Greg Candela | Interview

Kenneth P. Gurney. What got you started into poetry? What age?

Greg Candela. Puberty probably, the time when young men become passionately romantic, some, philosophical; They are quite serious about themselves and often motivated to write, with apologies to Walt Whitman, songs of themselves and songs to members of whatever sex to which they are attracted. This ache toward self-expression probably got me started.

KPG. What is your favorite breakfast?

GC. Especially, setting out on the road, a No. 9 Burrito from Golden Pride: Green Chile, Bacon, Easy Hash brown potatoes and Egg with a cup of freshly ground and dark-roast Sumatra Coffee, black.

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

GC. Hmmm, a bit more complicated question than “my favorite breakfast”. My academic degrees focused on literature and poetry, particularly 19th Century Romantic, as well as American and African American literature. I continue to read a lot of post-modern, contemporary poetry and New Mexican poets. Although numerous poets have, thankfully, inspired and influenced my poetry, I do not emulate what I call “Academic Poetry” which is often pretentious, heavily referential and boring. The critical analysis of poetry, and, thus, that poetry’s milieu, has fascinated, and has taught, me poetics. I try to compose poetry in the company of the masters of whatever era and nationality and thus to participate, in some small way, in their community. The university brought me fully into that community without conferring upon me the title of “poet.” The degrees were a recognition that I passed academic muster: the study, the pursuit, the inspiration from and the composing of poetry—that has been my endeavor. The title of “poet” is issued by others—not me.

KPG. Is there any other endeavor that you are passionate about outside of poetry? How does it enrich you?

GC. For purposes of this interview, I choose athleticism, specifically surfing. I have been surfing for about 55 years. Long ago, I rode big waves; now I prefer smaller, manageable waves of about 3-5 feet. This February I surfed Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica for the first time: 80-degree ambient temperature and 80-degree water temperature. Enriched? This passion has sustained me since my early teens. If I am fortunate, I shall surf for a few more years (especially warm-water surfing thank the gods).  Imagine perfectly-shaped and humped tubes thrusting towards and destroying themselves on the beach, each with enough energy to light a fair-sized pueblo for at least 24 hours. Imagine paddling hard to catch the curl and then sliding down the wave’s glassy yet variable surface, steepening so you are lifted and sliding down into the well of it, cutting up and down the wave’s surface, called rollercoastering, cutting back in a wild centrifugal arch to surf in the opposite direction, shifting your weight forward, even moving gracefully up to the board’s nose then crouching to curl your toes over the front of your board. This is old-style surfing because, well, I am old. Then, you do this again and again, the salt-spay in your face, salt air in your lungs, surrounded by porpoise (no sharks, thank you) pelicans skimming the wave’s surface, diving for prey: passion in the embrace of mysterious, indifferent nature.

KPG. Tell us about one of your favorite poetry experience.

GC. A friend and poet Paul Trujillo told me, “I would rather live poetically than write poems.” Those words struck me. Following Paul’s wisdom, I try to live poetically.  The heart of poetry is metaphor; metaphor is the alchemic magic that connects supposedly unlike things; poetry at its most divine, a divinity that does not depend on any god, connects humans to nature, to the rhythm of the seasons—poetry creates purpose and meaning, unites the human heart and head that have been so disastrously separated.

KPG. Do you have a connection to the American Civil War? Relative who served? Visited a battlefield and have a story?

GC. I have been a (poor) student of the American Civil War for decades, read numerous books about it and have recently stood on the Manassas (Bull Run) battlefield. My story is in the poem “The Blood Comes Up,” reprinted in this blog.

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?

GC. I would wave my wand, frantically, to put Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass into the classroom and into the hands of every American high school senior and require each to read 5 poems (of his or her choice) from the volume, write an essay or give an oral presentation about one of those poems, then write a poem based on any one of the Whitman poems each student chooses.  I would wave the wand frantically to inspire the students to engage in this assignment.

