just don’t cut it. With the vaccines moving down the line and if everyone masks up and social distances for a while longer, I think we can be in a good place for 2022, but we can’t take our eyes off of the task at hand. There’s been a fanatic belligerence towards public policy of late and everything got politicized, so that set us back in real time. The game is simple: we need to keep ourselves and others safe.

GER: What projects are you working on?

JM: In 2020 DCArt Press put out a short prose memoir of mine, “El Rialto”, with serigraphs by Leon Loughridge. I also put out a book of short fiction, essays and a one-act play, Desert Threnody, published by auxarczen press in Missouri. It was helpful to stay busy. Am working on a couple of manuscripts, one (surprise!) having to do with the pandemic, Oblivion Decorum. I’m collaborating with Leon on a series of 4 short fiction pieces, Chaco Sojourn, with his woodblock prints for the coming year. Thanks for asking.

Macker on Youtube:


Atlas of Wolves:

g emil reutter can be found at:




An Interview with Frank Wilson

(click on title for full screen view)


g emil reutter

frank_wilson_bookpile.Poet Frank Wilson has been reviewing books for over fifty years. He began in college, worked for a weekly paper and as an editor for a book publisher. He served as Books Editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, publishes Books Inq., a popular blog and wrote a weekly column for When Falls the Coliseum.

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Frank Wilson reads at Poets on the Porch Festival

Where is Frank Wilson from and how has that shaped your life?


FW: I’m Philly-born and -bred. Strictly working class. My older brother and I were raised by our mother and her mother. Both of them were factory workers. My father was a cop. I didn’t see much of him when I was growing up, but I liked him a lot and learned a lot from him.


I started life in North Philly, in a rowhouse at Sixth and Sedgley. St. Veronica’s parish. Across the street was a scrapyard, and all about were rail yards and factories. (The trains that I could see rushing by just behind the scrapyard were running on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s main line — just not the part that ran through the Main Line.) Nature in that neighborhood was what you found in vacant lots — ailanthus, blackberry brambles, and goldenrod. I still think there is a strange beauty in the glow of factories at night, and there is very nice watercolor right above where I am writing of sa factory scene at night.


When I was 8, we moved to Torresdale, in the far Northeast, which at the time was still semi-rural. Our house was at the end of a gravel road (only recently named Jackson Street), and was surrounded by woods. There was a stream in back and we had well water and a cess pool. I walked through the woods to go to grade school (St. Katherine of Siena), which was then located on the grounds of Eden Hall, an exclusive girls school (Basil Rathbone’s daughter went there), which had its own farm. Nuns from Eden Hall — the Religious of the Sacred Heart, known as the distaff Jesuits — taught at the school. My sixth-grade teacher, Mother Holmes, was a niece of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. We exchanged emails near the end of her life. She was a very important influence on me.


I grew very fond of those woods around our house — they were part of a migratory route, so all kinds of birds passed through in spring and fall — but when I was in the eighth grade the city came along and bull-dozed them into oblivion and put in sewer lines to set things up for development, which is why the Northeast I knew as a child doesn’t exist anymore


Your blog,  Books, Inq.: The Epilogue,  is widely read. How did the Blog come about?


FW: I started the blog at the beginning of 2005. The idea was that it would offer a behind-the-scenes look at what a newspaper book review editor does. It proved more difficult than I had anticipated — I really didn’t have the time to write thoughtful posts. It also didn’t attract many readers. So I changed course and turned it into a blog mostly linking to and commenting on articles about books and literature. I was also lucky in my partners. Vikram Johri has been posting from India since just about the beginning. For a while, the late Canadian poet Judith Fitzgerald was a partner. My other two partners now are Jesse Freedman, an Oxford grad who works for Amazon, and Julie Chovannes, an intellectual property lawyer. Now that I think about it, it’s a good thing I started it, because otherwise I don’t think I’d have made the cut.



john timpane and frank wilson

John Timpane and Frank Wilson at Ryerss Museum and Library

You have been reviewing books for four decades, beginning in college, working for a press, a weekly paper and of course the Philadelphia Inquirer. Could you share what you consider the highlights of your career?


FW: One of the books I edited for Lippincott — Stanley I. Kutler’s Privilege and Creative Destruction — has become a classic in its field. I would like to say that my superb editing had something to do with that, but it was the cleanest manuscript I ever worked on.


Another book I edited, this one for Running Press, that I think is memorable was J.R.R. Tolkien: Architect of Middle Earth by Daniel Grotta. It was an unauthorized biography. The Tolkien family had already chosen Humphey Carpenter to write the authorized version. Grotta advanced the notion that Tolkien’s imaginative world owed much to his experiences in World War I. Not everyone buys this, but I think the book makes a strong case for its plausibility.


Then there was an article I wrote in the old Drummer about singer-songer Harry Nilsson that got me a funny thank-you note from Nilsson and the chance to talk to him over the phone a couple of times.


