Interview with Robert Arthur Reeves

Kenneth P. Gurney. I met Robert Arthur Reeves at the 1999 Taos Poetry Circus and we gravitated toward each other’s poetry and struck up a friendly conversation. That conversation continues to this day as we share poetry regularly – now that he has moved to Bremerton over the internet with video chat. He shares a poetry website with Sari Krosinsky – Outer Child Poetry.

What got you started into poetry? What age?

Robert Arthur Reeves.  My friend Henry, met at age 14, wrote poetry, so I wrote my first poem shortly after meeting him.  It was, to put it politely, a piece of shit.  I began to write more, and get better, when I met another boy called Steve Oden at summer camp a year later.  Steve read poetry as well as wrote it, and brought lots of it with him.  Through him I discovered the Beats.  I think the first book of poetry I read was Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind.  The Beats had their own predecessors, mentors, idols, and I went to those next, and from them backward to their influences, and so on.  Eventually I had to stop with Gilgamesh, but I’d been writing my own stuff through most of that time of discovery, and finding a voice that really didn’t belong to anyone else.  Oddly, the poet I’ve read who sounds most like me to me is Marge Piercy, though the things she writes about are mostly pretty foreign to my interests.

KPG. What is your favorite breakfast?

RAR.  Actual lifesize kippers from the grill, not the can.

KPG. How much influence does your university degree(s) have on your writing of poetry and how?

RAR.  My degrees were in philosophy and history, not English, and it was my conscious decision not to pursue an English degree, so I’d say not much influence at all.  I don’t really write poems that require a knowledge of philosophy or history either, though I’m not above namedropping where it’s relevant.  I’m not an intellectual who writes for other intellectuals.  I mostly don’t identify as an intellectual at all.

KPG. Who is your favorite Civil War general and why?

RAR.  I like George Thomas, one of the few Union generals it’s possible to admire almost all the way through the war.  He won some important battles, but his nickname, the Rock of Chickamauga, comes from his behavior during a losing battle, in which he was the one Union commander not to get his ass kicked.  He was a bit over-careful, bit of a micromanager, but that meant defending his troops was always part of his strategy.  They weren’t cannon fodder as with people like Grant.

KPG. Tell us about your favorite (or one of your favorites) poetry experience.

RAR.  Has to be meeting Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso when I was eighteen or so.  They were in Albuquerque for a reading at the University of New Mexico and my friend Kerry and I talked them into coming out to our small Catholic university too.  We bought them lunch at the school cafeteria and I started showing Ginsberg poems.  At one point he passed one across the table to Corso and said “He’s got a whole notebook full of stuff like this!”

KPG. If you could wave a magic wand and place a poetry book into every high school English classroom as required reading, which one would it be and why?

RART.S. Eliot’s early poems, like “Prufrock” and “The Waste Land,” still get kids excited after all this time.  Those are likely to be part of the required reading already.  Somebody funny, like Hal Sirowitz, can make poetry attractive to people that age.  His great book is Mother Said.

KPG. Where was your last selfie taken?  With anyone?

RAR.  Probably a few days before I left New Mexico, on my couch with my partner Sari and our friend Mandy.

KPG. If there is a little known poet you think everyone should read, who is that poet and which book of theirs should we seek?

RARBasil Bunting’s Briggflatts.  He was friends with Pound and used to be better known than he is now.  This is just a drop-dead-gorgeous poem, somewhat difficult but very moving.

KPG. If you could be present at any moment in history as a safe observer or unsafe participant, what event would you visit and why?

RAR.  I could be boring and say the Kennedy assassination, to try to figure out what actually happened, but I really think I’d want to watch Gotama Buddha walk around and look into his eyes.

KPG. What recurring themes have you noticed in your poetry over the years?  Is there a point of personal experience you revisit often?

RAR.  Since my poetry is almost exclusively concerned with my personal experience (with rare flights into fiction), there’s very little of my life I haven’t revisited, but the years 1999-2003 seem to have been the formative time for my recent poetry.  I write about love more than anything else, its throes and consequences, sweet beginnings and bitter ends, or sweet ends and bitter beginnings.  I’ve been happy in love of late, and writing poetry to celebrate that is always a challenge.  The happiness has coincided with some pretty horrific life experience, so the celebrations tend to have a grim edge.  (I suspect the grimness will only amplify after this last election.)

KPG. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or no chocolate at all?

RAR.  Milk chocolate over dark, white on special occasions … but no, not much of a chocolate fan.

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