Walt Whitman, as Emerson implied, was our first authentic and original American poet. Itinerate teacher, journalist, orator and self-promoting scalawag, Walt embodied, physically and figuratively, the American Character. He is the grandfather of American poetry as Emily Dickinson is our poetic grandmother.  He is, correctly, credited with introducing free verse in poetry; he is not our first but one of our best, nature poets. He breathed America into his ample lungs then sang its land and people, us, in magnificent arias from grand operas. His poem “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” is the best poem ever written about a boy growing into a singer, a poet. It makes me weep each time I read it aloud or silently to myself.

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

GC. Kenneth, I have never taken a “selfie.” I don’t want to seem a snob or self-righteous, but I think the whole damn country has gone into navel-admiring narcissism. Selfies are the closest many Americans get to any intellectual reflection or introspection; most suffer from historical amnesia and use selfies to reassure themselves that they have any
substance whatever.

KPG. Recommend a poetry (or literary) website that you frequent.

GC. I am an online ignoramus when it comes to literary or poetry websites. I hope to get more involved. I do have the Ted Kooser-chosen poem from “American Life in Poetry” sent to my I-pad and I-phone weekly, the Sunday Poems chosen by Merimee Moffitt, Ditchrider, for Duke City Fix  is a good place, as is Elbow Room, New Mexico (associate editor, Rich Boucher). I do consult various websites, such as or to read poems or check on the correct lines from selected poems.

KPG. What is your favorite National Park? Why?

GC. Yellowstone National Park uneasily rests upon one of the largest calderas in the world, a super volcano that should remind humans of nature’s massive power and our frailty.  You kindly published a poem about Yellowstone’s Lone Star Geyser “Wingless Moth” which describes how the park humbles me (Adobe Walls, 2014, p. 27): “crackling steam/superheated water/back from its five hundred year/percolation/ten thousand feet/into the caldera. There my life companion Michelle and I saw elk, two bison rolling in the dirt, rare Trumpeter Swans back from the edge of extinction, bald eagles and the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt.

KPG. Do you have a dream that you work toward achieving. If so, please tell us about it.

GC. I dream of writing poems that don’t tell anything, but perhaps show a way of life, the life of dreams and, thus, the life of the soul:  As I mentioned earlier Paul Trujillo showed me, write poems, yes, but live poetically. I dream of living empirically, translating what I and others observe in nature and people and writing poems that don’t preach or sell or convince but, perhaps, point toward the good, toward beauty and truth. I shall never achieve this but aspire to do it.

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?

GC. Stewart S. Warren is a fairly well known Southwest poet, but he is not as widely read as he should be. He is a genuine American poet, a builder of poetry communities though not one to settle into any of them long term. I was honored that he asked me to write the “Foreword” to one of his poetry volumes, and I think it is one of his best: Here There is Also Burning (Mercury HeartLink Press, 2012). Also, I am unconditionally in love with Rich Boucher and his poetry.

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?

CG. The First Continental Congress, convened on September 5, 1774. Fifty-six delegates from all the colonies except Georgia drafted a declaration of rights and grievances. Patrick Henry, George Washington, John Adams, and John Jay were among the delegates.  That moment in the life of what became the United States of America was where and when I would be, not to participate but to observe, to be among these men, all fully-participating, highly-educated members of the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment, the Age of Reason but all men about to passionately offer up their lives for a set of ideals. I would so much rather be there than now on the eve of the inauguration of President Trump, the twitter president. How far we have fallen from that great height of political discourse, commitment and action.

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

GC. I guess, over the years the overarching theme of my poetry has been what Wallace Stevens describes in his poem, “How to Live, What to Do”:  We travel, we observe, perceive—sensually—try to absorb and, perhaps understand. We do not proselytize. I have tried, poetically, to travel the Beauty Way and to share what I have observed. My personal experience is common to humanity, not particularly noteworthy.  I seek to describe moments, common to us all, but to illicit from those moments, the magic and wonder therein and share that with anyone who reads my poetry.


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