Another review I wrote, of poet J. V. Cunningham’s Collected Poems and Collected Essays, got me a letter from Cunningham in which he told me that “it was nice to be praised for the things one would like to be praised for.” I wrote back and asked him if he would look at some of my poems, and he told me to send them along. At the time I was into writing things like villanelles and ballades. He wrote me back with some great advice. He told me that I had perfected a style. Now I just had to figure out what I wanted to do with it.


Later on, when I was reviewing for The Inquirer, I got a letter from the novelist Oliver Lange. I had reviewed his novel Pas de Deux, which is about a novelist who writes under a pseudonym and teaches at a small college in Oregon and gets sucked into an affair with a student of his who turns out to be the daughter he more or less abandoned. I raised some questions in my review about how much of the story was autobiographical. Lange wrote to say he found the closeness of my reading impressive. He in fact did use a pseudonym — his real name was John Wadleigh — and he did teach in a small college, but he had not engaged in incest. That novel, by the way, ought to be better known, as should a couple of others of his: Next of Kin, which I also reviewed — it was nominated for a Pulitzer —  and Vandenburg, which Hollywood seems to have ripped off for the Patrick Swayze movie Red Dawn.



Many newspapers are dropping book reviews from their publications. The Inquirer continues to publish many reviews. What is the decision process in selecting a book for review and what is your legacy at the Inquirer?


FW: If a name writer has a new book out, it has to be reviewed. With non-fiction, you’ll want to review anything that is getting attention in the news. But the problem is space. The Inquirer probably reviews more poetry than most papers, and that is very good, because there are some pretty good poets in these parts, and a fairly lively poetry scene. I think The Inquirer would do itself and its readers a big favor by putting out an actual book section. The Inquirer’s competition on Sunday is the New York Times. Now, the Times’s book review section is a shadow of its former self (no sour grapes on my part in saying this — I wrote for the Times book review for years), but they do still have one. The Inquirer could easily and cheaply put out one that would be competitive. The Inquirer’s Sunday sales would likely go up, and I suspect the Times’s might well go down.

As for my legacy, probably a headline I wrote when I was a copy editor for a review of a book about the German philosopher Martin Heidegger: Dasein for living (which only makes sense to somebody who knows something about Heidegger). And a quip I made about Bill Clinton being a Snopes with table manners.


frank drexel

Frank Wilson interviewed at Drexel Television

Your wrote a weekly column, That’s What He Said, for When Falls the Coliseum. How did this come about and are you considering bringing the column back and if not why?


FW: It came about because Scott Stein, the editor of WFTC, asked me if I wanted to write a column. I had always thought about writing some essays like the first ones Montaigne wrote — descants on favorite quotations. I stopped writing it because I ran out of quotations that had been floating around in my head and had to start looking around for quotations, which struck me as phony. Recently, though, I realized that I look around for quotations every day for the “Something to think on…” feature on the blog, so I see ideas for it every day practically. So I am planning to take it up again fairly soon.


As a poet, could you share what motivates you to write poetry and what type of poet do you consider yourself?


FW:  I think I caught the poetry bug when I was very small and was reading nursery rhymes. “Hey Diddle Diddle” has been a lifelong favorite. Moving from sound and nonsense to sound and sense was easy. In the grade school I attended, poetry was taught every Friday afternoon. Sometimes you had to memorize it. That’s when I first encountered Poe’s “To Helen,” which happens to be a well-nigh perfect lyric, and “The Raven,” and Walter de la Mare’s “The Listeners.” I remember one Saturday night — I was in my early teens, I think —reading all of Poe’s poems in one sitting. The next morning, when my mother and I walked to Mass, one of them, “Romance,” kept running through my head the way a popular song might. So the connection between sound and sense was what got me started, I think.


I remember writing a poem and showing it to my Junior English teacher at Father Judge. He handed it back to me the next day decorated with scanning marks, demonstrating that I knew nothing about metrics. Which I began to learn. Emerson got me studying etymologies and I started discovering poets on my own. I can still remember the day I came upon H.D.’s “Pear Tree” in an anthology I had picked up in the Holmesburg Library. I remember thinking that H.D., whoever she was, was the kind of girl I’d like to know. From the start I was fond of poets who were women. Those Friday afternoon poetry classes had already introduced me to Amy Lowell and Sara Teasdale, and I came to love Denise Levertov and Phylis McGinley. Levertov, in particular, along with H.D., I am sure exerted considerable influence on my poetic personality.
I remember picking up a copy of T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems 1909-1935 in Leary’s Book Store on a rainy November Saturday and reading “Preludes” on the el. I think that’s when I realized how poetic the city could be, that poems didn’t need daffodils. But, speaking of daffodils, it was having an experience a lot like what Wordsworth tells of in “Tintern Abbey” that was decisive in making me feel that poetry could be a kind of vocation. One Sunday in May I walked through Pennypack Park from Frankford Avenue to Pine Road and back. By myself. On the way back — I was on the high trail — I stopped and looked across to the other side of the creek. It was late afternoon, and I felt, like Wordsworth, a presence and
                                           …a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
I wrote some poetry in college and some of it appeared in the college literary magazine, and I know I continued writing it from time to time. But mostly I read, and discovered poets I felt simpatico with — Kenneth Patchen, another working-class kid, George Barker, John Hall Wheelock, Robert Bly (whom I got to meet). I made myself familiar with those thought standard as well: Cummings, Auden, William Carlos Williams, and especially Stevens. I guess I should mention Rilke, too. I studied German in high school and college and have made good use of it in reading Rilke, whose poems have meant a lot to me. I was also increasingly absorbed with words, their origins and connotations, how they fitted with one another, how the right arrangement could be a cluster of meanings in mysterious harmony. Meter is really good for scanning. It lets you gauge the melody and rhythm of words in consort. But meter alone is not poetry. Poetry happens when meter and inflection accommodate each other.
Things started to coalesce in the ‘70s and I was invited to read at Haverford College, and some of my things got set to music (one for a piece in honor of the Bicentennial). I didn’t start getting into print until much later. The business of poetry didn’t interest me all that much, though I was neither ignorant of it nor indifferent to it. But poetry for me had become, as I think it was for Wallace Stevens, a private devotion. Like Stevens, I had a day job. The practice of poetry was a place of sanctuary for me, where the essential strands of my being — my faith, my fondness for long walks (in the woods or in the city or along the beach),  certain paintings and pieces of music, the philosophical and theological musings I had been trained in, all came together in an attempt to arrive at something like a language crystal. I hear some words, some lines, and try to discern their meaning and order and get them down as accurately and precisely as I can. 


