Kenneth P. Gurney. Tells us how you started in poetry? What age?
Scott Wiggerman. My first poems were written in high school when I took a creative writing class and had to turn in poems, which were pretty awful. Up to that point, I had always thought I’d be a writer of fiction. But something clicked with poetry, which I started studying more seriously in college.
KPG. What is your favorite breakfast?
SW. My favorite breakfast would not be what I usually eat, which is a bowl of cold cereal with fruit. I love crisp bacon, crisp latkes, and runny eggs—with a pot of good coffee.
KPG. Does your university degree influence your writing of poetry and how?
SW. I have both a BA and an MA in English, but I have only taken one college-level writing class—with the remarkable poet Judith Minty. She was the first to introduce me to the poetry of Ai, whose dark vision with a touch of macabre humor is something I admire and emulate. Another college professor, with whom I did an independent study in modern American poetry, had a lot to do with my appreciation of Wallace Stevens, T. S. Eliot, and Robinson Jeffers, though I don’t think my present poetry reflects them as influences as much.
KPG. Is there any endeavor that you are passionate about outside of poetry? How does it enrich you?
SW. I love teaching, and I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to teach numerous poetry workshops. As a retired librarian, I’m still passionate about books and reading. I love walking, hiking, and bicycling. I also believe in volunteering my time to worthwhile causes, such as the Open Space Visitors Center. Each of these endeavors is a way of giving back, and if nothing else, the raw material each provides for writing is endlessly rewarding. And of course I’m passionate about my husband, David Meischen!
KPG. Tell about one of your favorite poetry experiences.
SW. So many great poetry experiences for me! However, the clear highlight for me in recent years was the book release at Malvern Books in Austin, Texas, of my collection of sonnets, Leaf and Beak. I was stunned and humbled by how many people came out to hear me read and purchase copies. My friend Paul Licce, whose photograph graces the cover, exhibited his work around the store at the same time, and I love combining poetry and art in any event. Plus, I was able to purchase a signed print (1 of 25), which sits above a shelf of poetry books in my study. Might I add that Leaf and Beak was one of three finalists for the 2016 Texas Institute of Letters’ Helen C. Smith Memorial Award. Icing on the cake!
KPG. Do you have a connection to the American Civil War? Relative who served? Visited a battlefield and have a story?
SW. No connections. My great-grandparents did not arrive in the U.S. till well after the Civil War. I have never visited a battlefield, nor do I have any interest in doing so.
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?
SW. I sincerely believe that most students do not have very good experiences with poetry in high school, and I think it is because the approach is all wrong. Instead of starting with old chestnuts from the 18th and 19th centuries (and earlier), students need to start with something accessible and more modern, something that will develop a joy of reading poetry. The trilogy of books from Bloodaxe—Staying Alive, Being Alive, and Being Human—is one I’d place in every classroom.
KPG. Where was your last selfie taken? With anyone?
SW. This is the easiest to answer: I’ve never taken a selfie. In fact, the very word “selfie” is one that I’d love to see abolished. I use a cell phone only when traveling, and I don’t travel often.
KPG. Recommend a poetry (or literary) website that you frequent.
SW. There are so many! I start most days with the Writers’ Almanac, the Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day, tinywords’ haiku of the day, and poets.org’s Poem-a-Day. American Life in Poetry, Ted Kooser’s weekly offering, is one of my favorites, as is Poetry Magazine, cattails (haiku), and Diane Lockward’s monthly newsletter with poems, prompts, and discussions.
KPG. What is your favorite National Park? Why?
KPG. Please tell about a dream that you work toward achieving at this time.
SW. So many dreams, but so little time—much like books. I’ve come to that point where time is constantly on my mind. As a publisher (Dos Gatos Press), I don’t have the time to publish as many books as I’d like to—or that deserve to be published. As a reader, I don’t have time to read all the books I purchase. As a poet, I’m often juggling the time taken out of each day with publishing, reading, etc., with my own writing. If I’m reading submissions, I’m cutting back on my own reading, which, of course, also cuts into writing time (and then there are the mundane household items that always need doing). I often say I can’t imagine how I did all these things while I was working as a full-time librarian. However, one steady dream is to polish a manuscript I’ve worked on for the past few years composed of nothing but ghazals and golden shovels, all inspired by lines from Emily Dickinson. I worked hard on these poems, but the manuscript hasn’t quite gelled in the way I want it to.
KPG. If there is a little-known poet you think everyone should read, who is that poet and suggest one book of theirs we should purchase?
SW. Ever since I discovered the poems of Thomas James, I have been the biggest cheerleader of his work. His only book, Letters to a Stranger [amazon], is stunning. Anyone who likes Plath and Sexton will find a kinship with James’ work (also a suicide).
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?
SW. I’ve always been fascinated by Paris of the 1920s, the time after WWI, and the large number of American writers who were there during this time. To have been an observer at one of Gertrude Stein’s salons! Fitzgeralds and Josephine Baker and flappers, oh my!
KPG. What reoccurring themes or personal experience have you noticed in your poetry over the years?
SW. As I mentioned earlier, time is a central concern, and many of my poems also deal with memory—what we lose, how we remember. There are often gay-themed poems, which are often my most political poems, sadly just for the fact that they’re gay-themed. A good number of my poems deal with nature and its healing qualities, my escape from the world at large. Another recurring theme: escape.
KPG. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or some other sweet?
SW. I love them all, but I’ve been leaning most toward dark chocolate the last few years—for health reasons!