Frank Wilson reading at Poets on the Porch Festival

Poets on the Porch Festival

Will we see a collection of poetry from Frank Wilson?


FW:  A year or so ago, my friend Daniel Grotta, who wrote the Tolkien biography I mentioned, asked me if I would let him publish my poems. What was interesting about that was Daniel only knew my poems from having heard me read them decades earlier in my Germantown sitting room. That’s the best compliment I have ever had. Daniel and his wife, Sally, ran a publishing house out of the Poconos. Unfortunately, Daniel passed away last year, and I don’t feel I should bother Sally about it. But I am going to put together a collection of them and show it to some friends and see what they think.  We’ll see what happens.


As a younger man it is said that you enjoyed to party. How did this impact your writing and do you miss that life?


FW: The partying had no effect on my writing beyond maybe sometimes giving me experiences and insights I might otherwise not have had. No one in his right mind undertakes to write while high. Some of the partying was also pretty high-toned. Among the people who came to visit my rather bohemian house in Germantown years ago were people like Roy Tobias, who was one of the original members of the American Ballet Theater, and a guy named Evans Winner, who was involved in the founding of Outward Bound, and painter Harry Bertoia. I’m an old-fashioned journalist. I like to experience things first-hand, not just hear about them. But you can keep that sort of thing up for only so long and the name of the game is not to be dead at the end. I did everything in the partying line that I could do and moved on. I do not miss it at all. I can’t remember the last party I attended. Been there, done that.



If possible, could you share your favorite top ten books?


FW: Off the top of my head, in no particular order, and without comment:

Le grand Meulnes (also known as The Wanderer), by Alain-Fournier.

Owen Glendower, by John Cowper Powys

Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

Earthly Powers, by Anthony Burgess 

Possession, by A.S. Byatt

The Song of Bernadette, by Franz Werfel

The Memoirs of a Superfluous Man, by Albert Jay Nock

The Destiny of Man, by Nicolas Berdyaev

The Living God, by Romano Guardini


Where do you see the publication of books heading and in particular, poetry books, which struggle to find a place in the market?


FW: If newspapers were smart, they’d cover poetry the way they cover movies and the theater and concerts. The newspaper mantra these days is local, local, local. Well, in just about any locale you can find people interested in poetry, writing it and reading it. Poetry certainly isn’t going away anytime soon, especially given the way technology has made it possible for just about anybody to draw attention to what he writes. It is strange how the media doesn’t really seem to catch on to how things have changed, even though the media itself has been profoundly affected by the changes. But the media seems hellbent on continuing to look at things as if they still were as they used to be. There is a market for books in general and poetry in particular. Somebody is going to figure out how to exploit that market.


chimera frank

How would you describe Frank Wilson?


FW: God has been good to me. I ended up with the job I had dreamed of having when I was in high school. I’ve spent most of my life doing things I really liked doing. And I made a pretty good living doing it. Deeper than that, I find, now that I am an old man, that it was the early years, childhood and adolescence, that made me who I am. The years in between seem like variations on a theme I think I hit upon when I was 15. Oddly, it is the practice of poetry that has made me understand this. I studied existential phenomenology under Edward Gannon, S. J., and his counsel has guided me ever since. Along with the poetry, it has made me an engaged observer of life and the world. 



To learn more about Frank Wilson these sites are recommended:

Chimeraobscura –

The Drexel Interview –

Frank Wilson interviews Donald Hall-

Gypsy Art Show-

Kenyon Review-


g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here: About g emil reutter


Photographs courtesy of Books Inq, Chimeraobscura, The Philadelphia Inqurier , The Fox Chase Review, When Falls the Coliseum, The Drexel Interview